My last recipe, farmers’ market gazpacho, was all about keeping your oven off in the heat of summer. And here I am – coming up with a recipe that requires your oven to be on for at least an hour. Insanity in August, I know. But if you bear with me, you will have a smooth, creamy, and surprisingly light dip that goes well with fresh pita. With only a few remaining weeks of summer produce, I suggest you take advantage of the bounty of eggplant. Crank up the AC, pour a cold beer, and in only a little over an hour you will have a delicious eggplant dip!
I know that you must be as sick of this heat wave as I am. My hair is a fizzy mess, our air condition is running non-stop, and every weekend is spent hiding indoors watching marathons on Netflix (if you haven’t heard of Wentworth, do yourself a favor and start watching…). It’s actually, physically, literally, seriously too hot to cook. And when I feel like that, which isn’t very often, I make gazpacho. It’s soup-salad. It’s refreshing. And it goes so well with wine and Spanish guitar music.
For someone who lives on a plant-based diet, I certainly lack the green thumb. It makes me so sad to admit that I’ve killed a lot of plants in my life. Orchids are lucky to last a month in my house. My zinnias are struggling, and my dahlias became slug food. Just this week I had to throw away two succulents – plants that are notoriously easy to take care of. I am a delinquent gardener.
Confession time: I used to talk a lot of trash on New Jersey. I grew up in the Philly suburbs, and that meant that the yellow licence plates signaled bad drivers, the state was covered in fist-pumping, hair-gelled bros, and the area between the bridges and the shore was a dead-land. But then we moved here. And I realized that New Yorkers are really the worst drivers, Philly has more hipsters than Jersey has bros, and New Jersey is full of hidden treasures beyond the shore. We discovered the cute old towns like Haddonfield and Collingswood. We spent our weekends enjoying the expansive parks and strolling along the Cooper River. More importantly, we met fantastic people. There is such a sense of community in South Jersey, and I feel privileged being able to join in.
Simplicity. It is something we crave at work, at home, and in all aspects of our daily lives. It is also something that I systematically destroy in my own life. I have a knack for making things way more complicated than they need to be. For example, whenever we have holidays or family get-togethers, I always volunteer to bring a ton of food. I’m not talking about, “Yeah, I’ll bring fruit salad and potato chips and guacamole and ice cream” (weird combo, I know). I’m talking about a pie with a homemade crust and ravioli in fresh pasta plus homemade barbecue seitan.* It’s always very much appreciated, and I love having a ton of vegan food options for myself, but it’s a lot of work!
If you’re brand new to vegan cooking, there are a few things you just need to trust me on. First, cashews are vegan magic. When soaked and blended like hell, they become velvety smooth and can take the place of milk, heavy cream, or even plain yogurt. Second, the vegan meat and dairy alternative market is unbelievable right now! There are the heavy hitters like Field Roast, Beyond Meat, Miyoko’s Kitchen, Kite Hill, and Treeline, and there are constantly new products coming out every day. It is really easy to find your new fave alternative.
A few weeks ago I came across an article about radishes. Yes, I do read articles about radishes and “baby” carrots and how to properly season a cast iron pan. No hiding my nerdiness here. What’s more, this article on thekitchn.com about radishes really made me think. Apparently roasted radishes are the vegetable that is missing in my life. When I read that, my first thought was, “Whoa! Big statement there, my friend.” I’m pretty sure I am not missing any vegetable in my life, and if I was, it wouldn’t be those watery, bitter slices that hide in my salads for no good reason. I could certainly eat more snow peas, or eggplant, or collard greens, but radishes?! I was skeptical…
One of my favorite parts about developing vegan recipes is putting together something that non-vegans will enjoy. It’s not always about finding something that fills the meat or dairy void. I’m more focused on finding something that has a lot of varying flavors and textures so that every bite is exciting. These herbed seitan gyros with vegan tzatziki are certainly that. Crispy herbed seitan topped with a cool and tangy tzatziki and juicy tomatoes. They may not be traditional in any way, but I like to imagine this is what all street food in Greece is like.
I’ve learned more than a few things watching Steven brew beer, but one of the most valuable things I’ve learned is “Don’t fear the yeast.” He recognizes that yeast can be tricky and doesn’t always cooperate, but the results are surely worth the effort. Baking with yeast always seemed daunting. Monitoring temperatures and making sure the bread would rise would send me into a mini-panic attack, which is certainly not something I am used to in the kitchen. My approach to cooking has always been that recipes are rough guidelines and if I have to be completely sober while cooking it probably won’t work out.
Last weekend, we went out for a special six course vegan dinner at Miss Rachel’s Pantry in South Philly. I guess it was a celebration of one year of home-ownership, but really I have been dying to try this restaurant and needed an excuse for a fancy dinner. Every Saturday night, Miss Rachel puts together a dinner for twelve guests at a communal table. The menu changes each week depending on what they get from their farmers, and you have to purchase your seats in advance (several weeks in advance in our case).