Truffled Vichyssoise with Video Demo!

Let me tell you something, it is HOT in Tel Aviv right now.  Not that I ever had any doubts that summers in Israel were anything less than scorching, but after spending a year in the climate controlled comfort of suburban New Jersey, weeks on end of 90+ degree weather (fahrenheit, or about 32C for the rest of the world) with upwards of 70% humidity can be a bit of a shock to the system.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love the summer, days spent on the beach, cool drinks, warm nights, and everything that comes along with it, but it also means regularly trying to find ways to beat the heat without the benefit of 24/7 air conditioning.  This mostly involves well-placed fans, icy cold drinks, and meals that taste good cold.

Last week, I decided to try out a box of vegetables delivered fresh from an organic farm in the area.  I’ve always loved the idea of CSAs and vegetable co-op boxes, as it forces me to get creative, and eat a greater variety of vegetables than I normally would choose of my own volition.  Our box, which was delivered directly to my kitchen, included such goodies as arugula, parsley, onions, scallions, leeks, a winter squash, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, and potatoes.  Upon seeing the bounty of alliums and roots, I knew I absolutely had to make vichyssoise, otherwise known as cold potato leek soup.  There weren’t quite as many leeks as I would have liked for the soup, so I supplemented with some regular onions, which I slowly caramelized with a ton of minced garlic in order to deepen the flavors of the soup.  I then added white wine, cubed potatoes, and lastly the leeks, which I cooked just long enough to soften, in order that they keep their bright, fresh flavor.  To round it all out, I pureed the veggies, then added a few pinches of truffle salt, a bit of truffle oil, and a can of light coconut milk.  The deep, heady aroma of the truffles counterbalances the bright punch of the leeks and white wine, while the coconut milk softens all the flavors, and brings them together in a smooth, velvety soup.  To help cool it down more quickly, I dropped several ice cubes into the cold soup, rather than thinning with water, but we were so hungry for dinner that night, that we ate it while it was closer to room temperature than chilled.  Of course, after chilling in the fridge overnight, it was even more heavenly, and the perfect meal for a hot summer’s day.

Making vichyssoise tonight! This week I ordered a box of organic vegetables from a farm in the area, and it included a ton of potatoes and leeks, so naturally I couldn't resist turning them into soup! Of course, it's so hot here, that it worked out even better to make a soup that's meant to be eaten cold. In order to add more flavor, I caramelized some onion and garlic as the base, then added the leeks at the very end so they just softened up. That way the soup retains the bright, fresh flavor of the produce! #vegan #whatveganseat #vegansofig #veganfoodshare #veganlife #veganlifestyle #plantpower #paleofriendly #kosher #pareve #soup #summer #fresh #local #healthy #eatclean #dairyfree #french #israel #telaviv #personalchef

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Truffled Vichyssoise

  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • 7-8 large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 cups white potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 c white wine
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • salt
  • 4 small leeks, cleaned and sliced (not including the dark green part)
  • 2 tsps black truffle salt
  • 1 tbsp white truffle oil
  • 1 16 oz can light coconut milk
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced

In a large pot over medium-low heat, add the olive oil, onions and a pinch of salt.  Sweat the onions for about 10 minutes, until they’ve released their juices and are translucent.  Add the chopped garlic, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. The onions should be a deep caramel color, but take care not to burn them.  Add the potatoes to the pot, then deglaze with the white wine, scraping up any bits of onion that may have attached themselves to the pan.  Add water to cover the potatoes, and another generous pinch of salt.  Bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.  Add the sliced leeks to the pot, and stir.  Cook about 10 minutes, until they’ve softened but are still a bright green.  Remove from heat.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth and velvety.  Stir in the truffle salt, truffle oil, and coconut milk.  Adjust the seasoning and let cool.  If it’s too thick, you can add some water until it reaches your desires consistency, or add several ice cubes, which will help it cool down faster.  Serve chilled.  Garnish with sliced scallions if desired.

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The Last Supper: Polentils and Broccoli

As my penultimate day in Israel transitioned into my ultimate Israeli night, I realized that despite wanting to enjoy the many delicious vegan meals on offer in Tel Aviv (before setting off on my European adventure), I had a lot of food left in my kitchen that needed to be used up.  I also had the good fortune to already be spending my time with friends who needed feeding.  After a quick stop at the corner store for some supplemental fruits and veggies, I devised a plan to use up the abundance of herbed polenta chilling in my fridge, as well as the garlic and lentils that had been generously given to me by a friend several months ago (I preferred to save personal food items such as these for when I had guests, so that I didn’t incur the wrath of my ever temperamental roommates should I share anything hailing from the communal pantry).  Earlier that morning, I had begun my polenta experiments, attempting to both pan-fry and bake the starchy squares.  Baking was the clear winner, from the ease of execution , to the crispy exterior.  The pan-fry used too much oil, inducing a veritable volcano of grease, while failing to achieve a crisp and golden outer crust.  That morning, I served the polenta with a sauce of succulent caramelized onions and creamy techina (because I didn’t have quite enough onions to serve them alone).  This style of polenta preparation had the potential to be not just an upscale snack or brunch, but also a deceptively fancy dinner.

Crispy polenta cakes, topped with brilliant broccoli and two scoops of delectable lentils Photo by Steven Winston

Crispy polenta cakes, topped with brilliant broccoli and two scoops of delectable lentils
Photo by Steven Winston

Inspired in part by a paté I’d had at lunch the day before, I wanted something similar to top the polenta.  While the paté I’d consumed for lunch consisted of a combination of mushroom, cashew and walnut blended to smooth and creamy perfection, I only had lentils (and no blender), which luckily lend themselves exceedingly well to the base of a vegetarian paté.  In order to add depth and richness to the lentils, I opted for roasted garlic, with its silky texture and sweet, deep garlic flavor.  To heighten the effect, I also threw an onion into the oven, and roasted it until it was also soft and sweet (way easier than traditional caramelization I might add).  With the lentils and polenta, or dare I say ‘polentils’ covered, it was time to turn my attention to the meal’s main vegetation, fresh broccoli.  While I am normally a big fan of crispy roasted broccoli, I wanted something bright and crunchy to offset the polentils, so I quickly braised the florets with garlic, white wine and lemon juice, infusing the stalks with tons of flavor, without roasting them to death.  It was the perfect ending to an incredible eight months in Israel, shared with good friends (and some good wine).

The cook at work, documenting before dinner Photo by Steven Winston

The cook at work, documenting before dinner.
Photo by Steven Winston

In order to pull this meal off relatively quickly, I recommend making the polenta the night before (or even several days in advance).  Then the day of, all you have to do is pop the polenta in the oven with the garlic and onion, and let the squares bake while everything else cooks.  I would put the lentils in to boil next (and don’t salt the water until they are cooked, otherwise they will take longer).  Should you decide to cook the lentils in advance, warm them gently before mashing.  To my American readers, sorry for the metric measurements, but I followed the initial cooking instructions given on the bag of Italian polenta, which was in grams and liters.  Feel free to follow the given instructions for whichever brand you buy, and rather season according to my suggestions.

Hebred Polenta Squares

  • 500 g Italian coarse ground polenta
  • 2 liters of water
  • 1 tbsp each: dried thyme, oregano, and basil
  • salt to taste
  • olive oil

Bring water to a boil and salt generously.  Slowly add the polenta, whisking steadily in order to avoid lumps.  Ad the herbs and adjust the salt.  Cook for about 50 minutes, stirring frequently, until polenta is soft, very thick, and creamy.  Pour into a greased pan (or two if necessary, I used a long foil loaf pan, as well as a 9×13 in loaf pan), and let cool until firm (preferably overnight). Cut into 2 in squares that are about an inch thick each.  Preheat the oven to 400 F (~250 C).  Lay polenta squares on a greased baking sheet and bake until slightly brown and very crispy, about 30-40 minutes

 

Mugging for the camera. Photo by Steven Winston

Mugging for the camera.
Photo by Steven Winston

Rustic Roasted Garlic and Lentil Paté

  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 medium onion, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • 1 1/2c brown or green lentils
  • water to cover
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F (~250 C).  Cut off the top of the head of garlic, leaving a small amount of each clove exposed.  Place on top of a sheet of foil and drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil.  Wrap the garlic well with the foil, and place in the oven.  Repeat with the onion (no need to slice off the top).  Roast both the garlic and the onion until soft and caramelized, about 30-50 minutes.  It is ok if one takes longer than the other. In the meantime, place the lentils in a medium-large pot with 3 1/2c of water.  Simmer over medium-low heat until very soft, about 30 minutes.  Do not salt the lentils until they are done cooking, or else they will take much longer to soften.  When the lentils are done, add the garlic and chopped roasted onion (both should be similar to a paste, but the garlic you will only need to squeeze out of the skin, the onion might need a little more coaxing), plus 3 tbsp of olive oil.  Mash together until mostly smooth (or throw it in a food processor, especially if you want it completely smooth), adding a little extra water if necessary.  Taste for salt and adjust the seasonings.

 

I don't know why there was a towel on his head. Photo by Steven Winston

I don’t know why there was a towel on his head.
Photo by Steven Winston

White Wine Braised Broccoli

  • 1 crown od broccoli, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • pinch of crushed red pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 c white wine
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • salt

Place a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the olive oil and warm for a minute or two before adding the garlic and crushed red pepper.  Sauté  until just fragrant, and add the broccoli, wine wine, lemon juice and salt.  Let simmer for about 5 minutes, until broccoli is cooked, but still a vibrant green.

To assemble:

Place a polenta square on a plate, add the broccoli, and then a large dollop of lentils. Serve and repeat.

The diversity of reactions to this dish were certainly amusing.  All of my dining companions that night were certified meat eaters, and each claimed a different part of the meal as their favorite.  Two of the boys were amazed by the heartiness of the lentils, and continued to exclaim their surprise that a meat-free meal could be so satisfying.  Monica, my only other female companion that night, couldn’t get enough of the succulent, flavor-infused broccoli, and Steve (also our brilliant photographer for the evening) kept going back for more polenta. I couldn’t have asked for a better last night in Tel Aviv.

Vegan Chopped Brunch: Butternut Squash Pierogi

As winter continues to bring frigid weather to the Northeast, I wanted to share one more squash recipe to add to your arsenal before pumpkin season is officially in hibernation. I’m a huge fan of pierogi in general, for any meal of the day, but these make an especially nice fall or winter brunch. I stuff the pierogi with a sweet and savory combination of roasted butternut squash with caramelized onions, enhanced with some rosemary and thyme, as well as some ground hazelnuts which adds just a little something else to the otherwise creamy texture, and nicely complements both the herbs and the squash.

20140311-111026.jpgThis recipe was originally created for Chopped/Vegan: Brunch, an online cooking competition that was held through The Post Punk Kitchen. While it certainly isn’t the same as competing in a live competition, I really enjoyed the challenge of thinking outside the box and creating something totally new. The mandatory ingredients to use were butternut squash, rosemary, apricot preserves, and popcorn. I used both the squash and rosemary in the pierogi filling, then tossed them in a rosemary scented beurre blanc, drizzled with an apricot balsamic reduction and then crumbled some apricot scented hazelnut popcorn brittle, for a hearty crunch and a lot of fun. I’m including the popcorn brittle recipe, but honestly, if it weren’t for the competition, I would have left it out. These would also be quite tasty paired with some sauteed greens, or tossed in a rosemary olive oil instead of the beurre blanc (in the end, it’s all fat).20140311-111003.jpg

Sadly, I didn’t even make an honorable mention, but I’m convinced it’s because my dish wasn’t tasted. No matter, it was gobbled up by my family and coworkers just the same.

I’m also adjusting the recipe here just a little bit by incorporating some mashed potato in the filling. It will help smooth things out texturally, and will cut the sweetness of the squash just a little bit, so it’s more sweet and savory, rather than overwhelmingly sweet. This is also why I’ve cut the cinnamon from the original.

Pierogi filling:

  • 2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • Dried thyme
  • Dried rosemary
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • White pepper
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 3/4 c ground, toasted hazelnuts
  • 1 large onion, finely diced

Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease a large baking sheet, and spread the squash cubes evenly. Season with salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and then drizzle with an extra tablespoon or so of olive oil. Place in the oven and roast 30-40 minutes, until tender and slightly caramelized. In the meantime, start the onions. Preheat a heavy bottomed frying pan (cast iron skillets are wonderful here) with a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions and fry gently until golden. While the onions are cooking, place the diced potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, and let cook until the potatoes are tender, 10-20 minutes (depending on how finely diced they are). Remove from heat and drain very well. When the squash is done, place in a bowl with the potatoes and onions, and mashed very well. Season with more salt and pepper, and stir in the ground hazelnuts.

Filling shot

Filling shot

Popcorn Brittle

  • 5 cups popcorn, popped and salted, and crushed
  • 1 c hazelnuts, chopped and toasted
  • 1 c white sugar
  • 1/4 c maple syrup
  • 1/4 c water
  • 3 tbs apricot preserves
  • 1 tbs earth balance
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Dissolve sugar in water and maple syrup in a small saucepan. Boil until the temperature reached 270F. Add preserves and earth balance, then boil to 290F. Stir in the salt, vanilla and baking soda, then quickly stir in the popcorn and hazelnuts. Spread on a greased cookie sheet and cool.

Pierogi dough (adapted from Vegan Brunch)

  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • 1c warm water
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp salt

Pour the oil and water into a large bowl. Add 2 c of flour and the salt, stirring with a fork until the dough starts to come together (then you can switch to your hands). Sprinkle your workspace with flour, and turn the dough out of the bowl and begin to knead. Add the last cup of flour, a little bit at a time, slowly kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. It’s ok if you don’t use the whole cup, or if you need a little more to make the dough not sticky. Before you roll out the dough, start the balsamic reduction.

Sprinkle your workspace with more flour, and roll half the dough to a thickness of about 1/16 of an inch (so really thin, but not see through). Using a circle cutter (or glass) that’s about 3 inches wide, cut circles from the dough, and place on a lightly floured plate while you cut circles from the rest of the dough.

Fill each circle with a teaspoon or so of the filling. Dip your finger in a little bit of water, and use it to wet the edge of the circle. Fold the dough over the filling, creating a little half moon, and then press the excess air our, and seal the edges with your fingers. Make sure the seal is nice and tight so the filling doesn’t escape into the cooking water.

After the beurre blanc and the balsamic reduction have been started, fill a large pot with water, and bring to a boil. Gently add the pierogi and cook until they float to the top. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon.20140311-110917.jpg

Balsamic Apricot Reduction

  • 2 tbsp apricot preserves
  • 1/2 c balsamic vinegar

Place apricot preserves and the vinegar in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Let simmer until very thick and syrupy, about 7-10 minutes.

Rosemary Infused Beurre Blanc

  • 1/2 shallot
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 c white wine
  • 1/4 c veggie broth
  • 3-4 tbs coconut cream
  • Almost a stick of earth balance

Then lightly sauté the finely diced shallot and fresh rosemary, just until fragrant. Add the broth and wine and reduce until there are only about 2 tablespoons of liquid left. Add a tbs or two of coconut cream. Turn off heat. Finish preparing pierogi. To finish the beurre blanc, stir in the earth balance one tablespoon at a time, until a thick emulsified sauce forms. Balance the taste with some extra coconut cream. Serve the sauce over the finished pierogi and add a little touch of the balsamic reduction and some crumbled popcorn brittle. Devour. Devour some more.

The Vegan Cook-Off

As I mentioned in my last post, the recipe was invented as an entry for the vegan bake-off, but I unfortunately wasn’t accepted as a competitor. When I got an email saying there would be a second competition, I didn’t hesitate to sign up.  Luckily for me, it was an appetizer round, and I knew just the dish to enter.  It was something I had dreamed up several years before while watching The Next FoodNetwork Star, as I am wont to do.  I can’t even remember what challenge inspired me, but I kept it in mind until last Hanukkah, when I needed a savory snackum to round out the fried confections I was also serving.

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This is what I eventually called “Deconstructed Hummus and Pita”, though the name didn’t come until it was necessary to give it a name for the competition.  It is a zatar rubbed pita crisp, topped with a dollop of creamy tahini sauce (or as the tahini jar calls, techina salad), lemon sesame roasted chickpeas, and just a drop of fiery zhoug.  Zhoug, is a Yemenite hot sauce made with chiles, garlic, and cilantro (there are also red versions).

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The competition took place in early June at the Bell House in Brooklyn.  Competitors had to arrive with their dish fully cooked, and were given a small table on which they could assemble and display their dish.  My dad came to help out for the first hour, but given the space constraints, we weren’t able to assemble even close to the 250 required samples. As they announced the start of the competition, I looked up from my tupperware and spoons to see an extremely large and daunting crowd of hungry people, lined up and ready to eat.  I felt like I ran out of assembled samples within the first fifteen minutes, and if it weren’t for an incredibly kind audience member (I’m not sure if audience is the best description), I probably would have been out there making pita crisps into the wee hours of the night.

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After a whirlwind two hours of serving up samples, the crowd was quieted down, and the judging began. There were three peoples choice winners and three winners picked by the judges.  Each judge introduce the winner by first announcing a runner up, dishes that were good or interesting, but had a technical flaw.  The third place runner up was an Artichoke soup, with a beautiful velvety  texture, but was unfortunately under seasoned.  The judge who announced the third place prize was the one non-vegan judge.  He began by saying the third place winner was so simple, they felt like it was wrong to choose it, but in the end, they had to because they kept going back for more. And then they called my name! The second place winner was a french cheese log, and in first place was a “pulled pork” barbecue jackfruit potsticker, which I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to try.  All in all, it was a really exciting experience that I would totally compete in again.  Here is the list of all the winners with descriptions of their dishes. https://www.facebook.com/events/582557058436070/  If you scroll down, there are also some pictures that were taken, including one of me onstage, in true 50s housewife form.

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And now for that recipe (remember quantities are approximate; taste everything):

Pita Crisps

  • Flat-bread pita (4 usually makes a good amount)
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 2-3 tbsp zatar
  • 2-3 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix together oil, zatar and salt.  Dredge the pita in the oil mixture using your figures to distribute the seasoning evenly.  You can do this before or after you cut the pita.  It takes longer if the pita is cut, but the seasoning is distributed a little better.  Either way is delicious!  Cut the pita into 8 wedges, then cut each wedge in half crosswise, so you have 16 triangles (don’t cut them lengthwise, we’re not making pita strips).  Make sure both sides are well seasoned, then lay flat on a cookie sheet.  Bake for 30 minutes, turning once about halfway through.  You want the pita to be golden and thoroughly crisp.  If they are browning too quickly, you can turn your oven down 25 degrees.

Techina

  • 1 c tahini
  • 1 c water
  • juice of one lemon
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process til smooth.  Adjust the water and salt, depending on how thick you like the sauce to be.  It will also thicken in the fridge.

Roasted Chickpeas

  • 1 16 oz can of chickpeas
  • 2-3 tbsp techina
  • juice of half a lemon
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp paprika

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and mix until the chickpeas are thoroughly coated with the sauce.  Tasted and adjust salt and lemon.  I like it to have a pretty bright lemony flavor.  Transfer to a casserole pan (I’ve used lasagne sized pans as well as a pie plate).  Bake for about an hour, stirring every 10-15 minutes, so the sauce cooks evenly over the chickpeas.  They are done when the techina is pretty dry and brown.  The chickpeas should be nice and chewy, not crunchy.

Zhoug

  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 2-3 chile peppers, seeds left in or removed, depending on how hot you want it
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • a few tbsp oil or water to seal the paste

Combine all ingredients except the liquid in a food processor and pulverize to oblivion! Stream in the liquid and pulse to combine.

To assemble:  Top a pita crisp with a dollop of techina, 3 or 4 chickpeas and a dot of zhoug (or more if you want it hotter).

I wanted to post this sooner, but I figured now it’s extra appropriate since I just moved to Israel!  Enjoy!