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February 19, 2010

Spicy Mexi Millet

Are you familiar with millet? Until recently, my eyes passed over it at the store many times without giving it a second thought.

At closer look I found out a few very interesting things about millet:
  1.  It is a grain-like plant, the edible portion being the seeds.
  2. Millet is a significant part of the diet in parts of Asia and Africa.
  3. This crop does well in hot dry climates, where wheat and rice might not.
  4. Just like the trendy seed quinoa, it is suitable for people following a gluten-free diet.
  5. These seeds are made up of nearly 15% protein, along with being high in fiber, and containing minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. 
  6. If you don't end up liking millet, you can serve it up in your backyard bird feeder or make beanbags with it.
After my first experience with millet I have decided that I will not be using it as bird seed. Millet can be eaten porridge-style for breakfast, it shines as a substitute for rice and other grains in side dishes, it is a common wheat substitute in gluten-free breads, and it can also be made into sweet dishes like pudding. Now I just wonder why a grain with such potential to appear in any meal of the day, and even dessert, doesn't get more press. 

I have only just begun experimenting with millet in my kitchen, but I am off to a great start with this Spicy Mexi Millet (thanks Jessy!). This dish is like Spanish rice, and it is great as a hearty side dish. I stuffed peppers with it one night, and another night served it burrito-style atop sauteed cabbage with a drizzle of queso and avocado slices. 

I think this is the start of a beautiful relationship.

Spicy Mexi Millet
(adapted from happyveganface)

½ cup uncooked millet
1 cup water
1 cup cooked black beans (or pinto or kidney beans)
1 green pepper, diced small
1 small yellow onion, diced small
1 carrot, grated
1 large tomato, diced small
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp garlic powder
1/2 fresh jalapeno, seeded, finely diced
juice from ½ a lime

Place dry millet in a small pot and toast over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Add in the water and bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer about 15-18 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed.

Spray a large skillet generously with cooking spray, and heat over medium high. Toss in the green pepper and onions and saute for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and stir in garlic and jalapenos, and saute for another minute. Mix in your beans, carrots, and spices and cook for another 2 minutes. Last, stir in the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. 

Add the cooked millet to the skillet, stir in the lime juice and tomato paste, and serve.

Makes about 5-6 side dish servings, or stuffs an equal amount of peppers or tortillas.

February 8, 2010

A Proper Vegan Brunch

You would not really know it from reading my blog, but I love cooking breakfast. In fact, it is a Saturday morning tradition at my house. In the past I have not posted about very many of my breakfasts, because while I enjoyed my regular rotations of skillets, omelets, and pancakes, I did not feel that I had anything ground breaking to add to the mix.

As you might recall, several weeks ago I decided to give up my weekly cheesy, eggy, and buttery breakfasts as part of the 10-day cleanse. I was surprised how easy it was to give up eggs and dairy, and not just for my Saturday morning breakfasts. The cleanse ended 10 days ago and I have continued on without eggs and dairy without looking back.

So what of my Saturday morning tradition then? It was high time that I made a proper vegan brunch, so this weekend I set out to do just that. It seemed only appropriate to go for an eggs, meat, and potatoes combination for this venture.

Now this, I could get used to.

First up, Mini Crustless Tofu Quiches. If you are a skeptic on replacing your morning eggs with tofu I urge you to try this recipe. Baking these quiches results in a firm, yet fluffy result (very eggy!), and the chopped herbs and veggies within pack them with flavor.

Mini Crustless Tofu Quiches
(from FatFree Vegan Kitchen)

olive oil spray
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup bell pepper
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives (or one green onion)
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary (or 1/2 tsp. dried, crushed)
black pepper to taste
1 12.3-ounce package lite firm silken tofu, drained of water
1/4 cup plain soymilk
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon cornstarch (may sub another thickener such as arrowroot or potato starch)
1 teaspoon tahini (preferred) or cashew butter
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2-3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Spray 12 regular-sized muffin cups well with non-stick spray.
Lightly spray a non-stick skillet with olive oil and sauté the garlic, bell peppers, and mushrooms over medium heat until the mushrooms just begin to exude their juices. Stir in the chives, rosemary, and freshly ground black pepper, and remove from the heat.
Place the remaining ingredients into a food processor or blender. Process until completely smooth and silky. Add the tofu mixture to the vegetables and stir to combine. Spoon equally into the 12 muffin cups: it will fill regular muffin cups about halfway.
Put the muffin pan into the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 350 F. Bake until the tops are golden and a knife inserted into the middle of a quiche comes out clean--about 25-35 minutes depending on your oven and muffin cups (silicone will take longer than metal, so if you're using a metal pan, check it at 20 minutes). Remove from the oven and allow them to cool for about 10 minutes. (Serves 3)

Chorizo Sausage 
(from Vegan Brunch)

Moving right along, for the meat in my brunch I decided on chorizo sausage. Can you believe these babies are plant based? They were spicy and meaty and perfect! This one comes from Vegan Brunch, and you'll just have to get your hands on a copy to get at this recipe. This is the first recipe that I have tried from this book, and there are several more I can't wait to try.

Lastly, my own contribution to my first vegan brunch, Rosemary-Sage Homefries with Kale. These were a huge hit, and a welcome change from the potato-and-seasoning-salt variety. Amazing things happen when you have fresh rosemary on hand.

Rosemary-Sage Homefries with Kale

2 cups russet potatoes, chopped in 1/2 pieces
2 cups kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1-1/2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a medium skillet. Add onion and saute over medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until translucent. Stir in garlic and saute for another minute. Add in your potatoes next and give it a good stir. Now stand back and let the potatoes brown for a few before stirring again (if you are impatient you can cover them to speed this along a bit). Brown the potatoes for about 15 minutes, stirring often. The cooking time here will depend a lot on how big your potatoes are. Stir in the rosemary and sage about half way through the browning process.

When the potatoes are at an edible point, tender, but still a few minutes from optimal crispness, stir in the kale. Give it another 2-3 minutes over medium heat stirring constantly, or until the kale is properly wilted (but not droopy!) and the potatoes are crisped to your liking. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Serves 3)

...brunch is served!

February 4, 2010

Split Pea and Barley Soup

I have never been a picky eater, but like most people, there are a few things I just never cared for. For most of my years the biggies were mushrooms, olives, and celery. I am not sure what changed, but at some point over the last 5 years I have grown to love mushrooms and olives.

Where does that leave celery? ehh..

Despite how it may appear, to this day I cringe at the thought of any crunchy celery bits in my food. I took a chance and bought my first head of celery last year when I started making lots of homemade soups. I found that as long as I cooked it until tender, that I loved it.. success! I felt like such a grown-up being able to cook with my greatest veggie nemesis.

My grown-up food tastes continue to surprise me sometimes. Perfect example, earlier this week I dreamt about split pea soup and brussels sprouts all day at work. I would settle for nothing less than these two things for dinner that night -- and my (kind-of) friend celery even made an appearance.

In the last month I have had two different versions of Split Pea and Barley Soup at different restaurants. I was hooked and I knew that I had to come up with my own. This soup was everything I hoped it would be. The peas break down while cooking, and then the barley steps in to give the soup some great chew. As far as I'm concerned, this legume and this grain were meant for each other.

You can make this the quicky way by tossing everything into the pressure cooker (so long as you don't mind very tender carrots), or you can simmer in separate pots on the stove. I will provide guidelines for both methods below.

Split Pea and Barley Soup
About 5-6 servings

1-1/2 cups green split peas, rinsed and picked over
1/2 cup pearled barley
8 cups good tasting vegetable broth  
1 large white onion, diced
3 carrots, sliced
3 ribs of celery, sliced
1-1/2 tsp thyme
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Pressure cooker method:
Spray pressure cooker with cooking spray, or if non-stick add a few tablespoons of water. Saute onion for 5 minutes, or until translucent. Stir in garlic and saute for another 2 minutes. Add in peas, barley, broth, carrots, celery, thyme and bay leaf. Seal pressure cooker and cook under high pressure for 6 minutes, and then allow the pressure to come down naturally. Remove bay leaf, stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Depending on how hearty you like your split pea soup, you may need to add more water. It thickened up after sitting and I ended up adding 2 cups of water.

Standard stove top method:
Spray a large pot, or if non-stick add a few tablespoons of water. Saute onion for 5 minutes, or until translucent. Stir in garlic and saute for another 2 minutes. Add in peas, broth, thyme, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Cover pot and simmer over low heat for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until the peas have broken down.

About an hour in start your second pot (a medium sauce pan will do). Bring 4 cups of water to a boil and stir in barley, set temperature to medium low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Stir in carrots and celery and simmer another 15-20 minutes, or until the barley and veggies are tender to your liking.

When it is time to combine both pots, drain some or all of the liquid in the pot with the barley, depending on how thick you want your soup. Remove bay leaf from the first pot, and then pour the barley/veggie mixture in. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Another option would be to keep this all in one large pot, by timing the addition of the barley and vegetables appropriately for everything to be done cooking at once (adding water as needed). Either way works!

Three more things:
1. Have I told you lately that I love my pressure cooker? Oh yes I do!

2. Other things that make me feel like a grown-up: the comment that my dad left on my last post. (By the way, thanks again for all of your nice comments!)

3. This soup is my submission to February's No Croutons Required blogging event. This month is The Copycat Round -- a challenge to recreate a soup or salad that you enjoyed at a restaurant. As I mentioned, I had split pea and barley soup at two different restaurants, but this version is most like the one that I enjoyed at California Pizza Kitchen. They call their soup Smashed Pea and Barley, fun eh?