Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My two-day vegan cleanse

So, I had some free time yesterday morning and did a little cooking to get Steve and me through the next couple of days.  After having just a little too much fun during my weekend off, it seemed like a good idea to take a temporary leave of animal products and alcohol.  Nothing major, just a couple of days of austerity to help me feel better.  To that end, I whipped these two things together before lunch:

Summer vegetable soup:

This is loosely based on the summer vegetable soup in my Greek cookbook (The Food of Greece p. 87).  It pretty much amounts to throwing things in the pot and letting them blend until you have soup.  Since we had yellow squash from one of Steve's recent trips to the store and I had radishes and herbs from the backyard, it was easy enough to take what was fresh and add a few more things that were either canned or frozen and throw them in a pot.  So...the soup bowl pictured above contains chopped yellow squash, onion, radishes, one diced cucumber (only because we had one, also from the backyard, and the Greek cookbook said it was okay) crushed tomatoes, about four cups of veggie broth, about a cup and a half of thawed lima beans from the freezer, a few sprigs of thyme, a few chopped basil leaves, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  This ended up being my lunch and Steve's dinner yesterday.

Pasta salad:

This is nearly the same as my usual pasta salad, except that I threw in a bunch of chopped Italian parsley from the backyard along with the artichoke hearts, tomatoes (grown and given to me by a patient's wife!) and sliced black olives.  The "dressing" was just some salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil that I drizzled over the pasta and veggies right before they went in the fridge.  I left the optional shredded Parmesan out of the batch but treated myself to the cheese-included helping shown here for lunch today.  So, between that and the yogurt-honey-peanut Balance bar I had for breakfast this morning, my vegan cleanse is officially over (until next time).

SO glad we finally got some rain last night and Monday.  It's been about six days, and I've got about five little sprouts so far of the spring mix seeds I planted last week.  Not bad, considering the package said it would take 10-14 days for sprouting to occur.  With any luck I'll be able to make salads with it before summer's out.  Both boxes of radishes are coming along nicely as well. 

Also, for those of you in Columbia who know and love the All-Local Farmer's Market: they've just announced that they're expanding and will also be open on Wednesday evenings from 4-8 p.m. starting August 24.  If you haven't already, go check it out!  For more info, click here:

I've still got three yellow squash and two bags of spinach to dispense with in the next few days.  Check back to see what kind of ingeniousness I cook up next time to keep us fed and make good use of what's on hand!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Basmati Rice with Peas and Spinach Kootu

Before I go into detail about tonight's dinner, I have an unhappy update about my garden: about three weeks ago, following a short proliferation period, my yellow squash plants, zucchini plant and cucumber vine all fell prey to a powdery mold blight.  Steve did a Google search to learn more about it and found that spraying milk on the leaves helps to inhibit growth/reproduction of the mold, but it was already too late for the yellow squash, which were laid to rest in the compost bin last week.  The leaves on the cucumber look terrible, but the plant is still producing (for now), and the jury's still out on the zucchini although it appears to be making a comeback.  Lesson learned: don't encourage mold growth on members of the squash family by planting them too close together.  The "oh, screw it, it'll work out" approach worked well enough last summer, when I was mostly growing upright pepper plants, but I now know to space squashes exactly as far apart as the plant tag says (four to six feet).  Oh, well - all the more reason to expand the size of the raised bed next summer.

I've cooked a time or two since the last post and managed to use up pretty much everything in the fridge with the lunch I made on Sunday - and then a bag of spinach showed up in the fridge after I got home from work last night. What to do, what to do...

Spinach Kootu:
1/2 cup yellow split peas
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp canola oil
1 dried red chili pepper
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
1/4 cup chopped onion (I had some in the freezer)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
10 oz. chopped spinach (original recipe calls for frozen, but what the hey)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt or to taste

Boil 2 cups of water, add the split peas and turmeric and cook on medium heat (covered) until they are completely softened (up to 45 minutes).

Heat oil over medium heat in a saucepan big enough for all the chopped fresh spinach (a smaller one is okay if you're using frozen).  When it's hot, stir in the red chili pepper, mustard seeds and urad dal.  Cook until the mustard seeds burst and the urad dal is golden brown.  Slightly reduce the heat, if needed, so that these ingredients don't burn.

Add onion and garlic and stir-fry for one or two minutes.

Add spinach to the saucepan along with split peas and one cup of water (cooking water is fine).  Add the cumin and salt and stir well to blend.

Cover and simmer over low heat for a few more minutes, until the spinach has at least wilted and all the ingredients are blended.

...And since this clearly isn't dinner all by itself, I made a rice and peas dish that can be made anytime (at our house) using pantry, fridge and freezer staples.

Basmati Rice with Green Peas:
2 cups basmati rice
2 tbsp Earth Balance
3-4 shakes of cinnamon (or 4-5 small pieces of stick cinnamon)
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp cashews, coarsely chopped
2 whole cloves
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (or two whole cardamom pods)
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
1/2 cup frozen peas (or 1 cup if you like more), heated in microwave for 1 to 2 minutes

Rinse rice well and get 3 cups of water boiling while completing the next step.  (Cookbook says 4 but I always get a better result using a 1.5:1 water: white rice ratio.)

In a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid (i.e. one you can cook rice in), heat the Earth Balance (or butter, ghee, oil or whatever) over medium heat.  When it's hot, add the cinnamon, bay leaves and cashews.  Cook until the cashews turn golden brown.

Add the rice to the mix along with the cloves, turmeric, cardamom and salt.  Stir well and toast the ingredients for another minute or two.

Pour in the boiling water, stir, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for about 15 minutes.  The rice should be fluffy and all the water should be gone.

Stir in the cooked green peas (drain them first if necessary) and serve.
The nice thing about the rice recipe in particular is that, after serving Steve and myself, there was enough for two big leftover portions for later in the week.  I'm always glad to have leftovers when my work schedule's unpredictable, because it means I won't have to make do with the items on the largely non-vegetarian menu at the hospital cafeteria. 

Another happy discovery I made about the spinach recipe is the meaty flavor you get when you cook spinach with cumin.  Steve suggested that I figure out how to bring back the tuna bacon spinach pasta recipe, vegetarian style.  Be looking for it sometime in the near future!