Soya Biryani with Crispy Onions

Simple food can be good food. There is a time and a place for complicated dishes that take plenty of time, but only when¬†and if you feel like it. Biryani seems like a dish that could be complicated if you let it, especially if you decide to take forty-five minutes to get those onions properly crispy. Luckily for me, this was a night my husband cooked and the only thing I had to do was come up with what I wanted to eat for dinner this night. ūüôā

I chose Biryani because it is a simple but flavorful dish that feels like it takes hours and hours in the kitchen, but an efficient vegan home cook could get it done in under an hour.

The best thing, aside from taste, about this recipe is that the ingredient list is simple.

TVP (I use inedit, but use whatever textured protein you can find)
Basmati rice
Onion
Veggiegurt
Ginger
Garlic
Red bell pepper
Peanut oil
Herbs & Spices

I know, it seems impossible that a dish so simple could produce such a flavor explosion on your tongue but…it’s true.

If you’ve never had a vegan Biryani, I recommend you do a little research so you understand the basics, but basically this is a dry dish compared to a curry, for example. The key here is the fried onions because they add SO MUCH FLAVOR!

While you re-hydrate the soya, get those onions going in oil or vegan butter, cooking them low and slow until they start to turn golden and sweet-ish. Once the soya is ready, let it cool and then toss in veggiegurt and Indian spices. My hubs couldn’t wait to make use of our new air fryer, so that’s how he cooked the soya!

While the soya got nice & crispy, he cooked the Basmati rice in salted water with a teaspoon (or two) of turmeric thrown in for the health benefits and that gorgeous yellow color.

When the onions are close to ready, add the red bell pepper, garlic and ginger to the skillet and you’re good to go. Now toss in the soya and top it on a bed of rice.

You can always substitute one protein for another, using chickpeas, tofu or any other kinds of beans. If you use seitan or tempeh, I’d love to know about it!

I truly enjoyed this dish and I’ll probably add it to the rotation, but I’d love to see your take on a vegan biryani dish.

Vegan Lentil Lasagna Masala

I’ll just say this right at the top of the post, the only way to make lasagna simply is to buy it frozen or by using a ton of packaged ingredients. If you don’t have the time or patience, those are your options. But if you feel like blasting some old school grunge rock, chick rock or hip hop (maybe that’s just me??) and getting your cook on, might I recommend taking your time to make a killer vegan lasagna?

What I like to do is divide this up into three parts: the sauce, the filling and the cheese. I know it seems strange to consider vegan cheese an element of a proper lasagna but sometimes I like to whip up a b√©chamel with nut milk and nutritional yeast. But that’s any vegan lasagna in a nutshell, so let’s get started.

This meal was my husband’s choice for his Midnight Tokyo Diner night. He asked for lasagna and I decided to with a lentil lasagna masala because, well because Indian flavors are incredible and I am a wee bit obsessed.

The Sauce

The choice is yours, but I like to get the tomato sauce started first because if you use fresh tomatoes, which I highly recommend, you’ll need time to let it reduce and thicken. I kept this sauce fairly simple, using shallots, garlic, a small spicy red pepper for heat, tomato paste and tomatoes. Don’t forget herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary or marjoram because they add a nice flavor that’ll remind you why sometimes a good red sauce is all you need, plus curry, ginger, garam masala and cardamom. It’s simple for a vegan lasagna, but I promise the filling has plenty of flavor and so does this spicy tomato sauce. In fact, I think it could also be really great as a pizza sauce or an arrabbiata sauce for your next pasta night.

Saute the shallots and pepper until fragrant and then add the garlic and tomato paste. Stir until it starts to smoke and slowly add the chopped tomatoes, or canned if that’s your jam. When the tomatoes start to break down, add a little water or broth or wine and let it simmer so it can begin to reduce. Reduce until the sauce is nice and thick, checking for flavor as you go.

The Filling

For the filling, I went with basic vegetables such as onion, bell pepper, garlic, spinach and mushrooms. For the vegan “meat” I went for lentils because I thought it would suit the taste profile I was going for better. And, it did. And the best part of all? I did it all in the same skillet!

Get the mushrooms going first and then add the onion, pepper and garlic. When they’re all cooked how you like them, add the lentils and water until just about done, then add the spinach. I used frozen because I’m not a big spinach fan and they keep a lot longer. When the filling is done, set aside and prepare to assemble.

Pop in the oven on 200/400 for about 30 minutes, adding the vegan cheese during the last ten minutes of cooking. If you want the cheese bubbly and crisp, crank the oven up for the last few minutes of cooking.

The Cheese (sorta)

In case you’re wondering, I’m in love with my new oven and if you look really close, you can see my reflection in there…somewhere.

Make sure you check the package of your lasagna noodles because for some reason some of them contain egg or milk powder. How else will they keep you addicted enough to add it to everything you eat?

Just…always read the labels before you buy! End of my PSA, I promise!

30-Minute Vegan Potato Curry

Since it’s Friday and the week has flown by (edits are done!) I decided to keep today’s recipe quick and easy. Two of my favorite things when it comes to a good healthy vegan meal because as much as I love to cook, some days you just want to sit down.

And some days your Tokyo Diner idea seems daunting and you say something like, “Just make me a curry. Spicy and with potatoes.” That was the directive I gave to the Hubs and this easy potato curry was his brain child. And bonus points on this recipe because if you felt so inclined, you could pop all the ingredients into a slow cooker on low for 5 to 7 hours. Cook the rice separately but more on that later.

Get your cutting board and your favorite knife because there’s plenty of chopping to be done!

This recipe really is simple, especially if you’ve ever whipped up a curry at home. Grab your favorite pre-made curry spice blend or mix your own and set it aside. Chop up: onion, ginger, bell pepper, garlic, potatoes, cauliflower & tomatoes. My husband prefers fresh tomatoes always so he did that but you can use canned tomatoes. When I use canned, I prefer stewed tomatoes. They’re juicier and the flavor is better in my opinion.

Add some oil to a deep skillet or water if you’re going oil-free and toss in everything but the cauliflower and garlic since they have very short cook times and will burn (garlic) or turn soggy (cauliflower) quickly.

I like to let the veggies cook a bit before I add anything other than salt & pepper, stirring frequently.

Once the veggies start to soften, add the rest and cook uncovered 3 to 5 minutes giving everything a regular stir. Then place the cover on the skillet and let it cook–undisturbed–for a few minutes. Do this until your vegetables reach desired done-ness and don’t be afraid to give the potatoes or cauliflower a fork-test if necessary. It’s your kitchen, do what you want!

The tomatoes go in last and you’ll want to cook them until the juice has been absorbed, leaving a nice thick sauce. Since he insisted on using fresh tomatoes there wasn’t much sauce, so adjust your cooking time to account for that if you do.

Pair it with rice or Naan. Most of the time I prefer naan bread because I love it and I miss it, but I miss it because it is pretty difficult to find vegan naan bread here in Romania and even in Germany too. For some¬†odd¬†reason there’s milk powder in most store bought naan bread, so if you know if any good vegan brands please give me names and links!

Since it was a light day with a salad for lunch and this calorie friendly dinner, I enjoyed a nice Harmin with it…to cool down the extra jalapeno peppers I put on mine!

Vegan Chicken & Indian Stew

Soup season is upon us! That means it’s time to start experimenting with all the veggies you can get your hands on to warm up your bones, nourish your body without giving it too much of the bad stuff.

This time around I’ve decided to be a little bit naughty in my take on tarka dal, which is just another way of saying lentil stew. It is one of my favorite recipes and this time I used dry soy chunks because, well¬†why not?

Use whatever soy (or seitan or tempeh) product you want for the vegan chicken or leave it out. I was in the mood for some soya so I rehydrated it and drained it before seasoning the hell out of it! I tossed it with a variety of Indian and middle eastern spices, which is why there’s such a dark color on the soya chunks.

Next you’ll want to tend to the lentils. Use red or green, but I almost always use yellow for this dish. If you’re feeling creative, try the beluga lentils, just be warned they have a much longer cooking time.

You can cook the lentils separately and add them later or toss them in at the end and let it simmer until cooking is complete. I prefer to let it cook with all the aromatics so while the vegan chicken drained of water, I started chopping.

This dish is as colorful as it is nutritious. The colors are due to onions, garlic, ginger, bell peppers, turmeric and lemongrass if you have it, though some will say it’s optional. I say it’s soup and all the feel good stuff you can toss in will be better for you in the long run.

Saute the aromatics in oil or water until soft, mixing in curry and other spices. Stir in the lentils and the liquid and let it cook until everything is soft and creamy and smelling so good you think you’ll die if you don’t eat it RIGHT NOW. While the soup is cooking, put the rice on. I used a 12 minute Jasmine rice because I love jasmine rice.

In my opinion one of the things that makes tarka dal one of the best stews on the planet is the lemon. Let me say that again, the LEMON. I squeeze half a lemon during the last five minutes of cooking and I add more once its done and more during plating. It’s optional, of course, but if you like spice this will cut down on it a little. If you love spice, add the lemon anyway, it goes great with Sriracha and other spicy hot sauces.

One important thing about using dry soy products is that they take on a lot of water. A LOT. You can add it to the soup mix if you want, but be warned it will be a juicy mess. I kept them crispy in the fridge and served them on top so they could be mixed in during eating. It’s an extra step but it’s more than worth it because you get crispy spiced vegan chicken to go with the creamy lentil stew.

This was super delicious and the best part? There was enough for lunch the next day!

Spicy Soya Bulgogi

Most days I know what I’m going to eat because I am a planner. I plan out the menu each week, create a corresponding grocery list complete with a few snack options for those nights I feel like munching. So yeah, I plan things.

But this week as I sat in the living room waiting for my husband to finished getting dressed while I reconciled with menu with my shopping list app, I found a video for Bulgogi, which I haven’t had since we lived in Los Angeles…a million years ago. Of course this dish was made semi-traditionally and by that, I mean it contained meat, which was no problem because I recently got my hands on Inedit brand textured soya, which I’ve used before but only the big chunks and the cubes. It’s a great dehydrated soy product that you simmer in water to hydrate and then cook per your recipe instructions.

Slowly this vegan bulgogi idea was coming together.

As with any good vegan-ized recipe, you have to be careful because although you can totally make the dish, you might have to juggle around some of the steps to make it work. Step one: get the soy granules into the water and get them going. The package says it needs 20-25 minutes but I think about 10 to 12 is sufficient.

Okay, so here’s the thing about making bulgogi. Mostly it is a spicy beef dish and home cooks like myself often use some sort of ground up product, rather than whole pieces, and you should know up front that I didn’t do a big deep dive into the history of the dish or anything so complicated. I saw a recipe on YouTube and made some adjustments for my plant based diet and weight loss goals.

Now, that’s out of the way…let’s keep going.

My ingredients: shallots, onion, scallions, ginger, Thai curry paste, piripiri peppers, ginger and portobello mushroom caps, just to enhance the satiety of the dish. Oh and I used ramen style noodles instead of rice. And four leftover grape tomatoes for the liquid and lycopene.

The mushrooms went into the skillet first so cook out some of the water before adding the soy texture, which also has some water that you’ll want to cook out for some recipes and keep for others. I planned for a spicy-ish sauce so I wanted them fairly dry. Next went the shallots, onions and ginger.

Add seasoning as you need it, later adding the garlic and tomatoes near the last few minutes of cooking. Then grab a bowl and whip up the bulgogi sauce, which for me contained: soy sauce, That curry paste, hot chili paste, harissa powder, curry, cumin and lemongrass powder. Toss in some water and cornstarch if you want a thicker sauce to coat the noodles, and dump it in the pot…but not before the noodle or rice water gets started cooking.

When you’re ready to put everything together,¬†then you can dump the sauce into the skillet and bring to a boil Simmer until the sauce is thickened and taste for extra flavor. The sesame seeds were a last minute addition after I put the recipe into Cronometer and saw that I had some calorie wiggle room, but in total I added 5 grams of sesame seeds.

 

This is a pretty easy vegan dish to make but like many of my favorite Asian recipes, it does have a bit of prep time. There’s a lot of chopping to be done, so make time for it and you won’t regret it.

I promise!

What recipe do you want to see next? Drop a comment below.

 

Vegan Fish Steaks & Veggie Medley

I’ve made no secret of my desire to keep my plate as plant based as possible with the exception of tofu (is tofu¬†not¬†plant based?) but since I went on an ordering spree a week or so ago, I decided to go all the way.

And let me tell ya, not all results were pleasant.

Enter, vegan fish steaks.

This is another gem from the folks at Vantastic Foods, which I’ve been a fan of since I tasted their soy jerky, but this particular product was chosen by The Hubs which is kind of weird since he was vegetarian for two years before going vegan while I scarfed up trout (regenbogen for those of you fluent in Deutsch!) like it was going out of business. I skipped right over the fish products page because I had no interest in them. Another reason we make such a good team.

You can probably see the biggest source of MY own displeasure just by taking a quick look at the list of ingredients. Noriblatter is German for nori sheets, as in seaweed, which I am not a fan of. I can admit that since going vegan I don’t mind it as much because I think my taste buds just didn’t enjoy the blend of nori and raw fish.

Anyway my number one problem with this product was the overwhelming fishy scent. Even when i was a meat eater I NEVER would have purchased or eaten fish that smelled like this since that means it’s bad. But for the sake of science and not wasting money, I had to give it a try and…it wasn’t bad.

It wasn’t great, but combined with seasoned vegetables, it was edible. With hot sauce.

The Hubs cooked this meal and the “steaks” were seasoned beautifully and capped off with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice which is about all you can do for filets this small. A couple minutes in a skillet and these babies are ready to eat.

The mixed curried vegetables helped mask the fishy scent, which weirdly disappeared after about five minutes. Too bad my brain couldn’t erase the smell.

I have learned a very important lesson as a vegan and I suggest that everyone makes this decision for themselves. I don’t need my vegan foods to taste like their formerly living counterparts. I like my burgers tasting like chickpeas, lentils and tofu and I’m totally fine with using plain tofu to transform a former favorite dish of mine. I stopped eating that stuff for a reason and giving me something that smells like fish only reminds me of that.

The Hubs actually liked them and later this week–maybe–I’ll show you how his fish fingers turned out. Spoiler alert: as delicious as your five year old self remembers.

I found that a ice cold red ale Beck’s was the perfect way to wash this down!

What vegan products have you tried that you wish you hadn’t?

Black Beans: Vegan Two Ways

If you’re anything like me, you always have a bag or two (okay, maybe three) of dry beans in¬† your pantry. Dry beans are, in my opinion, a vegan staple and people of all diets should always have them on hand.

My husband on the other hand, gets a little antsy about things being the pantry for “too long” so I decided to use them since corn on the cob is everywhere this time of year and I really felt like a black bean salad. But a problem I often have is incorrectly eye measuring stuff, yet I still find myself doing it. Regularly. So…black beans two ways.

Black bean salad is pretty easy to make, even easier when you don’t have to fret about which protein to put in it and whether or not to add cheese. At least I think so.

All you need is…fresh vegetables. I grilled two ears of corn on the stove top griddle and let them cool before cutting the kernels off. Then I chopped a red bell pepper, two scallions, some Romaine lettuce and cherry tomatoes, halved and quartered, then tossed them into a large mixing bowl. (Is eighth’ed a word?)

Now set aside the bowl because its time to make the lime mustard dressing!

This was pretty simple. All you need is: mustard (I used spicy and sweet), the juice and some zest of a lime, dill, salt, pepper, cumin and smoky paprika. Whisk it and pour it on top and lunch is served.

Don’t forget to add the avocado if you have an avocado lover in your house!

Make sure you toss it until everything is coated¬†and be sure to taste it. Don’t be afraid to let it sit for about 10 minutes before adding more seasoning sometimes all a dish needs is time.

Add a Corona or Negro Modelo to the side and you’ve got a long lunch ahead of you!

 

The problem I had was that I only used 2 cups of cooked beans to make this salad and I had almost 4 cups remaining.

…then my mother in law found vegan gnocchi at the market and got it for us.

What to do with black beans and gnocchi?

Plenty, but what did I choose? Black bean curry with gnocchi.

I don’t know where it came from but that’s how we ended up here so let’s just go with it.

I’ll just get this out of the way now because some consider it controversial. I pan fried my gnocchi in olive oil and garlic. The end.

It’s crunchy and delicious and potato-y and I love it. Boil it if you want.

The curry was a simple one with onions, ginger, garlic, bell peppers and black beans with loads of spices.

I didn’t use coconut milk, instead I made a tomato, soy sauce, sriracha, ginger mix, added water and cornstarch to it and let it thicken that way, but coconut milk is also an option.

Top the gnocchi with the curry, be as generous or as stingy as you want with the liquid.

For the garnish, I thin sliced scallions and mint to cool the spice in the dish.

And that’s how you end up using a lot of beans and creating a new dish!

By the way, we ended up having one full serving of curry left over and we split it over a bed of jasmine rice so technically, vegan black beans…three ways?

Spiced Chickpea & Tofu Steak Bowl

If you haven’t learned by now that I am addicted to flavors of the Asian continent, then you haven’t been paying attention. There are so many different flavor profiles, cuisines, spices and dishes to try that I worry I won’t get through them all before I die.¬†That’s how much I love them.

So when I’m looking for something that is:

Easy

Healthy

Quick (ish)

I turn to my favorite way to enjoy a vegan meal, a Buddha bowl.

Today we have what I like to call a vegan shawarma bowl.

You get a little bit of everything with a bowl. Spiced tofu steaks, spiced chickpeas, couscous and sauteed onion and bok choy greens.

This meal requires one thing: a very well stocked spice cabinet.

You’ll need everything from cumin to smoky paprika, turmeric (for the couscous water), ras el hanout, baharrat, cardamom….you get the drift, right?

The key to perfectly spiced chickpeas? Drying the beans after you rinse them. I used canned garbanzo beans here so I rinsed them twice and lined a colander with a paper towel and tossing them until dry. Then put all of your spices–salt & pepper included–in to a bowl and add the chickpeas. Toss until well coated and put on a baking sheet in the oven for 30 minutes or until it reaches desired crispiness.

This was a last minute addition to the meal because I wanted to add something green and I wanted to use the last of the bok choy before it went bad. A teaspoon of olive oil along with a halved & sliced onion until translucent and brown, then add the greens for another minute or two.

The yogurt sauce was vegan yogurt, fresh dill & parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It was a nice cooling agent if needed, or just a hint of citrus if you don’t.

The prep time on his meal is about 20 minutes but the tofu and chickpeas go in the oven, couscous is done in 5 minutes and the greens took about 10 minutes total. It seems complicated and it tastes like it takes hours to cook…but it doesn’t.

Next time you’re in the grocery store, grab a few spices you’ve never heard of and test’em out.

Vegan Cauliflower Tikka

When the weather turns unexpectedly cold, I want something hot, spicy and heart as hell. In my house, that usually means curries, Asian soups or chili. This week, it meant Tikka.

If you think you’re not a fan of cauliflower, I recommend you try it in a dish like tikka masala or a curry, where all those strong, vibrant flavors seep into the cauliflower (which is crazy low in calories and an excellent source of vitamins C & K). Just to be sure, I coated the cauliflower with a salt & pepper, curry & powdered ginger layer and popped them in the oven to crisp around the edges. This gave the dish a heartier, deeper flavor.

cauliflower tikka masala vegan

The thing I like best about a dish like this, is that you can use what you have on hand. For me it was cauliflower, potatoes and garbanzo beans, with the basics like ginger, onion, garlic and turmeric. Oh and tomatoes. I used a can of diced tomatoes and added in a few fresh tomatoes as well with an oat cream to thicken it. Coconut milk or cream will work here too, but that’s a matter of taste and preference so do what you want.

One of the reasons I use oil when I cook a dish like this is to infuse all the flavor I can in the dish but adding all the spices while the oil heats up before adding the first batch of vegetables. It’s a trick I learned from a friend and it works, let me know if you agree!

I made the mistake of buying store bought papadums and they were not very good. I forgot how oily they can be and I didn’t use enough oil so they ended up half cripsy & oily and half crunchy but not in a good way. I should have just skipped the papadums and added rice on the side.

Sprinkle some sliced scallions on top and you’re good to go. And if you really like it, have a second bowl.

If you make this dish, tag The Spicy Spatula on social media!

 

Spicy Vegan Black Rice Curry

If you’ve learned anything about me and my family over the past few months, it’s how much we (specifically, I) love curry. It’s my go to meal when I’m hungry as a hippo with no idea what I want and that’s especially true on those days when I’ve put off grocery shopping. Grab some rice or noodles, a bunch of vegetables and the right blend of curry spices and you’ve got a quick vegan curry in no time at all.

Then there are the days when we’re feeling adventurous, or more accurately, the days when we find a good excuse to use or buy some new find from the grocery store. A few years ago we discovered black rice when we lived in Germany and ever since I’ve been a pretty big fan. It has a bit of a bite to it, more flavor and it has a great texture so you know you’re eating rice instead of some unknown, tasteless grain meant to just soak up all the flavors of the dish.

Then I found out that black rice is an excellent source of iron, antioxidants and Vitamin E and I decided to keep it in the meal rotation even though sometimes it can be a very temperamental grain.

If you decide to experiment with darker grains like black rice or even brown or wild rice, make sure to get that water boiling first to make sure you’re not waiting on it to finish cooking once your yummy curry is ready to be eaten. The cook time ranges from 15 minutes to 35, sometimes more depending on the length of the grain as well as how pre-processed it is.

Now…on to the curry!

This particular recipe is pretty easy and it was made by The Husband so you know it fits the man criteria of simple yet delicious.

The recipe seems…busy because there are plenty of tasty ingredients but trust me, it’s all simple to make. What you’ll need:

*Potatoes, scrubbed clean

*Wood ear mushrooms

*Onion

*Chickpeas, rinsed

*Garlic

*Ginger

*Tomatoes, rinsed & diced

*Tofu crumbles

*Coconut milk

Since The Husband was instrumental in helping me see the benefits of cooking without oil, you can guess that he made this meal totally oil-free but the dish didn’t suffer for it as you might imagine. The coconut milk gave everything a smooth, creamy flavor that blended beautifully with the al dente black rice. With the proper seasoning you can get a flavorful dish without all the oil.

Get a good saute on the veggies and then slowly add the broth and or coconut milk, letting it cook until the potatoes are done. The wood ear mushrooms go in last because they cook fairly quickly and if you’re feeling truly fancy, you can set up a nice plate the way The Husband did. His presentation skills far surpass my own, as you can see, and it made for a really great photo!

On top of all that, it was so good that I went back for seconds, of the curry but not the rice because that’s another way we fight temptation, make enough grains for 2 servings so if you want seconds, it’s all veggies. Eating such good food shouldn’t make you feel guilty and this way it doesn’t have to!

If you’re feeling thirsty, I always find an ice cold beer goes great with a spicy curry, especially when that spice is from the Sriracha I added to my plate because we have very different spice level preferences.

A Lost Weekend in Cluj-Napoca

Those of you who have started reading and following this blog–thank all of you for encouraging me to keep doing this!–know that one of my biggest passions is traveling. That’s right, in addition to being a romance author, ghostwriter, political junkie and vegan foodie, I love to get away.

Anytime.

Anyplace.

And it turns out that Romania is full of hidden gems. Okay maybe they’re not all that hidden but this is my first time here so it’s all brand new to me and therefore feels a little hidden. But some friends that we met in Germany are now living back in their homeland and invited us for a visit to their town, Cluj-Napoca.

cluj napoca romanian

If you’re like me you’ve already paused to Google this city and you’ll find out like I did that it is a BIG city. I mean it’s not my hometown of Chicago or my adopted hometown of Los Angeles but at 400k people, it is way bigger than I expected. So big that instead of heading to the town’s website or Wikipedia, I immediately Googled “vegan cluj napoca” because I was jonesing for a night out with some good, chef made, vegan food.

Lo and behold, there was an option.

Samsara

 

The restaurant was minimalist but nice and sophisticated, none of which I really cared about. The food however, was pretty darn good. We ate there twice and I enjoyed a delicious Thai curry soup, lentil soup the next day, Asian style noodles and a curry dish. Before you ask, no it was a pretty eclectic restaurant with plenty of options, not all of which were vegan which I thought was nice since there was a meat lover dining with us.

The soup was delicious but the noodle dish was a tad salty. All in all it was a mixed bag of treats but if we lived in Cluj it would likely be our lazy night option.

Luckily food was a small part of this weekend. I got a chance to visit a section of the Carpathian Mountains, a mountain range called Apuseni Mountains that was beautiful. And cold.

It was a simple sightseeing trip meant to kill a few hours between catching up and talking business but when you come upon this view, staying in the car is not an option. So dressed in my red Converse All-Stars, I got out–and got wet–just to capture some gorgeous scenery up close and personal.

But like I said, it was cold. Very cold and we didn’t stay in one part of the range for very long but the climb up took us from autumn weather to deeply winter in just a few hundred meters.

And what is a tired and hungry vegan to do after a day in the mountains? Eat, of course.

Toulouse was an adorable little bistro style cafe with a long, dark pine bar and an impressive liquor selection. And oddly enjoy, for some reason American Top 40 was playing…from the nineties. I loved it!

The food was…okay. I was able to get fajitas which made me smile because Mexican is my second favorite cuisine to eat. The vegetables were hot and seasoned well but the tomatoes in the salsa were canned. It probably sounds horribly snobby of me but I never eat salsa that isn’t fresh, not since I learned how to make salsa in college. It’s just a quirk of mine and I don’t mind it because canned tomatoes are entirely too sweet for salsa. Plus the way salsa and lime juice tastes together with parsley and fresh garlic? Anyway so that kind of ruined it for me–a little–but I did eat up every bit of the mushroom, onion and pepper mix. I would have liked more than tortilla triangles because I can guarantee that when it comes to tacos or fajitas, I can be guaranteed to overeat. #truth

That other sauce is guac and I’ll tell you now that I gave it to my husband because there are three vegetables I do not like: avocados, beets and eggplant.¬†I can be pretty fair with everything else, even kale, but those are on my ‘never ever’ list which is probably why the salsa bummed me out so much.

But rest easy, I had my all-time favorite vegetable to cheer me up. Potatoes.

The hubs got a chickpea curry dish that was tasty with just enjoy coconut cream to rub off some of the heat. I love the heat but he doesn’t so I only had a bite to taste. Okay, two bites. Three bites. I had three bites.

The fresh tomatoes added a nice hint of acid and freshness. If we had another day I probably would have come back to try it out.

You’re wondering where the drink is, right?

Well in this oddly international lunch, I decided why not keep up the tradition and ordered a Paloma.

A simple grapefruit soda & tequila drink, this cocktail went perfectly with the fajitas.

Spicy Broccoli & Tofu Noodles

One of my favorite things is noodles. Asian style noodles. I love them all from the delicious buckwheat taste of soba noodles to rice noodles (thick or thin) and of course, ramen. But I also adore Udon noodles, glass noodles, wok noodles and all the undiscovered noodles out there waiting for me. I. Love. Them.

And most of all, I keep a good stock in my pantry so that when I’m at a loss for what to make for lunch or dinner, or if I don’t feel like having what’s on the menu, I hunt down veggies and pantry staples, grab a pack of noodles and I’m good to go. That’s pretty much how this dish came to be.

The best part is that, despite how complicated the dish seems, it’s really simple to make. For the ramen, all you need is boiling water but be sure to read the instructions carefully because sometimes you boil them for a few minutes and others you let them sit in the water for about five minutes. These were the simple boil for three minutes and they’re done, but I really loved that these particular noodles had only three ingredients: rice flour, turmeric and water.

Turmeric! An amazing anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant that also provides increased brain function and helps stave off brain diseases.

I just used what i had on hand which was a half floret of broccoli, half a brick of tofu, onion, red bell pepper, garlic and ginger. I topped it with sliced scallions and these amazing purple sprouts that were beet sprouts which I found surprisingly delicious considering that beets are one of about three vegetables that my taste buds don’t like.

For this recipe I did use oil, cold pressed olive oil BUT just a half tablespoon which I heated and mixed with the ginger, garlic and two types of curry. As soon as that hearty aromatic scent hit the air, add the vegetables. You can add the tofu last but I cooked it separately in a small skillet so brown it around the edges.

TIP: Give your tofu extra flavor by cutting and marinating it. For this recipe I used soy sauce, garlic powder and curry. I did it first so it sat getting flavorful while I chopped and did everything else.

This is yet another thing I love about Asian cuisine, you can fancy it up or enjoy a quick and rustic style meal. And if you’re a picky vegetable eater you’re not beholden to anyone’s recipe, just use what you already have on hand.

I’m sure you’re wondering where the ‘spicy’ in this recipe came from and the answer is mostly the pinch of red curry and the half Thai chili pepper I used but I removed the seeds because I LOVE it spicy but the hubs…doesn’t. So in the spirit of compromise I just decorated my plate with a bit of Sriracha. Okay, more than a bit.

Sue me, I like it spicy!

Let me know your favorite noodle dish and I just might make it!

Traveling While Vegan: Creativity & Compromise A Must

One of the things you might have guessed about me is that traveling is at the top of my favorite things to do list. Honestly, I’m not that picky. Okay, I do have an extensive list of places I would like see and the things I¬†really want to do when I get there but what I mean is that I just like to go to new places. Whether it was going from Charleston to Carbondale when I was in college, a quick day trip to Salem when we lived in Massachusetts or a weekend in San Diego when we lived in California…I want to go to¬†there.

We haven’t been too many places in the 18 months since making the change to a plant based diet but aside from a few memorable places in Germany, eating out has been kind of a drag. If you’re lucky then maybe you’ll find a vegan option or two, but what if you’re in the heart of carnivore country and the notion of a animal free meal is as likely as riding a unicorn to get there?

You get creative. You cobble together something resembling a meal with the side dishes. Some form of potatoes–usually fries because everything else has at least butter if not also cream or milk–and broccoli is my go to option but only if they don’t have a problem steaming new broccoli without butter for me. Sometimes you get something amazing like grilled asparagus or roasted Brussels sprouts but usually it’s nothing as glamorous as all that. So…you compromise. Usually I end up ordering a salad, the bigger the better, with French fries and then booze. I can get a little greedy and get a shot and a beer or maybe, if I’m feeling good, a couple cocktails.

But when I get home I have to fix something with some sustenance to it.

Which brings me to the most recent trip: Busteni

Busteni is a small mountain town in Prahova County, Romania with some amazing scenery and a gondola from which you can see it all. This place was gorgeous even though it was just a tad too late to get the full beauty of the autumn colors. And even though it was too windy to ride this particular gondola and even though I moaned and groaned about it, a ride on another gondola much later in the day proved the wisdom of their decision.

I took this shot on the sidewalk outside the train station!

Since this was an¬†up and out the door early kind of day, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat before making the long-ish hike to the telecable building. As we passed eatery upon eatery where there was not one dish without either meat or cheese, though most had both meat¬†and cheese, I saw French fries in my culinary future. And you know what was most annoying? That there was so much variety from traditional Romanian restaurants to Italian, Irish, Hungarian and even a Bulgarian place. But we finally found a place with a lentil soup that sounded like the perfect way to start a day of walking and climbing, but they didn’t have it. After it became clear that we didn’t have many options our waitress said the magic words, “We have a vegetable ciorba.” The hubs and I looked at each other, smiled and asked for two big bowls. Along with some crusty bread and two tall beers.

And then we were off.

 

The gondola took us up first to 1500 meters which was pretty cool and at about the halfway mark is when I began to understand why the other gondola, the one that went up about another 1,000 meters, was closed. There was wind, more than enough for this Chicago girl, but it was enough to ride safely up the mountain so I don’t want to imagine how windy the other was.

2k meters high!

We did a lot of walking and a lot of climbing and the old me would be so disgusted with the new me because, yeah, I had a good time. When the day started my light makeup looked good and my afro was mostly shaped and shiny. But that took no time at all to undo and I didn’t even care. I climb even higher than the 2,000 meters and I made it, something I couldn’t possibly have done 22 kilograms ago! Sure, I huffed and puffed a little but my lungs didn’t burn and none of my muscles gave out.

Yay, me!

We walked around the town and stopped at a few artisan tents to see what was on sale and I found a beautiful ring made of lapis lazuli that I haven’t stopped wearing since.

Then it was time to eat and we did the dance that all traveling vegans know all too well. We stopped at about six different places to look at menus and see if any eateries had vegan meals and if not, who had the best a la carte options to put a meal together. Ultimately we settled on an Indian style restaurant that was the only lowlight of the day.

The mushroom masala was…okay. It was seasoned nicely but nothing to write home about. Unfortunately.

We ordered pizza because nothing else was vegan. Nothing. Else. Here’s a little tip for you: If a place can’t make small adjustments to make a dish vegan, chances are good that all the food has been made ahead of time (at least) and not fresh to order.

The pizza was also lacking with no tomato sauce to speak of, barely cooked vegetables that slid off with every bite and a dough that left a lot to be desired. I wasn’t surprised but I was totally bummed because it was the worst cherry on top of a pretty good plant based sundae.

But it was a great day and that’s what matters…right?

My New-ish Favorite Thing

Ginger.

Ingwer.

Ghimbir.

Gingembre.

However you call it in  your neck of the woods, I love the stuff.

From the moment I started on my culinary tour of Asia–in anticipation of a real tour of the continent–ginger was the flavor that most knocked me back on my fanny. It was kind of sweet and tart, with just a hint of spice to appeal to my love of all most things spicy. Whether curry or Thai Curry or just plain ol’ curry, ginger can be the star or just a backup singer.

I put it in cookies, curry, soups, stir-fry and yes, even a few cocktails.

But my new favorite thing is fresh mint & ginger tea. I had it for the first time in Wurzburg, Germany and this vegan restaurant and I drank it like the it wasn’t 27c outside that day!

vegan tea mint ginger

I don’t have this adorable little plastic tea set, which i am kind of bummed about but I have an old school tea set on loan from my mother in law and it does the job just fine. More than fine. Okay, so maybe I sometimes burn my knuckles when I tilt the tea into my cup but I do like my tea piping hot.

 

https://giphy.com/embed/tRasj2khAXiuI

via GIPHY

 

Back to ginger. I’d wanted to make this tea from the moment I had it but then we got caught up in the move and getting settled and then…settling in. Then we hit up this super-sized supermarket, Carrefour, and there it was mint, lots of it and at a very good price. A¬†very good price which meant I couldn’t resist grabbing four packages of it to go along with the ginger because I wanted to cook up a stir-fry for my in-laws to blow their tastebuds’ minds!

The mint-ginger tea was very easy to make. I cut about six slices of ginger and about 1.5 cups of mint. Put half the ginger in a pot with water along with one cup of mint. Put the remaining mint and ginger in your tea pot and set aside. Bring the liquid up to a boil and then lower to a simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Then cool enough to put in your teapot, ginger, mint and liquid. Steep and enjoy!

 

I put sugar in it mostly out of habit but after the first cup, I left it abandoned and just drank and drank until it was ice cold.

I was even able to get my coffee loving in-laws and my husband to drink it and love it.

And now that I have mastered the difficult task of making my own tea just in time for the weather to turn…if it ever does turn to autumn, well other than the beautiful leaves…

 

Anyway if the weather ever turns to autumn, I’ll be excited to try out some more types of tea.

Like basil…

Tarka Dal: A Delicious Vegan Lentil Treat

Maybe you don’t know this about me, but I LOVE Indian food. I didn’t always, though. Back in 2003 I was visiting D.C. for a training session right before I began working on the upcoming Presidential election and we were treated to dinner at this little family owned Indian restaurant. This was my very first time eating Indian food and to say it was disappointing would be a massive understatement. It was bland and tasteless and awful.

It wasn’t until 2006 when the hubs and I moved to Los Angeles that I had Indian food again and this time it blew my mind. Seriously guys, blew my mind! Anarkali is the name of the place that turned me into an Indian food addict. The first time we visited, I talked with the owners about the different types of curry and the heat levels, and even what was in the delicious spiced tea they served. It was…transformative. From that moment on, I learned everything I could about Indian cuisine and back then I was a huge carnivore–literally and figuratively–and it hasn’t stopped.

The difference is that now that I’m on a plant based diet, I have to plan a little more because you can’t just soak an animal protein in yogurt and toss into a sauce. But then I discovered the beauty and variety of the lentil. Packed with protein and low in calories, this is one of the vegan superfoods of our time. Dramatic much, right? Seriously though, lentils are the BOMB.

Enter, tarka dal.

Good Vegan Eats

I’ve been awhile…a long while but now that I’m (we’re?) back, here’s a visual history of some of the healthy plant based dishes we’ve experimented with over the past few months…or when one of us remembers to snap a photo of our tasty treats!

Sticky tofu with sauteed vegetables & couscous

 

This was my first time cooking tofu, something I previously loathed, and it came out delicious. I marinated the tofu in soy sauce, ginger and Sriracha and then pan seared it for about 1-2 minutes on each side.

 

Cauliflower & chickpea curry

 

Hi, my name is Natasha and I am a curry-a-holic. The hubs knows this so he frequently adds a curry to the nights he cooks and this one was so good I went back for seconds…thank goodness it’s calorie friendly!

 

Buddha Bowl #019 (aka: my newest addiction)

 

Shaved raw carrots (yum!), diced and roasted tofu, steamed broccoli with delicious tahini dressing made this meal healthy and satisfying, but the crimini mushrooms and onions added a heartiness and earthiness that made this dish close to perfect!