Peas and Compassion

Cruelty-free crunchiness and shameless veg-elation.


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VeganMofo Day 29: @VeganDivaCooks’ Butternut Bisque

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I am ridiculously happy entering the last days of VeganMoFo; I love writing about vegan food, but 30 straight days of it is a bit exhausting! Also, I’ve lost the “t” key on my keyboard after something sticky got under the key, so it might be time for a small break (the dangers of blogging while cooking!)

Tonight’s dish is another adventure from Mistress Ginger Cooks (@vegandivacooks)- specifically, her Brazen Butternut Bisque. This is a deceptive dish – simple to throw together (at least if you buy your butternut squash pre-chopped, as I do), yet so full of flavor. Also, it’s really pretty to look at, with its cheery golden color.

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Mistress Ginger’s bisque makes use of plenty of butternut squash, pureed until creamy smooth, then garnished with sautéd shittake mushrooms revved up with Old Bay Seasoning (calling up that nostalgic bisque flavor). It also features a dazzling drizzle of paprika-laced toasted sesame-oil.

This dish is so creamy and silky, and it cements my love of shittake mushrooms with their chewy, squishy tops. It’s rich and warming, perfect for a rainy evening – Mistress Ginger obviously knows what she’s doing in the kitchen! Unfortunately I was unable to dress up in a Balenciaga gown while cooking this, per her suggestion, but we did serve this with toasted bread in order to soak up every drop – that’s just as good, right?


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VeganMofo Day 11: Eat Your Kelp! Sunflower “Tuna” Salad

I have been intrigued by the popularity of “nut meat” lately – not only is fun to say (say it five times fast!), but all of the recipes I’ve seen for it seem to be crazy creative. See, for example, this raw walnut taco meat, or these sunflower seed patties. Plus, nuts and seeds are pretty amazing for your health, especially when soaked a bit prior to use. So when I was flipping through my copy of Choosing Raw and came across a recipe for “Dilly Raw Vegan Sunflower ‘Tuna’ Salad”, I knew I would have to give it a try. (Side note: Gena Hamshaw, author of Choosing Raw, takes a very healthy and well-reasoned approach to eating raw foods; her cookbook is beautiful and everything I’ve tried out of it has been fantastic, especially the “Chocomole”.)

“Dilly Raw Vegan Sunflower ‘Tuna’ Salad”, aside from being a mouthful to speak, is a simple recipe that can be thrown together in the blender in a few minutes. It relies on sunflower seeds, copious amounts of fresh dill, dill pickles, lemon juice, onion, and dulse or kelp granules. That last ingredient is new to my pantry – it’s basically pulverized kelp (seaweed), and it’s there to impart a salty-sea flavor (indeed, it’s often sold as a salt alternative). Kelp granules look almost like poppy or chopped chia seeds, but they smell like the beach – you know, if the beach was packaged in tiny little canisters and shipped all over the country.

In Gena’s recipe, the sea-flavoring is rather mild, and the recipe is almost as reminiscent of a coleslaw as it is a tuna salad – but it’s still quite flavorful. The soaked-and-obliterated sunflower seeds impart an almost tuna-like texture, though I found them just the slightest bit crunchy, which is fine with me (a longer soaking time would probably help with this – I only let them soak 2 hours). The thing is – I was never crazy about tuna salad (or fish in general), and I think I like this mild version, with its rich amounts of vitamin E and linoleic acid, even better! 

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It’s also kinda pretty to look at – at least in that mock-tuna sense.

Here’s a similar recipe for raw tuna salad from Gena (unfortunately the recipe for the version I made is not available online). That version uses dulse flakes, which serve the same purpose as kelp granules, but I think it would give you a sense of what raw sunflower tuna is like.

In short, raw sunflower tuna is…. pretty good! Kelp granules are…. interesting. More experimentation is required!


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Throwback Thursday: Mac ‘N’ Cheese Stand-off

I’m not sure that a post regarding vegan mac’n’cheese needs much introduction. Anyone exposed to the warm comfort of a hot bowl of cheesy, crumb-crusted baked pasta in their pre-vegan days has probably experienced the deep-soul cravings for a cruelty-free version. Years ago, when the earliest vegan cheeses were naught but tough, strangely-waxy, petroleum-flavored squares, this seemed like an impossible feat. Luckily, much pioneering research has been done on this front, and so the struggle for a rich mac ‘n’ cheese is limited to how much energy you have to look up a recipe and cook it.

There are a variety of ways to achieve the creamy sauce of legends, depending on the difficulty level you are willing to choose. The most inventive dishes use a variety of cooked, pureed veggies – usually a mix of potato, carrot, and onion, but also butternut squash, and pumpkin. There’s also sauces made with beer, raw nuts and sunflower seeds. And then of course, there’s the add-ins – roasted red peppers and haberneros, for example. You can also make a simple sauce with a roux and nutritional yeast. If you’re looking for something with a little less effort, you can pull together a sauce with melted vegan cheese. And if you’re completely knackered, then you can turn to one of these vegan mac-in-the-box kits.

For tonight’s challenge, I decided to face-off three separate mac’n’cheese recipes of varying difficulty. Here are the contenders:

  • Level 1 (“easy”): Easy effort uses mainly pre-packaged/pre-measured ingredients, requires minimal input from the pantry, and is usually a one-pot, low-mess affair. For this I chose the Earth Balance mac-in-the-box. I’m gonna confess – I found these at Whole Foods for the first time this week.  I *had* to try it, because never in my vegan life have I had access to convenience mac’n’cheese, and my not-so-secret mission in life is to find vegan foods to replace the non-vegan foods that my kids love.
  • Level 2 (“medium”): Medium effort may involve some convenience items, requires more input from the pantry and thus more measurements, and will probably dirty up at least 2 pots/pans. This goes to the Daiya-based Creamy Macaroni and Cheese. I have never actually made a vegan mac using vegan cheese, which is an item I use sparingly. This version came highly recommended in a Facebook post, and I figured VeganMofo is as good a time as any to try it.
  • Level 3 (“Hard”): I use the term “hard” loosely here – basically, it’s a meal that will involve several trips to the pantry search for spices that you know should be *right there*, requires chopping and measuring of several ingredients and possibly use of dangerous implements, and will likely dirty up at least 3 pots and a kitchen appliance (ask someone else to cover the dishes). For this I went for the vegetable-based Super Creamy Mac n Cheese from Vegan Yumminess. This has a base of potatoes, carrots, and onions, but I was intrigued by the use of coconut milk (and honestly, this looked like the healthiest option!).

About 25 minutes in with three hot pots on the stove and reaching for the oven temperature while grabbing the blender off the top of the fridge and stirring the melting Daiya while trying to answer a question yelled from another room, I began to question why I thought this was a good idea.

Oh. Yeah…

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So what were the results? Besides a table packed with cheesy goodness, I asked all the members of my crew for their impressions.

Level 1 – Earth Balance Mac: This has a good, cheddary flavor and was probably the “cheesiest” of the group (way to go, EB, you impressed the omnis!), and it was also the favorite of the youngest. However, with its thinner macaroni noodles and sauce, the adults felt it paled in comparison to the other dishes. Still, completely, totally edible, and definitely a great quick meal or side! The kids finished up the entire portion. Preparation was a breeze – while Levels 2 and 3 were in the oven, I poured out the contents of the Earth Balance box. This works just like the old stuff, so I simply had to add a few tablespoons of vegan butter and soymilk to the cooked mac, along with the packaged powdered mix.

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The youngest’s favorite.

Level 2 – Daiya Creamy Mac ‘N’ Cheese: This is the creamiest of the three, as well as the oiliest and perhaps the heaviest. See how it sticks to the side of the dish? Everyone remarked that it had a good flavor, and it was the preferred favorite of one diner. I detected a faint fake-cheesiness aftertaste, but it wasn’t intrusive, and no one else at the table complained of this. However, it’s also the only dish where we have leftovers. Preparation wise, this was easy to pull together in just two pots. One for the mac, and another in which I mixed vegan butter, pepper, and nutritional yeast along with soy milk and Daiya. I found the large amount of Daiya daunting – 3 cups is more than a single bag, and Daiya isn’t cheap! It was simultaneously fascinating and disturbing to watch the Daiya melt in the same lumpy way that cheddar does. Once the sauce was smooth, it was simply a task of pouring it over the macaroni before popping it in the oven. Super-easy, super-tasty!

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The favorite of the 12-year old.

Level 3 – VeganYumminess Super Creamy Mac n Cheese: This was the preferred favorite by most. This recipe is based on chopped and boiled potatoes, carrots, and onion mixed with coconut milk, cashews, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, and spices. Though it came out a bit pale and less creamy than the Daiya mix, it had a lighter, brighter taste that appealed to everyone. The adults and kids finished up the entire portion. Preparation wise, the small amount of vegetables came together quickly, and I began throwing everything else in the blender while the noodles cooked and I started on Level 2 preparation. I was worried the cashews wouldn’t grind smoothly because I don’t have a high-speed blender, but using the cooking water apparently softened those babies right up! This came together beautifully; the slowest prep point was peeling the potatoes and carrot. My favorite part was when I opened my can of coconut milk to find a thick layer of cream on top. Mmmmm.Totally worth the effort!

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My (and the spouse’s) favorite.

If I had to pick my favorite to make again (and I would pick one!), or recommend one for you to try, it would probably be Level 3. Even with the extra work, it seems to offer the best flavor, texture, and nutrition of the bunch. Of course, given all the options out there for mac n’ cheese, it’s surely not the last recipe we’ll try!

However, it was hard to pick a clear winner in this stand-off, since everyone declared that *everything* was delicious and gravitated towards their own personal tastes. But that’s okay, because it’s a win-win situation when there’s plenty of vegan mac to go around!


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Tell All Tuesday: Salad Samurai by Terry Hope Romero

Every time I hear about a new vegan cookbook, a little thrill runs through me. My family would tell you that I have an obsession (it’s all I ask after for birthdays and holidays, and my kitchen shelf overfloweth). I would simply tell you that it’s good to have a full arsenal of vegan recipes at hand. You never know who will stop by that you need to impress!

One of my recent acquisitions came about after listening to an episode of Victoria Moran’s Main Street Vegan podcast, in which it was casually mentioned that there was a cookbook in print composed solely of recipes for salads. Intrigued, I ran out a few days later and got my hands on a hot little copy of Salad Samurai – 100 Cutting Edge, Ultra-Healthy, Easy-to-Make Salads You Don’t Have to Be Vegan to Love.

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I confess – I hesitated a little bit at the purchase as I flipped through the book – would I really use a cookbook dedicated to nothing but salads? I often pack an awesome rainbow of salads into my lunchbox for work – it’s one of the key ways I ensure I get my fill of veggies in a day. So I can already pour on the protein and whip together a homemade dressing with the best of ’em. What could this book teach me that I didn’t already know?

Hint: I got over myself and purchased the book anyway. I have never been so happy to be so wrong.

Salad Samurai is a book that gets you excited about salad. Like, take-extra-time-in-the-evenings-to-prep&pack-for-tomorrow excited. Or spend-a-Sunday-evening-planning-every-night-from-this-book excited. Flipping through the pages, I find myself having a hard time penning down what I want to try next, and I’ve had it around a few weeks!

First off, this is a cookbook packed with page-after-page of gorgeous color photos – it certainly ups the standard for gorgeous vegan cookbooks. The first pages are filled with helpful tips for planning ahead, keeping produce fresh, a walkthrough of several lesser-known ingredients, and tips for serving and styling salads. Terry Hope Romero then takes you through a chapter each of dressings and vinagrettes – 13 of them, with additional variation suggestions for each – and self-proclaimed “seriously hearty” salad toppings. I spent my first weekend in these first few chapters, making Back At the Ranch dressing,  5-Spice Tamari Almonds, Classic Croutons, Red-Hot Saucy Tofu, Coconut Bacony Bits, and Tempeh Bacon Bites.

Following the toppers, the recipes are divided by season – Spring, Summer, Winter, and Fall – to make prime use of the vegetables, fruits, and greens that are available.  (If you live at your local farmer’s market like I do, you’ll appreciate this extra step!) The spring salads make use of juicy berries, fresh tender spring greens, and even take kale for a spin on the grill! There’s a Strawberry Spinach Salad with Orange Poppy Seed Dressing; Seared Garlic Chickpeas, Spinach, and Farro; and a Couscous with Snap Peas & Za’atar Dressing.

Diving into summer (the thickest section, of course), you’re introduced into an East-West Roasted Corn Salad, Pepperoni Tempeh Pizza Salad, and one of my current favorites, Backyard Buffalo Ranch Caesar Salad (pictured below – the red hot tofu is the best!). Fall brings on hearty umami flavors including a crowd-pleasing Smokehouse Chickpeas ‘N’ Greens Salad (This! Everything about it – SO GOOD), a Grilled Miso-Apple & Brussels Sprouts Salad, and even a Monday Night Red Bean & Rice Salad. One thing to note – Terry takes a wide view of what goes into a salad –  recipes include grains, soba or sesame noodles, and even rice paper wrappers. These are a few of the tools she uses to transform the salad from a dainty side-dish to a mouth-watering meal.  Her winter salads incorporate hearty produce (cabbage, beets, sweet potatoes) and warming proteins (Seitan Steak Salad with Green Peppercorn Dressing, anyone?) – some others I intend to try are the Gingery Beets & Lentils with Tahini and Agave Nectar, Pomegranate Quinoa Holiday Tabouli, and Tempeh Taco Salad Bowl.

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This cookbook does not end with salads. The  last section is dedicated to sweet and savory breakfast dishes (yes, salad for breakfast!) This includes a Coconut Carrot Cake Salad (I NEED this in my life soon), Apples ‘N’ Quinoa Bowl à la Mode, and Overnight Oats with Mexican Chocolate Creme. (There is no excuse – NO EXCUSE! – for having a boring vegan breakfast with this book around!)

A couple of other notes:

  • Several of the recipes in the book build off of one another (a single salad recipe may point to a recipe for a dressing, and a separate recipe for marinated tofu, for example). None of the recipes are particularly time-consuming on their own, but it may take some planning ahead to make sure you have all of your ingredients lined up – there are tips in the front of the book on how to best time prepping of dressings, toppings, and greens.
  • Some of the dressings make use of unroasted cashews. It’s recommended to soak these in advance in hot water for 30 minutes, such that they are blended completely smooth to form the base of the recipe. Again, not a hard step, but something to factor in to planning a meal. (If you have a high speed blender, you probably don’t have to worry about this. Also, can I come over and look at your blender?)
  • Most of the ingredients in the book are easy-to-find. There are a few that are harder to find, especially if you live in a rural area (e.g., goji berries, 5-spice powder). It’s recommended to look for such items online if they aren’t available locally.
  • Recipes are marked as “Raw Ready” or “Gluten-free”. Many of the recipes call for oil, sometimes in larger amounts. I’ve had no trouble scaling back the oil used – everything is still flavorful.
  • Accessibility Notes: Most recipes call for chopping, shredding, or grating things up, some deal with hot skillets and require energy for cooking grains, and others rely on blender power. A sharp knife, box grater, julienne peeler, or mandoline is recommended. As noted above, some recipes are linked to others and should be scoped out to determine the full physical load.

All in all, I consider Salad Samurai to be a solid addition to my cookbook collection; it’s already one that I turn to regularly. The recipes are highly creative and full of flavor, and there’s lots to experiment with here. I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy – vegan or not, there’s something here for nearly everyone to enjoy.