Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thanksgiving and Glorious Mornings

Well I've done it again! Over a month has gone by without a post, though I've been thinking about blogging all the while, alas, I never found the time to get on here and write about the delicious foods I've discovered since our last meeting.

During my absence, Canadian Thanksgiving came and went. Holidays often pose problems to vegans and vegetarians, especially when their families cannot conceive of celebrating a holiday without the slaughter of millions of unsuspecting turkeys.

Factoid: According to PETA over 45 million turkeys are killed each year at Thanksgiving(I assume in the USA), and over 22 million are killed at Christmas time.

But fear not, fellow herbivores! There are many delicious foods that you can make that you and your family will enjoy. During holiday season I like to make's Cashew Nut Roast. The nut roast is very rich and takes the place of turkey well. I like to add a bit of poultry seasoning to it as well, and I make it all in one instead of adding the stuffing layer in the middle. Even my staunchly omnivorous brother once said "It's not bad". I'll take that as a good review from him! Served along side my mom's stuffing and the usual veggie sides, this will be a dinner you can really give thanks for!

Thanksgiving dessert in my family has always been pumpkin pie. We always use E.D. Smith's canned pumpkin pie filling, which always turns out delicious and perfectly spiced. However, the recipe calls for evaporated milk and an egg. This year I decided to go out on a limb and veganize this classic. I know there are many vegan pumpkin pie recipes out there, but I really wanted to make a version so that my family would not even notice the difference. So I made my own evaporated milk by simmering soymilk in a saucepan until it was reduced by half, and putting a couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseed into the pie instead of the egg. I put it in an all vegetable shortening pie crust, and voila! vegan pumpkin pie from a can! I expected it to be runny and not set properly, but no, it was perfect! It was just like the real thing. I don't know why anyone would go through the fuss of making tofu pumpkin pie!

Another exciting event that occurred during my absence was the opening of a new coffee shop beside campus, the Green Bean. Better yet, they have a few delicious vegetarian options that are easily veganized. One of my favourites is their Morning Glory breakfast wrap. It is a simple recipe you can easily make at home, but something that had never occurred to me before trying it there. It is sinfully delicious, and one of my new favourite foods.

the Green Bean's (veganized) Morning Glory wrap

1 tortilla
1 banana
Peanut Butter
Honey (or agave, maple syrup or other non-honey syrupy sweetness if you're anti-honey)

Spread a generous amount of peanut butter on your wrap of choice. Slice bananas and arrange on top of peanut butter. Sprinkle a handful of granola and drizzle honey on top. Roll up tightly and you have yourself an easy, nutritious, and filling breakfast that you can take with you on the bus, in the car, or on your walk to school or work!

Note: I advise wrapping wrap in some waxed paper or something if you are taking it on the run so you don't end up with honey dribbling down your hand or into your lap!

Monday, September 14, 2009

A hot cure for the cold

September is back to school season. While this makes many people think of school supplies and a new fall wardrobe, this time of year makes me think of sniffley-nosed freshmen and all the germs they are sharing. I am the furthest thing from a germaphobe and I almost never get sick, but I still like to fill my diet with immunity boosting ingredients just in case.

It is common knowledge that vitamin C plays an important role in maintaining immune function, but did you also know that carotenoids, specifically beta-carotene, is just as important. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant, and it is also broken down in our digestive system into vitamin A. Though most well known for its role in vision, vitamin A helps us stay healthy in a number of ways. It boosts white blood cell function, increases antibody response, and most importantly, maintains healthy epithelial and mucosal tissues that serve as the bodies first line of defense against would-be intruders.

The red pepper is your best friend during cold season, and that's because one cup packs in a whole day's intake of vitamin A, and a whopping three times the amount of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C.

Factoid: Cooking destroys a lot of vitamin C. After 10-20 minutes of cooking, as little as 1/3 of the vitamin C found in the raw fruit may be left. So when cooking with vitamin C rich foods, look for ones, like red peppers, with 3 times more than you need!

A diet full of carotenoids and vitamin C can reduce your risk of cancer, and will certainly reduce your risk of colds. Carotenoids are typically found in orangey fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, red and orange peppers, squash, tomatoes and mangoes, but it is also found in some unexpected places like spinach and collard greens. Try to make these foods a part of your daily life to keep you healthy.

Maybe you've done your best and already come down with the sniffles, or like me, ragweed season is still dragging on and your sinuses are more congested than the Gardiner Expressway during rush hour. That's why I've added a little bit of heat to today's cold-busting recipe. Capsaicin is the chemical in peppers responsible for their heat. Ever noticed how eating spicy foods cause your nose to run? That's because capsaicin stimulates the mucous membranes in your sinuses, which relieves congestion faster than any medicine on the market. In fact there are now a number of capsaicin based decongestant sprays now available. To top it all off, capsaicin can also reduce inflammation, and is a thermogenic, meaning it will cause your body to burn off more calories. All good reasons to spring for a little extra spice.

And as if those weren't good enough reasons, what is better than soup during cold and flu season?

Immunity Soup

1 large sweet potato
1 red bell pepper
1 medium hot pepper (I used the "Crimson Hot" variety)
1/2 an onion
1 clove of garlic
2-3 cups vegetable broth
Update: Add 1/4 cup of red lentils to give this soup a protein boost!

Chop all the veggies and combine all ingredients in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer until soft (about a half hour). Puree and serve topped with fresh ground pepper.

P.S. All the produce in this recipe is currently in season in Ontario, so find a roadside stand or farmers market and go local!

Monday, September 7, 2009

I Double-Dog-Dare You!

If you are reading my blog I will assume you fit into one of the following categories:
a) Already a vegan or vegetarian
b) An omnivore considering veganism
c) A friend of mine who is just creeping on me cause I linked to my blog on facebook

If you are either b) or c), then I have a dare for you! If you are a) then feel free to pass this dare on to friends of yours!

The dare: the 21-day Vegan Kickstart! C'mon. It's only 3 weeks, I'm sure you can hack it! Especially with all the resources that PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) is providing on their website. When talking to omnivores and vegetarians about the possibility of going vegan, at some point they will inevitably say that they don't think they could do it ("I can't live without cheese!" is a frequent complaint) or they would like to do it but it seems like such a difficult task and they don't know where to begin. To this I say that no, you will not perish from cheese withdrawals, and it's really only difficult for the first little while until you start to think about food differently and amass a collection of tasty and satisfying vegan dishes. And besides, it's only 3 weeks. You can last 21 days! If you don't like it or find it too difficult, at the end you can choose to gorge yourself on a wheel of brie.

Another favourite comment that I get when telling people about my diet is "No meat, dairy or eggs? What do you eat?", to which I often respond that most vegans probably eat a wider variety of foods than the average omnivore because we make use of a lot of different ingredients to maintain balanced nutrition and maximize meal-time excitement. People often suggest that I must take lots of multi-vitamins and supplements to stay healthy. I don't actually take any supplements because I get everything I need from my diet.

In order to be a successful vegan you need to re-imagine "the meal". The average North American diet hinges on the familiar formula of meat + starch + vegetables. For example, a steak with potatoes and corn. The food pyramid toted by the USDA, and similar ones in other countries, are said to have been heavily influenced by meat and dairy lobbyist groups, and not based on scientific facts. This is obvious when you consider that you can get everything you need from plant based sources, but the food guide tell us we need 2-3 servings of milk, and 2-3 servings of meat every day. This seems especially strange in light of the fact that research indicates that vegans and vegetarians are healthier than omnivores. This is where the New Four Food Groups comes in. It is based on scientific research and designed to meet all your nutritional needs. Follow this plan and you're on your way to a healthier, and possibly thinner, vegan you!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Only the pure of heart can make good soup" - Beethoven

It has been a mighty long time since my last post, I shall try not to make a habit of it. I spent the end of August in my home and native land, the Ottawa Valley. While I was there the weather took a turn for the worse, as it does every time I visit. It seems hurricane Bill (seriously? Bill? Could they have come up with a more benign name?) brought some cold weather and rain inland, and it downright felt like fall.

Although I am a die-hard summer fan, there is one thing that I look forward to with the coming chill in the air - soup season!! Living in Canada one has to find a silver lining in our seemingly endless winters. Some people play hockey, others ski, but not me. I make soup.

Though the weather has once again warmed, it's too late, I've caught the soup bug. Lucky for me, this early start to soup season has coincided with end of summer produce harvest, the makings of very delicious soup to be sure! The last time I was at the farmer's market I picked up some celery, then foolishly picked some up at the grocery store on Monday. With all this extra celery I just had to make a celery soup.

"Canada is the essence of not being. Not English, not American, it is the mathematic of not being. And a subtle flavour - we're more like celery as a flavour. " - Mike Myers

Celery's flavour may be subtle, but it is also a lovely flavour, that, with a little encouragement, can add great depth to a soup. I simply adore celery. My uncle despises it and I think he's crazy. It belongs to the family Umbelliferae (or Apiaceae, depending on your preference), a family that also includes carrots, and savory spices such as caraway, fennel, dill, parsley and cilantro. Not only is celery delicious, but very healthy. With only 10 calories per 100 grams, it is a guilt free source of vitamin C, calcium, fiber, and iron. It is a food that has been with us for ages. In the eighth century BC, Homer wrote in the second book of The Iliad: "Their horses stood each by his own chariot, champing lotus and wild celery." Lucky horses.

Celery Soup
Makes 1 serving - double, triple or quadruple if you're cooking for more than yourself!

3 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp celery seed
3 mini potatoes, or 1 smallish potato, chopped
1 1/2 cups veggie stock

Saute celery and onion until softened. Add garlic and celery seed and saute 1 minute more. Add potatoes and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer until potatoes are softened. Puree with a hand blender (or transfer carefully into a normal blender). Top with some freshly ground pepper, and a celery leaf if you want a little extra somethin-somethin.

Factoid: Celery seed should be avoided by pregnant women as it stimulates the uterus and is rumored promote miscarriage!!

I ate this with a toasted mock tuna salad sandwich (which I made using only 2 spoonfuls of veganaise, I totally agree with Lindy Loo that 1/4 cup is way too much). They paired very well and made for a satisfying and healthy dinner.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Good things grow in Ontario

One of the best things about living in Southern Ontario is the produce. Unless you're after citrus fruits or mangos, southern Ontario is the place to be. From the beginning of May when asparagus season hits, til the fall when apples and squash abound, the roadsides of Ontario southwest of Toronto are littered with produce stands. And nothing beats fresh, local produce, except of course for fresh, local produce purchased straight from the farmer's driveway. Sadly, I have no car to go out and collect my bounty directly from the producer, but luckily for me, farmers markets are also quite popular and provide one stop shopping for all ones fruit and vegetable needs.

Want to know what's growing in Ontario? Check out Foodland Ontario's website and you'll see that, in the words of DJ Laura C Chord, there's more up here than hockey and beer!

If you ask me - and since you're reading my blog I'll assume you did - happiness is a ripe peach. Could there be a more perfect fruit? Sweet, soft, pleasing to the eye. There really is nothing more heavenly than biting into a fresh peach, juice running down your hand, sugary and sweet, an explosion of flavour on your tongue that transports you to a more lovely place, making you forget for just a moment all your troubles and cares. Alright, so maybe that was a little melodramatic, but I really am passionate about produce. And peaches are king - truly nature's candy. The only downfall of the peach is that they really don't keep very long. I have chronic eyes-bigger-than-stomach-itis, and always find myself with a 2L basket of peaches, feverishly trying to use them all up, for allowing peaches to spoil is a sin greater than any other.

Normally I would just gorge myself on peaches until they were all gone, but this time, inspired by my food blog, I decided to actually do something with them. Now don't get me wrong, peaches are perfect as they are, but they could lend their transcendent deliciousness to other dishes. Having just purchased a bunch of cilantro for my El Salvador inspired blog post, I decided to try my hand at some peach salsa. As luck would have it, there was a terrific recipe on Foodland Ontario's website. I, of course, replaced the parsley with cilantro, and the results were to die for. Easy, fresh, delicious. Highly recommended.

That recipe only used 3 peaches, which hardly made a dent in my basket, so I decided to try my hand at some peach chutney. I LOVE chutneys. I consulted a number of chutney recipes online, and came up with this modified version of a number of them. Many of the recipes made a very large quantity of chutney, and used a large quantity of peaches. I don't need that much chutney, have nowhere to store it, do not have any canning jars, and quite frankly wanted some peaches left over for myself!

The Non-Canner's Easy Hot Peach Chutney
(makes about 1 1/2 cups or so)

1/2 smallish yellow onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
1 tsp hot pepper flakes (add more or less to taste)
a few dashes of salt & pepper
6-7 peaches, cored, peeled, diced
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

In a sauce pan, saute onions and spices in a bit of oil until onion softens. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is reduced, peach chunks get nice and soft, and it gets a chutney-like consistency. This should take about 40 minutes. Allow to cool and store in the fridge.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cool beans and naughty fruit

I had plans on making vegan empanadas for my Latin America inspired dish, when who should come by the lab but Luis, a colleague who just so happened to come with us to the conference in Miami. Having read my blog (and critiquing my spelling) and learned of my culinary intentions, he decided to share with me one of his favourite recipes. I will attempt to recreate this dish and do it justice, although I will no doubt screw something up and hear about it in the lab tomorrow.

The thing that makes this really authentic is the bean. Luis is from El Salvador, and there the bean of choice is the "Frijol Rojo De Seda Salvadoreno" or the Salvadoran red bean. It is a variety of the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, a species which also includes many of the other beans commonly associated with South American cooking such as black beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans. I needn't belabor how good for you beans are, I feel that this ought to be common knowledge, especially if you are a vegan or vegetarian.

Luis didn't know what this dish was called, and the closest approximation of what he described that I can find is a Salvadoran dish called a "pupusa", which is basically a flat stuffed corn tortilla. It is usually stuffed with meat, refried beans, cheese, or a mix of all three in the case of "pupusas revueltas". To take this meal to the next level, he tops his pupusas with sliced avocado and chimole. Chimole is a fresh salsa made with tomato, onion, cilantro and lemon juice.

Avocados are a wondrous fruit, chock full of
goodness. They have the most fiber of any fruit, are high in potassium, folate, B vitamins, and vitamin E. In addition to it's well known benefits to the skin and hair, avocados are also excellent for reducing cholesterol when eaten regularly. This odd fruit with its large pit is believed to have co-evolved with now extinct large animals that would have eaten the fruit and dispersed the pit by excreting it. Lucky for us, cultivation by humans has likely prevented this species from going extinct with its natural disperser.

Factoid: According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the name avocado comes from Nahuatl word "ahuakatl" which means "testicle". The fruit was also believed to boost fertility.

Midway through describing the recipe, Luis stops and asks me "Do you know how to choose an avocado, or do you just think you do?" Feeling slightly intimidated, I let him describe how to correctly select a ripe avocado. Not too dark and squishy, that's past good, not rock hard, this isn't ripe yet. It should be dark on one end, still green on the other, soft but still slightly firm. Fortunately there were only 5 to choose from at the grocery store so the pressure was off, but I think I got a pretty good one. He goes on to warn me to never scoop the avocado from the skin with a spoon, claiming this to be bad etiquette. I'm not so sure about that one, but he will be pleased to know that no spoons were used in the making of this recipe!

Now, let's get on with the recipe! If you can't find seda beans, I'm sure pinto beans will do just fine, though I'm sure the recipe's creator would disagree with me. This recipe calls for Worcestershire sauce, which isn't often vegan, but there is a very good recipe in the Nutritional Yeast Cookbook that is fast and easy to make of you cannot find a store bought vegan brand in your area.

Luis' Seda Bean Pupusas with Avocado & Chimole

(the below quantities are meant to feed one, but you will have some leftover beans, which I put in a wrap the next day!)

the beans
1/2 cup dry Salvadoran red beans
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp seasoned salt
1 clove garlic
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
seasoned salt & cayenne pepper to taste

the chimole

1 roma tomato
1 green onion
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tbsp lemon juice

1/4 avocado, sliced
tortillas, use corn to make this dish gluten free

Rinse the beans, and cover with lots of water in a pot with oregano, season salt, and garlic clove. Boil until soft. This took about 2 hours for me. Pour off liquid & blend beans into a puree. Set aside.

In a skillet, saute onion in olive oil until brown and caramelized. Remove onion, leaving oil in the pan. Discard onion (it is only used to flavour the oil). Add bean puree, Worcestershire, and season to taste. Fry the beans over medium heat until they form a thick paste (about 10 min).

For the chimole, chop tomato (removing the gooey seeds), green onion and cilantro and mix together in a bowl. Squeeze the lemon into a separate bowl until a few minutes before plating.

Spread bean paste on tortilla of choice and cover with either another tortilla (if using small ones), or folding in half (if using large tortillas). Bake in a hot oven until tortilla becomes crispy.

Slice the avocado and arrange on top of pupusa. Top with chimole and enjoy!

This was a delicious and fresh summer recipe, however it was less than refreshing to prepare. The hours of bean boiling and the oven being on left my kitchen hot and sweaty. Regardless of whether or not this would meet my friend's discerning palate, it was a satisfying meal that I will be sure to make again.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Travels and returns

You, who clearly is an avid reader of my blog, may have noticed my absence. I have been gone for a few weeks and things have been a bit hectic. But I am dedicated to this blog and I am determined not to let it be pushed aside by my often busy life.

I recently went to a conference in Miami, where English is a second language to Spanish, and there had the opportunity to eat in Peruvian, Cuban, Argentinian, and Mexican restaurants. However, I was naturally very restricted as to what I could eat. Most of these cuisines are very meat oriented, but I will not let that deter me! I am determined to recapture the heat and vibrancy of Miami in a delicious vegan dish.

When I join you next, I will present to you a dish that brings me back to Miami, a city full of life, the sun, the salt, and the sand.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Eggplant Saga: The House of Melanzana

In the last episode of the saga, the eggplant had found it's way to China. Not quite ready to leave Asia yet, I also made myself a recipe with a Japanese influence. In my quest for fabulous recipe ideas, I stumbled across Ashbury's Aubergines, a veritable treasure trove of eggplant recipes the likes of which ye have never seen. It was here that I discovered Soba Salad with Roasted Eggplant Dressing. I have used roasted eggplant as a sauce on pasta before, but usually giving it Italian spicing. This recipe was fresh and delightful. I added some green onions to this recipe as well because it seemed fitting. I only made half the recipe and it was still far too much for one person, and unlike the other recipes I've been making, would not freeze well.

Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour, and despite buckwheat's misleading name, contain no gluten (be sure to read ingredients, not all soba noodles you buy in store are pure buckwheat!). Buckwheat is said to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and is high in dietary fiber. Buckwheat also contains large amounts of tryptophan, of which eggplant is also a good source.

Factoid: Not only is buckwheat not related to wheat, it is not even a grain at all, but a seed from a plant closely related to rhubarb!

Our journey is far from over, and now we explore the eggplant's westward trek in...

Part 3: The House of Melazana

The eggplant had made it's way to Arabic countries long ago, hence the ever popular baba ghanouj. It was by way of the Moors that the eggplant reached the Mediterranean countries around the 4th century A.D. The Italians believed the eggplant to be an aphrodisiac and it became known as the "Melanzana" or "Apple of Love", as did the Spanish, and so it quickly gained popularity there.

In honour of the Apple of Love I wanted to make a Mediterranean dish. I considered making vegan eggplant parmesan, but that's been done. So I thought to myself, "What's more Mediterranean than Paella?". Paella originated in Valencia, and it is considered the region's official dish. Traditional Paella Valencia contains rabbit and chicken, and no eggplant at all, but hey, this wouldn't be a vegan food blog without some radical re-working of recipes, now would it? And so I give you:

Vegan Eggplant Paella
1 small eggplant
1/2 onion, chopped
1 small green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 cup cooked beans (I used white kidney beans, but lima beans are more traditional)
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp saffron
3 cups veggie broth
2 cups brown rice

Slice the eggplant in half vertically. Slice first half into long strips, chop the second half into smaller pieces. Saute eggplant, onion, and green pepper for a few minutes on medium-high heat. Add garlic, tomatoes, & beans. A few minutes later add spices, saute for 30 seconds, remove long strips of eggplant, then add broth & rice. Bring to a boil, reduce and cover. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Give it a stir, and arrange eggplant strips on top of rice mixture. Cover and simmer longer (add more water if necessary). Simmer until rice is fully cooked.
Despite the fact that it is not a very attractive dish, I do have to say that it was very enjoyable, very much a comfort food, meal-in-a-bowl. Since I haven't had actual paella in so long, I can't really say how much it tastes like it, but I certainly liked it, and that's worth a post I say.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Eggplant Saga: Age of Aubergine

Archaeologists and historians seem keenly interested in what we used to eat thousands of years ago. It is because of this curiosity that they have been able to unlock the secrets as to when and where plants were domesticated, when they first came to an area, and just what those people thought about it at the time. In part 1 of the Eggplant Saga we learned that the aubergine's origin story begins in India some 4000 years ago. Of course, this was only the beginning of the eggplant's long and arduous journey to my dinner plate. Where did it's journey take it? We'll find out in...

Part 2: Age of Aubergine

The eggplant soon found its way to ancient China. An article published in the Annals of Botany in 2008 states that the earliest documentation of eggplant in Chinese literature was in 59B.C., though it is thought to have arrived in China much earlier. As the article suggests, the ancient Chinese took great care in selectively breeding eggplants to develop new cultivars, preferring smaller and more slender varieties, giving rise to today's "Chinese eggplant". It is also said to have been a favourite food of the emperors, and it is no surprise why.

As well as being delicious and pleasing to look at, at only 27 calories per cup, the aubergine boasts an array of vitamins and minerals. Moreover, eggplants pack a potent anti-oxidant punch. The World's Healthiest Foods reveals that one such antioxidant, nasunin, is found in the skin and has been shown to protect brain cell membranes from free radical damage, making eggplant the perfect food for an egghead like me!

One of my favourite Chinese dishes I've ever had was "eggplant in black bean sauce" from a little Chinese restaurant down the road from my
apartment that was not known for its imaginative titles. It was garlicky and sweet, and I had never had eggplant quite like it before. Since then I had always meant to try it. As luck would have it, I picked up some Chinese black bean sauce (aka "douchi") at the store last week shortly before becoming endowed with a bounty of eggplant. It was culinary destiny!

Factoid: Black bean sauce is made by fermenting soy beans, the process turns the originally pale beans black. It is not actually made with "black beans".

This dish boasts a few health perks. Black bean sauce has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat many things such as restlessness, poor sleep patterns, fever, and congestion. Tamari has more antioxidant power than red wine. Entire books have been written on the health benefits of garlic. And so I bring you...

Radically Good Eggplant

1 medium eggplant, sliced thin (~1/2 cm thick)
2 tbsp black bean sauce
1 tbsp low sodium tamari
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water

Saute the eggplant over medium heat until soft.
Combine all other ingredients together in a bowl and add to softened eggplant. Simmer until sauce reduces and thickens. Serve over rice.
This dish tasted almost exactly like how I remember it. It is, however, rather salty, as black bean sauce is quite salty on its own. If you're trying to avoid salt, I suggest using less black bean sauce. It's not the most attractive looking dish in the world, but damn is it good.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Eggplant Saga: Aubergine Origins

One of my labmates does her research in greenhouses and one of the plants she is using in her current experiment is the noble eggplant. It just so happens that last week all her plants produced copious amounts of fruit, and I ended up coming home with 9 eggplants. I wasn't exactly sure what I would do with all these eggplants, but if I didn't take them, they would have gone in the compost, and how could I allow free fruit to go to waste? I had to at least try.

I usually only buy eggplant for one of two purposes: ratatouille or baba ghanoush. I have already made these, both were delicious, and I still have 7 eggplants in my fridge. I soon knew this would be a challenge that would take me on an epic adventure through the cosmopolitan world of the aubergine, and that I would emerge with a full belly, and collection of new and (hopefully) delicious recipes.

Part 1: Aubergine Origins
I began my quest by exploring the origins of the eggplant. The plant Solanum melongena L. is native to India. It belongs to the family Solanaceae, aka the nightshade family, which includes other delicious and nutritious foods such as tomatoes, potatoes and peppers, as well as some more malevolent plants such as tobacco and deadly nightshade.

Factoid - eggplants have the highest nicotine content of all vegetables (owing to it's relation to tobacco), though you would need to consume 20 pounds of it to equal one cigarette.

The plant was domesticated thousands of years ago in what is now India and Pakistan. The Indian name for aubergine is "brinjal", and it is an important ingredient in Indian cooking.
Vegetarianism is common in India thanks to the influence of the dharmic religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism) that teach non-violence. In honour of the ancient origins of the eggplant, the first recipe I'll post is for East-Indian Brinjal.

What you'll need:
1 medium/large eggplant
1 medium onion
3 medium tomatoes
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cinnamon
salt & cayenne to taste*
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup cilantro

*I like my food spicy, so I used about 1/2 tsp. of cayenne, which I found to be just the right amount for me. It had heat but was far from overpowering.

Chop the eggplant, onion and tomato, and saute in a bit of oil for a couple of minutes on high heat. Add the spices (except cilantro).
At the same time as the spices, add the water, you may need to add more as the liquid reduces. Cover and simmer about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is a delicious stewy mush. Sprinkle chopped cilantro and serve.

I served mine with the "jade rice" blend I picked up from Bulk Barn this afternoon, though it would be equally delicious with some ordinary basmati rice. This dish is lightly spiced allowing the flavour of the eggplant to shine.
To be continued....

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Welcome to my new blog!

Hello to anyone who happens upon my blog! This isn't the first time I've started a blog, not even the first time I've started a vegan blog. My first attempt at blogging didn't go so well. I started one to talk about all the science, psychology, nutrition and other knowledgey type things regarding veganism, but I found that I just didn't have the time to do the research. You see, I'm a graduate student, in biology, and I don't believe in talking about facts without solid references to back it up. As a result, each blog became like a mini research paper. So sadly, it fell by the wayside. Who knows, maybe someday, if I ever have "free time" again, I'll start it back up.

This brings me to my current blog. It occurred to me that not only do I love knowledge, but I also just love food in general. I am always reading vegan food blogs and trying new recipes I find, veganizing old favourites, or plain old experimenting with food. So I decided that perhaps a more holistic blog was in order that dealt with all of these things, including a little science sprinkled in.

To start things off, let's talk a bit about one of my favourite blogs: the Fatfree Vegan Kitchen. I adore this website for a number of reasons. First, not only is it vegan (obviously), but it also focuses on healthy vegan cooking. So many people assume that just because it's vegan, it MUST be healthy, which is just not so. The second thing I love about this blog is the beautiful photography. The only thing better than good food is good food that looks good too! But the most important thing about this blog is how reliably good the food is. I have never been disappointed, indeed things often surprise me at just how good they are. The ingredients are usually easy to come by at any well stocked supermarket or Bulk Barn (which is the best place on earth for you non-Canadians who may have never experienced it. All the things you would find in a health food store plus candy and chocolate and snacks. It's the bomb).

For dinner tonight I made one of her recipes. I made her Eggplant Pancakes Florentine and let me tell you, it was to die for. I like eggplant, but I firmly believe that eggplant haters would even like it, so if you're feeling a touch trepidacious, take that leap and give it a try. Not only was it delicious, it was surprisingly easy. Sure it looks snazzy, but it was so easy that I made this after coming home from an afternoon of rock climbing and never thought to myself "Ugh, I should have just grilled up a veggie burger".
One of my favourite parts about this recipe is that it was so easily made into a "for one" meal, which is a very important criteria for me since my cat doesn't like eggplant so much. I used a smallish eggplant, and half amounts of the other ingredients listed. To add to the speed of my meal I also cheated a little and instead of making the tomato sauce Susan posted, I opened a can of "Aylmer Accents Spicy Red Pepper" diced tomatoes and spooned it on top. I know that fresh is better, but this eliminated an extra step and an extra pan. As you can see, I served this with some steamed asparagus (fresh, local, and delightfully in season!).

Another thing I like about this recipe, is that it uses chickpea flour, which is a recent obsession of mine, but this is a subject for another day's post.