Saturday, December 27, 2008

Baklava - vegan style!

Baklava is one of those desserts that seem so intensely difficult to make that few people try. Trust me: you can do this. Working with Phyllo dough is a little intimidating at first because speed is of the essence to keep it from drying out. But really you don't have to move at lightening speed to do this - just remember to cover the dough with plastic wrap and a damp towel to keep it from drying out, stay calm and breathe!!!

There are two key ingredients that also make Baklava non-vegan 1) Butter and 2) Honey. People swear you need these to make it 'real' Baklava. Guess again. Earth Balance makes insane vegan 'butter' - the taste is all there. They even make one with olive oil now and because my local store had run out of the usual variety I use I tried the olive oil one. I figured olive oil = Mediterranean and this dessert is nothing if not Mediterranean, whether it originated in Turkey or in Greece is up for debate - but not by me! The Earth Balance worked beautifully.

Now the honey issue. Personally I like honey and I use it. I know, I know: scandal. But I would never suggest that because I have no issues with honey that it is something ALL vegans should use. NEVER. It's a personal choice. My choice is to use it. BUT I decided to make my Baklava without honey to see how it would work. It's been at least 10 years since I made Baklava so I was a little bit afraid I wasn't familiar enough with making it to fiddle with recipes, but I gave it a shot. It came out just great! And totally, completely Vegan.

So if you want to use honey, please go for it. IF you are strongly opposed to it, the following may be the answer!

Vegan Baklava
the filling
1 lbs finely chopped nuts (I used a mix of walnuts, pecans and pistachios but any nuts will do)
2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/8 t. allspice
1/4 C. sugar

the crust

1 lbs package Phyllo dough (reserve 6-8 sheets for top layer)
1 C. melted Earth Balance (you may need more or less depending on how you brush it on)

the syrup

1 C. water
1 C. sugar
1/2 C. dark Agave Syrup*
1 T. lemon juice
zest of one large lemon
2 t. Almond extract*
1 t. Vanilla extract

You will need a 9 x 12 pan (or thereabouts) that is at least 2-3 inches deep. You will also need a pastry brush.

The first thing you want to do is make the syrup so it has plenty of time to cool while the pastry is in the oven. This is where the honey usually goes and I replaced it with dark Agave syrup. *(Flavored agave syrup is showing up on the shelves, so it you find one flavored with Amaretto you don't need to use the almond extract because it's in there already.) Normally you would put in about a cup of honey, but using the agave, almond and lemon gives a 'sort of' approximation of honey flavor.

Put the water and sugar into a saucepan and bring to a slight boil cooking until the sugar is fully dissolved. Reduce the heat and add the lemon juice, zest, Agave and extract(s). Cook over a very low heat for approximately 20 minutes until syrup begins to thicken up. Then remove from heat and allow to cool fully - you can pop it into the fridge to cool it that's fine.

Now preheat your oven to 350° and melt your 'butter'.

Prep the filling by thoroughly mixing the nuts, spices and sugar together in a large bowl. Depending on how sweet you like things you can add more sugar here or omit it entirely. Taste the syrup and see if the lemon makes it too tart for you, if it is you want to put more sugar in the nut mixture.

With a pastry brush lightly butter the bottom and sides of your baking pan. Open your package of Phyllo dough, pull out one sheet and promptly reroll the rest and/or cover with plastic and a damp towel. Take one thin sheet of dough and lay it in the bottom of the baking pan. Gently, but quickly brush the dough with melted butter. The end of the sheets of Phyllo will begin to dry out very quickly so you should start at the ends and butter 'in'. And don't worry if you miss a few spots - you don't have to butter every single centimeter. If your sheets are very large you can either cut them or save time by simply laying half over the pan, buttering it and then folding the other half over (giving you two layers of dough very quickly without having to open the towel-covered 'stash') and buttering that portion. Also do not fret if you tear a sheet here and there while buttering - it happens! It will be fine.

Repeat the layering and buttering of the dough until you have between 6-8 layers of dough on the bottom of your pan. If there are edges sticking to the sides of the pan just push them down as they happen with the edge of your pastry brush. The more 'crumpled' the dough is the more it will flake and layer when it cooks - so don't worry that you will mess it up. You won't!

Once you have the bottom layer of dough done take a couple of handsful of the nut mixture and sprinkle a VERY thin layer across the entire pan - covering all the dough. Remember you will be cutting this into small pieces and you want every piece to have full layers of nuts. Now layer another sheet of dough on top of the nut mixture (this is where some tearing can happen because of the nuts - but again - it's fine the next sheet will cover for you!) and repeat the buttering layering process until you have 2-6 layers of dough which you will top with nuts again and continue this process until you are out of nuts. For reference I only did 2-3 layers of dough between layers of nuts and as you can see in the photos that doesn't give you a really defined 'layer' look. So I would err on the side of more rather than less for the dough layers - 2 is the absolute minimum. Just be sure to reserve about 8 sheets for the final top layer of dough so that you get that nice flaky pastry top.

Once you have the top layers done you can pour any remaining 'butter' right on top of the whole dish.

Important step coming up.

You MUST, absolutely MUST cut the baklava BEFORE you put it in the oven. If you miss this step you will end up with one giant baklava and trust me, that flaky crust will not cut well once it's been baked. So please: cut before cooking! And use the sharpest knife you have.

You can cut squares or try angles for a fancier look - either way is totally fine. If it's your first time, you may want to stick to the squares/rectangles because the diamond shape can be a little tricky as the top layers of dough are going to try very hard to slip away from you. Baklava - it's a feisty dessert.

When you are cutting through make sure you go almost to the bottom of the pan but try not to completely cut the bottom layer because a) the syrup will stay IN the pastry if it has no where else to go: if you cut all the way through you'll have a layer of syrup on the bottom of your pan and while that's still fine, it's not really what you want. So cut almost all the way through (do your best). b) You will cut all the way through thoroughly after everything is done.

This is what it looks like before it goes into the oven - after you've cut it.

Same thing - just a closer look (see how some of the top layers have left their assigned seats? that's okay!)

Put the pan into the oven - top shelf if possible to avoid burning the bottom layers - for approximately 50 minutes or until the top is a nice golden brown. Give it a quick look after about 30 minutes - some ovens may be quicker and you don't want it to burn after all that layering and buttering work you've just done!

There it is all golden and pretty!

Now take your cooled syrup and pour it evenly all over the top of the baklava right away while it is still hot from the oven. You may get some pops and hisses from the cool meeting the hot, but that's fine. And fun!

This is how it looks after the syrup is poured on. Shinier. Now you must let the whole thing cool fully. Leave at room temperature to do this part of the cooling and don't cover it with anything or it can get soggy. Nobody wants soggy Baklava! Crispy tops is part of the fun here.

After it's thoroughly cooled (a few hours) you can cut all all the way through and serve! However the longer you can let it sit and kind of marinate the better - so if you can wait until the next day that's good. Of course you can do a sampling - just to make sure you like it before you serve it up.... you'll like it.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Quinoa and whateveryagot Pilaf

This time of year with all the running around, parties, shopping, and cooking for guests it not a time you really feel like going all-out for an everyday sort of meal. But the great thing about Vegan cooking is that you can make something really tasty that seems really special in next to no time.

I threw together this pilaf with things I happened to have on hand - I wasn't going shopping just to make a quick pilaf for lunch. So this is what I came up with - and I have to say, I'm very pleased with the results!

Quinoa and Whateveryagot Pilaf

1 c. uncooked quinoa
2 1/4 c. vegetable broth
1 T. olive oil
1 small yellow onion diced
1 carrot diced small
1 celery stalk diced small
2 cloves garlic minced
3/4 t. dried marjoram
1/8 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. turmeric
a good pinch of salt
handful of roasted cashews
half handful of yellow raisins
half handful of sunflower seeds
1 can chickpeas (drained)

Saute the onions, carrots and celery in the oil for about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, spices and quinoa and continue cooking until the garlic is fragrant (don't let it burn!) Then add the broth cashews, raisins, sunflower seeds and bring it to a boil. Once the pot is boiling reduce heat and cover for 10-15 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Add the chickpeas, toss and fluff the quinoa and let the chickpeas heat through. Then serve! (I just put a 1/2 cup on top of a ready-to-eat bagged salad that I had.)

Remember the key to this is that you use whatever YOU happen to have handy and go with that - don't get caught up in my ingredients list - just try whatever you feel 'might' work. Odds are you will come up with something you love (because it's made up of what you already like and have around) and it will give you ideas to make all kinds of versions of this! Plus, you get more Quinoa in your diet which is terrific for vegans and non-vegans too because it packs so much nutritional punch. The other good thing about this is that if you have left-overs it works cold (or at room temperature) as well as hot from the pot.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


The weather is chilling up and that means turning on the oven is no longer going to turn my apartment into an inferno. Turning on the oven means roasting veggies!

I love roasted vegetables and as soon as the temperature dropped I pulled out everything roastable I had on hand and did it up.
This is a half an acorn squash (roasted) stuffed with roasted fresh cauliflower and potatoes.

I split the squash, scrapped out the seeds and gave it a quick, light coat of olive oil then put it cut side up into a baking dish with a little water (to keep the skins from burning) and popped it into a 400° oven.

The squash takes a bit longer to cook so while that was getting a head start in the oven I washed and chopped a head of cauliflower and about 4 medium sized potatoes. Put all the veggies into a big bowl and tossed them with olive oil, one clove of sliced garlic and a healthy sprinkle of powdered rosemary. Then spread them all out evenly on a baking sheet or a shallow baking dish give them about 20 minutes then turn everything and let them go for another 20 minutes or so until they start showing some nice browning.

The squash takes about an hour to cook through (depending on the size). Then put everything on a plate and feel that yummy comfort of autumn cooking settle in. Deeee-lish!

Leftovers the next day for sure and they heat up very quickly. I added some oompf to the leftovers by toasting some pine nuts and sprinkling those on top. And the squash got a chopped up apple added while it was reheating. A really nice addition!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mac 'Cheez' n Peas

One of the very few things I have actually missed since becoming a vegan is the comfort of Macaroni & Cheese. Like a lot of Vegans I am not overly thrilled by the assortment of soy cheeses available. Sure, some are very good but they aren't mac & cheese worthy. However there is a great item that makes an amazingly accurate substitute - nutritional yeast.

I do not understand the mechanics that make nooch as many call it taste like cheese - but I'm here to tell you, it does.

I got some old school elbow macaroni and while it boiled then put together a batch of Wolffies's Nutritional Yeast "Cheese" Sauce from La Dolce Vegan.
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes (not Brewer's Yeast!)
2 T. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 C. water
2 t. oil
1 and 1/2 t. dijon mustard (Actually I like it with a little less 1 t. seems enough to me)
1 and 1/2 t. tamari

Whisk all ingredients together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 2-4 minutes - stirring constantly. Makes approximately 1 and 1/2 cups.

Drain your mac (any type of pasta you like), pour some cheez sauce over it and if you're like me you'll throw in some peas. Peas in my mac & cheese are imperative to me. There's just something about the pops of green that make me happy. Of course you may prefer it straight up old-school or with some other veggie. Make it your own!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


I'm not a huge fan of the big meaty portobello mushroom. Maybe because it's big and meaty? But I decided to give them a try at home and see what I could do with them.

What I did was slice them fairly thin and sautéed them in a pan with some garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Hello, simple! They seemed cooked enough - meaning they had shrunk down significantly - in under 5 minutes. I simply scooped them into some pitas with lettuce and not only was it tasty, it was so fast I barely knew I'd cooked!
I think some tomato slices would have really complemented the mushrooms, but I didn't have any.
Now that I have a portobello dish I really like, I may experiment with them some more! And maybe next time my photos will come out a little prettier!

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Like many people, I have some trouble with green bell peppers. They can be hard on the digestion. But red, yellow, and orange are mellow, dreamy and oh so beautiful!

You can throw them into practically any dish for a little extra zing of color and flavor. For example this is simply collard greens sautéed with olive oil , onions and garlic. I threw a can of butter beans on top and while it would have still tasted fine, the look of it was a bit... blah. So I cut up a yellow pepper and threw it into the mix. Eye appeal makes a world of difference.

This is scrambled tofu (Vegan with a Vengeance) and Diner home fries (Veganomicon). While I've made this without the peppers because I didn't have any in the house, the addition of a pop of red pepper makes it so much more appealing! I also like to put some spinach into the tofu scramble for that 'Florentine' vibe.

I really love jalapeños and habañeros and all the other spicy peppers as well, but for every day the colorful bells always work.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Irish Soda Bread

There is nothing like Irish Soda Bread. When I was a kid we'd only ever have it for St. Patrick's Day - if then. But I never realized how easy it is to make. Really ridiculously simple - though maybe the traditional recipe is more complex. Since I've only ever made it as a Vegan, I can't say. But vegan is best, so why quibble? The longest part of the process is the baking.

Irish Soda Bread
1 cup soy milk (rice milk works too)
1 T. apple cider vinegar
2 ¼ flour
2 T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
heaping ¼ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
½ cup (or more!) raisins
3 t. caraway seeds (if you like 'em - for me they make the bread)

Preheat oven to 350°.
Add the vinegar to the milk and set aside to 'curdle'. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Mixing the raisins into the flour coats them and keeps them from clumping all together in one place in the dough. When the oven is ready add the wet to the dry and mix just until everything comes together into a dough. Sprinkle a bit of flour onto a cookie sheet lined with silpat or parchment or just lightly greased. Form the dough into a ball, sprinkle a hint of flour on top and give it a little "x" slice across the top. Bake for approximately 40 minutes. Give it a toothpick test for doneness and if it sounds hollow when you tap it, it's certainly ready. Set it on a rack to cool or the bottom might get soft.

You can also throw the dough into a loaf pan if you want more uniform sandwich slices. Just remember to grease the loaf pan so you can get it out.

If you want that old-school bakery feeling, add a drop or two of green food coloring to the 'milk' mixture. Green bread makes me think of mold, but if you get a deep enough shade it's sort of festive for St. Pat's.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Soba Noodles with Cabbage and Miso

This is super easy and healthy comfort food.

2 cups water
2 t. Better than Boullion (or whatever boullion cubes or mix you like)
1 chopped carrot
1 chopped celery stalk
2 thinly sliced cabbage leaves (I used savoy)
1 BIG Tablespoon White Miso (you can use any style miso, I just prefer the white for this)

Boil a large pot of water for the soba noodles. Soba noodles usually come bound in serving sizes - one is more than enough for this amount of soup. While the water is boiling for the noodles, chop the veggies and start the 2 cups of water for the broth.

Throw the veggies and broth mix into the 2 cups of water - throw the noodles into the large pot of boiling water. Soba noodles take about 7 minutes to cook. When the noodles are almost done dissolve the miso paste into the broth - make sure not to let this boil any more as boiling will diminish the benefits of miso. Just let it simmer.

When the noodles are done drain them, rinse with some cool water and throw them into a bowl. Top with the veggies/broth mixture and sprinkle with some black and white sesame seeds (if you have 'em).

This literally takes less than 15 minutes to put together and it beats the hell out of packet or pre-made soups. Try it!