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!

Any Veggies Will Do (Soup)

I’ve previously called this soup “Clean Out the Fridge Vegetable Soup” which is a little more accurate to the situation at hand when I made this. The process of choosing what to put in this soup mostly consisted of grabbing all the veggies from the fridge that needed to be cooked immediately and layering them into a deliciously tasty (and warming soup). I also bulked it up with some barley (you can use rice if you’re gluten free) and chickpeas. This is a soup with all the comfort of a winter meal that is healthy to boot. The best part is, it really can be made with whatever you have on hand. Feel free to substitute potatoes for the sweet potato, or squash if that’s what you have. Add spinach instead of the cabbage, and maybe some bell pepper instead of the tomato. Really, it’s up to you!

Topped with some techina and cilantro

Topped with some techina and cilantro

Recently, I haven’t been using premade broth in my soups, rather, I’ve just been adding water and seasoning well with herbs, spices and salt. This way, the flavors of the vegetables you use really come through, and you have even more control over the amount of sodium in your food.

Bubbling away

Bubbling away

Any Veggie Minestrone

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 c carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 c mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 small to medium tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, quartered (for easy removal. Chop if you actually like celery)
  • 1/2 of a cabbage, shredded
  • 3/4 c chickpeas, soaked and drained
  • 3/4 c barley
  • 1 tbsp thyme
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until translucent.  Add the carrot and the sweet potato and sauté another 5-7 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, sautee until slightly reduced, then add the tomatoes and do the same.  Season each layer with a little salt as you go.  Add the rest of the ingredients and the cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for about an hour, or until the chickpeas are tender and the barley is cooked.  Adjust seasonings and serve.

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).