26 February 2008

Curried squash crepes

Although this was Donna's idea for breakfast at one point, it serves equally well as a light dinner. It is a savory crepe recipe.

Begin by sauteeing

1 sliced onion

in corn oil. When it is softened, add

3 summer squashes cut into batons.

(A mix of 1 zuchinni and 2 yellow squashes is nicely colorful.) While the squash is cooking, put

3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons yellow curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

in a small saucepan. Whisk in enough oil to "dissolve" the dry ingredients. Heat to a very low simmer, whisking constantly. After about 30 seconds, whisk in

1-1/2 cup soy milk.

Either unsweetened or plain soymilk works best, though vanilla works in a pinch. You might want to add a little more salt in that case, though. Whisk frequently until the sauce thickens, which should be about 5 minutes or so. Let the sauce cook gently for a few more minutes, and then pour it into the squash. Stir well to coat the squash in the sauce, then remove from the heat and set aside.

Now to produce the crepe shells! Put

1/2 cup flour (spring whole wheat is nice)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

into a small mixing bowl, and stir. Add

1 cup milk or soymilk
4 eggs

and beat with a whisk until smooth. There are rumors that too much mixing will cause stiffness, but I've never had an issue with this. Heat a skillet greased with spray oil. Setting the temperature takes practice, and it is not easy to describe my procedure for it. I have found that a well-seasoned cast iron skillet helps stabilize and distribute the heat and is almost essential. (I have done OK with a stainless steel frypan and an electric stove, though this requires more adjustments to the heat. Indeed, one of the nicest things about a cast iron skillet is that the pan doesn't overheat after you've removed a crepe.) Once the temperature is to your liking, add

3/16 cup of the batter to the pan (use roughly 3/4 of a 1/4 cup measuring cup),

and swirl the skillet to spread the batter into a disk about 5-6 inches in diameter. If you're worried about the temperature, it's better to start out too cold and set the temperature with the first crepe. Determining when to flip the crepe is also something requires practice. I wait at least until bubbles form and remain, and the upper surface appears to have just finished "drying". If your skillet is light enough, you can try to flip the crepe in the air -- I don't, since cast iron is way too heavy! A regular spatula works fine, though. Once the crepe is done, scoop it off to a warm dish (perhaps in the oven on "warm"), and re-grease the skillet.

This recipe makes 12 crepes and enough filling to fill them nicely. It's enough for a light meal for two people.

22 February 2008

Thai Soup

This was just a first attempt at some Thai-like soup tonight, but it was fine as a first run. It contained two cans of coconut milk, 7 chopped carrots, a red onion, about a quarter of a head of red cabbage, 5 or 6 cloves of garlic, 1/2 t salt, 1/2 t ginger powder (next time, we'll use fresh), 3 T soy sauce, 1/4 c lemon juice, and about 1-1/2 t red Thai curry paste. I threw in some frozen broccoli and cauliflower as well. There were also about 3 stalks of celery.

20 February 2008

Root soup with millet gnocchi

This is an odd combination.

It starts with a rather plain vegetable soup... Put some oil in a soup pot and

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds,
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns,
1 bay leaf.

Cook these over low heat until they darken. (By the way, this is a usual Indian cooking stunt -- fry the spices first...) Slice and sautee

2 onions and
1 teaspoon salt

in with the spices. Cook over low heat until slightly browned. Dice and add your favorite roots, for instance

1 potato,
2 turnips, and
1 parsnip.

Fry these for a while, then add

6 cups water,
1 teaspoon brewer's yeast extract, and
1 teaspoon paprika.

Cover and simmer until the vegetables soften.

Now you can get down to the business of making the pasta. I happened to open the cabinet while making this soup and saw that we had millet. Millet is a rather interesting grain, one that allows you to control its texture from a coarse grittiness (like corn meal) to a velvety smoothness. On the other hand, since it has no gluten, it's not very good for making pasta. At least, I wasn't about to try this evening. On the other hand, it can be used to lighten a wheat pasta in the form of gnocchi... Since I was in a mixing mood, I also decided that amaranth should also play a role, though I'm not sure what role it plays... (And you thought gnocchi requires potatoes... Look at The Silver Spoon some time -- there are 18 recipes for gnocchi, 10 of which do not contain potatoes!) Even better, gnocchi are easy!

Grind (blender, spice grinder, mortar and pestle, whatever works; a food processor does not)

1/2 cup mixed millet and amaranth seeds in roughly a 2:1 ratio.

add this to

2 cups boiling water,

and cook until most of the gritty texture of the millet is gone. (I like a little millet-grittiness, though Donna apparently does not.) You will want to stir this frequently as it is rather thick and will burn otherwise. Take the millet off the heat, cool slightly, and mix in

1/2 cup semolina flour and
1 egg.

At this point, the mixture should be sticky, and rather like smooth mashed potatoes. (That's the idea, anyhow.) Slowly work in

3/4 to 1 cup all purpose flour,
a pinch of salt,

and turn onto the counter. Knead into a smooth dough. Gnocchi dough feels almost like a soft downy pillow -- very unlike the usual stiff pasta dough. There is no need to be particularly rough in kneading, so don't add too much flour, lest you spoil the softness... Divide the dough into quarters, and roll each into a tube about 1/3" to 1/2" diameter. Slice into stubby pillows with a floured knife, and queue them on a floured dishtowel.

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, and add the gnocchi, a few at a time to the water. They float to the surface (and stay there) when fully cooked, which makes them easy to remove with a slotted spoon.

I added about half of the gnocchi to the soup (sort of like dumplings), and put the other half in the fridge for later. This soup is rather plain, so pass the grated parmesan/romano cheese and salt/pepper (whichever is your particular vice, mine is for the later of each).

Donna notes that the gnocchi contrast strongly with the soup, suggesting that some cheese or bits of one's favorite protein be added to the dough. Indeed, The Silver Spoon often suggests such things. However, I'm suspicious, seeing as after finishing a bowl of soup, she went and made herself a quesadilla in the microwave.

A (perhaps too rich) curry sauce

This is overkill, but it is tasty.

Blend in a small saucepan

3 tablespoons corn oil and
2 tablespoons flour.

I used spring wheat (so called "white" whole wheat), which gives a nice earthy undertone. Apply gentle heat until the mixture starts to sizzle. Whisking constantly, add

1-1/2 cups unsweetened soymilk,
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce,
1 teaspoon salt,
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (that's plenty),
2 tablespoons curry masala (normal "yellow" curry powder),
1-1/2 teaspoons peanut butter.

Use natural, unsweetened peanut butter. The distinguishing feature of the curry powder is that the primary ingredient is tumeric. Stir frequently, especially after the sauce thickens, and cook for 5-10 minutes. I added some water (about 1/4 cup or so) to loosen the sauce partway through.

Vegan stew with "oatballs"

When there are root vegetables to be had, this is one way to have them...

Start by slicing

3 onions,
olive oil,
1 teaspoon salt,

and sauteeing them in a large soup pot over very low heat (cast iron is best) until a rich brown. This takes a minimum of 10 minutes. Be patient. But while you're being patient, cube and fry the roots: (freely vary)

2 large turnips,
1 rutabaga,
1 potato,
2 parsnips.

Once they've fried for a while (no need to brown), cover with

6 cups water,
2 teaspoons brewer's yeast extract
bunch of chopped fresh parsley.

Bring to a boil, and simmer.

While these two pots are cooking, prepare the oatballs. Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Bring to a boil:

1 cup water,
1/3 cup minced pine nuts,
chopped fresh basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme,
1/4 cup soy sauce,
1 teaspoon brewer's yeast extract,

and then add

1 cup oats.

The oat mixture should have the texture of a thick paste. Take it off the heat as soon as the oats thicken. Cool it off briefly in the fridge, so you can handle it safely. Grease a cookie sheet and your hands. Roll the oat mixture into 1/2" to 3/4" balls and place on the cookie sheet. Place in the oven and bake 30 minutes.

While the oatballs are baking, return to the veggies. By now, the onions should be done. Add the other vegetables and their broth to the onions. Once the vegetables are fairly soft, mash them coarsely with a potato masher (over the heat, if you dare!). Let the stew simmer gently until the oatballs finish baking.

Now for the critical part, for which you must wait for the diners. Immediately before serving, remove the oatballs from the oven and add to the stew. They soften very quickly. You may wish to instruct the diners to add their own oatballs to prevent undue disintegration...