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.

Essential French for the Traveling Vegan

When I first went to Europe at age 17, just after my high school graduation, I brought along a print out list of words in several different languages regarding the food I did and didn’t eat. Being that I had studied French for three years, and that I was on the trip with my French teacher, I wasn’t worried about describing my dietary needs while I was in France (every other country was a different story, especially Italy). That handy list has been lost to time, but for those of you who are worried about traveling and eating in France, I’ve put together a short list of phrases that might be helpful when dining out. Please let me know if any of you have any specific phrases you would like to know, and for those of you who are native French speakers, feel free to correct any grammar mistakes I may have missed.

A note on pronunciation: I tried my best to represent the phonetics of this in a way that’s accessible to everyone. If anyone would prefer me to add IPA, I will be more than happy to do so (because IPA is the best).  Don’t worry too much about having perfect pronunciation, most people you encounter will appreciate your making an effort.  Most importantly, enjoy your journeys!

Essential French for the Traveling Vegan

végétarien/ne*-vegetarian

végétalien/ne*- vegan

végétal- plant-based

lait- milk

oeuf/s (euhf/euh)-eggs

viand-meat

poulet-chicken

poisson-fish

boeuf-beef

fruites (froo-ee)-fruit

jambon-ham

miël-honey

beurre-butter

sans-without

rien-none

soja- soy

lait du soja- soy milk

fromage- cheese

legumes-vegetables

biologique-organic

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Je suis végétalien/ne*

Juh soo-ee vegetal-ee-ãh**/ehn

“I am vegan”

Je ne mange rien…( du lait, des oeufs, de viand, de poulet, de poisson, du fromage, de miël)

Juh nuh mahnj ree-ãh (doo ley, deyz euh, duh vee-ahnd, duh poo-ley, duh pwah-sãw, doo fro-mahj, duh mee-ehl)

“I do not eat any…(milk, eggs, meat, chicken, fish, cheese, honey)”

Avez-vous quelque chose végétal?

Ah-vey voo kel-kuh shoz veh-jeh-tal?

“Do you have anything plant-based”

Je voudrais un café avec lait du soja
juh voo-drey uh kafey ah-vek ley du soja

“I would like coffee with soy milk”

Pouvez-vous faire mon répas sans beurre?

Poo-vey voo fair mohn rey-pah sahn beuhr

“Can you please make my meal without butter”

*The second option (with the “ne”) is the feminine ending

**That’s a nasalized vowel, there are a few of them in here, but my keyboard wouldn’t allow me to put a tilda (~) over all of them.  Don’t worry too much about it, English speakers are not very good at nasalized vowels in isolation–meaning there is no nasal consonant ( “m” “n” or “ng”, that’s “ŋ” for the other linguists out there) overtly pronounced.

My last note on my experience with vegan food in France: I was generally on my own, so I steered clear of restaurants that didn’t specifically serve vegan or vegetarian food, and I can’t speak to the willingness of chefs to accommodate special dietary needs.  I did, however, discover (at least in Paris) that most regular cafes do not carry soy milk, you’d have to go to a speciality cafe or Starbucks.  That being said, wherever your travels within France (or the world in general) take you, happycow.net is a great resource for vegan and vegetarian restaurants that can be searched by location. Even though it might seem like France is the land of butter and foie gras, there are plenty of great veg places out there, and I definitely didn’t go hungry.

Le fabuleux destin d’une petite végan: Nice

As I glimpsed a sparkle from the brilliantly blue Mediterranean from the airplane window, my excitement began to bubble over.  This was it! I was really going to France!  While I hesitate to call myself a full-blown Francophile, given that my interests are mostly linguistic, I’ve always had a soft spot for “l’Hexagone”.  My decision to learn French was made nearly twenty years ago, when I became friends with a girl in my kindergarten class whose family was Quebeçois.  During playdates at her house, they never hesitated to speak French to one another, though they would always pardon themselves due to my monolingualism, and translated for me if necessary.  Naturally, I decided that when I got older, I too would learn French, so I could share in the foreign language fun.  If I’d only known how much easier it would have been to begin a second language at five than at fourteen, I would have insisted my parents find me French lessons immediately (and I would have had many more built in opportunities to practice, unlike with my music lessons).

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As planned, however, I began studying French when I began high school, and I was fairly determined to become a proficient speaker, though this goal was still very much a dream by the time I graduated–even as a member of the French Honor Society.  I continued my French studies in university, where my first French professor increased my proficiency by leaps and bounds, and inspired me to pursue French as my minor.  All told, when I graduated, I had taken as many French classes, as I had linguistics classes, but I still felt uncomfortable with everyday speaking and understanding–hence the desire to spend an extended period of time in France.

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Some sort of mist park

IMG_2743My arrival in Nice washed over me as waves of relief that I was once again in a country where I had some knowledge of the local language.  While I had no issues with being understood in Germany, I felt supremely uncomfortable that I couldn’t respond with anything in German, even if I’d tried.  From the moment I disembarked from the plane, all of my vocabulary came back to me, despite having some trouble recalling French while I was in Israel and studying Hebrew regularly.  I purchased a bus ticket, tout en français, and made my way to my hostel, all while pulling my 30+ kilos of luggage behind me.  In total, I had less than a day to spend in Nice, and I’d done next to no research on what to do there.  While the beach was definitely on my list, finding food became my first priority.  It turned out, there was one vegan restaurant in the city, and it was only several blocks from my hostel, but it didn’t open for dinner for another hour or so.  I took that as a sign that I should definitely do some wandering (and see if there were any snackums to be found along the way…I was famished after a day of traveling).  With no snackums to be found, I took in the brightly colored buildings of Place Masséna, as well as the grey pebbles of the Niçoise shoreline.

IMG_2741The vegan restaurant whose opening I was awaiting is called Le Speakeasy.  It is owned and operated by an American ex-pat for the last fifteen or so years.  It is the tiniest hole in the wall, with maybe three tables tops.  The menu was made up of rustic, daily specials, inspired by the local cuisine.  For my dinner, I settled on the daily vegetable torte, which was a homemade gluten free crust filled with tender potatoes and sweet leeks.  It came with a fresh side salad, plus unlimited black olives and fresh, whole grain bread.  I also figured that since I was in France, I may as well get a glass of wine to go alongside my meal.  By the time I left, I was deeply satisfied, and was ready to once again wander around Vieux Nice.  I found myself along a pedestrian route running parallel to the sea that was filled to the brim with all manner of restaurants (but mostly Italian ones).  As I ambled along, taking in the menus full of food items I wouldn’t touch, I glimpsed a sandwich board advertising “glace sans lait”…”Glace sans lait!”  I thought, “Why, that sounds almost like it might be vegan ice cream!”  Though I was fairly certain I would only find a selection of fruit sorbets, I went inside the shop anyway, and asked which of their products didn’t have milk.  The young man pointed me towards about 5 tubs full of what looked like some pretty legit gelato.  I confirmed again with him that they were milk free, before promptly tasting all of them.  My choice, of course, was not difficult, as they had a hazelnut option, and I am never one to pass up a good hazelnut gelato.  I slowly consumed my gelato as I made my way back to the hostel, and settled in for some good, old-fashioned internetting.

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Artichokes at the fruit and flower market

Artichokes at the fruit and flower market

My train to the farm wasn’t scheduled until 2pm the next afternoon, so I woke up on the early side in order to catch the free hostel breakfast, which I believe consisted of toast with confiture (ok fine, jam), and some cereal that I sincerely prayed was vegan.  While I intended to do a bit more exploring before leaving the city, I also had some errands to run, like buying shoes I could wear to work on a farm (and also probably go hiking in), and buying a phone card.  I somehow managed to accomplish both almost entirely in French, much to my personal pride, and I also got to make my first trip to LUSH in over eight months.  As a reward, I bought myself a serving of socca from the fruit and flour market in the old city.  Socca is Niçoise speciality consisting of a chickpea flour pancake.  It has a rich, savory flavor, enhanced by a touch of salt and pepper (and possibly a hint of rosemary), that is crisp on the outside, but becomes almost creamy as you reach the interior of the oversized chickpea crepe.  It is naturally vegan, and officially one of my new favorite foods.  I took my greasy paper full of socca and went down to the shore, for a last bit of seaside fun before moving my journey along.

Socca and pissaladiere stand in the fruit and flower market

Socca and pissaladière stand in the fruit and flower market

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A savory mess of chickpea deliciousness

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Rhymes With Bacon: Veganz Take Berlin

Rose and I at the East Side Gallery

Rose and I at the East Side Gallery

“Rhymes with bacon, which we don’t eat. Because we’re vegan…” sang Rose, as we stood on the train platform, eager to begin our evening.  We bristled with anticipation, and the warmth of a shared bottle of Prosecco–a welcome sensation in the brisk Berlin air that was chilling the train platform.  Tonight was to be my formal introduction into the world of the famed Berlin nightclubs that Rose adores.  Though it’s still not really my scene (despite my love of dancing), I was eager to traverse the dark corners of the nightclubs, as well as participate ever so slightly in the local drinking culture.

When I travel, one of my favorite things to do is immerse myself in the local vegan food offerings.  Even in Moscow, I unearthed favorable reviews for vegetarian restaurants, though I wouldn’t have been surprised were they completely absent from the local landscape.  Given that I had my trusty, local vegan tour guide in Berlin, I did far less research on the vegan offerings before I arrived.  From what I had heard, not only were there plenty of delicious vegan foods available, there was even an entire vegan grocery store chain in Berlin!

Berlin is so vegan friendly, that mushrooms can even DJ!

Berlin is so vegan friendly, that even mushrooms can DJ!

To start things off after my arrival, we swung by a local burger joint that happened to have late night hours.  While neither of us were particularly impressed by the tofu burger, which was actually just a slice of crisp, fried tofu on a bun with lettuce and tomato (we added the ketchup and mustard ourselves), I was just happy to be able to find something filling to eat at that hour.  It always surprised me that in a city with clubs that are open for literally 3 days straight, many restaurants still closed on the earlier side, frustrating both hungry travelers (from the land of 24 hour diners at least) and those suffering a case of the drunchies.

IMG_2625The next day, Rose took me to a favorite Vietnamese restaurant of hers, Hamy, which served vegan options alongside their regular menu.  The space was small and cozy, and featured a large chalk board detailing the daily specials, of which there were only two.  We chose the curry option, and asked for it vegan, with tofu instead of chicken.  Within minutes, we were served an incredibly large portion of heavenly curry, which was perfectly spiced and balanced.  Even chock full of coconut cream and fried tofu, it didn’t feel heavy or greasy.  In my eight months in Israel, I hadn’t had anything that came close (mostly because I only had curry from a restaurant once the entire time I was there, and try as I might, I’m no expert on Southeast Asian cuisine).  After lunch, we headed over to the East Side Gallery, a large section that remains of the Berlin wall, which was then covered in various murals by a number of different artists.

Depictions of the fall of the wall

Depictions of the fall of the wall

The rest of the afternoon was spent whiling away the hours in the sun, pursuing such Berlin past times as drinking cheap beers from a corner store in a park.  We also made our way to a bakery called Cupcake Berlin, which served several vegan options alongside the rest of their baked goods.  Rose and I decided to split a cupcake, and I also bought a brownie to save for later.  I can honestly say their vegan cupcake was amazing, in all of its simplicity.  It was a golden vanilla cake, with a perfectly moist and springy crumb, topped with a rich, buttery vanilla buttercream.  During my travels, I rarely found a cupcake that could compete with those I make myself, but the vegan cupcake at Cupcake Berlin could definitely give me a run for my money (though I think my flavors are by far more compelling).

Drinking 79 cent beer from the corner store in a random Berlin square

Drinking 79 cent beer from the corner store in a random Berlin square

Behold, Cupcake Berlin!

Behold, Cupcake Berlin!

Practicially perfect in everyway

Practicially perfect in every way

Friday was the first rainy day I had experienced in months, but luckily the light drizzle didn’t deter us from our explorations, and we went to the DDR museum, an interactive exhibition dedicated to the years East Germany spent under the communist regime.  We had a chance to look at everything from toys, to a model house, to the clothing (which was frequently made of such poor quality fabrics that many did what they could to smuggle American made clothing in from West Berlin).  There were also videos discussing the housing of the future in East Berlin, as well as clips of radio and television programs.  We quickly passed several hours opening drawers and lifting doors to read about life in the DDR, and how it compared to life in West Berlin at the same time.

With a bear for mom

With a bear for mom

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Welcome to the DDR! The best of all possible worlds….

IMG_2666As the afternoon cleared up, we took a walk across the city and through the Brandenburg gate to see the Holocaust memorial.  On our way there, we took a slightly wrong turn due to an apparent obstruction in our path in the form of a World Cup Carnival (or something like that).  Our detour took us on a leisurely stroll through the Tiergarten before we finally found the memorial.  One of the things that struck me most on my trip was just how late the sun was setting, late even for a trip that nearly coincided with the summer solstice.  As we took in the memorial–both the large stone slabs situated outdoors, which slowly envelope you into their abyss, before receding as you reach the other side–as well as the underground exhibit, we were entirely unaware of how late it was, and just how close to closing the exhibit was.  The indoor exhibit was a more personal display dedicated to works of art made by victims, information detailing the destruction that was wreaked upon each specific communities throughout the rest of Europe, and spotlights on several families that were deeply affected by the events of the Holocaust.  I was rushed through the final exhibit, as the staff closed down the memorial for the evening. It was a sombre start to Shabbat, which I insisted we celebrate in some small amount, especially after an evening spent connecting to the darker moments of our history.  It was then that I finally cracked open my last bottle of wine from the Tzfat winery, and in sharing it with Rose in Berlin, it tasted even better than I remembered.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

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In the thick of it

In the thick of it

We spent Saturday relaxing at home, in preparation for our big night out (we also had a tame night out Friday, where I was introduced to Rose’s friends as well as a DJ they were fans of).  We decided to eat in that night, in order to be more budget conscious, and just as we were discussing the merits of making homemade pizza for dinner that night, one of Rose’s roommates informed us that he and his girlfriend were planning on making pizza–effectively deciding that pizza was indeed the right choice for dinner.  We stopped off at the vegan grocery store that was several blocks from Rose’s apartment, and I marveled at the selection of vegan products I hadn’t had access to during the previous months.  I managed to reign myself in, and only bought a vegan candy bar from, GoMax Go (and basically the thing I missed the most in Israel), and a block of Italian style Cheezly, which I’d heard about, but never seen in the US (or Israel for that matter).  Rose’s roommate made the dough, and we individually topped our pizzas. I chose to make a white pizza with a creamy vegan bechamel, spiced with some black pepper, and enriched with just a touch of the Cheezly.  I also added succulent caramelized onions, razor thin slices of mushroom and yellow bell pepper (two ingredients I’m not generally a fan of, but were totally perfect in this application), some sliced fresh tomato, and then topped the cooked pizza with fresh arugula.  It was absolutely delicious, which lead me to stupidly eating the whole thing (despite its relative heft and richness…I thought I wouldn’t be able to eat for a week after polishing off the last bite).  Luckily, I had the chance to dance it off later that night, when we finally were admitted to the club.

Veganz, vegan grocery store!

Veganz, vegan grocery store!

A vegan pizza in the making

A vegan pizza in the making

Side by side with Rose's pizza, ready for the sauna

Side by side with Rose’s pizza, ready for the sauna

Omnomnomnom. Vegan white pizza complete

Omnomnomnom. Vegan white pizza complete

We started Sunday morning off by going to sleep (and we arrived home early by Berlin standards).  Our plan for the day was to check out a vegan cafe near Maur park, and then hit up Bear Pit Karaoke, within the park proper.  Fast Rabbit (the cafe) was cute and funky, and its menu featured two different wraps, plus a soup of the day.  Rose informed me that they also have THE BEST fries (which I think are named something like the gang bang….).  I decided to get the half and half wrap, which combined both filling options.  I am well aware as I struggle to describe this meal that I should have taken notes, or at least tried a little harder to document our lunch, however, I’m blaming my subpar memory of that particular hour on sleep deprivation.  I do remember Rose having a cauliflower based soup that was so good, I kinda wanted to steal it all from her.

Maur Park

Maur Park

The unexpected highlight of my trip to Berlin was definitely Bear Pit Karaoke, which was held in an open-air, stone amphitheater in the middle of the park.  It’s run by one guy, who brings in a small karaoke machine, laptop (and umbrella), and sets it up Sunday afternoons for some free entertainment. We clearly weren’t the only ones who thought this sounded like a fun time for a lazy Sunday, as the amphitheater was filled with people of all ages, and from all over the world.  After the first song or two, we made our way to an empty bench smack in the middle of the audience, where a man was making the rounds with a cooler of beer, while the host cracked jokes both in English and German.  We were just in time to see the most adorable little girl get up to sing a german song, aided by her mother–followed by a tween who sang a song of her own.  Rose and I contemplated getting up there, but with neither liquid courage, nor the perfect song in mind for the two of us to sing, we kept our hands by our sides.  Our favorite participants were always the American bros, likely in Berlin at the end of a study abroad trip, and dared by their friends.  But even American college guys in polo shirts and boat shoes belting out the Backstreet Boys couldn’t compete with Drunk German Lady.  I can’t remember the exact moment of her arrival, but at some point in the middle of the song, she made her way towards the singer, and began her booze fueled groove.  With each successive singer, she continued to assert her presence, until the host finally (and quietly) asked her to please leave the spotlight.  She refused.  The karaoke continued, and Drunk German Lady continued to dance.  Each of the singers took it in stride, which possibly encouraged her more.  The host’s intermittent pleas became more desperate, as he even appealed to Drunk German Lady’s husband (slightly less drunk, Drunk German Man) to escort her away.  Drunk German Lady began to protest.  She stumbled around the circular stage, appealing to the audience with shouts I couldn’t understand.  At some point she even laid down on the stone.  Her greatest and final attempt to remain a part of the festivities was to drop trou.  And no, she was not wearing any underwear.  The crowd simultaneously gasped, and covered their (or more likely their children’s) eyes.  Unlike in the US or Israel, throughout this whole ordeal, there was not a single security guard in sight.  The gig was only up when a large biker dude stood up, grabbed Drunk German Lady, and unceremoniously threw her out of the Bear Pit area.  She fled the scene, and her husband followed.  As we were leaving later, we passed her laying down in the middle of a walkway in front of a band.  I guess drunk habits die hard.

Welcome to the Bear Pit

Welcome to the Bear Pit

Adorable, courageous toddler

Adorable, courageous toddler

Drunk German Lady getting  her groove on

Drunk German Lady getting her groove on

My last full meal in Berlin was a green thai curry from a pan-Asian place a short ride from the park.  As we exited the park grounds, we passed through a flea market, and spotted a young guy packing up one of the tables, wearing a shirt with Hebrew writing on it.  This was my third Israeli sighting on the trip.  Somehow, we ran into the same guy and some of his friends on the train back to Rose’s, after getting our dinner, and I was quite excited to make sure I hadn’t forgotten all of my Hebrew in the preceding 4 days (it’s been 2 1/2 months since I left now, and I seem to still have the ability to hold a conversation).  For a final Berlin thrill,we made our way back to Berghain for a Sunday evening dance sesh, before my departure the next afternoon.

So long Berlin, hello France!

So long Berlin, hello France!

I managed a final German culinary hurrah at the airport, where I purchased a beer and a bag of paprika chips (which is apparently the flavor to try), and got ready to start my Provençal farm adventure.  All in all, I had a great time.  Even if I could have only eaten bread for the visit, it would have been worth it to see Rose.  As it stands though, Berlin has an amazing vegan scene, and it’s definitely one of the most affordable cities I’ve ever experienced.  I definitely hope to make it back for another visit in the near(ish) future, and try even more amazing vegan noms.

Fluffy Vegan Matzoh Balls

Oh matzoh balls; the quintessential Passover delicacy. For the past few years, I’ve been on a quest to create the perfect vegan matzoh ball. The first recipe I tried used tofu—which I prefer not use being Ashkenazi—to replace the egg. The matzoh balls definitely held up well, but I found them to be rather dense, and I would have preferred a matzoh ball with a fluffier consistency. But then, it was no matter, since I was just excited to be eating matzoh balls for the first time in several years.

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My next attempt at vegan matzoh balls saw the tofu replaced with flax seed, but I found the density to be about the same. So the year after, I eschewed matzoh balls altogether, and made a potato leek soup instead. I had all but given up hope that I would one day make a matzoh ball that was vegan, kitniyot free, and fluffy.

Enter flax foam.

A few innovative individuals took it upon themselves to experiment with different ways of using flax seed as an egg replacer. Rather than simply grinding the flax and mixing it with water, they boiled the flax to extract a thick gel, which looked an awful lot like egg whites. They then whipped the flax “whites,” and either folded them into recipes in order to add airiness, such as mousse, or (in whatever consider a stroke of genius) created vegan meringues. I followed these developments through this thread, and thought, hey maybe this would work for matzoh balls. I set to work, boiling and straining the flax, freezing the goop, and whipping it into a light and fluffy mass. I then used the whipped flax in a traditional matzoh ball recipe I found in one of the many Pesach recipe books my mom has floating around.

The results were perfect. I rejoiced in the eating of a light and fluffy matzoh ball that didn’t disintegrate in broth (and tasted great to boot). I served my matzoh balls in an herb scented mushroom broth, but really they can go in any kind of broth you like.

Fluffy Vegan Matzoh Balls

  • 1/4 c flax goop
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seed mixed with 3 tbsp of water
  • 1/8 tsp salt (I prefer Indian black salt to add just a touch of egginess
  • 1/4 c matzoh meal

Combine the group flax seed with the whipped flax “whites”. Gradually add the matzoh meal, stirring gently until well combined. Let rest for 10-20 minutes.

In a large pot, heat some vegetable broth or salted water until boiling . Wet hands with cold water, and form the matzoh mixture into small balls. Gently drop each ball into the boiling liquid, and then cover and simmer about 20 minutes. I wouldn’t recommend cooking the matzoh balls in the soup you plan to serve them in because they will soak up a lot of liquid.

Remove the matzoh balls from the cooking liquid and serve in your broth of choice.

Chag Pesach sameach (חג פסח שמח)!

Grandpa Maurice’s Famous Mushroom Paté

For the longest time, my grandfather’s mushroom paté, or as we usually call it, “mushroom stuff” was pretty much the only way I’d swallow a mushroom, and only after it was doused in salt.  Mushroom stuff as my grandfather made it was a combination of sautéed mushrooms and onions, mayonnaise, and a hard boiled egg.  While this is certainly an acceptable vegetarian take on chopped liver, converting even liver fans like my dad’s side of the family, it definitely wasn’t vegan.  Additionally, replacing the egg and mayonnaise on Pesach is considerably more challenging, than if I were adapting it for any other time of the year.  First, for the egg, I decided to use soaked walnuts, in order to give the paté a the same kind of body that the egg brings.  I’m not the biggest fan of walnuts, but they do have a lighter texture and slightly more neutral flavor than hazelnuts, pecans, cashews (all of which I otherwise prefer).  To replace the mayonnaise, I went for the flavors of mayo, namely, fat in the form of olive oil, and some tang, in the form of red wine vinegar.  For a little extra “eggy” punch, I like to season the paté with Indian black salt (kala namak), which tastes exactly how I remember sunny side up eggs…because I also used to douse my egg yolks in salt.

The result tastes almost exactly how I remember Grandpa’s paté tasting.  It’s even good enough, that some years my mom has just asked me to make a larger batch, so that she doesn’t need to take precious time away from cooking other elements of the meal to make a batch of the original.  My version is punctuated by the sweet richness of the fried mushrooms and onions, mixed with a little tang from the vinegar, all married together in a smooth and creamy dip.  It’s perfect for spreading onto matzah, whether it’s as an appetizer, at your seder, or a part of your mid-Pesach lunch.

A Very Shtetl Pesach.  Fiddler On The Roof cast (including shtetl Ashley front and almost center) at Columbia University, April 2010

A Very Shtetl Pesach. Fiddler On The Roof cast (including shtetl Ashley front and almost center) at Columbia University, April 2010

Grandpa Maurice was far from vegan, but he always appreciated good food. I like to imagine he would be proud of my interpretation.  He died a little bit before I really started cooking for myself (which was also when I went vegetarian), so I never really got to share my culinary creations with him, but I love that I can still enjoy food he made for us, even if it is adapted to fit my lifestyle.

I’m giving quantities for a fairly small amount of paté, but this recipe is very easily increased.  It also does not need to be super precise, so feel free to play with the seasonings according to your tastes.

Mushroom and Onion Paté

  • 1 pint white button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 large white or yellow onions, sliced
  • 1/4 c raw walnuts, soaked for a few hours or over night
  • 4-5 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 tbsp kosher for Passover red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp black salt (or to taste)
  • black pepper to taste

Preheat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions, and sweat slowly for about 5-7 minutes until translucent.  Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until the mushrooms have cooked down, and the mixture is golden brown and fragrant.  The volume of vegetables in the pan should be considerably reduced from when you started.  Let cool at least 10 minutes.  Add the mushroom and onion mixture to a food processor.  Drain the walnuts, and add them as well. Begin to chop the mixture in the processor, and stream in the oil and vinegar while the machine is running.  Add the salt and pepper, and pulse again to combine.  Taste for seasoning.  The mixture should chopped very, very finely, and should be fairly smooth (but not entirely pureed).  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sorry I have no pictures of this, but I will say, while it’s completely delicious, it’s not the most photogenic dish out there.

Vegan Passover (פסח טבעוני)

As Passover creeps ever closer, my usual worries begin to take hold. What will I eat, where will I eat it, what do I do about cleaning my kitchen etc, etc. What was once one of my favorite holidays has become the bane of my vegan existence. I used to actively look forward to cleaning the kitchen with my parents, despite being a rather messy child (now as my friends can attest, I apologize for having a messy room if I’ve left out one shirt). I would get to explore the deep mysteries that were hidden in the attic when my dad allowed me to come up with him to bring down the Passover dishes. Even now, I’m hit with a nostalgic whiff of excitement whenever I open the pink plastic box containing the dairy dishes, as I remember how special it felt to use something that we only saw for one week a year. Even better than the attic and the dishes though, was waking up the morning of the first night to find the kitchen completely covered. The counters were covered in plastic, the stove and sink in foil, while the table had a pink tablecloth. To my young eyes, it was like entering into another world; the alternate universe of Pesach land (never actually gave it that name).

Raw Strawberry Cheesecake with Cashew Cream

Raw Strawberry Cheesecake with Cashew Cream- April 2012

As for the food, I loved all of the homemade, traditional Pesach food we would eat throughout the week. I also loved a simple piece of matzoh spread with real butter (not margarine…Pesach margarine is actually quite gross) or cream cheese. After the kitchen was cleaned and covered, I would spend the rest of the day helping my mom prepare food for the seder that night. We would fry up pounds of mushrooms and onions, to be used in everything from “mushroom stuff” (mock liver) to farfal (matzoh based stuffing). My mom would make chicken soup from scratch, and then shortly before the seder, add big, fluffy matzoh balls. It’s funny to recount this now, but one of my favorite dishes to help make was the brisket. It’s not that I was ever an ardent meat lover (though mom’s brisket was one of my favorites), but her recipe called for browning the meat in brandy before going in the oven, and really, what child wouldn’t like lighting a pan on fire.

Soaking all the nuts (almost) March 2012

Soaking all the nuts, plus dates and sundried tomatoes – April 2012

Pesach was also the very last time I ever ate meat. When I was 14, Take Your Child to Work Day happened to fall in the middle of Pesach, and so I went to work with my mom in order to get off from school for a day. While I had long ago made the decision to go vegetarian, back then, I would ever so occasionally eat a small amount of animal. By this time, those occasions were very infrequent, but being 14 and rather unprepared for a Passover lunch, I was hungry.  After (possible) fierce deliberation, I broke down and ate some of my mom’s chicken salad on matzoh. I’ve learned a lot since then, especially after giving up eggs and dairy, since much of traditional Pesach cuisine is egg based. I’ve been flexing my creativity and finding ways to veganize the traditional foods of my childhood within the confines of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Passover customs, which is to say, without beans or rice.

Beautiful raw lasagna- April 2012

Beautiful raw lasagna- April 2012

I am the first to admit that it isn’t easy, but for those of you looking to do the same, don’t lose hope! I’ve spent the last few years compiling tips and recipes that are super delicious, can be featured at a seder, and are kosher for Passover. In the next few weeks leading up to Pesach, I’ll be posting some recipes, but in the mean time, here is a list of what I usually make:

Herbed Brazil Nut cheese (in bad lighting I might add)

Herbed Brazil Nut cheese (in bad lighting I might add) – April 2012

Seder Stuff

Raw blood orange cheesecake, tastes like a creamsicle! March 2013

Raw blood orange cheesecake. It tastes like a creamsicle! March 2013

Rest of the Week

  • Matzoh lasagna (I’ve also made raw lasagna if you’re looking for something a little bit lighter)
  • Potato Gnocchi
  • Quinoa with Vegetables
  • Salad!
  • Kale Chips

    Potato Leek soup, a nice alternative if you're too lazy for vegan maztoh balls- April 2012

    Potato Leek soup, a nice alternative if you’re too lazy for vegan maztoh balls- April 2012

This year is going to be an interesting Pesach, considering it’s my first in Israel (and without my family). While adapting to cooking here has been incredibly easy, I’m used to relying on my mom’s food processor for Pesach (in order to deal with all the nuts that become a staple when I can no longer eat beans). Additionally, I may be going on a week long Pesach program in Tzfat, where we will be doing our own cooking apparently (yay!), but I have no idea what kinds of equipment and ingredients will be available to me. No matter, every year, I remind myself that now is a good time to really bump up on my whole foods and veggies. Maybe this year will be the year I actually listen.

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.

Sweet Potato Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

As my newsfeed once again fills with reports of another blizzard hitting NY, I can’t help but think about my favorite snow day activities, namely cooking and baking. Of course one would think I do quite a bit of that already, but back when I was in the city, I more often than not was either eating food from work, or got some sort of take out (also I had a microwave and ate a lot of canned beans…). While even then my budget was fairly tight, I did have some leeway and could better afford to not cook all the time. Here, my budget is next to non-existent (I’m on a special program where it’s not impossible to earn money, but it’s not exactly easy), so I do what I can to pinch pennies, which involves cooking almost every day. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, produce, dried beans, and grains are some of the only things that can really be considered cheap here, so I do what I can to eat as much of those as possible. While veganism is definitely a growing trend (found this article on Facebook today), and vegan specialty items are available (they’re also one of the things I miss the most about NY), they’re completely out of my budget. However, that leaves me to really experiment and master new ways of cooking veggies and beans. My newest project has been, “how many different things can I do with lentils” and thus, Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet Potato Mash was born.

Whole pie, fresh out of the oven

Whole pie, fresh out of the oven

Despite burning about half of the lentils when I initially cooked them (my beans/grain cooking method is to put it on the stove and forget about it until it’s done…which only works if there’s more than enough water in the pot to begin with…and I can’t forget about them for too long), I managed to salvage most of them, and cooked away the remnants of the charred flavor through a combination of luck and soy sauce. The umami flavors in the soy sauce make this pie really succulent, and the combination of the meaty lentils with all of the hearty veggies make this a perfect dish to eat in the middle of a storm (or on a pleasantly cool February evening in the Middle East as I did). I topped the pie with super creamy and delicious mashed sweet potatoes, which were scented with just a hint of the tropics from the unrefined coconut oil I mixed in. It was a perfectly comforting sweet and savory bite.

A little lopsided, but totally tasty

A little lopsided, but totally tasty

Sweet Potato Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

Filling:

  • 1- 1 1/2 c cooked lentils (I used a combination of brown, black and red. Use whatever combination you like, though I would advise against using all red lentils as they turn to much when cooked)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 large leek, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 large carrots. finely chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 c mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 2 c chopped spinach (or other leafy greens)
  • 1/4 c tamari or soy sauce
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh rosemary, lightly chopped
  • white pepper
  • black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika

Topping:

  • 1 extra large sweet potato, or 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 tbsp oil of your choice (I used a combination of olive and coconut oil)
  • 2 tbsp of cooking water or non dairy milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the leek and garlic and sauté about 5 to 7 minutes until fragrant and softened. Add the carrots and celery and sauté a few minutes more before adding the lentils and the mushroom. Add the soy sauce, rosemary, white pepper, black pepper, and paprika, and let simmer, stirring frequently until all the veggies are soft and the mushrooms are nice and browned.

While the filling is cooking, preheat the oven to 375F. Fill a medium sized pot with cold water, and add the diced sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil of medium-high heat, and cook until tender, about 15- 20 minutes.

When the filling is almost cooked, stir in the spinach and let wilt over low heat for several minutes, while you drain and mash the sweet potatoes, with the oil, salt, and pepper. I generally find the sweet potatoes don’t need additional moisture when they’ve been boiled, but feel free to add the extra liquid if you feel it is necessary. Remove the filling from the heat and pour in a small casserole pan. Spread the mashed sweet potatoes on top, and baked until the top is slightly browned (it’s also possible to just broil the top since everything is completely cooked, but if you do so, watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn). Let cool about 5 minutes and serve.

B’teavon and stay warm!

Warming Winter Soups

As New York is hit with another blizzard, it seems like a good time to share the soup recipes I’ve been saving since Israel was hit with a five day snow/hail/rain storm.  These soups were designed for the days when I knew I wanted a meal chock full of veggies, but it was just to cold to fathom eating a salad.  While most of the winter here has been absolutely lovely (~60F on average, high of 66F/19C today), the week of the storm was quite a nightmare.  Given my Northeastern upbringing, I’ve definitely experienced much colder weather, but the big difference is that it’s expected that winter will be cold in the Northeast, not so much in Israel (I mean some still think it’s cold…)  Here, apartments are built without insulation or even central heat.  I spent the first few days of the storm huddled under my thick duvet (thus justifying the investment) or cooking, since the kitchen was a little warmer than the rest of the apartment with both the oven and stove going.  Towards the end of the week, my roommate figured out how to get heat through our AC units, which at least made our rooms more bearable.  Although having hot, dry air blown at  you out of a machine is not exactly ideal, it was a much better option in my eyes than braving the storm to buy a small radiator (which would actually use about the same amount of energy).  Additionally, the warmest shoes I had were either ripped up converses, or the rubber ballet flats that had served as my work shoes, and I had to go out and buy a jacket just to attempt to keep warm outside.

Hail storm in Central Israel, December 2013

Hail storm in Central Israel, December 2013

Thankfully, that weather has passed now, a friend gave me a pair of boots to borrow for the season, and my new jacket is a perfect medium weight jacket to keep me warm when it cools off at night.  I’m also left with a bunch of warming, hearty, but still healthy soups!  Since the first bit of chill was felt in the air here, my roommates and I have consistently kept the fridge stocked with at least one soup per week, ranging from what I like to call “Clean Out the Fridge Soup” to chili, French Onion soup, and even  a curry lentil soup (or two).

Two weeks after the storm there was still some lingering snow on the Judean hills. December 2013

Two weeks after the storm there was still some lingering snow on the Judean hills. December 2013

The first soup I made this season was a broccoli potato garlic soup, inspired by the Cinnamon Snail.  We don’t have any kind of blender or anything here, so we ate it chunky, but if you do own such technology, I say blend away!  It may even be good with a touch of soy or coconut cream added!  (I for whatever stupid reason, did not take any pictures of this soup).

Broccoli Potato Garlic Soup

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • ~10 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 head of broccoli, chopped (stalk included)
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 tbsp rosemary
  • 1 tbsp thyme
  • salt
  • coarse ground black pepper
  • water to cover

In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté the garlic in the olive oil for about a minute.  Add the onions and sauté about 5 minutes more until translucent.  Add the potatoes and broccoli, saute for another 2 to 3 minutes, add the herbs, salt and pepper to taste and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and then lower the heat.  Simmer about 30 to 45 minutes, until all the veggies are nice and soft.  Adjust seasonings, and puree if desired.

“Soup”-er easy!  Check back soon for “Clean Out the Fridge Vegetable Soup”(I know, really appetizing name).