photo of lunch buffet

PAN Vegan Pledge – Chef Lenka, Queen of Cashews

photo of lunch buffet

During our fourth Saturday meeting (at the end of week 3), we were treated to a second cooking demo, this time by vegan Chef Lenka Zivkovich. Pictured above are some of the wonderful treats she prepared for our lunch: veggie hummus wraps, bbq jackfruit sandwiches on mini bagels, and cumin-spiced carrot “meatballs” ringed with crostini. When we entered the kitchen, much of what you see above had already been prepped in the interest of time. One think that I found particularly wonderful about both Chef Lenka’s and Miss Rachel’s demos was that although both work as professionals in the cooking industry, they provided us with easy and low-cost options. Both of them passed around ingredients with which we might not be familiar (like canned jackfruit), but they also used items they had picked up at the local Trader Joe’s (like raw cashews and barbecue sauce).

Chef Lenka devoted most of her discussion to, you guessed it, cashews. And I just couldn’t resist, the photo above is of a cashew fruit – the stem-like growth on the underside of the fruit is the nut. Lenka first made a thick and creamy custard of cashews and water in a blender. She explained that the cashew to water ration could be altered to produce a variety of basic products. A 1:2 ratio yielded a creamy custard that could be flavored with a little vanilla and used as the “batter” for french toast. Since Chef Lenka offers a wildly popular vegan brunch at a local restaurant, you know this recipe is winner! If the water content is increased to a 1:3 ratio, the result is a vegan substitute for half and half. Lenka made us a quick smoothie with this creamy base, bananas, and spinach.

photo of lunch table

One of the amazing things about the pledge meetings is that there are always surprises. Local sponsors have donated wonderful items, such as the tempeh wraps above from Hip City Veg – and mentors have taken it upon themselves to make additional dishes like the gorgeous salad above or the tempting desserts below.

photo of dessert table

One of the biggest surprise treats came when our organizer mentioned that Chef Lenka had offered to create a late afternoon Happy Hour for our group at Plough and the Stars, where she works. Not only did I immediately sign up for the event, but I emailed some of my vegetarian and “veg-curious” friends to invite them.

photo of Chef Lenka

When we arrived, Chef Lenka welcomed us and explained what she had prepared. She had organized the dishes on a beautiful buffet table and portioned everything small so that we could try a bit of everything. The dishes included inventive items like a “crabcake” made of both artichoke and palm hearts and a savory grilled watermelon.

photo of buffet table

Some of my favorite items included (pictured below, clockwise from the left) a truffled mushroom bruschetta, the “double-heart crabcake,” a mini kebob with king mushroom, mock chicken, and fresh papaya, and a fried “shrimp” with a creamy sriracha sauce.

close up of small plate

Although the buffet was so bountiful, Lenka had one more surprise in store for us: her celebrated raw, vegan creme brulée. Not surprisingly, she used a cashew base. But the dessert also included hints of coconut and vanilla. She browned the raw sugar topping on site with a portable torch and brought the custards to us herself.

photo of creme brulee

The happy hour left us all completely sated, and we vowed to return to Plough and the Stars for one of Chef Lenka’s prix fix vegan dinners once she returns from a well earned summer vacation.

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PAN Vegan Pledge – Produce-Palooza!

Logo Farmers Market Week

In honor of National Farmers Market Week, I’m posting two recipes that spotlight vibrant, local summer produce.

First up we have an Arugula and Beet Salad Plate with Chick-Pea Tabbouleh that I made last Sunday. For the tabbouleh, I simply added diced fresh tomato (in this case 4 small Indigo Rose beauties that were red on one end and black on the other), about half a bunch of coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, a cup of rinsed canned chick peas, the juice of 1/4 a lemon, and a generous tablespoon of olive oil to a box of Near East Tabouleh (this would work just fine with a cup of plain bulgur, you would just need to add salt to taste).

photo of a bowl of tabbouleh

For the salad I boiled some gorgeous and strikingly pale chioggia beets, peeled and sliced them into eighths, and arranged them over a bed of arugula. About a week ago I had bought Kite Hill’s Truffle, Dill, and Chive almond-based “cheese”; this salad provided the perfect setting for it. Although the texture reminded me a bit of silken tofu, it crumbled well and had a mouthfeel reminiscent of fresh goat cheese. Coarsely chopped pistachios added salty, crunchy goodness – and seemed more interesting than the usual almonds. Because the plate already contained so many flavors and textures, the salad needed nothing more than some olive oil, a bit of aged balsamic vinegar, and freshly cracked black pepper for dressing.

photo of salad plate

Fast forward to later in the week when I was home alone (my boyfriend flew off to visit his family) and feeling hungry and lazy! For some, the mouse surely plays while the cat is away – but this little rodent’s idea of “play” usually entails eating her way through as many perishable odds and ends as possible, cleaning out the refrigerator, and maybe indulging in a night of Netflix and take-out on a Friday night. Although I was tempted to call out for Thai food, two small but gorgeous eggplant sat waiting in my refrigerator. So I put down the laptop, picked up my knife, and put together a simple meal of Soy and Citrus-Glazed Eggplant With Baked Marinated Tempeh.

photo, eggplants

Because this striped variety of eggplant tends to be less bitter than the more common dark purple variety, I simply sliced them crosswise, placed them on a lightly oiled cookie sheet, and put them under the broiler for a few minutes (turning once after about five minutes) with the oven set to 400 degrees. For the tempeh, I placed thin slices in a baking dish and poured about about a tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of liquid smoke over the them. The tempeh baked uncovered while the eggplant broiled below.

photo: broiled eggplant and baked tempeh

In the meantime I made a simple glaze of a tablespoon each of soy sauce and mirin (Japanese rice wine, but you can use cooking sherry), squeezed in a bit of orange juice (about a tablespoon), and added brown sugar to taste. This lent the eggplant both sweetness and sheen. Blanched baby kale and brown rice rounded out the plate. And that dollop of spicy goodness you see? That would be my new favorite condiment, Trader Joe’s Sambal Matah. After I finished my first jar back in March or April it disappeared from the shelves, and I panicked. When it miraculously reappeared in June I bought 3 jars. If you enjoy chile and lemongrass and live anywhere near me, you might consider doing the same!

photo, dinner plate

PAN Vegan Pledge – Cooking and Community


Photo of Cooking Demo

One of my favorite aspects of the PAN Vegan Pledge is the weekly meetings. Every Saturday, we meet for about 2 hours. The Peace Advocacy Network (PAN) provides us with plenty of tasty vegan food as well as helpful information. During the meetings, pledges can ask questions, share shopping tips, and generally just get to know one another. In addition to casual socializing, we also enjoy a weekly speaker or two. In all honesty, I was a little afraid that the lectures would be filled with horrifying photos of slaughtered animals. It turned out that the fellow who sat next to me last week had exactly the same fear. We bonded over this and laughed as we realized how counter-productive it would have been to make potential vegan-converts lose their appetites over lunch.

At the first meeting, Christopher McJetters shared why he sees veganism as more than a simple food or even lifestyle choice; for him it’s an issue of social justice. At the second meeting Dara Lovitz explained many of the environmental effects of animal agriculture. I plan to devote a separate post to “what I’ve learned,” so please hold on to your questions for a few weeks.

But not all of our speakers are lecturers. This past week we were treated to a cooking demonstration by Rachel Klein (pictured above), owner of Miss Rachel’s Pantry in Philadelphia. I had heard wonderful reports of Miss Rachel’s weekly Farmhouse Table Dinners, so I had been anticipating this meeting all week. Needless to say, she did not disappoint!

photo of food prep

Rachel made two dishes: a simple carrot ginger soup and a baked tempeh sandwich. As you can see, carrots and ginger were two of the primary ingredients in the soup. To this she also added potatoes (she recommended yukon golds or red-skinned potatoes over russets for a creamier texture). To make the soup even richer, she added coconut milk. Much of this was prepped in advance, because we couldn’t really devote the entire two-hour meeting to food prep. Instead Rachel focused on showing us how to make baked tempeh. First off, she recommended slicing the tempeh into thin strips for maximum flavor and a pleasing texture.

photo, marinating tempeh

She then poured soy sauce and liquid smoke over the sliced tempeh, all the while chatting with us and answering questions. “Where can I buy tempeh?” “Can I substitute Braggs Liquid Aminos?” It turns out that Rachel buys her tempeh from Hardena Resto Waroeng Surabaya, a little Indonesian restaurant that also makes their own tempeh, and yes! you can make substitutions (although one pledge pointed out that Braggs actually has a higher sodium content than soy sauce or tamari). As we were shuttled out of the kitchen for Dara’s lecture, Rachel baked the strips on well oiled baking sheets and then constructed the sandwiches. Everything was so fresh and so delicious! Whole grain baguettes were spread with homemade sun-dried tomato cashew “cheese,” layered with the savory tempeh, and topped with thickly sliced, ripe tomatoes and fresh basil.

One thing Rachel noted was that while vegan cooking doesn’t need to be expensive, prepared vegan food can be pricey due to the amount of prep work involved. As an example, she pointed to the lunch she made for us. Carrots, potatoes, coconut milk, tempeh … none of these are high-priced luxury items. But making a cultured cashew cheese requires significant time, labor, and knowledge. Buying what’s organic and in season and producing quality food in small batches also adds to the cost. For me this was a real “lightbulb moment.” Factory farming is heavily subsidized; small family-owned farms that sell at farmers’ markets or direct to restaurants and caterers are not. Now that I know this, and especially because I’ve sampled Miss Rachel’s cooking, you can bet she’ll be seeing me at one of her dinners in the very near future!

photo of produce from farmers market

Duly inspired by the fresh flavors in Rachel’s cooking, I went straight from the meeting to the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market. Peaches, cherry tomatoes, and “fairy tale” eggplant are only some of the wonderful items that I purchased. As I biked home with both my belly and my backpack full, I started planning a Sunday dinner that would highlight fresh summer produce but also leave us with some leftovers for a busy Monday.

photo of tofu and asparagus

Sunday was a real scorcher, but luckily my boyfriend loves to grill. We marinated the eggplant in a mixture of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. Squares of pressed firm tofu were slathered with a simple mix of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and basil. And the asparagus was drizzled with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and sea salt. As the my boyfriend set the coals to fire, I started on a pot of quinoa.

photo of dinner

Once everything was ready, I drizzled a bit of vegan pesto onto the tofu to accentuate its flavor.

photo of leftovers as a salad

On Monday I turned the leftovers into a gorgeous salad for a super easy but equally delicious dinner.

PAN Vegan Pledge – Week 1

vegan word cloud

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I recently registered for the PAN 30 Day Vegan Pledge. Now some of you might be wondering, “But weren’t you already vegan?” In a word, “No.” I cut out meat and what I called “big dairy” two summers ago as an experiment prior to a Yoga Workshop Weekend. What I mean by “big dairy” is that I cut out foods like pizza, but I wasn’t so picky that I wouldn’t eat an almond croissant (my favorite pastry) or chocolate bar. I was still, however, eating fish and seafood. As a fitness instructor, I was a bit concerned about attempting a sudden, radical overhaul of my diet, but I also didn’t want to cause problems for my family on holidays (my Mom often orders a sushi platter as part of our holiday dinners).

Two things happened to make me think harder about eating fish and seafood. This past December, my boyfriend and I were walking through a market while traveling in Thailand. All of a sudden a fish leapt out of a bucket and hit me on the leg. I screamed, the ladies in the market laughed, and my boyfriend wished he had been filming. I just thought, “Yeah, I don’t think I need to eat that.”

photo of Thai market

But months prior to that episode I had caught an advanced screening of Cowspiracy, an extraordinarily well researched and well presented documentary on the un-sustainability of animal agriculture. As a result, I had already drastically cut back on my fish and seafood consumption even before being hit by that flying fish.

Cowspiracy Image

I went into the Pledge knowing that all I really needed to eliminate was pastries and … wine. I know what you’re thinking, because I had the same thought, “How can fermented grape juice not be vegan?” It turns out that most wines undergo a process called “fining” to remove sediments and other unwanted particles. And wine makers have long used animal proteins, in particular egg whites, gelatin, casein – which is derived from milk, and isinglass – obtained from the swim bladder of fish, as fining agents. Fortunately, there are vegan wines out there. In fact, I made sure to ask Tria, my favorite wine bar, which of their current selections were vegan. Lucky for me, this season’s favorite summer sipper, Txakolina Arabako, Xarmant, ‘14, is vegan. Fellow wine connoisseurs also put me on to Barnivore, a website and app that allows you to search their massive database to find out whether or not your favorite wine, beer, or liquor is vegan.

But back to the Pledge itself … as part of the pledge, we meet every Saturday for 5 weeks. The meetings include lunch and some kind of informational session, like a lecture and/or cooking demo. At the first meeting we received Goodie Bags full of coupons, a strategically chosen issue of Vegetarian Journal, cruelty-free products for our home and our bodies, and snacks. The Vegan Pledge is free, so everything in the bag was donated by this year’s sponsors.

contents of the pledge goodie bag

At the meeting we were also paired with our mentors, experienced vegans to whom we can turn when we have questions or for moral support if we can’t stop dreaming about summer barbecues. I had just come from teaching an intense hour of Spinning, so I had a hard time not eating everything in my bag. Luckily, Philly’s amazing Blackbird Pizza paid us a surprise visit. I wish I had had the foresight to take photos of all the food, but I was so busy piling my plate with crackers, spreads, salads, nachos, and cookies (the pizza arrived fashionably late) that my hands were full. But I promise to take some action shots of the cooking demos in the following weeks.

All in all it’s been remarkably easy to stick to the plan this week. At times I’ve been exceptionally hungry – which lead me to wonder just how many calories I’ve been consuming in pastries and wine – but then I realized that it’s also been an exceptionally intense week in terms of fitness instruction. By Friday I was dead tired and starving, so I put together a quick dinner of pasta tossed with sautéed mushrooms and vegan pesto with some broiled zucchini on the side – which I ate before I could photograph.

photo of vegan pesto

Kicking Off 30 Days of Vegan with Sloppy “Jacks”

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Guess who’s back? After two trips to Thailand – December and May – to volunteer with Elephant Nature Park (I know, I should devote a post or two to that) I fell off the blogging wagon. But I recently signed up to join a 30 Day Vegan Pledge and decided that it would be an experience worth sharing.

Now you might be wondering, “What is the PAN Vegan Pledge, and how it is different from just, well, going vegan?” The PAN Vegan Pledge is organized by the Peace Advocacy Network, and it’s quite a comprehensive program. The program coordinators have paired each of us “pledges” with a vegan mentor and put together a series of 5 weekly group meetings that include lunch, lectures, and a few exciting cooking demos! I’ll be blogging about those meetings and my experiences with the pledge as the weeks pass, but I wanted to kick things off by sharing a recipe.

For at least a year or two, I’ve been hearing a lot about using jackfruit as a meat substitute, especially for some form of barbecue. Since it was fairly close to 4th of July, I thought I’d give it a shot. I decided to aim for something that resembled the vinegar-based sauces of Southern pulled pork but with some of the additional textures and flavors of an old favorite, sloppy joes.

Serves around 8:

  • 2 20 oz cans of jackfruit in brine or water
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 red onion
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons cider vinegar*
  • 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (more to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons blackstrap molasses
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

* For a sweeter flavor, use only 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar and double the brown sugar

photo of canned jackfruit

Some recipes will specify jackfruit in water and not brine. I checked the sodium contents on a variety of brands and found that they varied wildly. I chose the brand with the lowest sodium content per serving, and it turned out to be packed in brine and not water. Just make sure that the jackfruit is “young” or “green” and not packed in syrup. Open the cans – then drain, rinse, and chop the jackfruit. It will look like this.

photo of jackfruit after it has been rinsed, drained, and chopped

Smash and mince the garlic, and chop or dice the pepper and onion according to your preference. In a large, heavy pot, heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Throw in the garlic, paprika, onion, and pepper. Sauté everything to mix and soften the vegetables.

photo os chopped green peppers and onions

After a few minutes, add your jackfruit and sun-dried tomatoes. Full disclosure: I originally wanted to make this more like a saucy sloppy joe, but I didn’t have any tomato paste lying around. Then I remembered that bag of sun-dried tomatoes! They are optional, but they do add a wonderful flavor, color, and texture to the recipe.

photo inside cooking pot

Add the cider vinegar, mustard, brown sugar, and molasses. Give everything a stir, lower the heat to medium, and cover. If the mixture is dry and everything is sticking to the pot, then add 2-4 tablespoons of water before covering. Let everything simmer until the vegetables are tender and the flavors have melded, about 20 min. I served this on sandwich flats topped with a bit of bbq sauce and a quick and easy slaw made of napa cabbage and a store-bought lemon tahini dressing.

photo of open-faced sandwich

Chia Paradise Pudding

Majorelle Garden in Marrakesh

Majorelle Garden in Marrakesh

For years now, I’ve had this idea that Morocco would be the perfect place to spend Christmas. Years ago I’d been fixated on Paul Bowles’s novel The Sheltering Sky. And while I have no interest in wandering lost in the desert, the prospect of spice markets, sandstone walls, maybe a holiday hammam has always seemed alluring. More recently, the double helping of Yves St Laurent biopics out this year (the photo above is of the Majorelle Garden, which St Laurent and Pierre Bergé purchased in 1980) – has reanimated my fantasies of tented banquets in desert oases.

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” I say, “Those who can’t go, cook.” So sometimes I find myself taking a basic idea – like a standard soup – and flavoring it with daydreams. As the weather turned from summer to fall, and the semester hit me like … a desert sandstorm?

Taliouine Saffron

I had holiday plans … plans to study machete fencing in Haiti, aspirations of returning to Thailand – this time to volunteer at Elephant Nature Park … and the old dream, Christmas in Morocco. There is a lovely spot in Philadelphia called Down Dog Cafe. They serve an elixir, although they do not call it that. It’s a kind of smoothie: almonds, dates, saffron, almond milk, a touch of spice. It’s both cool and frothy, light yet nourishing.

The idea: Morocco, Down Dog’s almond date smoothie, breakfast …

Chia Paradise Pudding

  1. Take 2 tbsp of chia seeds and soak them in a cup of coconut milk (almond, cashew, they all work and impart their own subtle flavors)
  2. Throw in a pinch or two of saffron (saffron needs to be stewed or soaked), a dash of cinnamon, maybe 1/4 tsp of vanilla, something sweet like date sugar or jaggery if you wish
  3. After 15 or so minutes, add a few drops of orange flower or rose water (be sparing, 1/8 tsp could overwhelm it)
  4. Shake and refrigerate overnight
  5. In the morning serve over fruit – I used raspberries, but consider dates and sliced oranges for the full effect

chia pudding

More soon …

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Recipe Backlog Part 2 – Veggies Galore

photo of cooked vegetables

An Explosion of Freshness

This is a simple plate of vegetables – most from our farm share: spring onions, steamed potatoes, steamed collards, and roasted kabocha squash (the squash is from a local Asian grocery). When vegetables are fresh, they need little to no embellishment. All that you see here was prepared simply and barely seasoned (the lighting is also poor – in “real life” the vegetables are brighter).

photo of collards on the stove

Collards

Clean the collards in several rinses of water. Chop and steam lightly (they should retain their bright green color). Finish by “stir-frying” with olive oil and sea salt.

photo stream of kabocha squash

Kabocha

Kabocha is an Asian squash whose creamy texture and rich flavor is often compared to chestnuts. The skin is edible, although I like to peel it randomly to create pretty patterns (the skin can get a little hard during roasting; it softens if you steam it). Simply roast kabocha as you would butternut squash.

photo of spring onions

Spring Onions

These look like big scallions! Simply wash and remove any wilting or brown outer layers. I roasted these with the squash, but they are equally or perhaps more delicious when grilled.

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