Monday, August 27, 2012

Easy "Cheater" White Bean Curry with Mango

Hello ninja-readers!  In the week leading up to Labor Day and the end of  another summer, I thought I'd post this easy curry recipe since everyone is probably busy with end of summer plans and last minute cookouts.

I call this a "cheater" curry because it uses pre-made green curry paste from a jar.  I'm usually one to hunt down all of my own spices, including heading to the Asian market for things like fresh lemongrass, but this was a dish I whipped up for ninja-love Mike and I on a weekday night without a lot of planning, so jarred curry paste it was.  I added some of my own spices to make it taste completely homemade, but the jarred paste keeps the recipe nice and easy.  It doesn't really matter what kind you use - different brands will definitely affect the taste of the end product, but pretty much any kind you use will be delicious.  The curry is high-protein and packed with plenty of nutrients and good fats from all the veggies, fresh ginger, coconut and mango.  It makes quite a lot, but the leftovers are delicious and it would freeze well, so make a batch and have good eating for days on end.

Make this curry on a night when you want a meal that you can get on the table in under an hour, but tastes like it took forever.  Serve with rice, flatbread, or any grain to round out your meal.  Mike and I had ours over quinoa, because that's just how we roll here in the Fur Ninja house.  Onward to the recipe!

Easy "Cheater" White Bean Curry with Mango


3 Tablespoons peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 hot chili pepper, stem and seeds removed, minced
1" cube fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/4 cup mirin (rice wine)
3 Tablespoons green curry paste
1 1/2 lbs sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1" dice
1 1/2 cups whole cherry tomatoes
1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk
1 cinnamon stick
1 (14.5 ounce) can white beans or 1 1/2 cups cooked white beans
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup chopped mint
salt to taste
1 mango, peeled and diced

In a large saucepan, heat the peanut oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic, onion, chili pepper, ginger, coriander, turmeric, and five-spice.  Cook 3-4 minutes until the onions start to soften.  Deglaze the pan with the mirin, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to incorporate all of the spices.  The mixture should currently resemble a thick sauce.  Add the curry paste, sweet potatoes, and cherry tomatoes.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often to coat all the vegetables with the spices and to dissolve the curry paste.  Add the coconut milk and cinnamon stick, and stir again to incorporate everything.  Simmer partially covered for 20 minutes.  At this point your cherry tomatoes should be soft and starting to pop.  Add the beans and cook another 10 minutes uncovered, stirring often.  If the mixture looks like it's sticking, add water 1 Tablespoon at a time.  The mixture will be very thick.  After 10 minutes, check to make sure the potatoes are cooked through (if not, cook for another few minutes until they are tender) and turn off the heat.  Remove the cinnamon stick.  Add the chopped mint and cilantro and stir to incorporate.  Taste for salt and add 1 teaspoon at a time if needed (the amount of salt you need will depend on the saltiness of your curry paste).
Serve with rice, flatbread, quinoa, rice noodles, or any other grain.  Top individual servings with 2 Tablespoons diced mango and additional cilantro.

Tips and Tricks:

1. Ginger - the easiest way to peel fresh ginger is with a spoon.  Cut a piece of ginger about the size of what you need, hold it under running water, and scrape away the skin with the side of the bowl of a spoon.  This will effectively remove the skin without wasting too much of the ginger underneath.  I also mince my ginger super-fine in a coffee grinder instead of with a knife.  This basically liquifies it into the sauce so the flavor is uniform throughout.

2. Salt - taste and add, taste, and add a little more.  I usually provide measurements for salt in recipes, as I believe it is an integral ingredient to making food taste good, but in this case the saltiness (or lack thereof) of your curry paste can affect how much you really need.  I used about 2 teaspoons in mine, but yours may vary depending on your brand of curry paste.  Remember, you can always add more, but you can't take away.  Taste, taste, taste!

3. Coconut milk - I almost always use reduced fat (I'm in my thirties now and try to take small steps to keep my weight under control) but either full fat or reduced is fine. 

4. If you don't want to add the mango garnish, you can make this without, but the mango is absolutely perfect with the flavors of this curry - sweet, juicy, and cooling against all that spice.  I encourage you to try it!

That's all for today, fellow ninjas.  More recipes to come - sunshine carrot muffins with blueberry filling, spicy horseradish fridge pickles (with fresh cucumbers and jalapenos from the ninja garden!), and white bean basil dip....I'll be posting quite a bit over the next two weeks as I heal from ankle surgery, so be on the lookout for more!

Also, if any of my readers have favorite vegan recipes, please go here here and submit them to an upcoming vegan cookbook published by Citizens United for Animals.  You can find their Facebook page here: Citizens United For Animals Facebook page.  And even if you're not a ninja-cook, show support and buy the cookbook - should be out sometime before the end of the year.  Fur Ninja has submitted some of my best recipes from the blog, so cross your fingers that I'm featured in the finished book!

Until next time then....

The Fur Ninja

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Gnocchi with Beer Braised Seitan Sauce

Happy Sunday, ninja readers!  Here's a delicious recipe for you that's perfect to make on a lazy weekend day when you've got nothing better to do but cook up a storm.  This recipe was inspired by an article in Philly Beer Scene magazine that talked about cooking with beer.  The original recipe was for non-vegan gnocchi with beer-braised lamb shoulder.  I tweaked it to make it both veg-friendly and to suit my own tastebuds.  I have to say, it turned out very well.  Both Mike and I found it delicious anyway.  Making the gnocchi does take some time, and it can get your kitchen pretty messy, but it's fun and easier than you might think - this was my first time ever making gnocchi and I think they came out perfectly.  If you don't feel like making the gnocchi, this sauce would be great on any type of pasta or even polenta (hm, now I might have to try that; I haven't had polenta in forever!) so even if you're now down for the gnocchi, try making the sauce because it comes together pretty quickly.  The sauce has a fancy-schmancy taste, but it's really super easy, so make it next time you want to impress someone with your ninja cooking skills.

A word on beer: please use a good, hoppy beer for this recipe.  I used an imperial black ale called Iniquity from Southern Tier brewery.  It's a nice, strong-flavored dark beer, which is what you need to bring depth to the sauce.  I know some vegans take issue with drinking alcohol, and if that's the case with you, you could try substituting white cooking wine or vegetable broth.  You definitely won't get the same delicious sauce though.  Oh, and please don't go using a tasteless, mass-produced beer in this sauce.  You need a craft brew.  If you're a foodie vegan who doesn't have any issues with imbibing every so often, I'd encourage you to learn about what good microbrews are available in your area.  Beer can play off of food just as well (or, in my opinion, even better than) fine wine.  Just a word of advice from this Fur Ninja who also happens to be a beer snob :)

Onto the recipe!

Gnocchi with Beer Braised Seitan Sauce


For the sauce:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon non-dairy butter
1 onion, diced
5 gloves garlic, minced
1 lb seitan, diced into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
several grinds fresh black pepper
1 cup strong, hoppy beer
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes

For the gnocchi:
3 lbs white potatoes, baked and skin removed
2 cups flour + more for rolling the gnocchi
1/4 cup pureed silken tofu
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon non-dairy butter (for pan-frying the cooked gnocchi)

First, make your sauce.  Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the diced onion.  Cook for 2 minutes until the onion begins to soften.  Add the minced garlic and seitan and raise the heat to medium-high.  Add the rosemary, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper, crumbling the rosemary and thyme a bit in your fingers before adding to the pan.  Brown the seitan for 6-8 minutes, being careful not to burn.  A bit of sticking is ok (we're going to deglaze with the beer) but if it looks like things are sticking to the pan too much, add a small amount (a Tablespoon or so) of water and turn down the heat.  Once the seitan is browned, and there are some little crispy bits sticking to the pan, deglaze with the beer.  Make sure you scrape the pan with your spoon to get up all the delicious bits of seitan and spices off the surface of the pan.  Add the can of tomatoes and 1/2 cup of water.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust if necessary.  Keep warm until you're ready to serve.
Next, get started on the gnocchi.  Mash the potatoes well in a large bowl.  Get them as smooth as possible; you want to make sure you don't have any large pieces of potato left in there.  Add the tofu, olive oil, salt, and spices, crumbling the rosemary and thyme in your fingers before adding.  Stir until combined.  Now add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.  Once the dough starts to form you can ditch the spoon and knead with your hands until it forms a dough.  Be sure not to over-knead; stop as soon as the mixture is a uniform and rather stiff dough.
Now the fun part!  Break a handful of dough off and roll it into a long rope on a well-floured surface.  The rope should be about 1/2 inch in diameter.  Once you've done that, use a knife to cut the rope into 1/2" pillow-shaped sections.  Then take each little "pillow" and using your thumb, roll it down the tines of a fork until it reaches the end.  You should end up with a small impression from your thumb on one side, and little ridges from the fork tines on the other.  Set finished gnocchi aside on a large plate.  Don't stack them too much on top of each other or they may stick.  Repeat this process until you are out of dough.
Boil a large pot of salted water and add the gnocchi in 3 batches - don't overcrowd the pot!  Once your gnocchi floats to the top of the pot, it's done (this should take about 2 minutes).  Some will take longer than others to cook; just skim the cooked ones off the top of the water with a slotted spoon and place in a colander to drain.  Continue until all of your gnocchi are cooked.
Heat 1 Tablespoon non-dairy butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the gnocchi and fry for 6-8 minutes, just until they are lightly golden and crispy.  Remove from the heat.
Serve generous portions of the sauce over individual bowls of gnocchi.

Tips and Tricks:

1. As I've said before, I highly recommend making your own seitan over buying it pre-made, as it is very easy and much cheaper.  I recommend the "simple seitan" recipe in the amazing cookbook, "Veganomicon."

2. Crisping the gnocchi is a purely optional step.  If you don't feel like doing this, you can just serve them right after they are boiled.

3. Don't freak out about the gnocchi.  It's actually a lot easier than it sounds.  The dough is pretty much a no-brainer so really the only "hard" part is shaping them, and you'll get the hang of it pretty quickly once you try it.  And if they're not perfect?  So what!  I actually think mine came out too big and slightly oddly-shaped (the indent from my thumb wasn't very prominent - do I have weird thumbs??? - so they were kind of flat), but that didn't affect the taste one bit.  Jump in there head first and give it a try!

4. Serve the gnocchi with some of the beer you used for the braising - it will bring out the flavor perfectly!

Well, ninjas, I hope you try out this recipe and enjoy it as much as Mike and I did.  I definitely think I'll be making this again on a regular basis with pasta or polenta since it's so freaking easy.  I might try it topped with some chopped fresh herbs as well.  As always, comments and feedback welcomed!

More to come soon - "cheater" white bean curry, lemon-carrot muffins with blueberry filling, and Mike and I just got a huge grill for the back "yard" (a.k.a the fenced in concrete slab off the alley haha) so my mind is spinning with ideas for bbq tempeh, grilled pizza, and all sorts of other things.  Plus our garden is bursting with cucumbers so I'm probably going to have to make some pickles soon.  Thanks for reading and until next time, I'm wishing you bellies full of good food and hearts full of happiness.

Much love,

The Fur Ninja

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fudgy Cashew Caramel Swirl Brownies with Coconut and Macadamias

"That damned brownie!"  That's what my ninja-love Mike exclaimed when this super, super rich brownie gave him a stomach ache....but was so good he had to eat another piece.  Please note: I cannot be held responsible for tummy aches, diabetic comas, chubby bellies, jiggly butts, or any other ailment or condition that results from eating too much of these brownies.

Fudgy Caramel Swirl Brownies with Coconut and Macadamias

1 cup non-dairy butter, melted
2 1/2 cups sugar
1.5 cups unsweetened cocoa 
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
4 Tablespoons flax seeds
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons agave nectar
2 Tablespoons water
3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons cashew butter
4 Tablespoons non-dairy butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 Tablespoons non-dairy milk

3/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut

Lightly grease a 16x9 inch baking pan with cooking spray or non-dairy butter.  Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
First, make your brownie batter.  Combine the melted non-dairy butter, sugar, cocoa, salt and vanilla in a large bowl.  Whip the non-dairy milk and flax seeds together in a blender or by hand with a whisk until thick and creamy.  Add to the ingredients in the large bowl and mix well.  Add the flour and mix until it disappears into the batter.  Then beat the batter vigorously for 1 minute by hand with a wooden spoon.  The batter should be smooth and shiny.  Pour batter into prepared pan.
Next, make the caramel.  Place the sugar, agave, and water into a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil and boil for 5-6 minutes, whisking continuously.  The sugar should melt and the mixture should be bubbly.  Remove from heat and stir in cashew butter, non-dairy butter, and vanilla.  Return to the saucepan to the stove over medium-low heat and whisk for two minutes, adding the non-dairy milk one Tablespoon at a time until the mixture is relatively smooth and creamy.  The caramel should be thin enough that it drips in ribbons off of a spoon.  If it is too thick, continue to add non-dairy milk by the Tablespoon until you reach the right consistency.  Remove from heat.
Pour 1/2 cup of the caramel into the pan with the brownie batter.  Use a butter knife to swirl the caramel in with the chocolate.  Reserve the rest of the caramel.
Now toast your toppings.  Place the coconut and macadamias in a dry skillet over medium heat.  Toast for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the coconut is light golden.  Be careful not to burn!
Pour the remaining caramel over the batter in the baking pan and use a spatula to spread it over the entire top, all the way to the edges.  If your caramel has thickened up too much as it cooled, whisk in non-dairy milk one Tablespoon at a time until it reaches a spreadable consistency.  You don't want it too thin or it will just sink into the batter.  After spreading the caramel over the top, sprinkle the toasted coconut and macadamias over the whole top of the caramel.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean.  Allow the brownies to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing.  Enjoy with non-dairy ice cream!

Tips and Tricks:
1. You really could substitute any type of nut butter for the cashew butter.  I originally intended to make the caramel with macadamia nut butter, but Whole Foods didn't have any.

2. The caramel is a bit touchy, so just be patient with adding the non-dairy milk by the Tablespoon until it looks right.  If it's slightly thicker or thinner than mine, or isn't perfectly smooth, don't worry; it will still be delicious!

3. I use almond-milk (unsweetened) as my go-to non-dairy milk for pretty much everything from cooking to baking to morning cereal.  Feel free to use soy or hemp or whatever non-dairy milk you like, with the exception of rice milk.  Rice milk doesn't have the creaminess of other non-dairy milks and might change the consistency of the caramel.  But hey, if you really wanna do rice, let me know how it works out!

4. Make sure you scrape the brownie batter bowl and caramel pan with a spatula and lick it clean!

Enjoy these brownies sparingly.  Seriously - they sit like bricks.  AMAZING though.  I made these for my ninja-grandmom's 90th birthday and my whole family raved about them despite the stomach aches.

See you again soon, ninjas - recipes for gnocchi with beer-braised seitan sauce and "cheater" white bean and sweet potato curry up soon.  Same ninja time, same ninja channel.

The Fur Ninja