Orecchiette with Vegan Merguez & Kalettes

One of the things I love about eating vegan is that when you’re having a case of the hungrys, pasta is a quick and easy option, that also lets you kind of pig out…if you want. Since you’re not adding high fat/calorie meat and cheese to your lasagna or spaghetti, you can get really creative with different foods.

I was eager to give the kalettes another try before they vanished or worse, went out of season, just to make sure I truly liked them. When I went to the market and scooped up the last package I felt victorious. And smug because I’d just gotten a package of vegan merguez from Veganic.de and I knew just what I planned to do with it.

My own plant based take on pasta with spinach & sausage.

When I say this dish is quick, I mean it. From start to finish it took about 35 minutes and that’s only because I was too focused on a true crime podcast to move faster.

The ingredients are simple:

Orecchiette
Red onion
Kalettes
Red & green bell pepper
Vegan merguez
Fresh tomatoes (or canned diced/crushed tomatoes)
Garlic
Capers
Vegan parm
Lemon, juiced

Add the onions & peppers to the skillet first (with or without oil) and cook until they start to brown around the edges. I prefer a slightly caramelized taste on the edges because I think it gives a little more depth to the flavors but if time is your priority, give it 3 to 5 minutes and then add the kalettes and then the garlic.

You want to add the merguez about the same time as the garlic because they don’t need a long time to cook and if you add it with the garlic you’ll know it’s warmed through and slightly crispy before the garlic burns. I also like to add a bit of fresh lemon juice to reduce the bitter taste of the kalettes. Toss in a tablespoon or so of capers and you’re just about ready to grub.

Now you’re ready to add the tomatoes! Season with salt & pepper, oregano, basil and any other herbs and spices that strike your fancy, then cook until everything is warmed through. Toss with orecchiette and you’re good to go!

Because some vegans just can’t live without their cheese, here is a little vegan parm to whet your appetite. The hubs added it but I did not, though I did add a couple tablespoons of nutritional yeast to the pasta sauce for an earthy, kinda cheesy flavor.

He added vegan parm and I added smoky spicy Tabasco sauce because I love spice!

This dish was quick, easy and delicious, but it was also extremely satisfying. And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t pair it with anything to drink but I did enjoy a Jameson neat!

Plant Based Gnocchi with Squash & Turmeric Cream

Some days you want to whip up something easy for dinner and you reach for one of those tasty vegan burgers that only require you to add your favorite fixings and on other days you feel like channeling your inner professional chef and getting all up in the kitchen and whipping up something wonderful.

Enter, gnocchi. I LOVE gnocchi because I am a potato-a-holic and proud of it. I don’t eat it nearly enough but when I do, I devour it like a starving woman finally getting a meal in her belly. In fact when I bought this gnocchi it wasn’t even on the shopping list but there it was and I knew it would be a perfect meal to whip up when you least expected it. And it sat on a shelf for a week, maybe two untouched.

Then we realized–too late–that we were a day late on a trip to the market and…Eureka! I reminded the hubs that we had gnocchi in the pantry, squash in the veg bowl and plenty of ingredients for at least three different sauces.

Which did he choose? Squash, of course.

In our house we love all types of squash although that wasn’t always true for my husband who used to consider it ‘pig’s food’. One day back in 2006 or 2007 I made a butternut squash soup and he was a changed man. As proof of that, this was one of his dishes.

Hokkaido squash is a small orange squash that is easy to cut with minimal fuss. It tastes delicious and it blends well with plenty of different dishes, savory or sweet. Not to mention it is low calorie (just 80 calories per 1 cup!), high in fiber, potassium and folate which means pregnant ladies should gobble it up all year round!

Once you cut up the squash you can use any cooking method you wish but we boiled it until soft and then added the squash to a food processor along with plenty of herbs & spices. Add a splash of coconut milk to give it the creamy sauce-like texture and you can use this with anything. In fact, this is one of my go-to options when I’m in the mood for vegan mac & cheese.

Since we try to keep meals mostly healthy, this dish had mushrooms, onions and bell peppers because we had a few of each on hand. Saute them up however you like but for this particular recipe the hubs used water because he is dedicated to limiting our oil intake wherever he can. It works like a charm and I swear, unless you love the taste of oil, you won’t know the difference!

Turmeric, basil, salt & black pepper and coconut cream completed the ingredients for the sauce, giving it a thick and hearty taste that’s perfect when the temp drops to the single digits.

Mushrooms are the perfect way to give your vegan dishes a hearty ‘meaty’ feel that will satisfy your appetite without giving you a big fat food baby.

Sadly we didn’t have a cocktail to go with this meal but I think warm tuica or maybe even a mulled wine would be the perfect addition to this dish to keep you warm.

Typical Vegan Fare…At My House

Waaaaaay back in the day, when I spent about two weeks in high school as a vegetarian I toyed with the idea of going vegan. And by toyed, I mean that I wrote endlessly for those two months in my journal with the Bush sticker on the front about the terrible living conditions of cows and chickens. I wrote about how awesome it would be to know that I was so smart, so ‘above it all’ that I could subsist on salad and pasta all day, everyday for the rest of eternity.

Blah, frickin’ blah. Right?

vegan pasta dishes

I was a teenager so sue me. Now did you notice what my teenage, probably sixteen-ish, self thought vegans ate? Salad and pasta. I’m from Chicago so even back then that didn’t sound so bad to me. There was plenty of pasta to be had everywhere from Lou Malnati’s to Giordano’s to my hometown favorite, Rosati’s, so it sounded like a pretty good deal to me.

Of course then Game Day rolled around and things like cheeseburgers or the thought of eating at Denny’s after the game, appealed more to me than those animals’ crap living conditions. Yeah, high schoolers are easily thwarted and as much as it pains me to say it, I was no exception in that regard.

But years later when I made the decision to go vegan and then to continue living that way, it never occurred me to eat nothing but pasta and salad all the time. And only that. Because by then my palate had improved, some of which you already know, when I started experimenting with and the cooking cuisines from around the world. Even before changing my life the way I did, vegetables and grains were a huge part of our lives. So it only took some careful rearranging until it became second nature, to replace the animal protein–mostly meat–with other types of protein.

Funnily enough we started with beans. Everyday beans. All day beans. Stir-fry, burritos, gumbo. Beans, beans, beans.

But lately, for some reason, we have been eating a fair amount of pasta. I think part of it is because the hubs and I are trying to make healthy vegan meals we think will appeal to his parents, a pair of sixty-something Romanians. It’s an uphill battle and everyone loves pasta, right? Plus there are easy hacks to flesh out a pasta dish for “carnivores” like adding crimini or portobella mushrooms. Even white buttons will do but they’re not my favorite. And if you’re feeling lazy (like he was) or dealing with a particularly insistent “carnivore” (which, again, he was) there is always vegan hackfleisch, or ground tofu for you who didn’t go vegan in Germany.

So long story short, another pasta dish. This one the hubs calls, Olive Spaghetti. He says I’m the creative one so I should name it, but we both know if I name it he will never remember what the dish is called and then I’ll have to cook it the next time I want it. No way, man. I’m hip to your game!

vegan spaghetti recipes

To be fancy and because there’s a farmer’s market less than a block away from our apartment, he used fresh tomatoes for the sauce. Chopped onion and pressed garlic went into the sauce along with capers and herbs. All but oregano because we were out of oregano last week. 😀 Then during the last few minutes of cooking he added black and green olives. The green ones we had were Manzanita olives and the black ones were plain Spanish olives. Add whole wheat spaghetti and you’ve got yourself a meal, and since I ate a salad for lunch (I realize I’m doing myself no favors with this meal) I had an extra half portion with a bit of sriracha because, well because Sriracha is delicious.

Excuse me while I go Google, ‘is Sriracha vegan’…

PETA says yes so we’re good to keep loving and using too much Sriracha.