Saturday, November 27, 2010

Redefining Dinner

One of the challenges of going vegan is learning to change our concept of dinner.  What does dinner look like?  What does an appetizing plate contain if we aren’t going to put any meat or cheese on it?  Tonight, while I was cooking the family evening meal, Mr. Nix came into the kitchen with me to “help.”  This is special code language for “playfully harass me while I cook.”  At some point during the shenanigans, he stopped and suddenly shouted, “You know what you need to do?”  I smiled.  “No, Bubby, what do I need to do?”  “You need to make a book called, ‘Side Dish No More,’ and make it all about how you make vegan entrees – you know, the main dish for a meal.”

Tonight’s dinner was an excellent example of how I’ve begun to naturally replace animal fats and proteins on our dinner plate with things most Americans consider only as a side dish.  Our plates tonight held roasted root vegetables, steamed fresh green beans, and jasmine rice covered with a tomato porridge sauce I made up because I didn’t have any flour to make tomato gravy.  It was completely scrumptious, healthy, and satisfying.
It has taken me a year for this sort of dinner to come naturally.  I have spent most of my first year as a vegan having to hunt specific ingredients and meticulously plan menus using online aids.  Today, I am able to stand in my kitchen and look around at the items I have on hand to make a meal for my family, but it took months of laborious work and a lot of trial and error to get here.  That’s because the American dinner plate is all about a meat, a starch, and a vegetable.  If it doesn’t contain these three items, it ain’t a “healthy” or “complete” meal.  I spent the first 34 years of my life cooking that way.  All of my culinary habits involved butter, eggs, bacon grease, meat, and cheese.  Every meal I knew how to throw together, and all of the components I was comfortable using were formed around the 3-part traditional American dinner plate.

Getting out of that mindset takes time because it is cultural and habitual.  I have been grateful more than a few times over the past year that I was already a kitchen person when I went vegan.  I love food, and I love to cook.  I’ve always been a quick study in the kitchen, so that comfort level and experience has served me very well in this year of transition.  For those who are not already familiar and comfortable with home cooking, who don’t know by feel how to mix together or substitute fats and proteins and grains and spices with one another…well, I can imagine that the process of redefining dinner can present a serious obstacle.

If you find yourself asking, “What can we eat?” or saying, “I just don’t know what to make,” on a regular basis, the best advice I know to give is the following:

1.) Learn how to make soups.  Soup is forgiving.  By that, I mean that once you get the basic recipe, soup is really hard to mess up.  For inexperienced or uncomfortable cooks, soup can help you feel confident about trying new things.

2.) Make meals that include three dishes like the one in my picture here.  They bring comfort and familiarity.  Mr. Nix LOVES when I make meals that look like this for him because they resemble and “feel” like the old meat-starch-veggie plate.  Get three different colors on the plate or put three different textures.  Think of it as a crisp-chewy-smooth plate.  Ha ha!  Whatever criteria you use to choose your dishes, always work with three.  It’s amazing how attached Americans are to that three-item plate. 

3.) Get online and find recipes to try.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up eating several along the way that turn out with less than desirable results.  My recipe failures this past year have included two cornbread recipes (I finally made my own), a veggie meatloaf (went into the garbage…it was THAT bad), too many pasta recipes to count, an eggplant dish (I still shudder when I think about that one), some tofu attempts…it goes on and on.  These failures are okay because in between the bad recipes, you’ll be learning what does work for you.

4.) Finally, remember that you can’t erase a lifetime of habit in a week or two.  Give yourself time to figure out what you like seeing in that empty spot on the plate where your chicken leg used to be.   I’m still a work in progress after a year.  I mean, I still can’t shake off the egg mayonnaise…but I’m learning.  You will, too.

God bless you and keep you.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Irish Bruschetta's bruschetta made in Ireland.  Same thing, right?  Actually, the tomatoes are from France and the basil is from Israel, but the baguettes were made right here in Dublin...this morning.  I made 5 baguettes and 3 pounds in tomatoes worth of this recipe this morning, and it was ALL eaten up by the guests before anyone ate any of the omni food.  I was pretty danged proud of it.  People were just hovering around the platter, and I had to keep refilling it.  /flex

Shortly after getting off the plane last week, we got acquainted with Roly's Cafe here in Ballsbridge.  It's conveniently located less than a block from our hotel, so we ate there more than people would generally do in our first week.  The bread there is just really, really good, and they make it all onsite.

Here at home, now, we are located about a mile away from Roly's.  We have no car, yet, but because it is Thanksgiving, and because I didn't want to show up at our sponsor's house empty-handed, and because we don't have much in the kitchen to cook with, and because I really wanted to use these incredible mix-n-match tomatoes I bought on Tuesday...well, Mr. Nix was sent for a walk in the cold this morning to retrieve some Irish French bread from Roly's.  And here we are.

Make this.  Trust me.

(my very first post from the new kitchen!  Squeal!)

There are no measurements here.  Go with your gut and use what you have.

Good Crusty Bread
Fresh Basil
Olive Oil
Black Pepper
Garlic Clove, peeled


Chop your tomatoes into nice, bite-sized pieces.  Chiffonade your basil.  If you don't know how to cut in a chiffonade, you can either look at our page here, or you can chop it up any ol' way you like.  Mix together the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper to taste, and then drizzle with olive oil to get a nice coating.  Stir this all together.  Taste for salt content, adjust, and then put it in the fridge to marinate while you prepare your bread.

Slice your bread into the desired size pieces.  I used baguettes today because these were meant to be little bite-sized appetizers.  If you use this for a meal, go big or go home.  Use a nice heavy Italian bread or get funky and use a dark pumpernickel.  Whatever you use, keep the pieces a good size for handling.  We don't eat this with a fork, People.


Now, if you want to be healthy about all this, you can just toast your bread in the oven.  This is Thanksgiving, though, so I brushed the bread slices on both sides with olive oil, and I was generous with it.  Next, I  fried them in a pan on the stove.  Either way, once your bread is crunchy and ready to go, it's time to add the garlic.

Take a raw, peeled garlic clove and just rub it against the crunchy bread.  Like a grater, the bread will sort of consume the garlic.  Rub the bread with the garlic on both sides and then set your slices out on a platter.


Get your tomatoes out of the fridge and spoon generously onto the bread.  Get as much of the tomato mixture on the slice as it will hold and then have fun watching your family or friends try to be all neat while they eat it.

This stuff is better than the bees' knees.  It's freaking delicious.  Enjoy it, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Think I've Turned Japanese

The Flag of the Okinawan Prefecture of Japan
 I love my country.  Although America will always be my homeland and my primary patriotic love, my home has been elsewhere for a long time, now.  Okinawa and her people have been very good to us for the past three years, and we are leaving her in a matter of days.  There is both sadness and joy in this.  This little island has been my first experience as an expatriate, and I have both hated and loved every day of it.

I felt a sort of vertigo when we moved here.  I was displaced and dizzy in a foreign country that was truly alien to me in every way.  The language, the food, the architecture, and even the toilets were strange and intimidating to me.  Since that shaky first impression, however, Okinawa has become my home.  The people are open and kind and generous - astonishingly so.  The food has grown on me, and now I can't imagine being without it.  My tiny concrete house has become my home.  I am in my element here.

There is a very third-world feel to Okinawa.  Everywhere you go, you see the rubble of abandoned buildings, unkempt and overgrown fields, empty lots piled with rusty rubbish, and narrow streets filled with simply-dressed people on foot or bicycle.  Large portions of the island are covered by the overwhelming stench of chicken, pig, and cow manure when the fields are spread and the wind blows just right.  The heat and humidity are just stifling about 8 months out of the year.  The appearance of relative poverty and overcrowding are all around you from clothing hung to dry off of every high rise balcony to the narrow, pothole-filled streets to the homeless beggars gathered under overpasses and on the sidewalk corners. 

Despite all of this, there is also a wild sort of beauty to Okinawa.  Miniature farms with tiered fields strung up in fairy lights to protect the tropical crops from chilly nights.  Huge, jutting hills covered with a dense tangle of jungle trees, vines, and underbrush.  Massive, sheer-faced cliffs descending hundreds of feet down into the waves of the Pacific Ocean.  Little fishing boats.  A man walking a bull down the street.  Ancient stone Shinto burial temples covered with moss.  Young children playing baseball in perfectly manicured parks.  Majestic ruins from the Ryukyu Empire dotted all over the island.  Incredible sprays of carefully-cultivated orchids, lilies, and other extraordinary flowers.  The sea is also, literally, all around.  In some places violent, with white waves crashing on jagged rocks, in other places clear and cerulean and calm.  And, then, there are the Okinawan people.

The Okinawan people seem almost childlike to an American at first glance.  Their culture is open, truthful, and incredibly polite.  Doors are routinely left unlocked because theft is practically unheard of.  Everyone from the manager of a bank to the man who landscapes the public medians takes pride in his job.  There are uniforms of a sort for every type of work here, and the Okinawan people always look clean, pressed, and professionally intent on their work.  This kind of personal pride in even the lowest wage work is almost totally absent from today's American society.  Watching it still takes me by surprise, sometimes...even after three years.  There is an obsession here with anything cute (kawaii) or decorative.  The Japanese gift-giving traditions are complex and puzzling.  The appearance of the gift is just as or even more important than the contents of the package.  The importance placed on gift wrapping and presentation crosses over into the service industries.  Even at the 100¥ store, any fragile item you purchase will be neatly wrapped in newsprint and tied or taped into a little gift shape.  Everything is wrapped in rice paper or tied with beautiful ribbon.  No opportunity for decoration or artistic presentation is overlooked.  Okinawans delight in children and family.  Complete strangers will take a young child from her mother and entertain her with games and play or treats out of the blue.  American mothers are often taken aback by this kind of behavior, but it is born of a cultural love for children.  There are no looks of angry annoyance at childish antics in public.  Everyone in every age group is patient and accommodating to both the children and the families moving about in society with them.

All of these things, the good and the bad, have become a part of my space - my new natural habitat.  I see them and am surrounded by them every day.  Now, all of that is about to be over.  America has chosen a new home for us, and because we serve The United States in this family, that is simply that.  Our new home will be Dublin, Ireland.  I don't know how we're going to adjust to the culture shock of being Okinawanized Americans living in Europe...but I know we will find a way to manage.

Today, my husband, our daughter, and I are packing suitcases and preparing for the last TMO shipments (military movers, basically) that will be taken from our home.  They will come for the next two days, handle everything I own, pack it up in wooden crates, and put it all on a ship for Dublin.  I'm ready to go, but I will be very sad to leave.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Typhoon Soup!

We may be headed for Dublin, but we still live on Okinawa, and today we are receiving a visit from Typhoon Chaba.  It's been chilly (for Oki) and gloomy for days in the run-up for this storm.  I felt we needed something hot and soothing.  We ate colcannon and heavy, bad-tasting meat loaf for dinner yesterday, so I wanted this to be something lighter and less clunky in the tummy.  Soup, of course, is always an excellent solution for this.

Because we are planning a move, there isn't a whole lot of food in the house, and I've used most of what I bought over the last week for specific, planned meals.  I rooted through the pantry and fridge to see what I could find and just threw everything that looked like a soup ingredient up on the counter.  This is what I came up with, and it was quite good.

This little soup is a simple, spicy, and stick-to-the-ribs meal without being heavy.  I call it Typhoon Soup in honor of the storm which inspired me to make it.  Do try this.  It's lovely.  I made a cornbread to serve alongside.  The slice you see up there in the photo is from my standby 1:29 Project Cornbread recipe.  It just looks different because I used whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose.  It, too, was perfect.  As the ladies on my Irish Mommies board would say, "It went down a treat."

Typhoon Soup
c. 1C Potato, diced
c. 1/2C Celery, diced
c. 1/2C Carrot, diced
c. 1/2C Onion, diced
1/4C Kale, chopped (optional)
1C Lentil Beans
1 Can Tomato Soup
4C Vegetable Broth (I made mine with a bouillon base)
1tsp Garlic Powder
1/3tsp Red Chili Flakes
Salt & Pepper to taste
the Juice from 1/2 of a Lemon (about 1T)


Heat a stew pot over medium heat with about 1T of canola oil.  Toss in the potato, celery, carrot, onion, and lentils.  Stir all of this around until the onions soften up a bit.  Add in the soup and dry spices.  Once that is all mixed and you've taste-tested for spice levels, pour in the broth.  Turn down to simmer and cover your pot.  Let it cook for 30-40 minutes until the lentils soften up.  I don't like my lentils mushy, but if you do, you'll need to let it simmer longer than we did.  Add your lemon juice and do a final taste test for salt and pepper adjustment.  Voila!

**Note of Trivia**
For those who were unaware, whenever you see the abbreviation "c." in a recipe or manual--or anywhere else for that matter--it stands for the word, "circa."  Circa is the Latin word meaning "around."  It literally meant around as in around the circle or looking around, but in English we use the c. to indicate around as in "approximately."  Cheers!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Colcannon for Halloween

We're moving to Ireland soon, and I have recently befriended a lovely group of Irish mothers online.  In the past few days, they've all been talking with one another about a dish called colcannon.  These discussions caught my eye because they kept mentioning "kale" and "curly kale."  As any of you who read this blog regularly know...I'm a little obsessed with kale.  So...I asked them to explain the dish and tell me how to make it.

Colcannon is a signature Irish comfort dish traditionally made for telling fortunes on Halloween.  The cook will hide coins, rings, and other tokens inside the dish to predict marriages and wealth for the coming year.  It is simple peasant fare, and it's absolutely and utterly delicious.  Here's how to make it:

1:29 Project Colcannon
4-5 lbs. of good, starchy Potatoes
2C Kale, chopped
2C Cabbage, chopped
1/4C Scallions, sliced
1C Soy Milk
6T Vegan Butter (I didn't say it was health food)
4 Cloves Garlic, pressed or minced
Dash Grated Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper to taste

Scrub and cut up your potatoes.  Peel them if you like (if your potatoes have a thick skin that will not easily mash, I recommend you peel them).  Put them in a large pot just covered with salted water.  Boil until forkably soft the way through.


While the potatoes are boiling, heat 3T butter in a pan.  When just bubbly, toss in your Kale and Cabbage.  As these begin to wilt (about 1 min.), add the garlic, scallion, and some black pepper.  Let these continue cooking for another minute or two until everything is soft.


Drain the potatoes and put them in a mixer or a large bowl for mashing.  Mash the potatoes down a bit and add the soy milk.  Once well mixed, add the nutmeg and another 2T of butter.  Stir in the kale mixture and mix until everything is well-incorporated.  Taste test for salt/pepper content and adjust.  Almost done!

Transfer the colcannon to your serving dish.  Make a well in the hot potatoes and place your last tablespoon of butter inside to melt.  Voila!  You now have before you a scrumptious vegan version of Irish Colcannon.


Meat Loaf Cupcakes

So, I was looking for a good vegan meat loaf recipe, and I came across this website that suggested putting the meat loaf into a muffin pan so that leftover portions could be frozen and re-heated easily.  Having a kidlet who doesn't care for meat loaf, I thought, "Hey!  Meat Loaf Cupcakes!"  Anyhoodle, we got a recipe and made the meat loaf.

It was terrible.

The recipe we used turned out practically inedible.  The flavors were just all wrong.  As disappointing as that was, however, there are other recipes to try, and this whole cupcake idea was adorable.  Here's how we did it.  Use with your favorite meat loaf recipe, and may yours turn out tastier than ours.  Ha ha!



Using pre-shaped cupcake foils or squares of tin foil (I embossed my corners in an attempt to be like Martha), line the cups of a muffin pan.  Taking generous handfuls of your meat loaf mixture, fill the cups to the top.  "Frost" with your topping.  I used a mix of ketchup and dry mustard.  It's delicious.  Pop your meat loaf cupcakes into the oven for about 30 minutes (remember these don't take as long to bake through as a full loaf pan would).  When finished baking, pipe on some fun designs with mustard.  Done!

The Beagle Has Landed

Little Kioko has arrived in safety.  She is being loved and cared for, and now I can finally rest.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Vegetable Fried Rice

Because we're in the middle of moving from Japan to Ireland, I have emptied the refrigerator and stopped buying food.  We've been living on takeout and the good grace of friends for about a week now.  Last night, we were over at Bunnary's house, and she always makes me the most delicious vegan nummies.  The specialty of the evening was tofu fried rice.  It was Heaven in a bowl.

Now.  I haven't been able to stop thinking about that fried rice since we left, and I actually went to the commissary and bought ingredients to make it here at home.  It was worth the mess and chaos of making room in the kitchen.  Bunnary's rice was a simple comfort dish made with a few ingredients.  Using the same process she taught me, I added some ingredients because my eyes got big at the store and I bought up the whole produce section.  Also in the process of buying too many vegetables, I forgot to buy tofu. is my basic fried rice recipe...sans tofu.  It was delicious!

Remember that this is just a process recipe.  You can add tofu, beans, nuts, or seeds if you like, and you don't have to use the vegetables I've used.  Use anything you have on hand.

***About the Pictures:  Click on them to see the larger versions.  These thumbnails look awful!***

Vegetable Fried Rice
5-6C Fluffed Jasmine Rice (that was my yield cooking 2C rice in 3C of water)
1C Carrot, Diced
1C Celery, Diced
1C Yellow Onion, Chopped
1C Mushrooms, any kind, diced
1.5C Cabbage, chopped
2C Kale, chopped
4 cloves Garlic, pressed or minced
2T Soy Sauce (I used low sodium)
3T Canola Oil
Salt and Black Pepper to taste

Heat 2T of the oil in a large pan on medium-high heat.  Add the rice.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper.  Stir-fry the rice for a solid 5 minutes.  This will evenly distribute the oil and "fry" the rice.  You do not want the rice to burn or change color here.  You just want to fry it and get a bit of flavor in.


Remove the rice from your pan and set aside.  Heat the remaining 1T of oil in the same pan you just used to fry the rice.  Saute the carrot, celery, and mushroom until the mushrooms begin to sweat and the carrot and celery begin to soften (about 3 minutes).  Add the onion.  When the onions begin to turn clear (about another 3 minutes), add the garlic and stir through.


Quickly add your kale and cabbage.  Stir-fry actively until the kale and cabbage are good and wilted.  This shouldn't take more than an additional 2-3 minutes.  Now, you're ready to toss the rice in.  Add the rice back into the pan, and get everything really well mixed.  Almost done!  Pour in the soy sauce, stir well, and then let everything sit there getting cozy together for a few minutes.  This will bring your rice to that nice brown "fried rice" color we all know and love.  You can lower the heat and walk away to clean up if you like.  By the time you're done putting everything away, the rice will be ready to taste test.


Adjust the salt content to your liking and serve!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gershwin, Bowels, and Vegan Shops in Dublin

The U.S. Embassy in Dublin, Ireland
As we have entered this moving process, my "diet" has gone to junk.  As a vegan on Okinawa, I have learned that the meaning of convenience food changes drastically when you stop eating eggs, meat, and cow milk.  Pre-packaged food here is rarely vegan.  Don't even get me started on the packaged fresh bento boxes full of bitter melon, egg, cream, and batter-dipped chicken.  /shudder  My bowels scream at me for even looking at food like that.

Yes.  I said "bowels."  I can say, "poop," too, if that helps us break the ice in this area.  Lookit, every human being has a lower intestine, and very few American-type human beings treat that particular organ with care and kindness.  It is shocking how little thought people give to the health of their bowels and how little attention they give to the regularity of their poop.  I mean, seriously.  Though certainly not the most attractive function of the human body, pooping is supposed to happen every day...several times.  A lot of Americans are completely blocked up most of their adult lives and consider it perfectly normal to be so.  It's not.  It's very, very bad for you, and it indicates some serious problems with your diet.  If you don't poop at least twice a day, or if you need to take daily laxatives to get things need to put the pork chop down and start eating your vegetables.  I'm just sayin.'

Anyway, in my father's family, we have a genetic predisposition to bowel trouble.  My baby brother and I, at 31 and 35 respectively, are already showing signs of heading down that problematic trust me:  I got over any embarrassment in discussing bowels a long time ago.  You should, too.

Back to junk food and being vegan during a move:

So, you all know what kind of junk food I mean, right?  Chips (crisps, for you European-types), fries (chips, again, for my Euro people), and all manner of quick-grain foods like pasta and big sandwiches and hot cereals...all smothered or slathered with some kind of fatty sauce full of sugar, salt, and God-knows-what-else.

I've never been thin, but at this rate, I'll be the size of a house in no time.  Thinking of that got me to thinking about the Irish looking at me and thinking, "typical fat American."  That was a bit embarrassing, and the Irish people mocking me in my head had French accents.  That got me thinking about Gershwin's American in Paris, which is a lovely, happy piece of music.  So...I put that on the iPod and then started Googling vegan shops and restaurants in Dublin.  Yep.  I'm nuts.  This is what it's like to be me.

So, anyway - yeah, Buddy. I'm going to be a happy camper in Dublin.  Look at all I found:

The Dublin Co-op
The vegetarian institution of fair-trade and organic products in Dublin.  It's like a farmer's market/whole foods store.

The Irish version of Whole Foods, as far as I can tell

Blazing Salads
This is going to be my FIRST restaurant visit when we get there.  Just look at their beautiful food, and it's all take-out!  We won't have a lot of time for eating out properly at a sit-down place in the beginning, so finding and making friends with a good take-out place will be a blessing.  Apparently, their tofu pizza is quite the thing because everyone who reviewed the deli mentioned the pizza specifically!

Doesn't this look divine?  I can't wait.  I'm thinking Govinda's will be my choice for my first-ever sit-down vegan restaurant experience.

Moving Without Kioko

Just three weeks ago, we were preparing for a move to The Hague, Netherlands.  As life and the Marine Corps would have it, that plan didn't pan out.  Instead, we have been assigned to a post in Dublin, Ireland.  While we view this as a fantastic opportunity and are excited to see the green of beautiful Erin, there was a hiccup.  A big one.

Ireland has a strict animal quarantine, and Kioko had never been FAVN tested.  Americans don't FAVN test their dogs as a general practice, and so I had never heard of such a thing.  It never crossed my mind that Kioko's veterinary record was anything less than exemplary and complete...but I was wrong.

I have written two posts about all of this on my MCESG Blog, and you can read about the requirements for transporting an American dog to Ireland and the UK in my article, Quarantine for Kioko.  What I would rather you read, however, is the story I wrote about Okinawa's Own Saint Francis.  In it, I describe how Mary from Itoman saved the day and helped us get Kioko safely to our family in America.  There, the beaglet can hang out and get grandbaby treatment from my mother-in-law until the quarantine period is over.  We look to have Kioko  living with us in Dublin by late April or early May.

We are sad to be losing the company of our Wonder Beagle for six months, but the best we could make out of a bad situation has now taken place.  Like I say in my article about Mary, "I miss my dog...but I'm not worried about her anymore."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Benjamin Franklin Went Veggie

I'm reading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin right now, and imagine my surprise and delight when I ran across the following:

"When about 16 years of age I happened to meet with a book, written by one Tryon, recommending a vegetable diet.  I determined to go into it.  My brother, being yet unmarried, did not keep a house, but boarded himself and his apprentices in another family.  My refusing to eat flesh occasioned an inconveniency, and I was frequently chid for my singularity.  I made myself acquainted with Tryon's manner of preparing some of his dishes, such as boiling potatoes or rice, making hasty pudding, and a few others, and then proposed to my brother, that if he would give me, weekly, half the money he paid for my board, I would board myself.  He instantly agreed to it, and I presently found that I could save half what he paid me.  This was an additional fund for buying books.  But I had another advantage in it.

My brother and the rest going from the printing-house to their meals, I remaind there alone, and, despatching presently my last repast, which often was no more than a bisket or a slice of bread, a handful of raisins or a tart from the pastry-cook's, and a glass of water, had the rest of the time till their return for study, in which I made the greater progress, from that greater clearness of head and quicker apprehension which usually attend temperance in eating and drinking."

This little quoted segment of the writing illustrates two things which make me passionate about being vegan.  First, you'll note he saved a great abundance of money by not eating meat.  This is because meat SHOULD cost more to produce than crops do.  Only in our backward, twisted bureaucracy of corrupt legislation could meat be cheaper than broccoli and potatoes.  Second, it confirms that even Benjamin Franklin experienced the same increase in energy and mental well-being on a vegetarian diet that I have.  It's not placebo effect.  It's actually real.

Just wanted to share.  Finding this made me smile.

Palabok and Lunch With What Ya Got

We're gearing up from the big move from Japan to The Netherlands, and part of that is using up food from the pantry.  Well, I went on a "noodles I've never heard of" expedition long ago, and so I have this huge basket of noodles in my pantry closet that I don't know what to do with.

In my fridge, I had a ziploc full of fresh collard greens, already chopped in ribbons that we had leftover from the Lemony Collards recipe, and I needed to use them up before they spoiled.  I also had a gorgeous package of mushrooms from the local San-A, which is a Japanese grocery store.  I decided to make Palabok and collards with mushrooms for lunch. 

So did we like it?  The verdict is still out.  I'm not really sure.  I love collards, and the mushrooms were lovely.  The texture of the palabok is like glass noodles, but thicker.  It my mouth.  Different sort of texture and relatively flavorless noodle.  It's not my favorite, but your personal preferences might be different.  Overall, it was a satisfying light lunch, and the flavor was killer.

Enjoy the photos!

Palabok and Collards and Mushrooms, Oh My!
1/2 package Palabok, prepared to package directions*
Fresh Collard Greens, chiffonade
Mushrooms, any type, sliced
2T Vegan Butter
1/2T Olive Oil
Garlic, Salt, and Pepper to taste

*See Palabok directions below the recipe

In a large, flat-bottomed pan, heat the oil and butter.  Add your mushrooms and garlic.  Sauté until the mushroom aromas really hit you.  Add the collards and sauté just until the wilt begins.  Toss in the palabok and give everything a few minutes to get heated through and well-mixed.  Salt and pepper.  Plate and serve!  I ate mine with Sriracha hot sauce.  


*Palabok comes in a package like the one pictured below.  These are made of "Natural Yellow Cornstarch, Water, and Sodium Polyphosphate."  Following the package instructions, you take out the desired amount and soak it in hot water from the tap for about 10 minutes.


After soaking, remove the noodles directly into boiling water.  Boil for 8-10 minutes until soft.  Remove from heat, but leave the noodles in the hot water for another 10 minutes.  During this time, using tongs, "stir to loosen" the noodles.  Drain and then transfer to a serving dish or, in this case, the pan full of your other ingredients.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Mrs. Land's Vegan Eggrolls

As regular visitors here may have noticed, I have a new cooking buddy.  Bunnary (buh-NAR-Ee) Land is a good friend of mine who I met after she married Derrick, who is an old friend of my husband's.  She immediately fit right in with the Nixes' sarcastic and silly ways.  She and I have since developed a warm friendship separate from her being "Derrick's wife."  I adore her.

Now, Bunnary's family came to America as refugees from Cambodia when she was two years old.  With that first-generation Asian cultural heritage and her Southern raising in Alabama, let me just say this woman can cook some wicked fusion foods.  She loves eating and being in the kitchen just like I do.  What can I say?  We bonded over cooking and produce.

On one of the last occasions I was invited to a "do" at the Land home, Bunnary made these eggrolls especially for me as part of the spread she put out for guests.  I was touched that she went to so much trouble, and then I ate one.  It was so much better than any other vegetable spring roll I'd ever eaten.  She is a magician.  "You have to teach me to make these," I said.  She agreed, and today, she came over and walked me through it.  I hope you'll try these.  They're super easy, and they are really quick to make.  I promise.

I've included Bunnary's tips all along the way with lots and lots of photos.  Don't let the length of the post frighten you into thinking this is "complicated."  It's anything but, and all the chopping is totally worth it.

As Bunnary likes to say, "Them little ho's is good!"



Mrs. Land's Vegan Eggrolls
There are very few measurements in this recipe, and the reason for that is simple:  you can't screw it up.  Really.  You can change the ingredients around.  You can leave out things you don't like or add things you do like which we have not listed.  Basically, this recipe is a good way to get all the produce that's about to go wobbly on you out of the fridge and into a recipe.  Use what you have.  The staple ingredients for the filling (the ones you really need) are cabbage, glass noodles, and some kind of onion.  Everything else is up to you.  The following ingredients are the ones we used.  

1 package egg-less Wrappers
Shredded Cabbage
Shredded Carrot (we used a vegetable peeler to shave off strips)
Glass Noodles*, softened and cut down to bite-sized lengths
Mushrooms (any kind you like), thinly-sliced
Kale, chopped
Celery, chopped
Green Onion, sliced
Garlic, minced
Cilantro (or parsley), chopped
Canola Oil or Peanut Oil for frying
1/2T Sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce

Bunnary Tip #1:  When chopping your vegetables, make sure you cut them in very thin, elongated strips.  Anything chunky or geometric will puncture the wrappers and prevent you from getting the pretty, round rolls you want.

Once you have your ingredients assembled, heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok or large, flat-bottomed pan and begin stir-frying the celery and mushroom.  After the celery begins to soften, add the cabbage, carrot, kale, and garlic.  Stir this around in the pan until all of the vegetables are soft and pliable.


In a large mixing bowl,  toss your cooked vegetables with the glass noodles and green onion.  Now, add the sugar and the cilantro or parsley and mix that in.  Taste the mix and add your salt and pepper accordingly.  That's it!  You're ready to roll them up, now.



Bunnary Tip #2:  Place a damp towel or paper towel over your stack of wrappers once you open them so that they don't dry out.  You need them to stay pliable.  If they are allowed to get too dry, they will crack and break when you try to roll them.

To roll up your eggrolls, place a generous spoon of your filling onto the corner of your wrapper (see picture above, top left).  Roll the corner over your filling and gently move it into the shape you want with your fingers (see picture above, top right).  Remember that the wrappers are delicate, so don't man-handle them.  Fold over each of the sides into the center (see picture above, bottom left).  Roll all the way to the end of your wrapper.  At the last corner, dab a bit of oil on the tip.  This will be the "glue" that keeps it together until you fry it.  Voila!  Now, you're ready to fry.


Heat about 1/2" of oil in your flat-bottomed pan (we used the same pan for cooking the vegetables...just wipe out the remaining clingy pieces with a towel before adding the fry oil).  Add your eggrolls when the oil is bubbles around the end of an eggroll when you dip it in.  We're not chefs, and we didn't take the oil temperature.  We just put them in by the bubble test.  Allow them to sit for a minute until you start to see some golden brown corners (see photo above right).  Turn them over with tongs and repeat.  Once the eggrolls are crispy and brown, remove them to a plate with paper towels to drain.  Voila!  Serve as soon as they've cooled enough to handle.

Bunnary Tip #3
If you don't want to eat all the eggrolls right away, then reserve some without frying.  Keep the unfried rolls in a ziploc in the freezer until you're ready to eat them.  They freeze beautifully and go straight from the freezer to the hot oil.  No need to thaw.


We ate these while they were still so hot they burned our fingers because we couldn't wait.  We used Mae Ploy sweet chili dipping sauce, but you could use anything.  I highly recommend finding a sweet chili sauce for these.  It was to die.

I hope this was a helpful recipe post for you.  Please try these at home.  They are fantastic.  You may never order takeout spring rolls again.


If you are confused by the lack of measurement, you can look in our photo of the ingredients above the recipe title.  The small glass bowls are 1C containers.  The white square measure cups hold 2T of liquid.  The little painted ceramic measuring cups are 1C and 1/2C from top to bottom.  The large glass bowls in the back are the large and small bowls from the standard Pyrex mixing bowl set.

*What the heck are glass noodles, anyway?  Glass noodles can typically be found in the Asian foods section of your grocery store.  The package we bought is pictured above.  Ours were made from mung bean flour, potato starch, and water.  This is typical for glass noodles, and they are almost always vegan.  It is not flavor these noodles provide (they are entirely flavorless), but texture.  It's unlike anything else, but similar to certain crunchy seaweed salads I've eaten.  

Unlike semolina or rice noodles you might be familiar with, these do not require cooking to prepare.  Simply take the desired amount of noodles from your package and put them in a bowl of hot water to soak.  By the time we're ready to use them, they will be ready to use.  Nifty, eh?  IF you choose to omit glass noodles from your eggroll mixture, you will need to double up on the cabbage.  I strongly recommend you not do that.  Get brave and try something new.  Glass noodles are well worth the effort in this recipe.