Lazy Days

Writing a cookbook all about 10-minute recipes has made me the laziest cook ever. I’ve often said that it’s spoiled me for regular dinnertime prep, reducing me to infantile tantrums if anything should threaten to spill over that arbitrary time limit. Though I’m ashamed to admit it, I’ve been known to throw down a spatula mid-stir and plunder the cupboard for a bowlful of cereal instead, too hungry or impatient to complete the absurdly simple task. Just like the increasing efficiency of technology has eradicated our tolerance for lag, knowing just how quick a meal can come together creates a terrible intolerance for long, drawn out steps towards food fabrication.

For anyone else who knows that struggle, I’d like to introduce your to my easiest, fastest recipe yet, possible to slap on the table in 3 minutes all told. No arduous chopping, sauteing, baking, grilling, poaching, or advanced techniques required. If you can open a can and operate a microwave, you can feed yourself very well indeed. Truly, it’s so simple that it’s barely even a recipe, to the point that I hesitate to share this quick fix as a formal preparation. Considering how many times it’s saved me from the daily dinner dilemma, however, it seemed like a worthwhile idea to share.

Beans. Salsa. Spices. Heat and eat. It’s not fancy fare, but it’s a healthy bowl-in-one and deeply satisfying. Even a bare-bones sort of pantry should be able to accommodate without advanced planning, especially when you look at the ingredients with a flexible perspective. Simple as it is, the beauty of this basic formula is that it’s infinitely adaptable to any type of beans or seasoning you can scrounge up. See the end notes for more inspiration, but don’t be afraid to depart from the beaten path; make it your own and embark on a new flavor adventure.

Instant Fiesta Soup

2 (15-Ounce) Cans No Salt Added Pinto Beans (Undrained)
1 1/2 Cups Salsa
1 1/2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

For Topping (Optional):

Diced Avocado
Thinly Sliced Chives or Scallions

Toss the beans, aquafaba and all, into your blender along with the salsa and spices. Blend until mostly smooth but with a bit of texture still remaining, as desired.

Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high, until steaming hot all the way through; about 4 – 5 minutes. Alternatively, a single serving into the microwave for 2 minutes and store the rest in the fridge, sealed in an airtight container, for up to a week.

Ladle into bowls and top each with avocado and chives or scallions. Dig in!

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Variations:

On less lazy days, cook your own beans from scratch! Simply use about 3 cups total and either 1/2 – 1 cup of the aquafaba or vegetable broth, to reach your desired consistency.

To simply switch things up a bit, consider using black beans instead of pinto.

Make it an Italian-inspired soup by using white beans and marinara sauce in place of the salsa, plus a generous handful of fresh or dried herbs (heavy on the basil and parsley, please!)

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Dancing in the Rain

Predictably unpredictable as always, springtime in San Francisco meaning blazing hot days of sunshine, followed immediately by the shock of hail, and endless vacillation between floods and droughts. Winter is usually the rainy season, but all bets are off as weather across the globe grows more extreme. Though fleeting, each sudden downpour puts a serious damper on business as usual. If you’re on foot, you’re liable to drown before reaching your destination, even if it’s just across the street. If you’re lucky enough to have a car, get cozy because traffic will be at a standstill as hapless motorists try to contend with the unmanageable conditions. A real rainy day like this calls for staying in by all means possible, for the sake of safety and sanity.

That means you had better stock your pantry and be prepared to make a meal of whatever you have on hand. Soups and stews are my go-to solutions for just such an occasion; anything in the fridge, freezer, and pantry can meld together in some sort of harmonious fusion, and with an ample spice rack, you’ll never risk flavor fatigue. Cook once, eat twice, thrice- or as many times as you can stand it.

Contending with another drenching rain one recent afternoon, sheer luck and serendipity yielded one of the most brilliant, prismatic brews I’ve had simmering on the stove in many months. Boldly magenta, or perhaps violently violet, purple potatoes, black quinoa, and red cabbage join forces to create a stew of a different hue. Delicious as it is visually stunning, I knew right away that this was no average stone soup, setting to work recording my recipe for future reference. Only in hindsight to I see the uncanny connection to Prince, whom we remember for his untimely passing exactly two years ago tomorrow.

I’d like to think that this simple bowl of comfort might be a small way to celebrate, rather than mourn such a vibrant life. It doesn’t need to be raining out to enjoy such a blend, but it certainly does make for a comforting complement to the weather. As Prince has said, “Honey I know, I know, I know times are changing.
It’s time we all reach out for something new,” so go ahead, shake up the usual routine and give it a try.

Purple Rainy Day Soup

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Red Onion, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
4 Cups Shredded Red Cabbage
1/3 Cup Black Quinoa
2 Medium Purple Potatoes, Peeled and Diced (About 1 Pound)
1 Bay Leaf
4 Cups Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Red Miso Paste
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary, Crushed
1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
1/2 Cup Frozen Green Peas

Place the olive oil in a large stock pot and set it over medium heat on the stove. Saute for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add in the garlic and continue cooking for another 5 – 10 minutes, until aromatic and lightly browned. Incorporate the shredded cabbage in handfuls, allowing it to wilt down slightly before adding more. Follow that with the dry quinoa, potatoes, and bay leaf.

Whisk the miso paste into the stock until smooth before pouring the mixture into the pot. Bring the mixture up to a boil, reduce the heat, and cover. Simmer for 25 – 30 minutes until the potatoes are fork-tender and the quinoa is fully cooked. Season with black pepper, rosemary, and vinegar, adjusting to taste if needed.

Toss in the frozen peas and simmer just until thawed and hot all the way through. Serve right away while piping hot!

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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Curry of Another Color

Glowing like a vibrant stoplight on the table, each bowlful of curry distinguishes itself with a visual warning, much like the markings of poisonous animals send out a visual alarm to all those who cross their paths. Stay away, or else, admonish the unworldly hues, seemingly more insistent and threatening when found in the boldest shades. For curry, quite the contrary, those alarm bells seem to be silent, and in fact beckon to gustatory fire-starters with their distinctive complexions. From the more mellow Indian yellow madras, the deceptively gentle browns of massaman, to the full spectrum of more fiery stews from Thailand in brilliant greens and reds, at least we only have ourselves to blame when our palates are set ablaze. The cautionary colors were all plain to see.

What then, if you came across a curry of another color, an entirely different beast altogether? Would the potential culinary danger be daunting, or a delicious challenge to face?

All hints of heat are hidden within that murky stew, concealed by a cloak of impenetrable darkness. Fresh vegetables light the way, promising a healthy and satisfying meal, but all other bets are off the table.

Darkened not by some flavorless edible dyes, but by the rich, pungent cloves of black garlic, this new breed balances out heat with a molasses-like sweetness, earthiness, and smoky character. All of that darkness conceals bright, bold pops of citrus and herbaceous cilantro, a stark but compelling contrast to those initial base notes.

Once you make the paste, you have this umami bomb ready at your finger tips for many more almost instant meals to come. Just freeze the leftovers in ice cub trays and store in zip-top bags when solid. Pop one or two out when you’re ready to eat, and toss in any of your favorite vegetables to round out the dish. Consider the following recipe a guideline to fill out to your own taste- and, of course, spice tolerance.

Black Curry Paste

1/2 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Lightly Packed
2 Stalks Fresh Lemongrass, Peeled Chopped
14 Makrut Lime Leaves
4 Cloves Raw Garlic
1 1/2 Bulbs Black Garlic
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Roughly Chopped
4 – 6 Thai Bird’s Eye Chiles, Stemmed
3-Inches Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Roughly Chopped
1 Lime, Zested and Juiced
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Cup Avocado, Peanut, or Olive Oil
1/4 – 1/3 Cup Mushroom or Vegetable Stock

To make curry paste, simply toss the cilantro, lemongrass, both types of garlic, onion, chiles, ginger, and lime into your food processor. Pulse to combine and begin breaking down the more fibrous vegetables. Slowly drizzle in the oil, followed by 1/4 cup of the stock. Puree, pausing to scrape down the sides periodically, until the paste is very smooth. Add more stock if needed to keep the blades spinning, and be patient. It could take as long as 10 minutes of processing to plow through all that lemongrass.

Use right away or freeze for more long term storage. It’s perfect for enlivening soups and stews, of course, but also stir-fries, salad dressings, veggie burger patties, cornbread, and more.

Makes About 1 Cup Curry Paste

Black Curry:

1/4 Cup Black Curry Paste
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
1 14-Ounce Can No Salt Added Black Beans, Undrained
1/4 Cup Mushroom or Vegetable Stock
3 – 4 Cups Mixed Vegetables (I used yellow squash, green beans, mushrooms and carrots)
Fresh Cilantro
Roasted, Unsalted Peanuts, Roughly Chopped
Rice or Noodles, to Serve

To make a simple black curry, stir the curry paste, tomato paste, and black beans together. The liquid in the can will help create a thick, rich sauce, so don’t even think of dumping it out! Heat the mixture, along with the stock and your vegetables of choice in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the stew is highly aromatic. Top with fresh cilantro and peanuts, and serve alongside hot rice or noodles to complete the meal.

Makes 2 – 3 Servings

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New Year, New Stew

Rubbing the sleep from our eyes as sunlight floods the room, still slightly subdued from last night’s festivities, we all wake to greet the new year: Welcome, 2018! Ripe with potential, the days ahead unfurl before us, bright and gleaming like gems, a treasure to discover along the way.

Encouraged to seize this opportunity for personal renewal, the temptation to reinvent oneself is strong. We’re encouraged to set lofty goals for a “new year, new you.” The hype has grown considerably quieter over the years, thankfully, but still it persists. I’m here right now to say that if you’re still feeling tempted by those invasive marketing tactics, you’re not alone, but you’re already good enough. Smart enough. Pretty enough. Fit enough. Kind enough. If you’re even considering what you’d like to improve about yourself, you’re thoughtful and motivated and intelligent enough to make it happen, if that’s what you really want. But you don’t need to, and you don’t need to pretend to, if you don’t. You’re exactly the same person you were before the sun set last night and the ball dropped at midnight, and that’s exactly who you need to be. You are already the best YOU out there. DON’T throw it all away in an attempt to start with a “new” you all over again.

Understand that in all honesty, I’m saying this as much for you as I am for me, because sometimes it’s easier to see the goodness in others than yourself. That doesn’t detract from my conviction in those words, but further strengthens the sentiment. If you can start to see positivity and have a more optimistic perspective of your world, you can manifest that same light, too.

Motivational pep talk out of the way, let’s move full steam ahead into the best year yet, shall we? Embark on this new journey forward with something hearty, soul-soothing, and utterly effortless in case holiday revelry is still ringing in your ears.

Murky gruel the color of swamp water is typically the defining characteristic of split pea soup, but beneath the surface lies true inner beauty. Mixing in frozen sweet peas at the very end brightens up the situation considerably, lending both fresh pops of pigmentation and flavor. Unlike most bean soups, no soaking is necessary to tenderize the legumes, cooking quickly into an instantly an creamy, thick stew.

Simple Split Pea Soup

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Small Red Onion, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Medium Sweet Potato, Peeled and Diced
2 Tablespoons Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce
1 Cup Split Green Peas
4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Tablespoon Fresh Rosemary, Minced
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Frozen Green Peas
Salt, to Taste

Heat your pressure cooker on the sauté setting and add the oil. Add the onion and garlic, cooking until translucent and aromatic; about 6 or 7 minutes. Add in the sweet potato, soy sauce, split peas, vegetable stock, paprika, rosemary, and pepper, stir to incorporate, and lock in the lid.

Once sealed, cook on High Pressure for 18 minutes. Let stand for 3 minutes longer before opening the valve to release the remaining pressure.

Stir in the frozen peas (no need to thaw in advance) and season with salt to taste. Give the mixture a vigorous stir to further break up the split peas for a thicker, smoother texture, if desired.

To make this soup on the stove top, without a pressure cooker, simple cover and simmer on low heat for 35 – 45 minutes instead.

Makes 3 to 4 Servings

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Welcome to the Dark Side

Maybe the most ardent shoppers are still shaking off crushing food comas from the previous night’s excess, but I’m ready to call it early: Black Friday has lost all credibility. Gone are the lines snaking through parking lots, populated by die-hard bargain hunters setting up camp up to a day in advance. 3 AM wake up calls are almost entirely a thing of the past, owing to advanced Thanksgiving day openings, if they didn’t simply leave those automatic glass doors yawning wide open all night long. Most notably on the list of offenses, however, is the fact that it’s not even a single day anymore. How can you call it Black Friday when the big ticket, door buster deals hit a week ago, if not earlier? Perhaps it’s just my heart that’s gone black this year, but I’m officially burned out on this buying and selling insanity.

No, on second thought, I take it back. It’s more than just my black heart speaking, it’s also the black stew percolating on the stove that’s keeping me away from the celebration of consumerism this afternoon.

There’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of darkness, especially when it comes primarily in the form of rich, nutty tahini paste. Quite the rarity despite the popularity of standard blonde sesame butter, black tahini is in a category all its own. I was lucky enough to score a jar while visiting the Living Tree Community Foods offices here in the east bay, and have been somewhat obsessed with it ever since. If you thought almond butter toast was pretty snappy, just try switching up your schmear tactics and taste the difference for yourself. A subtly bitter edge offsets its sticky decadence, lending a far more nuanced flavor profile than one might expect from this silky-smooth, raw puree.

Not to throw shade on Black Friday, but it only wishes it was half as dark as this hearty concoction of black lentils, black beans, black cocoa, and of course, black tahini. Get a healthier fix this “holiday” and save your dollars for the important things that really matter… Like more sesame paste to prepare a second round, perhaps?

Blackout Sesame Chili

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Red Onion, Diced
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 (14.5-Ounce) Can Diced Tomatoes
1 (6-Ounce) Can Tomato Paste
1 1/2 Cups Dry Black Beluga Lentils
1 (16-Ounce) Can Stout Beer
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
2 Tablespoons Black Cocoa Powder
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Chipotle Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 Cup Black Tahini
2 (15.5-Ounce) Cans Black Beans, Rinsed and Drained
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1 Teaspoon Salt

To Garnish (optional):

1 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
3 – 4 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Toasted Black Sesame Seeds

Place a large stock pot over medium heat and add in the oil. Once shimmer, add the onion and garlic, sauteing until lightly browned and aromatic; about 6 – 8 minutes. Introduce the diced tomatoes and tomato paste next, working the paste into the scant liquid to break it down into a smooth mixture. Next, incorporate the lentils, beer, vegetable stock, maple syrup, chili powder, black cocoa, cumin, chipotle powder, and cayenne. Stir well to combine, cover, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, until lentils are tender. Add tahini and black beans, mixing well to incorporate. Continue to stew, uncovered, for an additional 15 – 20 minutes until thick, rich, and piping hot. Add the lime juice and salt, adjusting both to taste as needed.

Depending on your desired consistency, you may want to add more vegetable stock or water, particularly if the chili is made in advance. It tends to thicken further as it cools.

Ladle out into bowls and top with sour cream, scallions, and black sesame seeds. Eat to your black heart’s content!

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

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Sari Sari, Not Sorry

It was the final food frontier, as far as my personal gustatory limits were concerned. After squandering the first half of my life as an unrepentant picky eater, my path had veered drastically into wild, unpredictable terrain to have reached this point. Plain pasta, hot dogs, and grilled cheese sandwiches dominated my food pyramid for those sad, early years, but going vegan proved a turning point that opened up my palate like nothing else. When naysayers taunted about how restrictive such a diet would be or how I would be deprived of so many edible thrills, I took it as a challenge. From that point forward, as long as it was vegan, I would try anything at least once.

Slowly, bite by bite, long-held prejudices fell by the wayside. Gnarled, earthy beets became sweet and lovable. Brussels sprouts no longer inspired fear with their rotten stench. What was once disgust gradually morphed into delight. Determined now to eliminate all food biases, just a scant handful of truly loathsome edibles stood in my way. Throughout it all, despite numerous valiant efforts, bitter melon remained my Achilles heel. No way, no how, could I find a way to tolerate that offensive flavor.

They don’t call it bitter for nothing. An arresting acrid taste is its claim to fame, and yet I was (and remain) convinced that absolutely anything can become delicious when cooked properly. After many more failed attempts than I’d care to quantify, it turns out that there are a few tricks to taming that harsh tartness.

  1. It all starts with the bitter melon itself. Pick younger, smaller specimens that are a bright lime-green color, as these vegetables grow only increasingly acerbic with age.
  2. Be certain to remove not only the seeds within, but also all of the spongy membrane. Much like the pith of an orange, it contains even more concentrated sour flavor.
  3. Salt aggressively. The salt will draw out moisture and bitterness, making it both tastier and easier to cook with.
  4. Blanch in boiling water, and for longer than most vegetables would be able to withstand. You may lose a little bit of structural integrity, but I found that about 8 – 10 minutes of boiling made a huge difference in overall palatability.

Got all that? Good! Like magic, the much maligned bitter melon can now contribute a balanced tartness to any savory dish.

Sari sari is a classic Filipino dish featuring the bitter melon, but no two cooks will prepare it the same way. Traditionally loaded with pork, shrimp, and all sorts of other mystery meats, few vegan versions exist. Though my take is far from traditional, needless to say, replicating the savory and seafood-y flavors were a breeze thanks to the abundance of umami found in wakame seaweed, fermented black beans, and everyone’s favorite Asian seasoning, soy sauce. Don’t skimp on a single one of those secret ingredients, or the stew will suffer. Such a simple combination of vegetables requires love and attention to shine, which is exactly the lesson I took away from working with bitter melon.

If you truly can’t stand bitter melon, I certainly won’t judge. It’s still bitter no matter how you slice it, and it can be an acquired taste. Try substituting chayote, or if all else fails, the humble zucchini, instead.

Sari Sari

1 Medium Bitter Melon
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Garlic Cloves, Finely Minced
1-Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled, and Finely Minced
8 Ounces Seitan, Torn or Chopped into 1/2-Inch Chunks
2 Medium Tomatoes, Diced
2 Medium Filipino/Long Eggplants, Sliced into 1/2-Inch Rounds
1/3 Pound String Beans, Cut into 1-Inch Pieces
2 Tablespoons Fermented Black Bean Sauce
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
5 – 6 Cups Vegetable Broth
1 Tablespoon Instant Wakame Flakes

You’ll want to start preparing the bitter melon first, since it requires the most time and labor. The rest of the stew assembly will fly by!

Slice the bitter melon in half lengthwise and use a large spoon to scoop and scrape out the seeds. Remove any additional inner membrane as well, and discard. Slice the seeded gourd into 1/4-inch half moons and toss them in a large bowl with a generous pinch of salt. Don’t be shy because it will be washed away later on; go for 1/2 teaspoon at least. Let sit for at least 20 minutes while you slice and chop the remaining vegetables.

Bring a medium pot of water up to a roiling boil. Add in the salted bitter melon and cook for about 10 minutes. Drain and immediately rinse with cold water.

Return the pot to the stove over medium heat and add the oil. Once shimmering gently, begin to saute the garlic and ginger. After two minutes, introduce the seitan. Stir frequently and cook until the mixture is aromatic and the chunks of seitan are lightly browned all over; about 10 minutes. Add in the rest of the vegetables together, sauteing for an additional 5 – 8 minutes.

Pour in the first 5 cups of vegetable broth along with all of the remaining ingredients. Mix well, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until all of the vegetables are fork-tender. Add more broth if you’d prefer a soupier stew, and serve steaming hot! Pair with sticky rice to complete the meal.

Makes 5 – 6 Servings

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