BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Smutty Spores

Halloween is upon us once again, bringing with it an endless buffet of “creepy” eats and other grotesque delights. Spaghetti worms and grape eyeballs are perhaps some of the most infamous edible gags, but more modern cooks have become increasingly creative with their monstrous recipes. Bloody fingers are a personal favorite, closely followed by the ever-tempting molded gelatinous brains. It’s easy to whip up a fairly horrific dinner party with a few crafty tricks, but I’m here today to tell you that these examples are all child’s play. If you want to really horrify, disgust, and alarm your Halloween party guests, you need to pull out the big guns and employ one ingredient that looks truly evil. Crack the tin can open to unleash the aroma of mild sewage, revealing the black, inky slug within. If it were smooth and consistent, that would be one thing, but oh no- We’re talking about a chunky, irregular texture like something already partially digested, gently fermenting in its own juices.

What on earth am I talking about, you ask? None other than huitlacoche. Evil only in appearance and not in content, it’s actually a fungus that grows on corn, which explains where it gets the alternative nickname of “corn smut.” Aficionados compare the flavor to that of black truffles, going to all ends of the earth to source these strange spores. It’s almost impossible to find them fresh unless you live very close to Mexico or California, but every now and then, one stray can will pop up on local grocery store shelves, and curiosity finally got the best of me during this particular witching hour.

I tried in vain to photograph the contents of that fateful can, but for the sake of retaining any decent readership, it would be irresponsible to post such a vile image on a food blog. If you can’t take my word for it, then I implore you to take the fate of your stomach in your own hands and click through here. I’ll spare you the goriest details, but it honestly does look like rotting entrails mashed into sludgy excrement.

Mmm, aren’t you getting hungry for this recipe coming up?! Wait, before you run away, I promise it gets much more appetizing from here on in!

Using fresh corn as the base and inspiration for the the dish, huitlacoche plays a starring role without imparting its truly evil ways. Swirled mischievously atop this golden bowl of creamy soup, the color contrast is striking, perfect for a bit of elegant Halloween fun. Transformed by simply tossing the whole fungus mixture into the blender, it becomes much more palatable once its textural shortcomings are literally smoothed out. Although I would hardly say it reaches the pantheon of flavor that true truffles can claim, it does lend a pleasantly earthy, perhaps even slightly smoky flavor to this sweet corn velouté. An effortlessly arresting first course for any meal, the mystery of that jet-black garnish adds to the allure almost as much as the taste itself.

For the less adventurous, you have my permission to omit the evil fungus spores and enjoy a simple, comforting bowl of plain corn soup instead. It won’t be half as much fun to serve, but it will be just as delicious.

Evil Corn Soup (AKA, Corn Smut Soup)

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Roma Tomato, Diced
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Vegetable Broth
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
12 Ounces (About 2 1/2 – 2 2/3 Cups) Fresh or Frozen Corn Kernels
1/3 Cup Hulled Hemp Seeds
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Huitlacoche Swirl:

1/4 Cup Soup [Above]
1 7-Ounce Can Huitlacoche

To Finish:

1/2 Cup Fresh Snipped Chives

In a large stock pot set over medium heat, sauté the onion and tomato in olive oil for 10 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add salt, broth, tomatoes, and agave. Reserve 1/2 cup of the corn kernels, and add the rest into the pot as well, allowing the whole mixture to simmer for 15 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to your blender, along with the hemp seeds, lime juice, and spices. Blend on high until thoroughly pureed and perfectly silky-smooth. Pass the soup through a sieve if you’re particularly stringent about the consistency, or if your blender isn’t quite as powerful as one might prefer. Return the soup to the pot, leaving 1/4 cup of it in the blender to make the huitlacoche swirl, and allow it to come back to the bring of boiling. Toss in the remaining whole corn kernels and once it’s nice and hot, it will be ready to serve.

To complete these delightfully evil bowls, dump the entire contents of the canned huitlacoche into your blender where the reserved soup should still be waiting. Blend until completely pureed, pausing to scrape down the sides of the blender if needed to incorporate everything.

Divide the soup between four bowls, and drizzle in a spiral of the huitlacoche puree. Swirl a toothpick through the mixture to further enhance the evil effect. Top with freshly snipped chives and enjoy while piping hot.

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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A Quiet Comfort

The overstuffed bus limps along, laboring through rush hour congestion, pausing to catch its breath at almost every street corner. It groans and wheezes as passengers filter out, the crowds gradually thinning as the street numbers increase, moving farther away from the bustle of downtown. Finally, finally, after an hour of holding my breath to squeeze in between the seasoned commuters, I finally stumble down the short staircase and roll out down the steep hill ahead. Darkness hasn’t yet settled in, but it looms ever closer, tugging insistently at the edges of overcast sky. Despite the howling wind, the pair of keys rattling in loose grasp is the only sound I can hear, so focused on getting in the door, getting back “home,” and just being able to unwind.

These are only my first days of school, on campus again for the first time in over five years, and they’ve already taken a lot of out me. In such moments of utter exhaustion, creative cooking is the last thing on my mind, but a girl’s still gotta eat. Working to extract the maximum amount of flavor out of a minimum of ingredients and time, a new sort of “comfort food” emerges, and this seemingly bare carrot soup is one shining example. If you have carrots, you can have soup. Thanks to my friends over at So Delicious, I had the opportunity to try out their new aseptic Culinary Coconut Milk, which is every bit as handy and shelf-stable as the canned variety, but a more environmentally friendly package.

The results are nothing mind-blowing or particularly innovative, but a quiet sort of comfort food that just seems to fit the occasion. Sometimes that’s all we need, right?

Spicy Carrot Soup
Adapted from Bon Apetit

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Pound Carrots, Peeled and Chopped
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Chopped
2 Cups Water
11-Ounce Aseptic Carton or 14-Ounce Can Full Fat Coconut Milk
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, To Taste
1 – 2 Tablespoons Sriracha
Fresh Parsley, for Garnish (Optional)

Heat the oil in a medium pot over moderate heat. Add carrots and onion and saute until the onions are lightly browned and aromatic. Pour in the water and coconut milk, bringing the mixture to a boil before reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are fork-tender; about 25 – 30 minutes.

Use an immersion blender or traditional standing blender to thoroughly puree the soup until entirely smooth. Season with salt, pepper, and sriracha to taste, thinning with additional water if necessary.

To serve, top bowlfuls with a final drizzle of sriracha for an extra kick of spice, plus fresh parsley leaves if desired.

The soup can be made up to a week in advance when stored in an airtight container.

Makes About 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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The Onion Grass is Always Greener

This spring has been a temperamental one, no doubt about it. Gardening ventures have been unsurprisingly stymied by unexpected cold fronts and unreliable rains. Even so, by mid-May, it’s reasonable to expect some sort of visible progress out there in the vegetable patch. Nearby friends boast impressive flowers and a few hearty vines, bearing the promise of a fruitful harvest soon to come. All we have are chives. But oh, what lush, long, and prolific chives we have! Shooting up faster than they can be mowed down, these edible weeds are beginning to present a real threat to the surrounding plant life. Choking off sunlight for the smaller sprouts while edging closer into their territory, they’re the only things that seem to be thriving in spite of the elements. Even after plucking a bushel of the slender green blades, a whole field still remains to be eaten, so it’s high time those chives get put to proper use. If the other seedlings are ever going to break through the earth, I had better start making space!

Initially whipping the fine onion grasses into a basic pesto formula, it dawned on me that I had no idea what to do with it next. Should I just spread it on bread and call it a day? Would it be better mixed into pasta? Still in the teeth of final exams, complicated preparations were out of the picture, which brought me to my favorite default option: Soup. Keep it chilled for those warmer days or throw it on the stove the next time a frost warning comes along, since it tastes just as bright, fresh, and comforting either way. The whole thing comes together in a matter of minutes, and since it utilizes a bare minimum of ingredients, it’s the perfect spring soup, no matter how pitiful the growing conditions.

Chive Pesto Soup

2.5 Ounces Fresh Chives
2 Tablespoons Prepared or Finely Minced Fresh Horseradish
1/4 Cup Raw Sunflower Seeds
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
3 – 5 Tablespoons Olive oil
1 3/4 – 2 Cups Vegetable Stock
2 Cups Cooked Beans*
1/2 – 3/4 Teaspoon Salt

*I used one 12-ounce package of Trader Joe’s Melodious Blend, which includes green garbanzo beans, red lentils, and brown lentils. Any blend or single varietal will work just as well though! I would recommend either white beans or regular chickpeas as my second and third choices, personally.

Snip the chives into short 1-inch lengths and toss them into your food processor. They need to be broken down somewhat before you start to blend, because I find that the long pieces will just wrap themselves around the motor without getting chopped otherwise. Add in the horseradish, sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice as well. Pulse the machine repeatedly to combine. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically, ensuring that everything gets incorporated. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture is emulsified and fairly smooth. It doesn’t need to be a perfect puree, since a bit of texture will add more body to the soup, but make sure there are no remaining whole seeds or long strands of chives remaining.

At this point, you can transfer the pesto to a jar and save it for up to a week, if you’d like. To proceed with the soup, place it in a medium pot and whisk in 1 3/4 cups of the stock. Stir in the beans and salt, to taste. Adjust the amount of liquid if you’d like the soup to be slightly thinner. Either chill for 1 hour before serving for a more refreshing bowlful, or pop it on the stove for about 5 minutes to heat through, to serve it warm.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Water, Water, Everywhere, and Only Soup to Drink

The world’s biggest water fight is going on right now, amid the hottest month of the year. Songkran, a celebration of the Thai New Year, has captured my imagination and jealousy for a number of years now. Temperatures can reach well into the 90’s, if not topple the scale and breach 100 degrees, which makes the waterworks both symbolic and necessary to keep one’s cool. Wash away the previous year’s misfortunes, transgressions, and any other ill will to start fresh and clean once more. Taking place April 13 – 15, anyone who’s not already sopping wet on the streets has missed the boat on this experience, but someday, it could be the trip of a lifetime. Just be sure to pack a bathing suit and plenty of towels.

Hot soup may not be the most appropriate dish for an actual Thai celebration, but for better or for worse, our April climate is considerably more mild. The time seemed ripe to dig this gem out from the recipe archive, especially since it had sat there for years without ever being made. Flipping through the recipe binder at Health in a Hurry one day, trying to straighten up the pages with Sue close at hand, I stumbled across this unassuming paper, filled with bright, exotic flavors that I had never seen grace our little soup bar. Without missing a beat, Sue scanned the paper and gave me her blessing to share it with the world, rather than let such a stunning formula go to waste. It’s such a shame that it took me well over another year to finally do so.

If you had seen that original recipe, though, you might understand. Only if you knew Sue could you translate such scripture. After a few tweaks for personal taste and volume, I had my own edible Thai festival for dinner.

Thai Vegetable Soup

1 Tablespoon Peanut or Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Jalapeno
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Garlic
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Ginger
1/2 Cup Red Bell Pepper, Sliced into 1-Inch Batons
1/4 Cup Jicama, Peeled and Sliced into 1-Inch Batons
1/4 Cup Carrot, Peeled and Sliced into 1-Inch Batons
1/2 Cup Sliced Button Mushrooms
1 14-Ounce Cans Diced Tomatoes
1 Tablespoon Lemongrass, Finely Chopped and Bruised
3 – 4 Kaffir Lime Leaves (Optional)
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
3 – 4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/2 Cup Snow Peas
1/2 Cup String Beans, Cut into 1-Inch Pieces
1/2 Cup Frozen Peas
1/2 Cup Asparagus, Cut into 1-Inch Pieces
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste
2 Tablespoons Fresh Mint, Roughly Torn or Chopped

Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium heat before adding in the jalapeno, ginger, and garlic. Saute for 4 – 5 minutes, until highly aromatic. Add in the sliced pepper, jicama, carrot, and mushrooms, and cook for another 4 – 5 minutes until very lightly browned. Pour in the can of tomatoes, liquid and all, and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze the delicious brown bits that may be sticking.

Bundle up the bashed lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, if using, in a tea bag. Drop it into the stock pot along with the lime juice and 3 cups of the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Let the soup simmer gently for about 10 – 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender but still crisp. Toss in the snow peas, string beans, frozen peas (no need to thaw) and asparagus, stirring to incorporate. Cook for just 2 minutes, until the newest vegetable additions are bright green.

Give the soup a taste, and add the final cup of stock if desired, and salt and pepper as needed. Remove and discard the tea bag full of aromatics. Top off with fresh mint and serve immediately.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Wonton Extravagance

Soup has a big job to do. Not only has it been tasked with nourishing the soul, but restoring the body and feeding hungry minds on top of that. Soup fills the empty spaces in stomachs and hearts alike, soothing in ways that words fail to match. Thick, spoon-coating, veggie-heavy bowlfuls may be the more popular choice these days, but there’s some serious praise due to the more brothy variety. The clean, clear flavors that can shine in such a medium are unparalleled, and there’s nothing to say that it can’t also be loaded up with hearty additions. Substantial, hearty, and yes, meaty mix-ins are the key to elevating the average cup of vegetable stock to something worthy of a meal. Even for the picky eaters in my fold, spread halfway across the continent, there was a comforting sense of unity when we all sat down to enjoy the same sort of meal.

Cooking with my dad over Skype has been challenging, but never due to his culinary skills. Simply crafting a recipe with ingredients that he could find, create a healthy meal with, and manage within his busy schedule has always been a stumbling block. Now that my sister has joined him in his tiny German abode, it’s increasingly difficult to come up with things that everyone will like. Dumplings are a hit across all branches of this family tree, so no matter the filling, it was a clear winner from the start. Their creative interpretation of my instructions has proven instrumental in understanding how most people craft their meals as well, reinforcing the importance of a flexible, resilient recipe. That also means that I can confidently state that these easy wontons can happily accommodate a swap of seitan to tofu, any sort of mushroom (fresh or frozen), and amounts are largely to be considered guidelines, not rules. Additionally, the finished dumplings stand up beautifully to freezing for extended periods, pan-frying or steaming just as well as they might float in soup.

The soup itself lived up to the high expectations placed upon the humble bowlful. Maybe the company (in person and on the screen) makes a difference, but it was one of the most comforting recent meals I can recall.

Seitan Dumplings

1 Pound Prepared Seitan, Drained if Water-Packed
10 Ounces Frozen Mixed Mushrooms, Thawed and Drained
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
3 – 4 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
2 Teaspoons Fresh Ginger, Finely Minced
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
3 Tablespoons Tamari or Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
1 Package 3 1/2 – 4 Inch Round Vegan Wonton Wrappers

For Wonton Soup (Optional):

Vegetable Broth
Thinly Sliced Scallions
Thinly Sliced Chili Peppers, Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, or Sriracha
Greens, Such as Kale, Spinach, or Arugula

Begin by placing the seitan, mushrooms, and scallions your food processor, and pulse until the mixture is coarsely ground, roughly approximating the texture of ground meat. Set aside for the time being.

Heat both oils in a medium saute pan over moderate heat. Once shimmering, toss in the ginger and garlic. Cook for about two minutes or until aromatic and toss in the ground seitan. Stir continuously to prevent it from sticking or burning for 4 – 5 minutes. Any liquid should have evaporated at this stage, so drizzle in the soy sauce and vinegar, scraping the bottom of the pan to dislodge anything that may have adhered. Continue to cook for an additional 4 minutes or so, until that liquid has also been absorbed into the filling. Let cool for at least 15 minutes, or until it reaches a manageable temperature.

Set out a plate to place your finished dumplings and cover the stack of unfilled wonton wrappers with a lightly moistened paper towel. They can dry out very quickly which will make clean folds impossible, so keep a close eye on them throughout the process. If they aren’t all used when the filling is finished, they can be sealed in a plastic baggie and frozen for 3 – 4 months. Place only about 1 – 2 teaspoons of filling in the center of each wrapper, and lightly dampen the edges with water to seal. There are many ways to shape your dumplings, depending on your tastes or how you’d like to use them, so I must defer to the experts here for instruction.

After shaping your dumplings as desired, you can either freeze them in an air-tight container for later use or move on to cook them right away. For the soup, simply heat up as much broth as you’d like and toss in scallions, spicy additions, and greenery to your taste. There’s no one right way to assemble such a soup, so just trust your instincts. Once gently simmering, carefully lower the wontons in and cook for just 2 minutes, until the wrappers look a bit more translucent. Serve immediately- Wonton soup does not keep or reheat well.

If pan-frying, heat up about 1/4 – 1/2 inch layer of neutral-flavored oil on the bottom of your saute pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the dumplings in one even layer and let sizzle until brown and crispy; just 2 – 3 minutes. Flip and brown the opposite side if desired. Serve immediately with additional soy sauce for dipping.

Makes 40 – 50 Seitan Dumplings

Printable Recipe


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Coming Soon to a Mailbox or Newsstand Near You…

Typically, sharing about the latest and greatest issue of VegNews is a big waiting game. Rarely does my own copy arrive before I spill the beans, but I can usually resist the urge to post about it at least until the designated month on the cover. Needless to say, that’s not the case for the incoming November/December issue. As soon as I learned that at least one copy was out in the wild, that signaled that it was fair game. This collection of articles and recipes is so enticing, so irresistible, that hopefully my impatience is pardonable this time around.

Returning with another column of My Sweet Vegan, I’m thrilled to share what may very well become the holiday dessert that everyone talks about for years to come: Black Forest Parfaits. The classic Christmas cake has been broken down into its essential components to be reassembled in delicate layers of chocolate cake, vanilla creme, and a lightly boozy drunken Morello cherry sauce. Not only does this presentation allow each element to shine, visible through clear glass walls, but it means individual servings can be prepared in advance and served without any messy slicing or scooping. Easier on the cook and tastier on the palate; can you say, “win-win”?

After coming down from my cake-induced sugar high, I was thrilled to photograph a deeply satisfying, warming soup as well. Effortless to whip up, the depth of flavor that Jesse Miner managed to create in his Smoky Tomato and Kale Soup is astonishing. Spiked with chili and rounded out by hearty potatoes and quinoa, this is not your average pallid tomato water. More like a stew than a modest soup, it could easily pass as a main course, rather than merely a humble side.

Let’s not forget, this is also the issue where the annual Veggie Award winners are revealed, among many other exciting features. Who’s won favorite cookbook or blog author this year? Now, I wouldn’t spoil that surprise even if I knew!


37 Comments

Soup or Salad?

Dear California,

I understand you’ve been having unseasonably warm weather lately, despite the stark contrast of chilly days and near-freezing nights over on the opposite side of the country. I feel your pain, really I do, but not everyone else sees it this way. I write to you as a friend, not to criticize but to suggest toning down the complaints, at least until Halloween has passed. Some of New England is getting mighty jealous, and I hate to see such petty things come between you two.

Love, Hannah.

PS, did you ever find the cell phone charger I left at your place two years ago?

It’s a tricky time of year, when the stretch of land makes the distance between our country’s coasts all the more apparent. Jump on a plane and you’ll find yourself in an entirely different climate, one that can feel so vastly different that it may as well be a different planet. Suddenly I have to worry about our slow-ripening tomatoes getting hit with the first frost before they ever have a chance to mature, while friends hundreds of miles away bemoan the summer that just won’t quit.

Always seeking that elusive middle ground, some compromise that will make everyone happy, I offer you this odd-ball recipe. Soup that can be served just as satisfying hot or cold, the concept is nothing new, but the content might give unsuspecting eaters pause. With a good bit of leftover Caesar dressing but feeling too cold for straight-up salad, I decided to take a gamble and turn the classic combination into a more liquid format. A light starter, bright with sharp acidity, it’s an excellent way to kick off any meal. Chilled, the flavors have more time to meld and harmonize, but warm, it soothes the soul and takes the edge off a brisk day. Such an avant-garde serving suggestion may not suit everyone’s tastes, but it’s sure worth a try, no matter what coast you find yourself on.

Caesar Soup

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 Small, Trimmed and Cleaned Leeks (White and Light Green Parts only) (6 Ounces)
2 Small Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Yukon Gold Potato (6 – 8 Ounces), Peeled and Diced
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
3 1/2 – 4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Pounds Romaine Lettuce (About 2 Hearts), Plus 4 – 5 Firm Inner Leaves for Garnish
1 Cup Baby Spinach
1/3 Cup Vegan Caesar Dressing, Plus 1 – 2 Tablespoons for Garnish
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Salt, to Taste

Garlic and Herb Croutons

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, Finely Minced
1 Teaspoon Fresh Thyme (or 1/2 Teaspoon Dried)
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/4 Teaspoon Coarse Salt
2 1/2 Cups 1/2-Inch Cubed Sourdough Bread (About 3 1.5-Ounce Slices)

To begin the soup, coat the bottom of a medium saucepan with olive oil and set it over medium heat. Add in the leeks and garlic, gently sauteing until softened and aromatic; about 3 – 4 minutes. Be careful not to brown the vegetables, but rather allow them to sweat. Add in the potato, lemon juice, and 3 1/2 cups vegetable stock, and bring the mixture up to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and let bubble quietly for 10 – 15 minutes, until the potato is fork-tender.

Transfer the contents of the pot to your blender and thoroughly puree. Introduce a few handfuls of spinach and romaine at a time, blending until the bulk has been chopped down, and then adding the next bunch. Puree until completely smooth- The soup will not be nearly as enjoyable if it’s not perfectly silky in texture. Finally, add the dressing, pepper, and salt to taste, blending briefly to combine. Either chill for at least 3 hours for a cold version, or serve right away to enjoy it hot.

For the croutons, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silpat or aluminum foil. (Note: I wanted to save some energy so I made mine in a little toaster oven. The pieces all fit, but barely, so be mindful of your space if you go that route.)

Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl, and toss to coat all of the bread cubes. Pour everything onto your prepared sheet, and spread out the cubes so that they’re all in one even layer. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring halfway through the cook time, until golden brown and crisp. Let cool completely before serving.

To serve, ladle out the soup into bowls and top with some of the reserved, chopped lettuce, a drizzle of extra dressing, and a handful of croutons.

Makes 4 – 5 Side Dish or Starter-Sized Servings

Printable Recipe

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