BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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An Edible Mosaic

Cookbooks of every subject imaginable fill my constantly growing collection, an all-inclusive library of texts big and small. Predictably, the vast majority bear not even a passing mention to meat or dairy products, but it may come as a surprise that I don’t buy exclusively vegan cookbooks. In fact, part of the fun is finding something new that hasn’t yet been made in a vegan format, or provides new insight on why particular techniques evolved throughout the years. Particularly true of “authentic” recipes from other cultures, it really is much more effective (and delicious) to go straight to the source.

In the case of An Edible Mosaic, the source turns out to be close to my heart, if not in physical distance. Faith Gorsky, food blogger extraordinaire, talented photographer, and now accomplished cookbook author has been churning out mouth-watering dishes for years, sharing them with infectious enthusiasm. Showcasing all of her skills in one gorgeous hardcover text, it doesn’t take a cook or a foodie to appreciate the luscious photos within. Lavished with full-color images throughout, it would be a worthwhile investment if only as a coffee table book.

Happily, An Edible Mosaic is worth far more than that, as my first pick of Garlicky Potato Dip (Mutabbal Batata) (page 67) made readily apparent. Easily veganized by swapping in vegan yogurt, the whole recipe came together in a snap. Redolent of robust garlic essence, the thick potatoes make for a very rich, intense eating experience. Continuing to thicken as it cooled, and even more so after a rest in the fridge, it did seem like passing off mashed potatoes as a dip. A topping of spicy olive oil is a must for added contrast. Fresh herbs do wonders to brighten up the whole combination, although I did of course skip the cilantro in favor of parsley. While excelling in flavor, a bit more yogurt might improve the texture, helping to reinforce its place on the hors d’oeuvres tray rather than the dinner table.

Shawarma is one dish that is still hard to find without meat, and even harder to find done right. With Faith’s spicing guidelines in hand, the Spiced Shawarma Chicken Wraps (Shawarma Dajaj) (page 92) were the perfect opportunity to attempt making my own vegan version. Favoring rehydrated soy curls rather than poultry, the remaining procedure was just as simple as promised, yielding great rewards for such little effort. My only other alterations were the standard yogurt switch and baking for only 30 minutes, since the curls didn’t need to be “cooked through” the same way as meat would. Quite frankly, this was awesome. Killer spices, so much better than anything I had previously muddled together, make this dish a success no matter what you cook in them. Wraps aside, I would gladly devour those soy curls in salads, over rice, or by themselves. That marinade will go on to cover countless proteins to come, no doubt about it.

The Creamy Garlic Sauce (Toumieh) (page 24) served on the side, however, wasn’t entirely a resounding success. Granted, the Garlic Mayonnaise was recommended for serving alongside the wraps; veganizing the sauce was a more direct conversion, thus making it a better representative of the original recipe. Made for garlic lovers only, this will give you dragon’s breath of the best sort! Intense, ridiculously creamy and buttery, it is dangerously addictive. The trouble was in viscosity. Despite adding the optional [vegan] mayonnaise for thickness, the mixture just refused to bulk up, and furthermore insisted on separating after even a minute of inactivity. That sure didn’t stop me from relishing it as a salad dressing at many later meals, of course.

Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onions (Mujaddara Burghul) (page 82) is the world’s most perfect meal, by my uninformed estimation. Think about it- How many other dishes can boast such well-balanced nutrition, between the hearty whole grains and tender, protein-packed lentils? Top it all off with aromatic spices and irresistible caramelized onions, and you’ve got a dinner that’s both well rounded and unconditionally delicious. Everyone loves this classic, which makes its accidentally vegan composition that much more delightful. I’ve eaten many a bowl of mujaddara in my day, and this one definitely ranks up in the top three. Flavored mostly with warm, toasty cumin and a gentle accent of cinnamon, it works beautifully for lunch or dinner, hot or cold. This dish knows no boundaries.

Spices are of course so critical to Middle Eastern cooking, and Faith manages to make all of the combinations both approachable and accessible. My one main criticism, however, is the way that the main spice mixtures are laid out in the beginning of the book. I feel as though I’m constantly running around in circles trying to complete one mixture, as many redirect to other spice recipes, not once, not twice, but in a few cases up to four times. Personally, I wish they were all just written out in entirety, even if it would seem redundant.

All told, An Edible Mosaic is a cookbook that everyone can enjoy. Meaty or milky recipes can be modified with just a little creativity, so vegans need not avert their eyes. It’s a small challenge with a huge payoff, as you will surely be able to taste for yourself.


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When Food Bites Back

Eggplant, my dear, you are one cruel mistress. I’ve professed my love to you time and again, but nothing will tame your harsh bite; the most delicate preparations or careful peeling does little to lessen the fire. I’ve come to realize that it’s honestly not you, eggplant darling, but me. The burning sensation that inflames my whole mouth, throat, and stomach, comparable to an intense and wide-spread heartburn, is the sign of an intolerance.

Given the prevalence of food allergies, and allergies in general, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I can eat my gluten with gusto, and relish my peanut butter-smeared apple slices, unlike many Americans these days. Complaining about something so mild as a slight discomfort when eating eggplant feels incredibly petty in comparison. It’s nothing life-threatening, does no permanent damage, but only removes a beloved vegetable from my diet. Admitting that though still stings a bit, too. Sometimes the pain will be worth it, and I’ll dive into that plate of spicy, garlicky, and meltingly tender Chinese eggplant anyway, but now that I’ve given it a name and told the internet about it, I may not be able to do so as easily anymore.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, once the brief mourning period passed I set to work devising ways to work around that purple nightshade. Closely linked in my mind, for their mild flesh and similar squash lineage, zucchini has now started vying for the title of “most popular vegetable” in my fridge these days.


Dishes provided by Steelite

Baba ganoush was my first introduction to eggplant, before I even knew what was in the mellow, smoky dip, and is still a top pick. Given that the squash would be mostly ground up, it seemed like a good test to see how my new zucchini friends would fare, replacing that original love. Anticipating from the get-go that nothing would ever replace those eggplant, or even come close, I was startled at my first taste. The simple addition of smoked salt helped to pick up the deeper, woodsier notes that the delicate flesh couldn’t replicate alone, and it made all the difference. With a flavor far closer that I could have hoped to come to the original inspiration, this mild but wonderfully savory, lightly roasted taste sensation gives me hope for life without eggplants.

I’ll admit to secretly holding out hope that the intolerance is just a passing phase, but until there’s actual evidence of that, I think I’ll get along just fine with my glorious, green zucchinis instead.

Zuke-anoush (Zucchini Baba Ganoush)

1 1/2 Pounds Zucchini (About 2 Large or 3 Medium)
6 – 8 Garlic Cloves, Separated From the Head but Not Peeled
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil, Plus Additional to Garnish
Pinch [Table] Salt and Black Pepper
3 Tablespoons Sesame Tahini
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Applewood or Hickory Smoked Salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Slice the zucchini into 1/4-inch thick rounds, and toss them in the oil, salt and pepper until evenly coated. Lay them out in one even layer, with no pieces overlapping, on your prepared baking sheet. Place the whole cloves of garlic grouped in the center of the sheet so that they don’t burn. Roast for 30 minutes, until the zucchini are nicely browned. Let cool.

Once the vegetables have come to room temperature, peel the garlic cloves, and toss them into your food processor along with the roasted zucchini. Add in the tahini, lemon juice, cumin, and smoked salt. Pulse to combine, until you create a rough and chunky sort of paste. You don’t want it to be smooth, so err on the side of less processed if you’re not certain. It should only take about 5 – 10 one-second pulses, depending on your machine.

Transfer the finished dip into an air-tight container, and ideally let it cure in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight before serving. It’s delicious eaten immediately, but the flavors do meld and improve with a bit of time. Serve with an additional drizzle of olive oil over the top, if desired.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Cups

Printable Recipe

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