11 September 2013

I kimchi and so can you

Kimchi is one of my favorite foods on the planet. It's spicy, salty, tangy, and oh-so-addictively fermented. Eating it regularly might give you the worst breath in the world, but you know what? That's what toothpaste and breath mints are for.

This is what a gallon of homemade kimchi looks like. Awwww yeah.

Storebought kimchi often contains shrimp or anchovy paste, creating a problem for vegans and vegetarians. One can occasionally find vegetarian kimchi in natural foods markets and places like that, but it tends to be quite expensive (up to $10 for a 16oz jar).

But, I have good news! Making your own kimchi isn't difficult at all. I won't lie - it is time-consuming, but it doesn't require any special skill other than knowing how to chop and grind up and rinse vegetables. You also don't need to bury your kimchi in the ground in late autumn or get a special kimchi fridge... leaving it on your kitchen counter for a day or two to start the fermentation process and then putting it in your normal fridge works fine. Though you might want to wrap a plastic bag around the container so the odor doesn't contaminate the other stuff in your fridge.

Vegan8Korean has a truly excellent vegan recipe and tutorial on their blog, so I'm not even going to bother typing up my own. But I would like to talk briefly about some of the more "unusual" ingredients often called for in kimchi recipes and whether or not they can be substituted:

Korean radish (mu):
Korean radishes look similar to daikon radishes but they are not exactly the same. In general, the radishes add a bit of bitterness/spiciness and crunch to kimchi, and I think daikon works fine for that purpose, plus it's easier to find. I've never tried kimchi with the regular red garden radishes you find easily in America, but it might be a little too bitter?

Glutinous rice powder/water:
Glutinous rice powder is not the same as regular rice flour. It's... glutinous. The purpose of this ingredient in kimchi is to thicken and help adhere the sauce to the cabbage/vegetables, which is especially important with whole cabbage kimchi. If you're making cut (mat) cabbage kimchi it won't be terrible if you skip it, but honestly, if you have any sort of Asian market in your town you should be able to find glutinous rice powder for cheap. I get mine at a local Chinese market for $1 a bag and it's white and labelled "rice glue", lolz.

Asian pear: Asian pears tend to be much rounder that the average supermarket pears we get here in America. The purpose of this ingredient is to "soften" the flavor of the kimchi a bit, and I think it's absolutely worth including for that reason. You know what though, regular supermarket pears work fine for this! Just make sure they're very ripe so you can grind them up easily.

Gochugaru: AKA kochukaru or Korean red pepper powder. This is the one thing you really can't substitute, as it's not the same as other types of pepper powder and really instrumental in making kimchi taste like kimchi. If you don't have a Korean market in your town but do have a Chinese one there's a chance you'll find it there - many Chinese markets around these parts carry a small selection of Korean basics.  You can also get it on Amazon if all else fails. Do pay attention to what type you get though! I use medium to coarse pepper powder for kimchi, as I think the very fine type would be too spicy and is better suited to making things like pepper paste.

Most recipes don't include kelp powder, but Vegan8Korean uses it in theirs and I think it adds something. You could leave it out, but I don't think it's too difficult to find - I get mine off iHerb.

Do you like kimchi? Have you ever tried making your own?

10 September 2013

Vegan summer party spread

So... I had this whole elaborate post planned involving photos on my external hard drive, and guess what? I can't find the damn thing! But I did find some photos of another thing on my phone, so you get to see that in all its grainy glory instead.

The "thing" I will be sharing today is some pics of the spread I made for a party I had this summer, because who doesn't like sharing ideas for vegan snacks? I love to cook and tend to go a little overboard when people are coming over... this particular event yielded leftover hummus for a week, but that's OK. None of the guests at this particular party were vegan other than myself, so I didn't make anything too "weird" (no Gardein and Daiya smoothies). Check it out:

Pictured above:
  • Fruit skewers with pineapple, grapes and kiwi
  • Lemon and garlic hummus
  • Sundried tomato and white bean dip
  • Nooch with salt & pepper seasoned popcorn
  • Tea sandwiches made with cucumbers and a modified version of the Garden Herb Spread from Vegan Brunch (these were a HUGE hit, btw)
  • Pretzels, chips, Wheat Thins, carrots, celery and radish slices for dipping
  • Candy

Pictured above: Black bean and corn salad in tortilla chip cups. I forget exactly what I put in this, but definitely plenty of onions and cilantro and lime juice and salt. Probably some cumin too.

Pictured above: Veggie sushi rolls made with cucumber, homemade teriyaki baked tofu, and homemade hot red pepper pickled carrot shreds. Served with wasabi, soy sauce and extra pickled carrots on the side.

Awww yeah.

Pictured above: Our old-school punchbowl, served with a ladle and little cups on the side. The punch was made from vodka, lemonade and lemon-lime soda, and that big ice block in the middle is made from pulverized berries mixed with water. A huge ice block like that keeps the punch cold for a long time, and as it melts it turns the punch pink and vaguely berry-flavored which is sort of fun. :) We also had beer and soda and whiskey for people who wanted it.

Not pictured at all because I am an idiot and didn't take a picture: Chocolate-dipped pretzel logs coated with crushed peanuts and shredded coconut. Unsurprisingly, those were quite a hit as well.

What do you think of this party spread? What are your favorite vegan snacks to serve (or eat) at parties?

07 September 2013

Adventures in noodles: Vegan japchae

Tired of the same old creamy nooch-n-mac or Italian-style pasta salads? I'd like to recommend a delicious alternative... Japchae!

Garlic, peppers, onions and more... I'm getting bad breath
just looking at it.

The dish pictured above was loosely based on this recipe by Vegan8Korean. Typically japchae has a bit of meat in it, but it's so easy to just omit it and still end up with something amazingly tasty. You can switch up the veggies and seasonings a bit based on your taste and what you have around, but the only thing that you can't really substitute is the noodles - sweet potato starch vermicelli has a bouncy, chewy texture that wheat pasta just can't imitate. You can find this type of noodle at most Korean and Chinese supermarkets, or if that's not an option you can get them at inflated prices on Amazon.

Happy eating!

05 September 2013

5 things I'm really digging at Trader Joe's

Hello to all on this the fifth day of MoFodom! Since this is day five I'll be rambling about five awesome things I've been finding at Trader Joe's lately. On the very slim chance that you don't know what Trader Joe's is, it's a chain of retail food markets selling mainly "own-brand" stuff. They are well known for their excellent selection of inexpensive vegan and vegetarian foods and snacks (and wine if you don't live in a state with stupid liquor laws), not to mention their body care and household products. If you're reading this and don't have a Trader Joe's near you then... well... sorry.

Onto the list!

1. Unsweetened Coconut Milk Beverage

This is a coconut milk for drinking, not that super-thick stuff for cooking that comes in cans. My go-to all purpose plant milk is usually unsweetened almond milk, but lately I've been mixing this into my coffee and smoothies and it's the shit. The coconut beverage does have a bit of natural sweetness due to being made from coconuts and all so I'm not sure it would be suitable for use in all savory recipes, but it's pretty darn nice on its own. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that it's a good source of calcium. Ingredients and nutritional info:

2. Organic 3-Grain Tempeh

OK, a block of tempeh might not be exciting on its own merit but this stuff is seriously cheap at TJ's. I am lucky enough to live near a local supermarket that sells tempeh, but an 8oz block costs $3.70 there. The same thing is about $2 at Trader Joe's. Which would you choose? Ingredients and nutritional info:

3. Meatless Meatballs

These are a soy-based meatball-esque food. They are ideal for pasta and meatball subs because they have sort of an underlying "Italian seasoning" type flavor going on, but one could certainly skewer them in coat them in other types of sauce for an easy snack or starter. Sometimes I mash them up in marinara sauce to make a quick vegan bolognese. I'm drooling just thinking about it. Ingredients and nutritional info:

4. Vegetable Masala Burgers

My favorite frozen veggie burgers at the moment. These potato and veggie based patties are sort of like Gardenburger's sultrier, sexier cousin. Like veggies in patty form? Like Indian spices? Then you'll love these! Ingredients and nutritional info:

5. Jumbo Cinnamon Rolls with Vanilla Icing

And last but not least, dessert. These seem to fall in the "accidentally vegan" category, because while they don't say "vegan" on the package I can't discern any animal ingredients:

When they say "May contain traces of milk" I assume that means they were made on shared equipment, which I'm personally OK with. Anyway, these cinnamon rolls are ooey and gooey and pretty damn good for something that comes out of a can... they're probably not as good as homemade, but these are a hell of a lot easier. My only complaint is that they come five to a can, and since I live in a two-person household that means we end up fighting over the last one.

What are your favorite items at Trader Joe's?

04 September 2013

Food P@rn: Quickie pizza party

Today's post is dedicated to pizza, a food that I sorely missed when I first went vegan a few years ago. At first I compensated by ordering cheeseless pies from a local pizzeria, which will certainly do in pinch, but ultimately left me unsatisfied. Then for a time I lived near a place in New York that made hearty vegan pies with Daiya, but like many things that didn't last forever and I was back to square one.

Trial and error taught me that homemade pizza was really the way to go, because you can add as many toppings as you want without being charged a million dollars, plus you can use any vegan cheese in the universe (or no vegan cheese, if that's how you roll). Homemade pizza dough is also quite filling, and I totally recommend learning to make it sometime if you've never tried before. Of course not everybody has time to make entire pizza from scratch, so I present to you... my quickie weeknight pizzas!

Pizza one: Topped with a light sprinkling of Daiya, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes and a little bit of nooch and crushed red pepper.

Pizza two: Topped with fresh spinach and basil, a generous helping of Daiya, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, Trader Joe's soyrizo and a dash of nutritional yeast and crushed red pepper.

Both pizzas are constructed on flat pita bread (not the kind that opens up into a pocket - what are the flat ones called?) with a base of whatever marinara sauce I happened to have in my cupboard, so the only real prep involved was cutting up and sprinkling on the toppings. Give these a bake in the oven for about 10-15 minutes and you're good to go!

What are your favorite pizza toppings?

03 September 2013

10 vegan ingredients I'd bring to a not-so-deserted island (or peninsula)

I'm sure we've all been asked some version of this question before: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring one _____, what would it be?

As a vegan cook and general fan of eating my mind goes to food first. Sure, it's nice to have books and stuff for entertainment, but... food. Yeah. Anyway, I found myself contemplating a real-life version of this question a couple of years ago when I was planning to go work in Korea (which didn't end up happening, but that's another story for another day).

Fun fact: Korean food can be totally awesome. A mouthwatering combination of salty and sweet, lots of spice, and tons of veggies like zucchini and mushrooms and leaves and other shit I like. Not-so-fun fact: A lot of Korean dishes have fish juice in them. Or bits of meat. Or both. That's not to say that one can't find vegan food or "accidentally vegan" snacks in Korea, but it's a little harder than it is here in America. Oh, and the fact that I'm not fluent in Korean doesn't really help when reading labels. So I figured I'd probably do a lot of cooking at home, and had a marathon "Is ______ easy to find in Korea?" Google session to prepare.

Even-less-fun fact: A lot of ingredients that I purchase regularly and love are uncommon there. Yes, it is possible to get American and Mexican-style spices there, but where is my giant wall of different brands of them?! Or my multitude of TVP granule textures? I'm certain that I would have adapted to what was available locally and not starved to death, but it got me thinking about what few things I would stockpile in my luggage or pay the big bucks to ship from overseas. So without further ado, here's my list!

1. Nutritional yeast, aka "nooch"

Ahh, good old nooch. These little yellow fishfood-type flakes smell like buttsweat and turn your pee electric yellow, but I'll be damned if they aren't the finest thickeners for sauce that money can buy. In case you're new to veganism, let me briefly explain: Nutritional yeast is a non-active yeast and is "nutritional" because it contains a shitload of B vitamins (which is why it turns your pee yellow). It lends a vaguely "cheesy" taste to dishes, making it popular for vegan gravies, mac-n-"cheez" dishes and so on. Personally, I also love it sprinkled on top of pasta and popcorn like one would sprinkle Parmesan cheese. The various brands do taste a little bit different to each other, and my personal favorite is Kal. Lately I've had trouble finding it though, so I've just been getting it from the bulk bins at Whole Foods or buying whatever's cheapest on iHerb.

2. Vital wheat gluten

This ultra-gluteny flour is used for making seitan, aka "wheat meat". I need to tell you a secret... I have never made seitan all the way from scratch. When I say "all the way from scratch" I mean the thing where you start with regular flour and knead and rinse away until you're left with pure gluten globs. Vital wheat gluten can be a bit harder to find outside the USA, but it makes the seitan creation process SO EASY because you can just mix it into your recipe and give it a good knead without worrying about rinsing and rinsing (and rinsing and rinsing). When I lived overseas I got my VWG off iHerb, and now I buy it in a giant tin off Amazon since it's much cheaper that way.

If you're new to making seitan, don't be scared! It's actually quite easy with vital wheat gluten. If you've never made any sort of seitan-esque food before I recommend the famous "Seitan O Greatness" recipe - you can change up the spices to your liking and it's pretty foolproof since you bake it in the oven like a salty, proteiny cake.

3. Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage sausages

Speaking of wheat meat, have you tried Field Roast's Apple Sage sausages? Because they're fucking delicious. To be honest I'm not sure how easy these would be to take overseas, since they technically require refrigeration and do resemble real meat somewhat (which might get them confiscated by customs), but I'll be damned if I wouldn't try. A lot of "meat-like" products have these weird, spongy texture, but Field Roast sausages are chewy in the most delightful (and appetizing) way. I'm partial to the apple sage variety because I think they're the most versatile, but they also come in "Italian" and "Chipotle". Now I'm drooling just thinking about this. Check out Field Roast's website for info on where to buy them.

4. Huy Fong Sriracha

That's right, it's the ubiquitous "cock sauce". Yes, I know that one can find hot sauce all over the world, buy Huy Fong's Sriracha is super-versatile and an American classic. The best way to descibe it is as spicy, garlicky ketchup. You can put it on and in everything. Well, maybe not ice cream. Well, maybe ice cream if you're feeling daring.

Did you know that traditional Thai sriracha (and other Western brands) sometimes contains fish sauce? Huy Fong sriracha is veggie-friendly, so if you're buying something else read the ingredients carefully!

One can find this stuff in most large American supermarkets these days, but if you're overseas or rural and jealous you can buy it at iHerb.

5. Liquid smoke

This is one of those little things that's super-common here but stupidly hard to shop for overseas. Personally I'm fond of the "hickory smoked" variety. Colgin (the brand pictured above) usually goes for about $2 per bottle in supermarkets, but since it's a liquid it can be quite expensive to ship across the globe. :/

In case you have no idea what this stuff is for, it's basically a liquid seasoning that adds a "smoky" flavor to dishes. It's great for things like chili, barbecue sauce marinades etc. A little goes a long way, so unless you eat barbecue sauce with every meal then one of those little bottles will last a fairly long time. Right now I'm not sure where one can buy this outside the US, so if you know please tell me in the comments! And if you're in the US and having trouble finding it locally, you can buy it at jacked-up prices off Amazon.

6. Butler Foods' Soy Curls

Soy Curls are, as the name might suggest, little pieces of soy protein shaped like curly strips. It's a dry product, so you prepare them by soaking the curls in warm broth until rehydrated, squeeze out the extra liquid, then cook in a skillet or whatever until they're done. These are fabulous for stir-fries, tacos and other things where little strips of "meat" might be appropriate.

I feel like it's important to point out that Soy Curls are not the same as other TVP. I don't know if it's the texture or what, but they are just like... better. Now, regular TVP granules and chunks certainly have their time and place in my kitchen (I'm talking about stews and chilis) but these are just so much better in non-liquidy dishes. That's my opinion, anyway.

I have had no luck finding these locally where I live, so I've bought them off Spencer's Market, FakeMeats.com and direct from the Butler Foods website. I have no idea where one could obtain these overseas, so if you know tell me in the comments!

7. Better Than Bouillon broth concentrate

Since you're now probably (maybe) think about what to soak your Soy Curls in, might I suggest Better Than Bouillon veggie bases? They're like bouillon but... better. I also use this stuff as a base in soup, because I'm too lazy to make my own broth, and this stuff is cheaper than buying cartons of veggie broth. Oh, and it really is better than cubes or granules. My personal favorites are the "No Chicken" and "Vegetable" varieties, though one should be warned that the "No Chicken" base looks almost exactly like the "Chicken" base sold by the same brand so read the label carefully.

8. Chili powder

Since I've mentioned chili about a hundred times in this blog post, I think it stands to reason that I would bring chili powder. Chili powder is extremely cheap and easy to find in the USA, but that's not the case everywhere. Also, when I say "chili powder" I mean a blend of spices intended for chili (duh) and other Tex-Mex type food... blends typically include some sort of dried chilis, cumin, garlic etc. I've seen pure cayenne powder labelled as "chili powder" in some non-American shops, and it is NOT THE SAME THING! So just keep that in mind the next time you wonder why your chili beans are so ridiculously spicy. My personal favorite all-purpose chili powder of the moment is Penzey's Medium-Hot, But if you're overseas and desperate then you can get Frontier or Simply Organic brand chili powder from iHerb.

9. Oreo cookies

Something touted as "milk's favorite cookie" doesn't exactly sound vegan-friendly, but surprisingly these are dairy-free. Well, the ones in the USA are - sorry Europe. (Correction: Apparently Europe's Oreos are now dairy-free too? Rejoice!) I imagine one could find some "accidentally vegan" sweets in nearly every country, but I would "Doublestuf" a package of these in my suitcase to tide me over until I figure out what that is at my destination.

10. Wet 'n' Wild Megaliner (in black)

Yeah, OK, I know this is not a food. But I want to feel pretty while I eat my nutritional yeast out of the jar with a spoon, damnit. Anyway, Wet 'n' Wild is not a 100% vegan company, but they don't animal test and they clearly list in their FAQ which of their products are vegan. Have I mentioned that their stuff is cheap? Because it's really, really cheap. Wet 'n' Wild's Megaliner is surprisingly not crappy, and that combined with the fact that it's only $3 means I've been using it for years, possibly even since I was a teenager when my mother was chasing me around with a baby wipe trying to get my makeup off.

Please note that the formula for their waterproof liner kind of sucks, so I'm only recommending the regular one. I don't know where one can get this overseas, so if you know tell me in the comments!

What vegan items would you bring with you if you were headed to a desert island (or just overseas)?

02 September 2013

It's the thought that counts

Well, here I am starting my first-ever VeganMoFo with a bang: A day late and with a crappy cell phone picture of soy hot dogs. Here, look at the processed goodness:

It's a food.

I have been vegan for nearly four years, and I feel like I constantly have to improve my cooking skills to "prove" to my non-vegan friends/family that vegans don't just eat soy "meat" and soy "cheese" and live a miserable, overly salty existence. The result of that perceived pressure is that I've actually become a decent cook, but you know what? Sometimes I just want to say "fuck it" and boil up some processed soy meat. And that's what I did today.

I think there's a lot of conflicting information out there about what you "should" and "shouldn't" eat as a vegan, and after a while it all makes your head hurt. Personally I became vegan because I found factory farming to be appalling, so for me the main focus of veganism has just been to avoid eating meat and other animal products, not necessarily to count every gram of sodium or drip of oil that goes into my food. That's not to say that I don't think it's a good idea to throw some veggies in there from time to time (no, not just pickles and ketchup), but I think the real secret to success (and longevity) of a vegan diet is to eat things you like and include some "comfort foods" from time to time.

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that my theme for MoFo this year will be Whatever I Feel Like Eating. Sometimes I get insane bursts of energy and make several gallons of kimchi in an afternoon. Sometimes I eat nothing but tater tots for days straight. I'm not making any promises. In any case, welcome to my blog and try not to be too jealous of my hot dogs!

Do you enjoy processed vegan "meats" as an occasional or regular part of your diet? Or do you prefer to stick with whole foods?