Maple-lime sweet potato and black bean tacos (4 servings)

In my estimation, there are three levels of vegan cooking. Level I means simply leaving out the animal products without replacing them -- skipping the layer of cheese on top of a casserole, for example. There are times when this is perfectly workable and when the eater wouldn't even know anything was missing. However, there are other occasions where the final product is missing the richness or depth that the original ingredients contributed. Next, Level II vegan cooking involves making easy substitutes -- changing out oil for butter, soy sauce for Worcestershire, or non-dairy sour cream for the regular stuff. Again, this works well most of the time, and it's certainly easy. Level III is a little more complicated and requires replacing animal ingredients with creative substitutes that match the flavor, complexity, and texture of the originals.

When I cook vegan meals (and I do so three or four dinners per week, usually), I'm normally at a Level II. I'm trying to find more interesting ingredient substitutes though. Today's taco recipe is somewhere between Level II and Level III; it replaces the honey from these honey-lime sweet potato, corn, and black bean tacos with maple syrup (another lovely fall flavor) and makes up for the missing cheese with a dairy-free spicy sauce. I love sweet potatoes and could tell their roasted sweetness would be nicely offset by the acidity of the lime, but I knew leaving out the cheese would remove the rich, creamy accent flavoring. A quick search led me to this smooth and spicy chipotle sauce, which ended up being the perfect complement to the tacos.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, diced into 1/2-inch cubes (You don't have to bother with peeling them.)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 lime
  • Red pepper flakes
  • 14.5-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • 8 small flour tortillas, warmed

Sauce ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup raw, unsalted almonds (whole, sliced, or slivered -- doesn't matter), soaked for several hours
  • 1/4 cup canola or similarly neutral-tasting oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1-2 chipotles in adobo
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.
  2. Once you've diced the potatoes, transfer them to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle them with the olive oil and toss gently. Sprinkle the potatoes with cumin, paprika, coriander, the zest of the lime (save the lime for juice later), and red pepper flakes to taste. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Toss gently again, and then spread the potatoes out on the baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, tossing halfway through.
  3. Meanwhile, place drained black beans in a small stockpot over medium-low heat. Add in the onion powder (Feel free to use fresh, diced onion if your insides are tougher than mine!), garlic, maple syrup, and oregano, along with the juice from the lime. Stir and cover. Allow the beans to simmer gently while the sweet potatoes roast.
  4. While the sweet potatoes and beans are doin' their thang, make the chipotle sauce. Drain the almonds. (If you forgot to soak the almonds, don't worry. I'm guessing your sauce will just come out a little less smooth.) Using a blender or food processor (or an immersion blender and wide-mouthed, tall jar), blend all the sauce ingredients until smooth. Add more water if the sauce is too thick.
  5. Once the sweet potatoes are tender inside and slightly crispy outside, remove the pan from the oven. Top each tortilla with a spoonful of black beans, a scattering of sweet potato cubes, a drizzle of sauce, and a sprinkling of cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with hot sauce on the side, if preferred.

A quick anecdote about a mistake that turned into a proud moment: When I was blending the sauce, I started out with 3/4 cup water, which made the sauce way too thin. I mean, it was practically broth. I went through a panicked conversation in my head about what I could use as a thickener -- "Yogurt? Nope, won't work for a vegan recipe. Cream? Still nope. Cooked rice? Don't have any. Cornstarch? Seems weird here. Cooked, mashed vegetables? No -- oh, wait! Sweet potatoes!" They had just finished roasting, so I tossed in a couple cubes at a time, blending them into the sauce, until it had reached a thicker consistency. The potatoes gave the sauce a little extra flavor, too! Hooray for thinking on my feet!

CookingClassy's original taco recipe called for corn, but I decided to leave it out to save some calories. I'm sure it would taste great, but I was trying to cut corners, admittedly. Next time, I might cut the sweet potatoes down to one pound, as I had just enough beans for eight tacos but probably a cup of leftover potatoes. Hey, they'll make a nice side dish for something later in the week!

Samosa soup (6+ servings)

One of the most enlightening and entertaining aspects of cooking at home is realizing the sweeping variety of recipes that exist across the world. Sometimes I love to sit down with a cookbook and look at recipes I'll probably never make and might not even like just to take in the culinary diversity expressed by creative people all over the globe. 

So what is the most universally-consumed food across all cuisines? My gut says it's probably wheat, since almost all cultures consume some type of bread, pasta, dumpling, or noodle. But that same gut (which is getting hungrier the more I think about delicious, delicious carbs) also thinks the humble potato has to be in the top five somewhere. In fact, the wealth of scholarly publications on the history and cultural impact of the potato suggest I might be onto something! Mmm... potatoes.

According to the World Potato Atlas (yes, for realz), potatoes were first brought to India sometime in the 1600s but were initially received with skepticism. Today, however, they're used in many Indian dishes, from main dishes to dessert. They're often used in samosas, which are deep-fried, vegetable-stuffed pastries that are often spicy. I like samosas, but I'm not into deep-frying food at home, so when I saw this gorgeous vegan soup that turns samosas inside out, I couldn't wait to try it!

You will need:

  • 4-6 medium potatoes, scrubbed well but not peeled, chopped into even chunks
  • 1/2 tsp coconut oil
  • 1-2 green chilis, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 white or yellow onion, diced OR 1/2 Tbsp onion powder (Boo for IBS.)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 3 cups vegetable broth (make sure it's gluten-free if you're going for that)
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1/2 cup cooked green peas (I used frozen)
  • 1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • chutney and/or fresh cilantro leaves

Steps:

  1. Place the potato chunks in a large stockpot and cover with cold water by an inch or so. Bring to a boil and cook with the lid off or vented (to prevent it boiling over) until the potatoes are fork-tender. (The length of time will vary, depending on the size of your chunks.) Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot to keep warm. Set aside.
  2. Heat the coconut oil over medium heat in a skillet; add the chilis, garlic, and onion/onion powder to the oil and cook 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the spices (cumin seeds through ginger, above) to the skillet, and cook, stirring frequently, for another 2-3 minutes, or until the spices are fragrant and sizzling.
  4. Using a rubber scraper, add the spice mixture to the drained potatoes. Pour in the vegetable broth, coconut milk, and lime juice. Use an immersion blender to blend the potatoes and liquids, making it as smooth or chunky as you prefer. (I used a lot of potatoes, so mine was THICK -- like one-step-below-mashed-potatoes thick!)
  5. When the soup has reached your desired consistency, fold in the peas and chickpeas. Add salt to taste. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each portion with a swirl of chutney (Sharwood's Mango & Ginger Chutney is lovely) and/or a sprinkling of chopped cilantro leaves.

 

This soup is silky and elaborately-spiced. It wasn't hot-spicy (I used only one chili and it was getting old anyway) but deeply flavorful in a multi-layered sort of way. It really did taste like the inside of a samosa!

Admittedly, I changed quite a few things from Shannon's original recipe. I left out a couple spices but increased the amount of the remaining ones, added ginger and curry powder, upped the coconut milk, and skipped grinding the spices in a food processor. I didn't mind the texture of the seeds in the soup, especially because it meant I didn't have to clean my behemoth of a food processor. Sometimes laziness wins out over authenticity, especially in my case!

Happy Vegan MOFO (MOnth of FOod), friends! Once again, I'll try to post a new vegan recipe at least once a week. If there's anything in particular you'd like me to try out, leave a comment below!

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Vegan raspberry crumble bars

I don't think of myself as a particularly wise person. In general, I have more questions than I have answers, which I think is a perfectly acceptable way to live. (How boring would life be if we had all the answers already?) However, there are two things I'm totally sure about. First, life is all about collecting opportunities -- trying new things, taking risks, learning from each other, and making mistakes. Second, almost any dish can be enhanced by a sprinkling of buttery crumbs on top. Life is just sweeter with crumbs.

Love & Lemons' raspberry crumble bars are no exception. Coconut oil, walnuts, and sugar make rich, soft-yet-crunchy clusters that cover a gooey, glossy raspberry layer.

You will need:

  • 4 Tbsp coconut oil, hardened in the fridge
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup brown or coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup raspberry jam (preferably juice-sweetened)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a small baking dish with parchment paper or spray it with non-stick spray.
  2. Use a food processor to blend the coconut oil, flour, walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and salt until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand. (Add a tiny bit of water if you need to make it hold together better.)
  3. Press 3/4 of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the bottom crust for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are just barely golden brown. (It took longer for me than the original recipe said.) Remove from the pan and allow it to cool for a few minutes.
  4. Once the bottom crust has cooled, spread the raspberry jam on top.
  5. Add a little water to the remaining crumb mix until it holds well enough to form clusters. Sprinkle the crumb clusters on top of the jam and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the top crumbs are golden brown. Remove from oven.
  6. Allow the pan to cool most of the way on the counter, and then put the pan in the fridge to cool completely. These bars are much easier to slice and remove from the pan when they're chilled!

Between the walnuts and the coconut oil, these bars are certainly not low-fat. However, they do have the potential to be fairly healthy, depending on what type of flour and sugar you use. In fact, I think that next time I make them, I might cut down on the sugar, as they were pretty darn sweet!

Asian chopped salad (4+ servings)

Listen: This "recipe" barely even counts as such. It's much more like a formula -- some crunch from this, some protein power from here, some flavor from a splash of this, etc. But it's a delicious, delicious formula, and it's something I can see myself going back to again and again.

Chopped salads are delightful. They're colorful, crispy, and nutritious, plus they're so flexible. I was inspired by the outrageous hues of this salad when I stumbled upon the blog last week, but I decided to change up some of the ingredients for more of a Thai theme. Using the guide below, you can create your own splashy, crunchy showcase of nutrition!

I've put an asterisk beside the ingredients I used in my salad last night!

1st ingredient: Crisp vegetables
Choose any combination of the following to equal 5-6 cups total. Slice or chop whichever veggies you choose into small pieces and place them in a serving bowl.

  • Baby corn
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots*
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Green beans*
  • Napa cabbage
  • Red cabbage*
  • Snow peas*

2nd ingredient: Protein
Choose enough protein to equal at least one serving per salad portion, or 4 total servings of protein. (I hope that explanation makes sense!) Add the protein to the serving bowl.

  • Black beans
  • Edamame/soybeans, steamed and cooled
  • Flavored baked tofu* (I used Wildwood Royal Thai)
  • Fried firm tofu
  • Seitan
  • Tempeh

3rd ingredient: Flavor enhancers
Go ahead and choose a couple "accessories" to jazz up the final product. Sprinkle them on top of the vegetables and protein.

  • Asian-style hot sauce, such as Sriracha
  • Cashews, toasted and chopped*
  • Coconut chips or shreds
  • Grated ginger
  • Peanuts, toasted and chopped
  • Rice noodles
  • Sesame seeds, toasted
  • Sweet chili sauce*

4th ingredient: Sauce
Start out with a small amount -- just a few tablespoons -- and gently toss everything together. If you need more, you can always add on!

This recipe gives you a great excuse to "shop" the salad bar, especially if you live near a Whole Foods. The salad can be vegan or gluten-free, depending on which ingredients you choose to include. (If you're trying to make it GF, please remember that most soy sauces contain wheat!) I had leftovers for lunch today, and the salad was still nice and crispy!

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Kale salad with warm maple dressing (3-4 servings)

Kale is the James Franco of salad greens. First of all, both kale and James Franco began their careers with a small but dedicated underground following and later enjoyed a quick rise to fame. Public interest in both peaked about a year ago, although both continue to have a ubiquitous presence on Pinterest. (In fact, did you know that at any given time, the number of pinned James Franco selfies equals the exact number of pinned recipes for kale chips?*) Finally, like actor/writer/student/artist/director/mime/seamstress/Senator James Franco, kale can do just about anything. Whether you boil it, bake it, juice it, braise it, roast it, or serve it raw, kale can stand up to the pressure of your demands and come out the other side looking great.

Like James Franco, kale's merit is often overlooked because of its pretentious attitude and tendency to snap at interviewers.

This salad showcases raw kale's crispy yet supple texture, balancing its slightly bitter taste with a light, sweet dressing. It's perfect for a fall supper -- filling and healthy and infused with the autumnal flavors of maple and smoke. It's easy to put together on a weeknight. The original recipe calls for spinach, but I hate wilted, slimy spinach. Kale holds up well to the warm dressing and keeps nicely for leftovers the next day, providing you keep the toppings separate from the rest of the salad.

You will need:

  • 1 bunch kale (I prefer Lacinato/dinosaur kale because it's easiest to wash), de-stemmed (watch a tutorial here), rinsed, patted dry, and torn into bite-sized pieces 
  • 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp pure maple syrup (I don't want to hear about any of this Mrs. Fancypants' Pancake-Flavored Syrup Concoction, people. Only the real stuff will do.)
  • dash of onion powder
  • salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1/8 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes without oil (if you can find the smoked variety, your salad will improve tenfold)
  • 1/4 cup shredded or diced smoked cheese (Whole Foods' perpetually helpful vendeur de fromage suggested a lovely naturally-smoked Gouda)

Steps:

  1. After your kale is de-stemmed, rinsed, dried, and torn, toss it into a big serving bowl and give it a massage. (No, really! Squeeze and knead the leaves a couple times to break them down and make them less bitter.)
  2. Pour the vinegar, oil, maple syrup, onion powder, and salt and pepper into a microwaveable mug or measuring cup. Microwave it in 30-second increments until it's warm but not super hot. Stir the dressing with a fork or small whisk until it's basically uniform, but don't worry too much if you can't get it all mixed together.
  3. Pour about half the dressing over the kale and toss to combine. If you need more dressing to cover the leaves, go ahead, but you probably won't use all of it because it's thin.
  4. Place equal portions of the kale on dinner plates and top each serving with pecans, tomatoes, and cheese. Serve immediately. 

 

*Really, really not true.

Spicy roasted okra (~3 servings)

Within the first year of living in Chapel Hill, I passed a culinary milestone: I tasted okra. Do we have okra in Pennsylvania? Yes, we do, but I never knew anyone who dared to make it. In fact, I grew up frightened of okra. My only connection to it was a cautionary tale, rehashed by my parents, of two unsuspecting, naive eaters being passed a slimy, gummy substance that made them both gag. I knew that trying okra could lead to dire consequences (everyone knows okra is a gateway veggie that usually leads to greener, often leafier produce), so I was in no hurry to try it myself.

But once an adult daughter moves away from her parents, she often rebels against her upbringing. Unsupervised and unapologetic, she will often take risks and experiment with things her parents may have frowned upon -- nay, gasped at -- back home. Okra, you say? Roasted and wrapped in crispy coating? Set me UP!

Truth be told, when roasted, okra is quite lovely. It lacks the mucus-like ooze (let's be honest, friends) of its boiled brethren and is instead crispy on the outside and pleasantly soft on the inside. Pair that with a spicy coating, and you've got a zesty, crunchy vegetable that will surprise even the most hesitant of okra-haters.

You will need:

  • 1 lb okra
  • 1/8 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450˚ F.
  2. Rinse the okra and pat it dry with a towel to remove any remaining water.
  3. Using a paring knife and cutting board, slice off the stem ends and tips of the okra pods, and then slice the pods in half lengthwise. Place the okra halves in a large zipper bag. 
  4. Sprinkle the cornmeal, spices, and salt into the bag. Seal it up and shake it gently to coat the okra evenly.
  5. Spread the okra out on a baking pan lined with non-stick foil. Bake 18-20 minutes, turning once, or until the okra is crispy and starting to turn brown.

I based this recipe on one from The Fitchen, leaving out the jalapeños (I'm a wimp), adding garlic, and subbing cornmeal for the millet flour. Besides the flavor, what I really like about this recipe is that it doesn't require any oil! Although the slimy texture disappears after the okra is roasted, it does make the cornmeal coating stick to the raw vegetables, so no oil is necessary. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by this recipe! I know Bryan and I were!