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Aloo Gobi, a bit of basmati rice and a vegetable samosa. Who could ask for anything more?

When I saw that today was dedicated to both potatoes and hot spicy food, one dish immediately came to mind – Aloo Gobi.  It is a fabulous vegetable curry of potatoes, cauliflower, and onions in a sauce spiced with garam masala, ginger and garlic.  Like so many dishes that have graced tables for several generations, there are too many recipes to count.  Words like authentic and traditional have little meaning anymore.  Everyone’s mother, grandmother or favourite restaurant has added their own unique twist on “tradition.”

In my Northern BC home, the word “vegetarian” was loaded with negative connotations – of bland food and of skinny, pasty-complexioned hippies.  I have little doubt that they already knew about the amazing world of Indian spices, but these were flavours still unknown to me and that I would not be exposed to until I had left my hometown.   What I know now is that when it comes to vegetarian cuisine, Indians have knocked it out of the park.  Unlike my earlier visions of cardboard flavoured meals that satisfied neither the stomach nor the soul, I now relish the heartiness and crave the robust of flavours of many a vegetarian meal.

Aloo gobi is a great meal for many reasons aside from the fabulous flavours.  For the inexperienced cook, it is easy to assemble.  For the hurried cook, it is a one-pot meal finished in about 20 minutes.  For the health conscious, it is light and cholesterol-free.  For the spice-enthusiast it can be seasoned from mild to super-fire-hot.  It can be eaten alone or with rice or with naan, topped with riata, chutney, crispy onions, raisins, etc.  I like mine with chutney and crispy onions and a bit of naan bread for dipping.

Still pressed flat by the lid of the take-out container... nothing to look at but the spicy aromas filled the room.

Now comes the time when I have to admit that I didn’t make my own aloo gobi this time.   I have all the ingredients in my fridge and I had every intention of whipping up a batch.  However, after spending the better part of two hours sitting in traffic and another hour waiting for a service that should have taken 15 minutes, I was in no mood to serve, but rather to be served.  The easy alternative was to order from one of my favourite Indian restaurants. 

Vegetable Samosa from Ashiana Tandoori

Now comes the plug for a great restaurant.  Ashiana Tandoori on Kingsway in Vancouver.  Ashiana has for several years now been ranked the third best Indian restaurant in the city by Vancouver Magazine, always trailing the well renowned Vij’s and sister eatery Rangoli.  The owners at Ashiana seem okay with their ranking.  Vij’s is arguably one of the best dining experiences in North America after all.  Rankings aside, the food at Ashiana is brilliant.  For the purposes of this blog, we ordered the Aloo Gobi and vegetable samosa (another amazing use for potatoes).  In the past, we’ve had the Fish Curry and the Lamb Nawabi and loved both.  The garlic naan was great and the chicken pakora was also wonderful.  My absolute favourite Indian restaurant is in a nearby suburb.  It’s a family run business in our old North Burnaby neighbourhood called Bombay Bhel.  They produce the best Butter Chicken I have ever had and the Lamb Vindaloo is killer.

So back to potatoes and spicy food.  I grew up with potatoes on the table for every meal.  The tubers were ubiquitous.  When I left home, potatoes were relegated to occasional side but I had never imagined them so full of flavour until I moved to Vancouver and was exposed to the wonders of Indian spices.  So I say to you, mashed might be comforting, but aloo gobi is exhilarating.  Make your potatoes exciting.

A gratuitous pic of my dog... instead of cooking aloo gobi, we took him for a long walk and a refreshing swim. It was exactly what we both needed after an otherwise infuriating afternoon.

BTW… I tried this variation of Aloo Gobi by Michael Smith.  It is made with sweet potatoes and I was really pleased with the results.  Is it ironic that a chef from PEI is making aloo gobi without a PEI potato?

Bon appétit,

Della

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Soup – the gift that keeps on giving. It’s true. Think about it. When did you ever make a batch of homemade soup that only lasted for one meal? Never, right? But that’s okay because I’ve never met a soup that didn’t make great leftovers or didn’t freeze well and I bet you haven’t either. Well, as long as it was good soup to begin with of course.  I’m not going to go into the history of soup or fill this space with random factoids about soup, though there is plenty interesting on the topic to be sure and if you are interested, I urge you to type “soup” into your Google (or Yahoo or whatever search engine) search bar and browse at your leisure.  Today’s post is about sharing homemade soup recipes and celebrating homemade soup!

I do have one single-meal homemade soup recipe that I make from time to time. I don’t know how well it qualifies as homemade since one of the key ingredients is instant noodles but it also involves veggies and stuff so I think it does. Goes like this:

1. Put 3 – 4 c. water and one small handful each of mushrooms, chopped red bell pepper, and small broccoli florets into a medium-large saucepan and heat to boiling.
2. Add 2 tbsp. miso paste (I usually mash it up in a cup with hot water before adding it so it liquifies better), 1/2 – 1 tbsp sambal oelek and a couple squirts of soy sauce. Stir.
3. Add one package instant ramen noodles (with soup flavour mix if you want, or not), a couple handfuls of chopped spinach and/or bok choy and the juice of one lemon or lime. Cook 3 minutes or until noodles are tender.

Other optional add-ins include green onions, shrimp or other shellfish, an egg, kimchi, etc.  Serves 2 people, or 1 really hungry person.

I have a lot of favorite homemade soup recipes I make.  A couple of years ago I invented a Roasted Butternut Squash & Chipotle Cream soup.  Sadly, I never wrote down the recipe but here’s my best approximation based on my very weak recollection:

1. Slice 1 butternut squash in half (lengthwise), rub lightly with olive oil and place face down in roasting pan. Roast at 350 until tender. [Optional: can sprinkle some brown sugar and/or salt & pepper for additional flavour].  Remove from oven, scoop flesh out of skin and reserve.

2. In stock pot, saute 1 small sweet onion in butter or olive oil until transparent.  Add 1 tbsp. toasted ground cumin, 1 tsp. ground coriander & 1/2 tsp. turmeric. Cook for 30 – 45 seconds.

3. Add squash flesh and just enough hot chicken, turkey or veggie stock to cover.  Simmer for 10 – 15 minutes to allow flavours to coalesce.

4. Season with 1-2 (or more if you like it really spicy) chipotle peppers (the canned in adobe sauce kind) and s & p.  Cook for another 5 minutes and then blend the whole thing until smooth and creamy.

5. Serve with sour cream or yogourt garnish and fresh cilantro.

Many of my soups use homemade stock. I make giant batches of the stuff and keep it in my deep freeze for a variety of purposes. Usually it’s turkey or chicken, but last Easter I made a ham stock with the leftovers from the Easter Ham and it was really great so I recommend that as an option for those of you who like to make stock.  Eva and I once made a roasted vegetable stock for a vegetarian stuffing we were making for a Thanksgiving dinner for 100 or so people. We concocted this giant vat of roiling liquid chock full of a variety of roasted veggies and seasonings like Bragg’s and fresh thyme and brown butter sage.  The colour was great, the smell was great, the taste should have been great and it was mostly, but also … slightly bitter.  Maybe it was because we’d overroasted some of the veggies, or maybe we should have left out the green peppers.  Anyway, we solved our problem by adding Coca-Cola to it because that’s what we had on hand (it was a temporary kitchen). Which just goes to show that you can put anything in soup.

One of my all-time favorites is a soup my dad makes and it doesn’t even need stock. For some reason, I can never remember the recipe and I repeatedly call him for a recitation, so I thought it would be wise to immortalize it here.

(B’s Dad’s) Portuguese Kale Soup – the illustrated version

Saute 1-2 chorizo or linguica sausages in a small amount of oil.

Add 1 medium onion (diced) and cook on medium heat until onion is transparent.

Stir frequently, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add 3-4 Russet potatoes (diced) and cover with just enough water to cover potatoes.

Cover and cook on medium-low heat until potatoes are almost done (i.e. tender)

Season with 3 tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar, 1-2 tsp. Molasses and 1 clove.

Add a can of beans. Preferably cannellini or white kidney beans but red will do.

Fill the pot with as much chopped kale as you can stuff into it. Mix it in, cover and cook until kale is tender (about 15 minutes).

Serve with a nice crusty bread.

For the vegetarian version:

To achieve a meatier taste without actually using meat, cook the onions a little more so that they just barely start to brown. You can use a little more oil or even butter to help encourage that browning – but, as my (Jewish) dad says, make sure that you are careful to cook them only until they are just starting to brown a tiny bit around the edges and no more, or else the soup will taste Jewish, not Portuguese.  Then add about 1 tbsp. of red pimento paste (the seasoning that is used to make chorizo or linguica; your choice whether you want to use spicy or mild), swirl it around in the oil and let it cook a bit, and then a little bit of red wine (because they also use that in making chorizo and linguica) and a couple of drops of liquid smoke (to give the smoked sausage flavour).  Let the wine sizzle just a bit to cook out the alcohol and then add potatoes and proceed as above.

I hope you take the very small amount of time to make this soup. It is truly one of the best soups I have ever had.  It’s easy and satisfying and pretty too.  I wish I could take credit for it, but I’ll give credit where credit’s due. Thanks Daddy-o!

xoxo  B.


Mushroom_soup

World Vegetarian Day has been celebrated since 1977: http://www.salagram.net/VegeWVD.html

To celebrate, I cooked up a giant batch of woodsy wild mushroom soup, recipe courtesy of rebar modernfood in Victoria, BC: http://www.rebarmodernfood.com/. Can’t post the recipe (copyright) but the cookbook’s worth picking up anyway.

Decided to use sherry instead of wine (so much better with mushrooms). Wasn’t sure if I had enough, so on the way home from work, stopped at my local cold beer and wine store. Couldn’t find any sherry on the shelf, so asked an employee for help. She said, “uh, yeah… we don’t really carry it? because it brings in a certain demographic?”

Dude.

Stretched the (not enough) sherry I had at home by throwing in some red wine. Guess I’ll drag my “certain demographic” ass to the government liquor store to replenish my supply. Better stock up on the bourbon, too: think we used the last cup making barbeque sauce (wonder what that says about my demographic?)

Despite clerk’s derision, the soup turned out fantastic! Perfect for the first day of Vancouver rain season. Highly recommend hunting down the porcinis the recipe calls for. They do give of a slightly bacon-esque aroma but add so much richness: the aroma of the soup was itself esculent.
Throw-down
: many so-called vegetarians have a secret bacon habit (you know who you are).  Are porcinis a road to sin-free satisfaction? Discuss.

Served the soup with a toasted brie, heirloom tomato and rocket (don’t you just love that word? so much better than “arugula”) sandwich on organic multigrain bread.

My husband, who is a thorough carnivore (shameless bacon-eater, too), said it was delicious – for a first course.

E

P.S. Apron was “Betty Boop” in black and red (thanks, Mom).