Tempting Tempeh

Inspired by a recipe for Sambal Goreng (Indonesian spiced tempeh) found in an old issue of Saveur Magazine, this unexpectedly delicious dish will have you wondering why you haven’t been eating tempeh forever. For those of you who are unfamiliar, tempeh is what happens when soybeans undergo controlled fermentation and fuse together to form a firm patty with a meaty texture. I know it doesn’t sound super appealing, but trust me, it can be, when prepared correctly! The taste is less neutral and more nutty than tofu, but can usually be used in similar applications. As it originates from Indonesia, I believe that the best way to try it for the first time, or to rediscover it, is by cooking it Indonesian style: with a whole lot of garlic and spice!

Indonesian Style Tempeh with Black Garlic

Ingredients
1 slab tempeh, cut into rectangular cubes
1/2 cup olive oil + 1/4 cup for frying
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
3 tomatoes, peeled, small dice
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red chili, minced
1 habanero pepper, minced
pinch turmeric
2 tsp paprika
3 cloves black garlic, minced
NOTE: if you cannot find black garlic, add an extra tbsp of soy sauce.

2 cups rice, cooked (for serving)

Method / Instructions
Heat 1/4 cup oil in large skillet or saucepan. Over medium heat, fry tempeh until golden, about 2 minutes on each side. Drain and set aside.

Combine olive oil, tomato paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar together in a medium saucepan Whisk until combined. Add garlic, tomatoes, peppers & spices.  Whisk in a few tbsp water if mixture seems to thick (some brands of tomato paste are thicker than others!). Heat over medium, careful not to boil. Add tempeh & black garlic to pot. Simmer together for 15 minutes, lightly stirring.

Serve over rice.

5-ingredient Coconut Lime Marinade

This multipurpose marinade is excellent for tofu, chickpeas, and rice. If you swing with the meat crowd, it’s also a great sauce for chicken breasts or thighs. I want to call this a curry sauce, but I also don’t want to scare any of you away. Don’t be fooled by the yellow colour – it does not taste anything like Indian food!

What’s really great about this marinade is how fast it comes together. Open up a can of coconut milk, squirt in some sriracha, zest and squeeze your limes, add a couple of dashes of seasoning and bam! Marinade is made. 
Thai Style Chickpeas and Rice
with Coconut Lime Marinade
an original recipe by allison sklar

for the marinade:
1 can full-fat coconut milk*
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp sriracha sauce (or more, to taste)
zest and juice from two limes
for the chickpeas and rice:
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup basmati rice
1 cup water
a few pinches salt
Make the marinade: combine all ingredients and whisk together until homogenous. 
Add chickpeas to marinade and pour into heated saucepan. Heat until bubbly. 
Reduce heat and let simmer, uncovered, until sauce reduces and thickens, about 15 minutes. 
Meanwhile, start the rice. Combine rice and water in wide bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Pour rice into chickpea mixture and stir. Salt to taste. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro if desired. 
*Tip: Choose coconut milk in a can with a high fat content. The “drinking” coconut milk that’s found in the refrigerated section won’t do as it is lacking cream, which is important for the consistency. 

Tasty Mushroom Gravy (Vegan & Gluten-Free)

Now that you’ve got some tasty vegan broth that’s been STOCKpiled (oh, I just HAD to have some pun with that), I’m going to show you a few interesting ways to use it. I’ll start with this amazingly quick and easy vegan mushroom gravy. This is the tastiest, umamiest (totally a word), most versatile gravy that you’ll ever try. You can keep it classic and serve it over mashed potatoes. Or, be trendy and have it on top of a whole roasted cauliflower. Vegetarian poutine? No longer a pipe dream. Whichever way you decide to pour it, once you try it, you’ll never go back to brown powder and water again. Bonus: this gravy is both vegan AND gluten-free, making it a great option for those dinner guests with special diets or food intolerances.

Mushroom & Pepper Gravy
(a.k.a. Vegan Mushroom Gravy / Vegetarian Gravy)
an original recipe by Allison Sklar

ingredients
2 tbsp oil
1 pint cremini (or white) mushrooms
1/2 small onion, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp gluten-free tamari (or low-sodium soy sauce, if you’re not concerned about gluten)
1 tbsp rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
pinch salt
generous amount of cracked black pepper

method
Heat oil in large saucepan. Add onions and mushrooms. Cook, stirring infrequently, about 10 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to scrape any brown bits off of the bottom of the pan. (Those brown bits are major flavour enhancers!) Add broth slowly, and bring to a boil. Add tamari/soy sauce & vinegar. Whisk cornstarch into cold water until homogenous. WHISKING GRAVY CONSTANTLY, slowly pour in the cornstarch mixture, continuing to whisk until sauce bubbles and thickens, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add pepper and salt, stirring with wooden spoon.

If not serving immediately, keeps well in a glass jar in the fridge for a few days. To reheat, pour mixture into saucepan with a tiny bit of water. Whisk constantly until heated. Serve hot.

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Stock Up! (Vegan Soup Stock / Broth)

After a strange, elongated dance with flu this winter, I craved nothing but soup broth for days. Maybe it was instinctual – my body associates broth with healing, as I was brought up to believe that my Bubbie’s chicken soup was THE Jewish penicillin.

A little embarrassed to admit, these days, I’ve been a broth-in-a-box kind of girl. I know, I know! Making soup broth is so easy! The problem is, I’ve always found homemade broths to be expensive, and quite wasteful, throwing all of the strained, overly mushy vegetables straight into the trash. However, my thoughts on this subject changed dramatically when I recently discovered that broth can actually be a great way to use up otherwise unusable produce! 
I had been stockpiling a few vegetable odds and ends in my freezer over the last little while (too-soft celery, wilted mushrooms, broccoli stems), and I decided that this would be a great time to use them all up. I added in some garlic and onions (for some super flavour and amazing healing properties) along with a few of the herbs that I dried last summer, some tamarind, and some salt, and a beautiful, versatile broth was born!

The base of your broth should be made up of garlic, onions, celery and carrots. Mushrooms, if you have them on hand, add a lot of flavour as well. The rest is up to you! Here are a few things that I always include:
  • Prunes – to create rich colour and add subtle sweetness. Thank you Ottolenghi for this suggestion. I never go without it!
  • Tamarind – to add a bit of tanginess. You can adjust the amount to your taste preference (a little goes a long way!)
  • Dill – if I don’t have fresh dill on hand, I’ll add a generous sprinkling of dill seeds to get a nice burst of earthy flavour. This is reminiscent of the dill-icious matzah ball soups that I ate as a child. 
  • Black pepper & chilli flakes – for a little bit of bite. 
  • Salt – but only at the end! Salt your broth only once it has simmered away for a long time,  so you know it’s reached it’s maximum flavour potential. This is a great way to avoid over-salting. 
Whole Vegetable Cooking: Healing Vegan Broth
(Basic vegetable soup stock / vegan soup stock)
Ingredients
3 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled & roughly chopped
1 entire bulb of garlic, peeled & roughly chopped or minced
4 stalks celery with the leaves (if available), roughly chopped
3 carrots & greens (if available), roughly chopped
4L water
4 prunes
1 tsp tamarind paste (or more, to taste)
2-3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 bunch fresh tarragon (or 2 tbsp dried)
1/2 cup chopped dill (or 1 tbsp dill seeds)
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp chilli flakes
salt, to taste
+ any leftover veggies / odds / ends you have laying around!
Method
Heat oil in large pot for about 1 minute. Over medium heat, add onions, sauté until translucent. Add garlic, celery & carrots. Sauté for 5 minutes, until vegetables begin to soften. Add “leftover” veg, if using, and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Add tamarind, prunes, spices and herbs. Cover, and simmer over low heat, 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Use fine mesh sieve to strain soup into clean pot. Taste & add salt as needed. Can be stored up to 2 weeks in refrigerator or 6 months in freezer. 



Best Ever Kale Chips

“Best Ever.” I see this phrase, and variations of it, used liberally all over the internet. Everything seems to be the “best ever.” A quick Google search for “best cookies ever,” will land you with millions of results, but not necessarily what you’re looking for. In Vancouver, a friend of mine once counted 6 “world’s best pizza,” signs within a 1km radius of each other. I have eaten the “best food in the city,” at countless locations, all in the same city. Recently, my boyfriend and I embarked on a (fattening) quest to discover the best pizza in our area. What we’ve learned: we both have *very* different criteria when it comes to pizza. (I like thin crust, lots of sauce, little cheese – he likes the complete opposite. Clearly, our opinions differ greatly on which pizza is the best.) So how is it that so many places claim to be the “best ever?” I’ll chalk this phenomenon up to two things: first, many people truly believe that they have the best *insert food name here* ever, based entirely on their own personal preferences. The second reason is that curiosity sells. People want to know – is it really the best ever? The thing is, it’s a win/win situation: if it is the best ever, a-w-e-s-o-m-e! I just got to eat it! If it’s not the best ever, I can ridicule those who think that it is, and I can fill the internet with my angry opinion!

Because #trolling.

All that being said, I’m here to tell you that these kale chips really are the best that *I* have ever had. They are crispy, umami, and not too salty. That’s all a kale chip really needs in life, and that’s what I’m here to share with you today.

Things to note before making this recipe
1. If you do not have a dehydrator, you *can* make these in the oven, as long as it’s on the lowest setting. My oven goes down to 170F, which is only 10F higher than my dehydrator, and it works very well. If your oven only goes down to 200F or so, you’ll have to check on them regularly, and continue flipping to make sure that they don’t burn. If they start to brown, get out of town! (And by that, I mean take them out of the oven. They’re done.)
2. Nutritional yeast has no substitute. Buy the flaked kind, not the powder. You can find it at most bulk stores, or at specialty health food stores. As it’s rising in popularity, you can sometimes even find it in chain grocers in the “organic/health food” section.

So without further adieu, the humble, tasty, umami filled, nooch speckled, crispy, tangy, delicious kale chip.

The Best Ever Kale Chips 
a.k.a. Nutritional Yeast Kale Chips
a.k.a. Umami Kale Chips
a.k.a. Cheezy Vegan Kale Chips

ingredients

2 bunches of kale
2 tsp sesame oil
3 tsp soy sauce
1/4 cup nutritional yeast

method

Remove all stems from kale. All of them. Get them off of there! They have no place in the life of kale chips. Toss leaves in a large bowl with sesame oil and soy sauce. Massage into kale until all leaves are coated. Toss with nutritional yeast.

Place on dehydrator sheets (or on parchment-lined baking sheet) and dehydrate at 160F for 3 to 4 hours, or until they are crispy. If they are in the oven, put your oven to it’s lowest setting, and bake, turning about once every 30 minutes, about 2 to 3 hours, or until crisp.

Note: Smaller pieces will crisp up faster – feel free to remove them earlier to snack on while you’re waiting. I highly encourage this.


Mediterranean Eggplant & Tomato Relish

Ajvar! Caponata! Pindjur! If you’re of North American descent, chances are, you’ve never heard any of these words. They’re in fact three different condiments from various parts of the world, whose ingredients differ regionally. What they often share is a beautiful base of eggplant and tomato.

Ah, the eggplant-tomato combo. Where have you been all my life? A few years ago, I realized that I actually enjoy eggplant. More recently, I discovered that I enjoy it even more when it marries with tomato to become a sweet and tangy sauce. Today, I present to you my version of an eggplant-tomato sauce. No, it’s not a babaganoush. And it’s not quite a ratatouille. It’s it’s own thing, really, so I’ll just refer to this as a “condiment” for now. I do wish I could eventually come up with a jazzier name, because this saucy spread really jazzes up whatever it touches.

This “condiment” is great served hot, or cold, and is a wonderful topping for fresh bread or crackers. I also like to eat it on top of polenta (similar to a recipe in Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem”), or as a dip with pita chips. Enjoy this dish on it’s own, or watch it transform into something new when mixed with thick yogurt. Toss in chickpeas to make it into a meal, and adjust the heat to your liking. It is truly a versatile food!

Eggplant & Tomato Relish
an original recipe by allison sklar

ingredients
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large eggplant, cut into 1″ cubes
4 – 5 medium canned plum tomatoes
1 cup tomato juice
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp each: chopped oregano, cilantro & parsley
1 tbsp sambal olek chili sauce, or more to taste

method
Heat oil in large pan or wok. Cook eggplant over medium-high heat, until reduced in size and browned. Oil will first be absorbed, then will separate. Drain eggplant and return to pan with tomatoes, tomato juice and tomato paste. Add sugar, salt, lemon juice. Continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until eggplant and tomatoes begin to homogenize. Add herbs and chili sauce and cook for 2 more minutes. Serve warm or cold.

Best Ever Eggplant & Chickpea Curry (that just happens to be vegan!)

I’ll begin this entry by stating that curry is one of my absolute favorite foods. As I love it so much, I am also quite critical and picky when it comes to finding good curry. Before I show you how to make the tastiest eggplant curry you’ll ever have, I’d like to teach you a few things about curry itself.

First off, let me just clarify that curry is not a spice, contrary to popular belief. There exists an herb called the curry leaf, though it is nothing at all like the yellow, processed powder that North Americans refer to as “curry.” This blended curry spice is entirely of western origin, dating back to the 18th Century, presumably sold by Indian merchants to the British.

So what makes curry curry? The answer to that differs depending on who you’re talking to. One thing all curries have in common: a complex blend of flavours and spices, that are often (but not always) enhanced with different types of chilli peppers. There are more varieties of curry than there are christmas cookies, and their ingredients differ by region, ethnicity, and cultural background. For example, a thai curry will often feature lemongrass, ginger and coconut, whereas an Indian curry will usually contain a mixture of turmeric, coriander and cumin.

The majority of the curries that I cook are Indian style, but are not necessarily traditional. A friend of mine, who is from India, taught me that an authentic curry from her region will make your ears burn and your eyes tear up, but will be so deliciously addictive that it’s worth building up a spice tolerance for.  For months, I watched her make her curries, throwing handfuls of spices in, which seemed, at the time, to be tossed in at random, in abundant quantities. I later learned that she must have known exactly what she was doing though, because through lots of trial (and some error) I have discovered that blending the correct amount of spices is an art form. Certain spices, like fenugreek, can add wonderful complexity, but if overused, can leave you with a terribly bitter aftertaste. Others, like cinnamon, may get lost in the mix if you don’t add enough.

Today’s curry is a simple one, with a spice level that you can easily control. It’s great for those who aren’t too familiar with Indian food, and who want to try something different. Let me stress, especially if you’ve never made curry before, to follow these instructions exactly. Too many times, I’ve seen comments on recipe blogs from users who have “tested” out a recipe, having made so many alterations that the recipe isn’t at all what it was meant to be, and then they complain that it didn’t taste good. (Well, yeah, if you’re making chocolate cookies, and you decide to replace the chocolate with kale, it’s going to taste a little weird, geniuses!)  /endrant. As with all recipes, I suggest that you follow this exactly, and adjust to taste only at the end (with salt or spice.) Organizational note: I roasted my eggplant the day before to allow for a faster weeknight meal prep.

Now… the recipe you’ve all been waiting for…

The Best Ever Eggplant and Chickpea Curry
an original recipe by allison sklar

ingredients

1 large eggplant
1 tbsp olive oil
pinch salt

2 tbsp butter (or coconut oil, to keep it vegan!)
1 tbsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed with mortar and pestle
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp cumin powder
pinch turmeric
1 can chickpeas, drained
2 large handfuls fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup water (more if needed)
1 tbsp sambal oelek  (found in most major grocery stores in the International/Asian section)
salt, to taste

instructions

Roast your eggplant: Slice in half, lengthwise, and rub it all over with olive oil. Sprinkle the fleshy side with salt. Place flesh side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast at 400F for 30 to 40 minutes, or until skin begins to bubble and shrivel. Allow to cool enough to handle. Scoop flesh out, roughly chop, and reserve in a bowl for later.

In a wide, heavy bottomed saucepan, melt your butter/coconut oil. Add the onion. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onion is golden in colour (about 10 minutes). Be careful not to burn the onion. When onion starts to become golden, add the coriander seed and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the rest of your ingredients except the cilantro and sambal olek. Stir. Cover and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring intermittently. (If you notice your curry looks too dry, add a bit more water, 1 tbsp at a time.) Remove lid and add cilantro and sambal olek. Stir and continue cooking until desired consistency is reached. Salt to taste. Serve over basmati rice, or with chapati bread.