Friday, November 5, 2010

I scream! You scream! We all scream for Poutine!

Like any real Canadian, before I was a vegan, poutine was one of my favourite foods. For any of you readers who are not from Canada and have not heard of it, poutine is fries covered in fresh cheese curds and gravy. A heart attack waiting to happen? Possibly. But it would be the most delicious of heart attacks.

Sadly, one of the downfalls of veganism is a distinct lack of adequate poutine replacements. Last week, when I was in Kingston, we walked by a place called "the Poutine Place" at 343 Princess Street. Its sign boasts of organic burgers and smoothies. I looked at the menu, searching for a veggie burger and was shocked to see that there was a vegan poutine on the menu!! With veggie gravy and soy curds, there was nothing that would have kept me from ordering one of these wonders. I had heard rumours of vegan poutine in Montreal before, but I've also heard rumours of ghosts, fairies, and easter bunnies. But here it was. And I have to say, it was pretty good. Did it taste like real Canadian poutine? Meh. Was it fries smothered in gravy, a cheese-like substance, and decidedly unhealthy? Absolutely. Win. The thing the cheese like substance was lacking was the melty, stringy, get stuck to your chin gooeyness that usually accompanies poutine.

Enter Daiya.

Glorious, glorious Daiya. I was in Tara Natural Foods in Kingston a few months ago, chatting with the sales clerk, when he asked me if I had ever tried Daiya cheese. He, like me, had all but given up on vegan cheese, but informed me that vegans everywhere were going bananas for this stuff. I excitedly bought some, brought it home, and made the best vegan pizza I had ever eaten. I was in love.

So after my vegan poutine experience, I have decided to have a go at making my own for the first time in over 3 years. I found this gravy recipe a few years ago which I absolutely love (I use a little gravy browner when I make it). The first time I tasted it I immediately thought of poutine sauce (a particular kind of canned gravy you can find in Canadian supermarkets). Salty, tangy, and oh so good on potatoes, this gravy recipe has become a stand-by for holiday feasts. Pair it with some mozza style daiya shreds and some hand-cut homefries, and you've got yourself the perfect vegan poutine.  Seriously, seriously tasty.  This poutine was as close to perfect as vegan can deliver.  Make it.  Love it.

Best Ever Vegan Poutine!

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Let's talk about squash.  I love squash.  All kinds of squash, even the sport!  Squash squash squash!
Sweet dumpling and acorn squash
Squashes belong to the family Cucurbitaceae which includes such wonderful fruits as melons, gourds and cucumbers.  There is a huge variety of squashes, including pumpkin, zucchini, butternut, acorn, hubbard, cushaw, buttercup, sweet dumpling, celebration, cream of the crop, sweet mama, turban, spaghetti, delicata, heart of gold.... and still more that I haven't heard of yet.

Celebration, Cream of the Crop, and Heart of Gold squash
Although there are so many varieties, they belong to only four species:  Cucurbita maxima (hubbard squashes), C. mixta (cushaw), C. moshata (butternut squash), and C. pepo (pumpkins, zucchini, acorn squash).
Butternut squash and pie pumpkin
Squash were domesticated in Mexico eight to ten thousand years ago [1].  They were an important food staple in central and north america.  Native Americans know squash as one of the "Three Sisters", along with corn and beans.  The three crops were planted together - the corn stalk was used to support the bean vine, and the large squash leaves trapped moisture in the ground for the growing plants and inhibits the growth of weeds.  Incidentally, combined together, squash, beans and corn make an excellent "Three Sisters soup".
Oven-roasted Sweet Dumpling squash with Sweet & Savory Quinoa
There are many ways that I like to use squash.  Have a sweet tooth?  Try these totally awesome chewy pumpkin oatmeal cookies.  They're my all time favourite cookie and I have yet to meet someone who doesn't love them.  Zucchini is awesome sliced, seasoned, and roasted in the oven or grilled on the barbecue (or campfire!).  Acorn squashes and their kin are perfect cut in half, roasted in the oven, with a little margarine and brown sugar sprinkled inside.  Butternut squash is my favourite for making fantastic (and filling) soups.
Butternut squash soup with maple syrup drizzle (and my cat Skrabble!)
Basic Butternut Squash Soup

1 onion, diced
1-2 tbsp margerine
1 Butternut squash, peeled & cubed
vegetable bouillon cubes
Nutmeg, cinnamon & allspice, a few good dashes of each
Maple syrup for drizzle (optional, but awesome)

Saute onion in margarine until caramelized.  Toss in the squash and add enough water to just cover the squash. *Tip: measure your water as you're pouring it in so you know how many bouillon cubes to add!* Add your bouillon cubes and spices, and bring to a boil.  Let it simmer until the squash cubes are soft.  Puree the soup with a hand blender. If you're using a regular blender, make sure you vent the lid and cover it with a cloth so it doesn't create a pressure build-up and burst hot steam/soup in your face.  Nobody wants to be burned by squash.  At this point the soup could be pretty darn thick, so add some water, a little at a time.  I like to be conservative with my water during cooking because you can always add more but it's so much harder to take it away if you've added too much!  When you get the soup to the desired consistency, ladle some in a bowl and swirl a drizzle of real maple syrup on top, perhaps grate a little nutmeg on there.  Not only does it taste delish, it makes it look extra snazzy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Going green

This summer, while living in Kingston, I regularly frequented their fantastic farmer's market. While at one of the booths I overheard one of the farmers describing tomatillos.  As the name would suggest, they belong to the tomato family, and are closely related to ground cherries.  Like ground cherries, they're wrapped in a beautiful papery husk that remind me of paper lanterns.   They taste a bit like tomatoes, but a little more tart and I found them a bit sweeter.  I love experimenting with new ingredients, but to be honest, I bought these because they're so darn pretty.

Tomatillos are a staple in Mexican cooking, particularly in Salsa verde, so naturally, that's what we made with them!  In fact, we had a whole mexi night, and made fajitas with homemade whole wheat flour tortillas!  I don't remember which website I got the tortilla recipe from, but they're all more or less the same. The rolling of the tortillas was a bit time consuming, but otherwise, it was really easy!  A quick cook in a hot, dry pan, and bam!  Fresh, homemade tortillas!

The salsa verde was a sweet, fresh and tangy alternative to my usual homemade salsa.  I made this a long time ago so I can't tell you how much I used of what, but just wing it!  That's what I did!

Salsa Verde

-Fresh cilantro (don't be shy!)
-Fresh lime juice

Combine ingredients in a food processor (or chop the heck out of it!) so that everything is chopped finely but still has enough chunkiness to give the salsa some body.  That's how I like it at least.  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bean Burgers and Blogrolls

While some of you may be celebrating the month of November by growing a hideous creature on your upper lip (aka the Movember Mustache), vegans are celebrating by blogging about delicious food. This year marks the fourth annual Vegan Month of Food, affectionately known as Vegan MoFo. Over 500 vegan bloggers have signed up this year to share their love of food with the world. Heck, with numbers like those, there are probably vegan bloggers who are growing
mustaches. I would have been one of them (blogging, not growing a mustache), but I missed the sign-up deadline by a matter of hours. Bummer. I will still be posting delicious recipes this month in honour of Vegan MoFo, and I encourage you to check out the blogroll and marvel at the plethora of vegan wonders that will present themselves to you daily.

Tonight for dinner I made some homemade bean burgers that were so good, easy, and versatile, I can't see myself spending money on store-bought veggie burgers ever again. I've made other forms of veggie burgers before, and they always fall apart and are never quite as good as my old standby, the Lick's Nature Burgers. These actually held together! Our BBQ is packed away for the season, so I didn't try them out on the grill, but if that's how you want to roll, I would try freezing them first so they don't get lost between the grills.

I'll give you the basic recipe, and you can jazz it up however you like. The possibilities truly are endless people!

Honey garlic style bean burgers with sweet potato homefries

Basic Bean Burgers
Makes about 6 normal sized patties

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
1/3 cup water
1/2 onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp sauce*
3/4 cup bread crumbs

In a wee dish, combine the water and flax seeds and let them sit and goop up while you work.
In a large bowl, mash up the kidney beans to form a paste.
Mince onion and garlic in a food processor and add to bean mixture, along with oil, sauce, and spices. Add the now gelled up flax seeds.
Add the bread crumbs a little at a time, mixing well, until you get a stiff mixture, about the consistency of cookie dough.
Shape into 6 patties (or 4 if you like your burgers really thick!). Bake in the oven at 350-375ish for about 15 minutes, then flip, brush with sauce (optional, but why wouldn't you?!) and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. Put it on a bun, top it however you like it, and enjoy!

* Some thoughts on sauces and spices.
This is where you get to have fun with your burgers! The possibilities are endless here for different burger combinations. In the burger pictured above I kept it simple, using honey garlic BBQ sauce, and a few dashes of plain old salt and pepper as my spices. You can use all kinds of things for your sauces such as traditional BBQ sauce, chili sauce, salsa, stir-fry sauces, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce. If it's a sauce, chances are there's a way to incorporate it into a burger.

Below you'll find a few ideas that you could use to jazz up your bean burgers:

Mexi burger: sauce= salsa; spices = cilantro, chili powder and cumin; top with some avocado and peppers
Thai burger: sauce= thai peanut sauce; spices= cilantro and chilis; top with mango
Teriyaki burger: sauce = teriyaki sauce; spices=ginger, extra garlic; top with bean sprouts and peppers
Pizza burger: sauce = pizza sauce; spices = basil, oregano, parsley; top with Daiya vegan cheese and your favourite pizza toppings

I also think that these bean burgers would easily transition to "meat"balls. With tomato paste and Italian seasonings, bean burger balls would add a delicious protein boost to spaghetti.