Budget Crunching and Munching

No longer a fringe movement seen as extreme, veganism has reached mainstream acceptance, if not full understanding. Misconceptions still plague the movement, like the lingering, misplaced concern about getting enough protein, iron, or whatever the trending nutrient is of the moment. Topping the list of these persistent fallacies is that it’s expensive to eat plant-based. Taking a glance at the fancy prepared meals, processed meat alternatives, and gourmet dairy-free cheeses, it’s easy to understand the concern, but it really misses the bigger picture; no healthy, happy herbivore really eats like that.

Busting myths while boosting your bottom line, Vegan on a Budget: 125 Healthy, Wallet-Friendly, Plant-Based Recipes by Nava Atlas goes well beyond the predictable PB + J sandwiches or bland rice and beans. In fact, Ms. Atlas doesn’t just stick to plain recipes, offering indispensable advice for maximizing your grocery dollars via couponing, bulk buying, scratch-made staples, and more.

Speaking from experience, Nava knows her way around the kitchen AND supermarket. I’ve had the great fortune of working with her regularly for the better part of my career, though she got started in the cookbook industry before I could even reach the stove. Author of well over a dozen published works, prolific artist, and loving mother, her diverse passions coalesce into an invaluable resource for anyone seeking a more affordable, flavorful way to eat vegan.

Secretly thrifty, overtly delicious, everything from breakfast to dessert tastes downright luxurious. We’re talking Yellow Curry Rice Noodles better than takeout, for pennies on the dollar. By employing common pantry staples and simple fresh vegetables, this dish comes together faster than you can dial in an order; a huge savings when you consider that time is money, too.

Don’t overlook the humble sandwich, which is much more than a bread-based gut bomb in Nava’s capable hands. Portobello & Seitan Cheesesteak Sandwiches bring an authentic tasty of Philly to the table, no matter where you live. Seven simple ingredients are all it takes to make this meaty, umami meal come to life. Hearty slabs of seitan join forces with tender mushroom slices and crisp bell peppers, smothered by gooey melted cheese in a satisfying handheld package.

One of my personal favorites has been the Barbeque Tempeh Salad, lavished with creamy ranch dressing, ideally. The protein itself is so well-seasoned and flavorful though, it hardly even needs additional embellishment. I made the mistake of only preparing a half-batch when I first photographed the recipe for Ms. Atlas, which I immediately remedied with a double the next day. This is a recipe you’ll want to eat on repeat, too, which is why I’m thrilled to share it after the jump.

Before you run off to the kitchen, tempeh at hand, I have an even more tempting offer for you! To save you the already low price of this cookbook, which will pay for itself after a single meal, I’m thrilled to give away a brand new copy to one lucky reader! To enter, hit the comment section below and tell me about your favorite budget-friendly foods. What are the staples you go to again and again, that have withstood the test of time? Don’t forget to go back and register that in the giveaway widget, along with additional opportunities to win.

The whole concept of Vegan on a Budget is a solid victory across the board; your wallet, stomach, and taste buds will all be glad you cracked open a copy.

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Serial Stalker

Watery. Stringy. Bitter.

These insults are regularly lobbed at celery by picky provocateurs, myself included. Provided as an afterthought alongside buffalo wings, or stuck unceremoniously into a bloody Mary, it’s the last vegetable I would ever pick off the crudites platter. Even raw cauliflower florets have more appeal when angling for that last smear of hummus.

Limp stalks with little flavor to speak of, they’re all fiber, no flavor. Digestible dental floss, if you will.

Despite that, somehow, celery has wormed its way into the very foundation of French cuisine, thus cementing its place in the greater culinary canon abroad. Making up a third of the classic mirepoix, it seems like every soup, stew, sauce, braise, and beyond calls for one or two of these stringy green sticks. That’s how I end up with an abundance of the very vegetable I despise: Find a new recipe, buy a whole bundle, use about 1/30th of it. Rinse and repeat.

Still, I do staunchly believe that anything can be made delicious with the right treatment. Besides, I’m not one to waste perfectly good food, even if it’s not my favorite. Borrowing a page from childhood snacks to appeal to basic cravings, I sought inspiration from good old ants on a log. Thick, sticky peanut butter filling the the void with sweet raisin “ants” marching down the line, celery is merely the vehicle, adding mostly crunch, with a subtle salty undertone.

All grown up in a simple, crisp slaw, this is the recipe to win over celery haters. Texture is absolutely essential, no matter how you prep your celery; floppy stalks are never acceptable. If they get a bit tired waiting around in the vegetable crisper, slice about an inch off the bottoms and pop them in a jar of ice water, like a vegetal bouquet. In about an hour, the cells will absorb water and reinflate, good as new.

Having “too much” celery just became a very good problem, indeed.

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Socca Punch

Is there anything that chickpeas can’t do? They’re the Swiss army knife of legumes, seamlessly working their way into dishes sweet and savory, from breakfast to midnight snacks, as the bold feature or silent base. Fresh, dried, or ground, every form of this humble bean opens up new culinary possibilities, each more innovative than the last. Of course, many of the best preparations are those tried-and-true formulas, having withstood the test of time through the hands of countless cooks. Such is the case for socca, alternately known as farinata depending on who you ask, and is the meal-sized enlargement of the crisply fried, well-salted bar snack, panisse.

Essentially a large, thick pancake made with chickpea flour and a touch of olive oil, it could be categorized as peasant fare for its humble ingredients. However, proving that the sum is greater than its parts, the taste is fit for a king (or queen.) Legend has it that the first socca was hastily whipped up in Nice, France, while under siege from invading Turkish forces, these pantry staples were the only sustenance available. Since then, it’s come a long way, especially in this lavish seasonal twist.

“Wholesome decadence” defines my sun-kissed ode to summer, featuring peak produce picks set atop this beguiling chickpea base. No longer the food of strife, but of victory and resilience, this socca still began life as the results of a pantry raid, but could ultimately grace a table set with fine linens, should the occasion arise.

Sweet corn, stripped from the cob in crisp rows, and peaches so explosively juicy they quiver at the mere sight of a knife, tangle together in a tender nest of baby kale. A bite of minced jalapeƱo warms the palate periodically, lending gentle heat without overwhelming the delicate flavors at play. Of course, there must be tomatoes, though I’d admit the assembly might be improved with fleshy heirlooms, rather than more toothsome cherry tomatoes, if you can get them.

Then again, there’s no wrong way to dress a socca, and no bad recipe for using chickpeas. Make it count while harvests are abundant. While the season will be gone in a flash, such a deeply satisfying taste memory will last forever.

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Midnight Cravings

There’s no accounting for midnight cravings. In the dark of night, after all reasonable people have long since retired to their beds, strange things can happen in an unguarded kitchen. It’s a crime of opportunity, based as much on cravings as availability; the resulting creations are a whole different sort of guilty pleasure. Guided by a vague desire for something savory, restricted to the contents of a poorly managed pantry, there’s no telling what Frankenstein foods could be wrought from the scraps.

Originally devised by those same conditions in a faraway land, the medianoche literally translates to “midnight,” and is so named for its popularity in Havana’s night clubs, served sometime around the witching hour. Similar to a Cuban sandwich, it traditionally layers various forms of pork, mustard, Swiss cheese, sweet pickles on bread; all staples you could easily dig out of a mostly bare kitchen on a whim.

Granted, I’m not exactly out late partying when this nighttime hunger gnaws away at my stomach. Quietly shuffling around in my pajamas, I’d much rather pile all those goodies into a bowl than try to manage a handheld stack. Uncoordinated in my finest hours, my ability to eat neatly declines precipitously with every passing hour. Sandwich fillings would stay between the bread for approximately 2.5 seconds before ejecting unceremoniously onto the floor at that rate.

That’s why the concept of a bread salad is so ingenious. It’s the full sandwich experience that you can eat with a fork, no muss, no fuss, and no judgement. Perhaps the contents are still a bit unconventional, but this is one crazy concoction I wouldn’t hesitate to share in the light of day.

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Long-Suffering Syntax

If you’re a child of the 90’s like myself, you grew up with Looney Tunes and all the idiosyncrasies of those animated characters. Much of the “adult” insinuations went right over my head, precisely as intended by the creators, but offer curious nuggets of knowledge today.

Uttered many times by a certain conniving cat, the term “suffering succotash” comes back to me in a flash, just as quickly as summer produce proliferates in local markets. The dish itself comes from the native Americans, originally a stew of vegetables, not limited to one season at all, but Sylvester undoubtedly had nothing of the sort in mind. Supposedly a bastardization of the curse “suffering savior,” it has religious undertones that have lost their original bite today, through the current vernacular of much more harsh language.

Things sure have changed since 1910, the earliest record of its usage in print. Primed for the ridiculous by the 1940’s when these cartoons took off, it managed to fly under the radar of most conservatives, and of course by all the kids distracted by comfortingly predictable cat-and-mouse antics (or cat-and-Tweety-bird antics, as it were.)

In any event, this is all to say, words are strange, wonderful, and only meaningful if you want them to be. No matter what, you should try your hand at making succotash this season while the corn is sweet and tomatoes are plentiful. I don’t give a flying fish what you call it, either.

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More ‘Taters, Less Haters

Potato salad, as a basic concept, brings to mind visions of buttery golden cubes of potatoes, drenched in a heavy white blanket of mayonnaise, with a few token flecks of celery and onion strewn about like stray confetti.

Turning that concept on its head, Chinese potato salad isn’t even cooked, let alone heavily dressed. Raw potatoes, shredded into fine floss, crisp as taut guitar strings, are lacquered with a simple, acidic, and often spicy vinaigrette.

The finest example of this rare specimen I found was in Honolulu, at Angelo Pietro where it’s their signature salad. It’s been a long time since I was lucky enough to visit the islands, and sadly, it will likely be a while before I can return. For now, recreating those cherished flavor memories is the next best thing to making that 2,397 mile journey.

Turns out the full recipe (all 5 ingredients of it) was published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin 20 years ago! The secret is that the potato is cut with the sharp, peppery bite of daikon radish, and a touch of lettuce for a refreshing crunch. Even if you can’t pick up the official, branded dressing, that too is effortlessly replicated in your own home kitchen. For a lighter, brighter, refreshing take on potato salad, this is one you’ve got to try.

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