African Inspired Vegan Chickpea & Peanut Butter Stew

With autumn fast upon us, I thought it was time to start bringing out the vegan soup and stew recipes. What better way to save time and stay warm than a slow cooking pot of vegetables, herbs & spices? None I can think of!

So I came across this recipe on Minimalist Baker and thought to myself, why not?

As always, feel free to make adjustments to fit your palate but unless you have some type of allergy, I really recommend you give it a solid chance first.

So what exactly makes this vegan stew, African inspired? Firstly, the peanuts or in my case, the peanut butter. And the spices. I used ras el hanout because, let’s face it, this spice blend is packed with flavor and SO delicious. Bonus tip: coat this on your potatoes before making a batch of fries in the oven or the air fryer! I also added harissa paste because I can’t get enough spice.

The ingredient list is pretty simple:

Chickpeas
Onion
Coconut milk (creamy)
Garlic
Tomato paste
Diced tomatoes (fresh or canned, its up to you)
Peanut butter
Bulgur
Coconut oil
Red bell pepper

Heat the coconut oil (or water) in a big pot or skillet and add the ras el hanout and turmeric powder, cooking until fragrant. Then add onion, garlic and bell pepper and cook 4 to 6 minutes, not too much because we’re just getting started. Add salt and pepper.

Add tomato and harissa paste, tomatoes, chickpeas, coconut milk, peanut butter and water or broth.

I only added about 1.5 tablespoons of peanut butter to the actual soup because peanut butter is crazy caloric. Instead I mixed the remaining peanut butter with hot water and drizzled it over the top for flavor and a pretty garnish.

Bring the mixture to a boil and then lower to a simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the liquid is thick and creamy.

You can add corn or tapioca start to thicken if you decide not to go crazy with coconut milk, or just enjoy it more soup-y than stew-y.

I served it on a bed of bulgur instead of rice because I love bulgur and I thought it would add a nice texture to the stew.

This meal wasn’t as calorie friendly as I prefer my vegan meals, thanks to the addition of coconut milk and peanut butter, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made if you want to try something news. Right?

My only regret was that I couldn’t find any African or specifically, West African beer to go along with this meal. Otherwise it was a great new meal to test out and enjoy.

Beyond Meatball Noodle Soup (Vegan)

Can we all just agree that it is incredibly difficult to rename dishes you’ve been using for a lifetime? It is probably one of the most difficult parts of writing this blog, and I constantly find myself using too many descriptors or not enough. Or you end up with the redundancy of saying “vegan” everything. But when it came to this particular meal, the name almost wrote itself.

Beyond Meat is only one of two vegan meat alternatives that are available to me here in Romania, the other is a local brand, Verdino and they only make mici, deli slices and salami. That made it pretty easy to use the word ‘meatball’ and have it accurately apply. But that’s enough about the name of this dish, right? Let’s get down this incredibly delicious vegan noodle recipe.

This is an easy vegan recipe that you can make in less than 30 minutes and you can use whatever you have in your fridge and pantry.

Start with the Beyond Burgers and just add: minced garlic and ginger, smoky paprika, Ancho chili flakes and soy sauce. Use vegan Worcestershire if you have it, but I am currently waiting on a shipment of items that include vegan Worcestershire…still. My brand comes from the UK but if any of you have recommendations, drop them in the comments section!

Mix everything together in a bowl and form into small-ish, bite sized cruelty free meatballs.

I was feeling lazy so i popped them in the oven on 225°C for about 15 to 18 minutes and as you can see, they became nice and crispy without losing any of that signature juiciness that defines them.

The soup part of the equation was simple: my new favorite thing, waste-free vegan broth! You might need to add a little of this and a little of that to get the right flavor profile, but it shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes.

As you can see, I made Udon noodles for my husband and Ramen noodles for myself because we have different tastes and it was no big deal to make two types. Cook the noodles according to the package, just using broth instead of plain old water.

Garnish with fresh scallions, lime juice and Sriracha and voila, a quick and easy vegan lunch guaranteed to satisfy your appetite.

Healthy tip: If you love Ramen noodles the way I do, then you probably REALLY love how calorie friendly they are, right? Well you’ll have to weigh the Ramen after you cook them to get the most accurate calorie count. Those little 60 gram packages total up to about 150 grams once cooked. Don’t take my word for it though, invest in a food scale. This is the one I have. It’s basic but it gets the job done. Oh, and it’s battery operated.

And if you’re feeling a little grown up, add a cocktail. I totally just used this opportunity to break out the new rum, though. It wasn’t completely necessary but appreciated and satisfying.

This was just ice cold rum with lime zest and brown sugar on the rim. It was delicious and refreshing, especially if you like a little heat with your favorite Ramen noodle soup.

What is your go to noodle soup recipe?

 

Jamaican Inspired Vegan Navy Bean & Lentil Stew

I know what you’re thinking…it’s way too hot for stew. Right?

Don’t worry, I also agree. In fact I’d go even further, saying that I have a bit of a compulsion about foods and beverages being the “proper” temperature but we’re only here to talk about why I’m making any kind of stew in the middle of summer, never mind one that’s also spicy.

The easy answer is, the world as we know it.

Usually for lunch I make a salad. Sometimes it might be your garden variety salad, complete with lettuce, tomatoes, scallions and cucumbers, while other days I might toss in some proteins & grains, such as smoked tofu and bulgur, soy pieces and couscous, or my personal favorite a burrito or taco bowl, complete with hundreds of grams of lettuce and rice. When you’re vegan and far from home, that’s how you get Chipotle wherever you are in the world! But I digress. The point is that the state of the world means the markets don’t always have everything I need when I need it, so I improvise instead of making unnecessary trips to multiple stores.

Good enough? I hope so!

Now, back to the stew.

If you’re not into eating soup when it’s hot, and normally I’m not, you can eat this at room temperature or be a weirdo and eat it as gazpacho. I told you I had strong feelings about food/drink temps!

The ingredient list here is pretty simple: ginger, garlic, onion, navy beans, yellow lentils, green bell pepper, chives for garnish and no waste broth!

But you can go crazy with herbs and spices. Since I was going for a Jamaican inspired flavor profile, I used ground scotch bonnet pepper, jerk spice and baharat (a middle eastern spice blend) because I think it adds a delicious flavor that’s pretty unique. Feel free to use whatever spices you have on hand, but don’t be afraid to grab those cheap-o spice packets at the market to see what you like!

In addition to being healthy, vegan and delicious, this Jamaican stew is also a one pot meal!

That’s right, add the oil and chopped veggies (including ginger) to a stock pot and saute until slightly tender. Season as you go and when things are starting to look good, add the lentils and broth. Cook until the lentils are tender which may vary by stove and lentil brand/color/type. Then add in the navy beans. Rinse well with cold water if you use canned beans.

Top with chives or scallions if you want a garnish, otherwise enjoy it as it is.

Or, take that bread that might make it another day or two, mix up a spice blend with some oil or vegan butter, bake it and cut into dipping sticks!

Bread is totally optional, of course, and not really necessary. But when you weigh everything out, you can decide if you have calorie room for something that I love like…bread.

What’s your favorite stew? Share the recipe below and maybe I’ll give it a shot!

Waste Free Slow Cooker Vegan Broth

One of the things that is a constant struggle for me in the kitchen, is minimizing my waste. I use cloth towels more often than paper towels, I try to re-use any containers that I can and when I can buy in bulk instead of using more plastic, I will.

But the nuts & bolts of food waste is a place where I often fall short and to be honest, I don’t have a very good reason for it.

In fact, the only real reason is laziness.

But recently, that all changed and today I’m showing you my super easy, if you’re willing to spend a little bit of time each day, vegan slower cooker broth.

When I say this is easy, I’m not blowing smoke. I swear.

Preheat your slow cooker and get ready.

Step 1: Collect your food refuse from each meal you cook. Onion tips, mushroom steps, the root of celery or fennel, pretty much anything as you can see. Store it in an airtight container in the freezer until you have enough to get a broth/stock going.

Step 2: Add herbs, spices and seasonings of your choices. This is where you can get really creative, using peppercorns, cinnamon, anise, coriander or mustard seeds, plus your favorite spices. And don’t forget the water, I used filtered water just to be safe.

Step 3: Cook for 4 to 6 hours or until you get the flavor you’re looking for.

Let the broth cool and then drain it into airtight containers to store in the fridge.

I wish I could tell you how long it’ll keep in the fridge but the truth is we don’t keep it long enough to find out. It’s great for a quick vegan ramen soup, use it to make grains like couscous and rice or sauces & gravy recipes.

You’ve already bought the vegetables, why not get the most out of them and leave that too salty vegetable broth on the shelf?

Catching Up in My Vegan Kitchen…from Romania!

It’s been awhile and I know it. I’m sorry. I hope everyone is safe, indoors and finding fun ways to keep busy.

The truth is that I have been cooking, quite a bit lately, I’ve just been very lazy about writing up posts and selecting photos. Some days I just forgot to take photos altogether, but I don’t want that to turn into a habit, so let’s play a little bit of catch up, shall we?

I rarely posts desserts, not because I don’t make them because I do…a lot. But I am not a good food photographer, not yet anyway. But this little creation was chocolate biscuits (#accidentallyvegan), ripe bananas, peanut butter, cocoa powder and dark brown sugar with orange zest on top. Layered. It’s pretty to look at and it was a crowd-pleaser for vegans and non-vegans alike.

I know it’s spring time and not really the season for soups but one night my husband chose French onion soup as his Midnight Tokyo Diner option which meant I had to make it because sneaky man that he is, made sure there were heaps of yellow and white onions in the pantry.

I think it came out pretty well, probably the best I’ve made so far even thought it was greasier than I would’ve liked. Soon I’ll do a post with the full recipe because I think you might like it.

Gyro night!!! This was a fun night and yeah, you bet your sweet little booty that it was also time-consuming. Making seitan is never a quick endeavor but this was SO worth it. So. Worth. It.

As I always tell my non-vegan friends, proteins are always about the seasonings. Try to eat any protein without salt & pepper. Or any type of sausage without garlic or cumin or caraway. This seitan gyro loaf was no different. I used fennel, garlic, smoky paprika, cumin, fenugreek, ancho chili pepper and a bunch of other spices to get the loaf just right. To round the vegan gyros out, I used mushrooms and onions sauteed with the seitan after it’s simmering session.

Balsamic salad on the side with a vegan lemon and cucumber yogurt sauce, and this vegan gyro night was super fun!

And no list of what I’ve been cooking is complete without some type of Asian creation and this time we have Pho. I used TVP which, in my opinion, is a feat of genius. Seriously, I call it Star Trek meat, a name that never fails to make my husband laugh. It takes on the flavor of whatever you want it to so easily, in this case the yummy spices of a vegan Pho broth. Soy and balsamic soaked crimini mushrooms and generic ramen noodles round out this dish.

The real question is…what have you been up to? Cooking? Relaxing? Trying not to freak out?

Traveling While Vegan: Poiana Brașov, Romania

In a couple of months it will be my 3 year veganniversary and I have to admit that the overall transition was not as hard as I thought it would be. Quitting smoking was harder to do and the body of evidence available at the time was far greater about its harms but for me it was fourth time’s the charm before I kicked that nasty habit for good. Finding out that eggs are as bad as cigarettes for your heart made it easy to give up my morning sunny side up on an everything bagel breakfast. There was no way I’d let eggs get me when I’d already kicked cigarettes.

Anyway now you have context to know that becoming vegan was a lot easier than finding actual vegan meals to eat while traveling. Obviously that depends on where you go and what the vegan population/culture is like there. In Germany you’ll find some pretty good options but not all over. In Romania, I’ve eaten at vegan restaurants in Bucharest and Cluj, otherwise it’s a la cart city.

Which brings me to a recent ski trip to celebrate the release of my book, How Could I Forgetto Poiana Brasov.

poiana brasov ski vegan

This is the view from the small slice of baby mountain where my husband refreshed my ski recollection. We skiied once before in Austria a few years ago but I was about 80 lbs heavier and basically needed to re-learn this sport. This time my legs were smaller which meant I could wear the ski boots all day without excruciating pain. Anyway this was day one. Check in. Change. Rent gear. Ski until the mountain shut down.

Shower. Stretch. Food.

We chose this place, Vanatorul, because they had a vegetable soup (harder to find in these parts than you might think) and a totally vegan mushroom stew. It was a no-brainer.

Fresh sweet potato chips for an appetizer! BUT only because there was no vegetable soup without meat, because apparently that’s something you have to clarify.

Despite burning a million calories on the mountain, we decided to split everything we ordered, including this platter of grilled vegetables. Light green zucchini, eggplant, red bell peppers and a couple mushrooms filled out the platter. It was only about 200 grams of food.

The mushroom “stew” with polenta was completely vegan and pretty good. It wasn’t hot and the mushrooms were soggy but the mamaliga (polenta) made it a hearty choice for the cold town of Poiana Brasov, especially since we walked here from the hotel!

The food wasn’t great but it was good and it was hot and it was vegan, as promised. I gave it a solid B on the food but the Palinca was too strong without enough flavor.

But there was some pretty great art!

Romania has some pretty great traditional/ethnic art like this all over the country. There’s so much detail that I wish my photography skills were better.

Just in case you’re walking and you go too far.

On day two we hit the mountain again, this time the logical part of my brain was in control and I told myself I wasn’t going nearly as fast as it felt. It also helped that The Hubs made me keep my eyes open and focused on him instead of the snow beneath my feet. I managed to get down more than half the bunny slope without falling. Or freaking out. Mostly.

Then I wanted my husband to enjoy the trip too so I sent him up on the gondola to do the entire mountain a time or two while I practiced, which I did. And that means I fell. A lot. Okay just four times but it felt like a lot more. Thank goodness for Zumba, a strong core and affordable ski rental equipment because I only bruised my ego. And my left calf.

Side noteAsk if helmets and other equipment is made with leather or synthetic fibers if you’re all about that #crueltyfreeliving

After a full day of skiing I burned a zillion calories and I was ready to eat.

Big mistake.

We walked and walked and walked, finding nothing but side dishes. So we chose a place that offered vegetable soup, for real this time, and we hoped for the best.

The soup was tasty. Well seasoned with a good amount of hot broth. A little oily but the highlight of the meal.

It warmed me right up and primed me for the focaccia bread which was pretty good.

The grilled vegetables were not good. They were both under and overcooked, and the boiled potatoes were sufficient with salt & pepper from the table.

It was not a fun food experience but we found a giant arcade building with ping pong, life size chess, pool, bowling, darts, a climbing wall and mini golf. I know, after a long day of skiing we must be crazy right?

We are.

It was a fun experience though. A few games of ping pong and then my husband wiped the floor with me at pool and we made our way back to the hotel.

The next morning it was very foggy and rainy and my anxiety would not let me venture up on a mountain with skis on my unsure feet.

The view from our room in Pensiunea Alex

The trip was fun and I conquered (mostly) my fear of slamming into a tree on skis. I came home relaxed, refreshed and ready to dig back in for a bit. Plus…my book is LIVE!!!

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!

Is Vegan Sushi A Thing?

Prior to becoming a vegan, I went through sushi phases. When I was a teenage girl reading romance novels and dreaming of practicing law in New York City, a big part of the dream was eating sushi with my girlfriends. And I did enjoy it.

For about two weeks.

There was something about the blend of seaweed (nori), soy sauce and raw fish that absolutely did NOT agree with my taste buds. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to actually like the taste of sushi, which went a long way in re-crafting my vision of the future. As you can imagine, when I went vegan a few years ago, I stopped thinking about sushi altogether, assuming that it would no longer have a place in my life.

So imagine my surprise when we happened upon a sushi restaurant that had two all important words for any traveling vegan, vegan options.

I really wanted edamame and miso soup because miso is one of my top 5 all time favorite soups, but there were three different vegan sushi rolls so I knew I’d get to try them because my husband used to love sushi.

I’ll admit that this miso had a lot more ingredients than I was accustomed to, including mushrooms and sesame seeds. It was still delicious, if different, but I can usually count on miso soup being a satisfying, low calorie food option. Not so much with at least a full tablespoon of sesame seeds.

I didn’t need to add anything to the soup, not even soy sauce, which in my book is considered a win.

The edamame beans were…fantastic. Perfectly steamed (I guess) and served with pink Himalaya sea salt, they were tasty and fun to eat.

They were warm this time, which is the first time I’ve ever eaten them warm. There’s a nice restaurant in Culver City, CA that serves the most amazing chilled edamame. It was the first place I’d ever had them and by far, my favorite way to eat them. But Sushi Han in Ploiesti, came in a distant second.

So what exactly does vegan sushi contain?

Good question.

The red you see in the photo above is tomato and bell pepper. It’s a “Vega Roll” with cucumber, tomato and lettuce sushi roll, with some red bell peppers thrown in for texture and flavor. It wasn’t my favorite because there was also avocado on it, but the Hubs liked it. My favorite was the little green topped ones you see in the left corner of the photo–Hosomaki Hiashi–made with rice, seaweed and something called chuka which was slightly sweet, very green and damn tasty.

The other was avocado and rice which I didn’t even bother to try because…avocado.

The options were underwhelming for me but the chuka roll was delicious as was the soup and the edamame.

There was a noodle dish because we can’t forget my love of Asian noodles, but it was greasy and the Udon noodles were actually spaghetti. Overall it wasn’t worth a photo or mentioning, which is something that was never true before when it comes to sushi. Usually the hubs and I have to compromise when he’d want sushi. We’d have to find a place that did a good teriyaki or udon too, so we’d both be happy.

Now, thanks to a vegan lifestyle, we can both enjoy sushi.

Happy 2019 + Creamy Bean Stew with Herbed Cornbread

Happy 2019!!!!

I’m back and ready to talk plant based food with you!

My posts at the end of the year were a little sparse because it has been a long time since the Hubs and I have lived close to family and now that we are, there were plenty of dinners and parties to attend. Lots of family gatherings means one thing: plenty of cooking.

And with so much time in the kitchen, you can imagine that I over cooking. Completely and totally over it.

Enter, beans. Specifically pinto beans.

Most people hear kidney beans and immediately think about re-fried beans, but that’s not the only thing these beans are good for.

They are a high carb food.

They are cheap as hell.

Low in fat & high in fiber.

Plus they are super easy to cook, especially if you have a slow cooker. Pop them in and cover them with water or stock for 6 to 8 hours and you can separate them, refrigerate them and make whatever you please.

…or you can make stew.

I just love stew because I LOVE a big steaming bowl of vegetables with tons of liquid. Make it thick like stew and I’m even happier. It’s a great way to use veggies before they go bad AND a really good way to make sure you get your daily serving of vegetables. Did I mention that soup is low in calories?

Okay so, I gathered all my ingredients: pinto beans, onion, bell pepper (any color you choose), celery, potatoes and garlic. I always like to saute my vegetables before starting a soup because I think it provides a deeper flavor, particularly when you add a bay leaf or two during the simmer time.

Saute it up and then add herbs & spices before you add the beans to the pot. If you do this in a slow cooker, add everything but the bay leaf in at once and let the slow cooker do all the work. For this recipe, I went old school and did it on top of the stove.

Now what makes this bean and potato stew so delicious is the 2 cups of beans that I set aside until they were cool enough to pop into a food processor. Make sure it’s nice and smooth and then pour it into the broth, and then watch it get nice and thick and creamy. You get all the cream without having to add any additional fat to this recipe.

But if you REALLY need the fat, make some cornbread to go on the side.

I was feeling a little fancy so I added rosemary and thyme to the cornbread recipe but don’t give me too many props because it was a simple recipe with flour, corn meal, plant butter, salt, baking powder and herbs. Bake 12 to 15 minutes and then get ready to get your grub on!

And if you want to kick this awesome vegan meal of cornbread & stew, add a delicious smoked stout to a glass and enjoy your meal!

What’s your go to stew when you’re feeling too lazy to cook?

Black Beans Vegan & Two Ways

Beans, I’ve learned, are a pretty controversial food when they don’t need to be. Beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber, and beans are also incredibly inexpensive which means you get a lot of meal for your buck. We all (mostly??) have our favorite beans, mine include black beans and garbanzo beans because they’re so flavorful and versatile.

Why am I spouting the benefits of beans? The simple answer is that I’ve become quite a bean advocate over the years, looking at it as a cheap and healthy way to cook. These days I love that there are so many beans when I get the urge for a burger or a patty or some kind of meatless balls. But when I tell people I’m having a black bean & corn taco, I get wicked side eye like I said I was eating toenails and cola. They’re missing out and that’s fine by me.

More for me!

I picked up a half kilogram bag of black beans at the market, soaked them and popped them into the slow cooker for most of the day until they were soft enough to enjoy and I only added salt, herbs and vegetable stock for flavor.

Once the beans were done, I chopped: onions, celery (leaves and all), bell peppers, corn and garlic. Get a good crisp on the vegetables before you add the beans to the mix, this will enhance the flavor of Dish #1, black bean stew.

 

Along with the black beans I added cumin, smoky paprika, cayenne pepper, jalapeno, oregano and thyme. Oh, and I took a can of vegan chili beans, sauce and all, and put them in the blender until they were thick and creamy…and I added that to the broth/bean mixture for a thick stew-y texture that made my mouth water.

Scoop it in a bowl and garnish it as you wish and Dish #1 is complete.

Dish #2 is based on one of my favorite things back in my college days. Chili Mac from Steak n’ Shake. About fifteen minutes from campus there was an all night restaurant and chili mac was an amazing distraction, reward or way to commiserate about something I thought was life or death at the time. Ah, the stressful ol’ days.

But I saw this cute lasagna style noodles in the pantry and I knew what to do with the leftover bean stew. Chili Mac!

All you need is noodles, jalapenos (okay, more jalapenos) and cheese (optional) and you’re ready to go.

 

This particular cheese was a vegan Gouda that smelled a lot like Gouda and it wasn’t too bad on the taste buds either. I only added a little to my plate but the Hubs ate it up. Twice!

Grab y our favorite ice cold beverage and enjoy.

Creamy Potato & Beer Stew

It’s no secret to anyone paying attention that my household is solidly a soup household. We don’t object to soup and there’s no such thing as too many days with soup on the menu, which is a good thing since the weather has already dipped into the negatives over the past few days.

The negatives y’all. Despite living in Europe for a few years now, my skin is squarely stuck in Los Angeles, trembling terribly under this ice cold weather. But the only thing good about this kind of cold is that nothing feels better after being out in the cold than piping hot soup. And I do mean piping hot. It’s a constant debate in our house because He likes it warm enough to enjoy but not burn his mouth and if it isn’t still steaming in my bowl, I’m not interested.

But this was no day for a light little vegetable soup so I decided to make a stew and I knew I wanted to add lentils so we have potato and lentil stew, which isn’t quite as simple as it sounds flavor-wise, but it’s pretty easy to make.

This recipe was based on a non-vegan recipe I came across in line at the supermarket in Austria though I’m sure I left out a few key ingredients aside from heavy cream and beef broth. I’m totally okay with that!

Making this soup is easy but it does require some prep which is often my weakness. I tend to chop the stuff I need first and then turn on the fire which means I’m always rushing to chop-dice-slice everything else before anything burns. But this time I actually remembered to remind myself to do all the prep first and it made all the difference.

What you’ll need: 6 potatoes, 1 fennel bulb, 1 parsnip, 2 leeks (just the white part), 10 garlic cloves, 1 cup yellow lentils, 1 brown beer, vegetable stock, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, salt & pepper, basil, marjoram.

Get the lentils started cooking so everything comes together at the same time.

I used a splash of olive oil (cold pressed, extra virgin) to get a little bit of char on the first four ingredients and then I added the garlic and cooked for another 8 or so minutes before adding broth. Let the mixture cook until it’s soft and let cool so you can get a stick blender and make it nice and creamy.

Use the blender to get the potato-fennel mixture nice and soft and creamy. It tastes like there’s butter and cream in it, but there isn’t. It’s just the power of the potato. Now that you’ve got perfect smoothness, add the beer a 1/2 cup at a time plus the seasonings until you’re satisfied. Turn the heat back on until it’s hot and you’re ready to grub!

To serve, just add about a serving spoon of lentils right in the center.

No stew meal is complete without salad and thick, herby, buttery bread.

Fair warning; this recipe makes about 8 normal sized bowls of soup so be prepared to pig out or have leftovers for tomorrow!

Too bad I didn’t remember to get a photo of the beer but it was a dark hefe from Paulaner. Brown beer works best to me because I’m not a fan of IPA and blond beers aren’t my favorite. If you try a different beer, let me know how it turns out.

And don’t be shy about photos!

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.

Homemade Vegan Broth: A Novel Way To Use Veg Scraps

As a hardworking vegan you’re used to spending time each day chopping, slicing, dicing and whatnot to all of your veggies. It’s part of cooking and when you eat a plant based diet you’ll spend a good deal of meal prep doing just that. And when this is what you wake up to…

…you’re really grateful for the foresight of taking all those bits of what most people consider trash and dumping them in a slow cooker.

After making a quick stir-fry with some homemade teriyaki sauce, I remembered this video I saw on Facebook a few months ago about how to use your discarded food for broth and I decided, why not?

As you can see there were the hard outer leaves of a very big leek, odds and ends of a red bell pepper, butts of carrots, garlic & broccoli tips and steams and once the idea struck, I added a few thick slices of ginger because it has tons of health benefits and because it’s delicious. This was super easy to make too!

Just add enough water to cover the veggies, salt and pepper and you’re good to go.

Or…

You can add a few more things like I did because, why not? Black peppercorns, coriander, cloves, star of anise and a couple bay leaves all went into the pot before bed. I set it on low and let it cook until about 2 or 3 in the afternoon the following day. To be fair, it did need another pinch of salt but I let it slide because I planned to add soy sauce to the dish I planned to make.

What else but…soup?

I was very impressed with how clear the broth came out. It has been a lifelong struggle as a home cook and foodie, to make a beautiful clear, non-cloudy broth and finally I’ve done it. By accident.

This soup was very simple too with only a few ingredients: rice noodles, bean sprouts, fresh parsley and sriracha. Now you can see why I just added a couple splashes of soy sauce and lime. Clean, delicious and simple flavors.

But we are also adults in need of sustenance so we added these delicious veggie balls that were made of lentils, carrots, onion, bread crumbs, chia seeds and garlic. I didn’t make them, I bought them and they were pretty damn good. Add a pinch of garlic granules and cracked black pepper and stick’em in the oven for five to 10 minutes so they’re good and crispy on the outside, and then drop them on top of the soup and get your EAT ON!

I’ll grant you it’s not the prettiest dish around, not even with my totally avant garde sriracha drops on the side but it wasn’t a planned meal and it still turned out great. And goodness, that broth, how amazing does it look?

Now that I’m done patting my back over the broth, let’s talk about what I washed this soup down with because the answer is beer. Ice cold Tsingtao that I just happened to have on this chilly day…talk about kismet!

 

What do you drink beside your favorite soup?

Are Farmers Markets Really Cost Effective?

Let me start this blog post by saying that there was a time–nearly a decade ago, mind you–that I was one of those people who believed farmers markets were a racket. I thought the vegetables were overpriced and kind of damaged and mostly I went for the specialty items like corn jelly. I lived in Los Angeles at the time and despite our year round good weather that was perfect for year round agriculture, produce was expensive. And at the farmers market it was even more expensive. Somehow.

I couldn’t figure it out because it made no sense. But I still frequented these markets because, well because in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills there were some really great specialty items and I just couldn’t resist. But I shied away from the produce unless there were items that were hard to come by like romanesco or purple potatoes. But…holy cow they were expensive.

In hindsight though, it was a better bang for my nutritional buck compared to things like beef, pork, chicken, cheese. You get my drift.

In Germany you couldn’t really beat those little side of the road booths where you could buy a five pound squash–perfect for soups, breads, cakes & cookies–for like 2 euros and just shove the money into a little wooden lockbox. The same was true of asparagus, cabbage and strawberries. Oh, the strawberries in Germany were succulent. Delicious. I’ll always associate strawberries with Germany. Not sausages. Not beer, okay beer a little. But, strawberries.

Now, of course, I see things a little differently mostly from experience. Our grocery bills since we went vegan have simply gone down and that’s even when you factor in our maturing alcohol appreciation. Even when we splurge on too many vegan burgers and falafel balls and salt & vinegar chips, the bill is is still lower and that’s even with the currency exchange from LEU or EUR to USD.

The market that’s closest to our apartment is BIG.

We went in for a few basics like scallions, parsley, dill and other fresh herbs for salad dressing. And peppers. We came out with that plus a few giant shallots, a big ass squash, green tomatoes, carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes. I know, ridiculous.

But the cost of all of it was less than $10 USD. It was just enough to make a few meals for 3, maybe 4 days but it was more than worth it.

And you want to talk about specialty items? There’s this eggplant dish called zacuscă that I do not eat because eggplant is one of those vegetables that I just really don’t like. I recently tasted a vineti which is another eggplant dish that I didn’t hate so…progress. Anyway, back to zacuscă. Everyone’s is different. My mother in law makes it one way and her niece makes it the same but with something extra. At the market you would find different jars of zacuscă and each seller would happily tell you what made theirs more special than the booth ahead or the previous booth. The same is true of ketchup which is not what us Americans would recognize as ketchup but pretty darn good. It’s fresh ingredients, slightly pickled and they go great with plenty of the same dishes where ketchup is appropriate but it has a bit more liquid rather than sauce so it’s not as ideal for dipping.

There were marinated mushrooms which I passed on, plenty of fresh walnuts too which go great with vegan brownies, by the way. Everyone had jam or jelly in nearly every fruit from apricot and quince to sour cherry, apple and those little catina (also known as sea buckhorn which I did not know) berries too. It’s a little too sweet for my taste but the hubs will spread vegan butter on a slice of bread with preserves and call it dessert.

catina berries for preserves
Catina, used in preserves and sometimes liqueurs!

There was plenty of cabbage which was no surprise because everyone loves sarmale. A little bit of everything and you know what I really loved? The fact that so many root vegetables came with their green tops! I didn’t see turnips but I’m keeping my fingers crossed because even though both of my grannies would kill me, I can make turnips and their greens taste like collard greens and potatoes. As soon as I find them, I’ll share it with you.

Also I loved bulk potatoes. I’m a potato snob, I admit it. When I know that I’m making fries for example I know what potatoes I want compared to mashed potatoes or shredded hashbrowns. And when I need to peel the skin I really can’t stand a tiny or misshapen potato which I love when it’s time for potato wedges.

It was a good trip to the market and now I’m itching to go back to get more pumpkin or squash because autumn weather has officially arrived and even now as I look out the window at gold and red leaves barely hanging on to branches, I have a hankering for butternut squash soup, multi-grain bread and sweet potato pie.

Now I just have to find the time to cook it all and remember to photograph it.

Peles Castle, Sinaia & Onion Soup ~ A Plant Based Conundrum

Castles. I love them. Wherever I find myself in Europe there is always a castle nearby and you can count on me to want to hit up. But not in the “I want a White Knight and King’ kind of way. No, more in the way that the halls are so filled with history and the many lives and struggles that took place amongst the beauty and finery. Walking through the halls of a castle is like literally walking back in time even if you don’t know the history you can pretty much guess.

I wanted to it up Dracula’s castle first but since this was just a quick day trip, we opted to go to Sinaia to check out Peles Castle. It was gorgeous and let me tell you that much like Marionberg in Wurzburg, Germany, getting to Peles was an ordeal. Though unlike that gigantic fortress this one was kind of a hidden gem. I mean, not too hidden since it is a pretty famous landmark, but unlike almost every other castle I’ve visited in the past 5 or 6 years, this one doesn’t stand like a beacon on the mountain top.

Instead, you walk up this winding road after going through a really beautiful park, but then abruptly, you start to wind down in an entirely new direction. Quite the misdirect if you’re a King or Queen worried about invaders.

Once we got to the castle though, it was totally worth the walk! The weather was nice and sunny and with nothing more than a light sweater, I barely broke a sweat. But I may have heaved up a lung or two before we got to the gorgeousness!

After a long tour of the inside, which was gorgeous with the highlighting being the arms room, filled with swords, guns and the like from all over the world, reflecting just how intertwined this particular kingdom was with other parts of Europe. If you want to know the details…you’ll have to visit Peles Castle yourself!

With the tour complete, it was time for some refreshments!

A double shot of Jim Beam and a Bergenbier was the perfect thing to hold me over until lunch…

We had lunch at a hotel in town because internet research indicated they had vegan options on the menu.

*Eyeroll*

Anyone who has traveled or tried to eat out while vegan knows this trap well. As a blogger I totally understand SEO and metadata and tags and all that so I should have known, but I was in a beer and booze haze, feeling all good from an afternoon of history and castles and weapons, and I left my cynicism somewhere in the Bucegi Mountains. Because when they said ‘vegan’ they meant what most non-vegans think that vegans eat. Salad.

Yep, salad.

But there was a delicious onion soup that was–so they rosy cheeked waiter said–no butter or other animal products so I thought…why not.

The waiter was nice enough to take some whole grain bread and get the chef to crouton-ify it for us since the croutons that came with the soup were coated in Parm. The soup was just how I like it: hot, onion-y and delicious!

My husband always jokes that the national vegetable in Romania is meat and boy was he NOT joking. While he and I ate this soup to start with and we moved to this…

Roasted veg, braised red cabbage, potatoes & asparagus for us! Say ‘ce face’ to my Mother in Law, Maria!

…this is what the rest of the table got:

Pork covered in a cheesy cream sauce and mushrooms…covered with cheese. As you can see, they prioritize animal products over vegetables and grains so any hopes we had of even one vegan meal were quickly dashed. Once again, it was a side dish bonanza.

Aside from the meal which, for us, was mediocre at best, the day in Sinaia was amazing. Peles Castle was a treat and a great way to start out traveling in Romania.

Who knew there was so much German & Austrian influences in Romania? Biggest surprise of the day!

Now, enjoy a few images from Bucegi Mountains!

 

Me trying to get a good selfie when the hubs decided to photo-bomb me!

 

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.

Vegan Family Style Meals

So, here we are at my first Friday as a resident of Romania–officially–and my belly is full. Not stuffed, mind you, just that I have been indulging a little more than I should on some fine Romanian food that my mother-in-law has graciously made while we get our place set up, our fridge filled with food and as we shake off the final dregs of moving.

Have I mentioned how much I loath moving? Not the whole adventure of going to a new place and learning about their culture, their customs and of course, their cuisine. But just the packing and cleaning, even more cleaning and then unpacking and rearranging. All of that I could totally do without. But it is a necessary evil and now that it’s in my past I am determined to forget it.

Until the next move.

Over the past few days despite the warmer than usual for October weather outside, we have been eating soup. A lot of soup. Part of it is due to the fact that Romanian cuisine, much like American cuisine (And German, and Hungarian…just sayin’) is wholly based around animals. Meat and cheese reign supreme here, which means that even my well-meaning MIL has trouble coming up with meals that don’t include meat.

Or a side of meat.

Or a side of brânză (cheese).

Happy October…from Romania!!!

Hello! Ce Faci! And HAPPY HALLOWEEN MONTH!!!!

As you probably noticed, I missed yesterday’s post and the reason is because I have been incredibly busy moving from Germany to Romania. Moving always sucks but driving across four countries in the span of 48 hours is more than a task, it is a complete and total THING! I thought packing and hauling boxes would be the hardest part but endless hours in the car behind the movers was a bit of an ordeal.

On the upside, there were some really beautiful sights along the way. Once we made it out of  Germany, Austria was next and that place is magnificent. Back in 2015 I spent a week in Stubai skiing with friends and it was gorgeous but winter so a wholly different type of beauty. This time there was endless seas of greenery. Trees of all stripes growing together, some in that transformative state indicating autumn is well on her way with leaves gold and green and red, not to mention my favorite orange leaves.

We stopped at a little roadside rest area and the sight was magnificent. After hours and hours of trees, which were beautiful, I came upon the most delightful little scene…

Yep, four cows just chilling on the hillside and totally ignoring the view of the mountains and lake beside them. Apparently they were so jaded they didn’t feel the need to enjoy it the way I did. Though maybe the sun had something to do with it. 😀

As you can see I had no problem at all with the view. After snapping a few photos with the hubs, we went for a long walk enjoying the sun glinting off the water.

And that…was Austria. A few hours of it.

Then we spent about 8 hours in Hungary but most of it was spent asleep in a funky little place called Hotel Paprika.

It was as you might guess, a rustic style hotel but it was way snazzier than I was expecting. The rooms were big and spacious and even though it was my first time in Hungary AND my first time in a European hotel where I couldn’t find an episode of Law & Order on the hotel TV, it was pretty cool. What I did find was the movie Hitman: Agent 47 in Hungarian which was…odd. Unlike most languages I’ve encountered so far there was no way possible to pick up a word here or there, even while watching something I’d seen before. Let’s just say it’s a language I’m glad I don’t have to learn because I’m pretty sure I never would.

Even thought we didn’t spend much time in Hungary we did go down to the hotel restaurant, Csarda Paprika. Unfortunately they had less than zero options for the vegan eater. There was page after page of meat and when there was no meat, there was cheese. So other than a really good beer, Sopoka Demon, we ate steamed vegetables, croquettes and mushroom rice. The mushrooms were canned so yuck but the highlight was Hungarian paprika. Spicy and smoky and delicious.

There was this weird toy for kids and it was so creepy I had to capture it for posterity!

Three hundred and fifty kilometers later and we were in Romania.

Finally.

Our first stop was at a nice restaurant that was all old school Romanian, complete with old school music which was pretty enjoyable. But again there were no vegan options beyond salad and fries. Not even a vegetable Ciorbă (soup) to speak of. But there was beer. It was–allegedly–a dark beer. It wasn’t but it also wasn’t all that bad.

 

My husband told me a fun story about the guy on the glass. Apparently he’s a literary figure from his hometown but I haven’t verified the story so if and when I do, I’ll happily share it with you!

After all the trouble finding places to eat, you can imagine how happy I was that I had the foresight to pack some vegan deli sandwiches for the long drive, which totally came in handy. But then my mother-in-law said the two words I never thought I’d hear from her lips or anyone else’s: vegan sarmale.

If you’re not familiar with Romanian food then you’re missing out. Sarmale is a cabbage wrapped meat and rice dish filled with herbs and spices. It’s similar to dolma but with a very different flavor profile. But my mama in law made them vegan, using mushrooms instead of meat and with Mămăligă on the side. For the uninitiated, Mămăligă is polenta. Delicious, hearty polenta. And it was so tasty I didn’t even think twice about eating it before photographing it so you’ll have to take my word for it.

And instead enjoy the photo of vegan borscht with potatoes and yep, you guessed it…more Mămăligă!

I ate two bowls of it…as did my hubs and we ate nearly ALL of the Mămăligă! The highlight was the fresh dill, which somehow transformed the dish into something hearty and delicious and the perfect respite from a day of unpacking and setting up.

Oh, and learning Romanian!

And now…back to unpacking.