Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Most Hated of All Loaves

Ah, meatloaf. I truly did loathe the loaf as a kid, and we ate a lot of it. A pound of ground beef mixed up with packaged bread crumbs and a raw egg, smothered in Heinz and left to gel in the oven. And yet I have fond memories as my mom's meatloaf technique improved. I remember sitting on the stool at bar of our kitchen, watching her dice up green peppers from the garden and portion out mozzerella for the mix. I would inevitably grab a pinch of the cheese and pair it with the tangy, citrusy pepper for a secret snack as she cooked. The ketchup never left the equation.

The subject of meatloaf came up at work today. A group of us could not figure out why a restaurant (including ours) would feature it on a menu, and what would prompt any right-minded customer to order it. We further mused on how meatloaf is simply an economical way for a working-class family to feed the masses - certainly that was the case in my childhood. Funny how all those cupboard ingredients can bond together to make a meal.

That made me nostalgic for my mom, and how she managed to feed the six of us, maybe without a lot of taste, but with much intent and necessity. In these lean, uncertain times, I think vegans and carnivores alike would do well to put their pantries to the test and see what meals lurk on those shelves, just waiting to be made. With that, I give you my first real, uninterpreted vegan recipe: Vegan Meatloaf. These are all goodies that I had on hand - w00t! The cooked lentils give of a nutty, spicy aroma, and when squished together with the vegetable saute, bring about the squishy texture of meatloaf that, despite the ick factor, I used to love watch my mom squeeze through her fingers

1 cup dry lentils
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 red or green bell pepper, diced
1 bag frozen spinach, thawed and drained (moisture pressed out)
3 slices whole wheat bread, toasted and ripped into tiny pieces (2 cups bread crumbs)
1/2 t baking powder
olive oil
1/4 nutritional yeast
a few leaves of basil, chopped (or 1/2 t dried)
a few parsley sprigs, chopped
pinch of cayenne pepper
generous grinding of pepper and a bit of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 F.

To cook lentils, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add the lentils and return to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes and allow to cool.

Add a splash of olive oil to a medium saute pan and warm over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about five minutes. Add the garlic, carrot, celery and pepper and cook until softened and fragrant, about another 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Take a quarter cup of the frozen spinach and, in a small bowl, add the baking powder. Puree with an immersion blender (or use a food processor) until gooey. You're looking for a mixture with the consistency of a raw egg - you may need to add a bit of water and a splash of olive oil to achieve this effect.

In a large bowl, combine the veggie saute, breadcrumbs, spinach-egg replacer, remaining frozen spinach, herbs, salt, pepper, cayenne, and the lentils. Now the fun part - mix with your hands, squeezing until the lentils are mush and mixed well with the veggies. Spray a standard-sized loaf pan with non-stick spray and add the mixture, tapping the bottom on a surface to make sure it's all settled. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden-brown and slightly crusty on top. Allow to cool ten minutes before slicing.

Monday, October 20, 2008

It's All Nice, Black Rice, All Right

Long time, no post! It's been a busy bought with lots of work, reading, research, farmers' marketing and kitchen testing. I found Heidi Swanson's booked used (!) at the Booksmith the other day, just after Vini bought a copy and I began to pine for it. A nice little "what's up" from the universe. I made Heidi's Roasted Pumpkin Salad both at home and on the job this week (yeah, we're on a first name basis, so what?). It's exquisite, though I made the following changes: a) I cut the down on the amount of olive oil in the dressing - I found there was enough oil present from the roasting and the sunflower seeds in the dressing. b) I used butternut squash, an apt substitute for the pumpkin. c) I used black rice in place of wild rice. If you have not cooked with black rice (aka "forbidden rice), you must. I picked it up at the co-op a few weeks back and decimated my supply for this recipe. I will be biking back ASAP to replenish my supply! Its nutty flavor is encased in a firm, purple-black husk that reveals a pleasantly mealy, chewy texture. It will always have a home in my pantry. It did create quite a purply-hued mess of my white stove top after I first cooked it, but hey, no relationship is perfect.

Monday, October 6, 2008


October arrived with a solid agenda: to wipe out the healthy. One by one we've fallen to the whim of a head- and chest cold with the fervor and mucus factor usually reserved for mid-February. (To those in the know, it's been dubbed the Lene Virus). Yuck. Anyway, I've given this soup a couple trial runs, and I'm very happy with the results, both in taste and medicinal value. Slivers of fresh ginger and bits of nearly-raw garlic swimming in rich, nutritious vegetable broth, it's sure to have your mouth tingling and your sinuses (temporarily) cleared by the end of the bowl. And the noodles harken back to the days when a can of chicken noodle and a plate of Ritz crackers made the sick days off from school bearable and tasty.

PS: I couldn't take a picture of this lovely-looking dish. My camera is on vacation on the rocky coast of Maine. Wish I was there... in lieu I have a picture of Elizabeth housing a plate of tofu. Add it to the litany of reasons why she's the best niece eva.

Sicky Soup

For the marinade:
1/8 c soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T (or more) fresh ginger, peeled and slivered

1/4 brick firm tofu, cut into tiny cubes
1 T canola or peanut oil
1-2 oz whole wheat pasta or soba noodles, broken into small pieces
1 1/2 c vegetable broth

scallions for garnish

Combine the marinade in a bowl, whisking the ingredients together. Add the tofu and toss to coat, saving the marinade. While it sits, cook the pasta and drain and heat the broth over a gentle heat, taking care not to boil. In a small pan sprayed with nonstick spray, add the oil and heat over med-high until hot. Add the tofu cubes and cook for a good three minutes, unturned, until the moisture starts to give and they're nicely browed. Turn and let another side brown for a couple minutes, then dump onto a paper towel (I hardly had the patience to brown each side). Reduce heat and add the marinade, stir-frying garlic and ginger for half a minute or less. In a bowl, combine the tofu, the ginger and garlic, the broth and the noodles. Top with chopped scallions of you have any kicking around (I nabbed mine from work).

This serves one. Just double up if you've got multiple sickies to feed. If you're lucky enough to have someone make this for you, then set 'em to work. If not, you're still lucky - just be strong, pull yourself out of bed, make a cup of tea and get to the kitchen. You'll feel less sick knowing you were able to make it yourself (or at least, I did). My favorite yoga teacher once said: "You gotta be able to take care of yourself... 'cause if you wait around for someone to take care of you, you're gonna end up waiting a looong time." MMM-hmmm. Tell it, sistah-friend.