Welcome to the first edition of Culinary Wanderings! If you have been around here very long, you know that I love food, and I love experimenting in the kitchen. I’m constantly trying new recipes, and could easily write about food nearly every day of the week, but that’s not what I want the focus of this blog to be.
To give me a way to share a bit about my culinary adventures, and to learn from all of yours, I’ll be writing a post once a month to share new recipes, ingredients, and other discoveries I have made in the kitchen. If you feel inclined to do the same, I would love for you to join! You don’t have to cover an entire month’s worth of cooking, of course. You’re welcome to focus on one recipe, one ingredient, one new kitchen gadget, one new cooking or meal-planning technique – anything food-related that you want to share. It’s all up to you!
This month overlapped with the end of my first trimester of pregnancy, so I was a bit less motivated to spend long periods of time in the kitchen and we had a lot of easy meals. I also asked the daddy if he would be willing to take over dinners on the weekends, and he was, so that has cut down on my cooking nights. I’m grateful to have a true partner around here! Anyway, I didn’t do quite as much experimenting as I normally would, but that’s alright! I’ll quit with the excuses and move on to the good stuff!
I’ve been playing around with proteins, as the usual suspects can get a bit tired if I’m not careful. This is especially true during pregnancy when my protein needs are higher than usual. Isa Chandra of the Post Punk Kitchen gave me the idea of transforming lentils into a ground meat “substitute1” with her Ancho Lentil Tacos. I’ve been toying around with lentils ever since, and one night this month used them in a totally inauthentic vegan version of dirty rice. For this, I made some brown rice with whatever veggies I had lying around (peas, carrots, peppers, onion) and seasoned the mixture with a homemade Creole Cajun Seasoning Mix. In lieu of sausage, I cooked some brown lentils, then mashed them in a skillet with the same blend of seasonings Isa Chandra uses in her Tempeh Sausage Crumbles. I then added the “sausage” to the rice and veggies, and voilà!
I can’t tell you how much I love that recipe for Tempeh Sausage Crumbles. I make them for pizza, as a base for the tempeh sausage gravy I serve over biscuits when we have Sunday brunch (another thing we did this month!), and even use the seasoning blend to make turkey or chicken sausage for the husband.
I have really gotten into cooking Indian cuisine with the help of two cookbooks from my mother in law, Six Spices and the Complete Book of Indian Cooking. I recommend both highly, but especially the first as the recipes are uncomplicated, yet bursting with flavor. There is not a single thing in that book that we have tried and didn’t like. The second includes some more detailed, complicated recipes with harder to find ingredients, but I love that it sorts recipes by region and involves all kinds of dishes, from appetizers to desserts and everything in between. Ever since I found an Indian market2 here on Guam, we have been enjoying something from one of the regions of India at least once a week. Occasionally, I’ll spend the better part of a day in the kitchen and make several dishes to complement one another. Other times a simple daal, a vegetable side, and some store bought naan from the freezer makes the perfect quick and easy solution on a night when I don’t have the energy for much.
Recently, I tried a recipe from the Complete Book of Indian Cooking for a Rajasthani Mixed Daal, and I was looking for something to accompany it, preferably involving peas and carrots since I had plenty of both on hand. I found this delicious recipe for a Peas-Carrot Subzi with Rajasthani Spices. On another evening, I was trying to figure out a way to incorporate sweet potatoes into an Indian meal and found this amazing recipe for a Spinach and Sweet Potato Curry,3 and even my spinach hating husband was crazy about it! I don’t think either recipe is particularly authentic, but they went great with the other dishes I prepared those evenings.
Another favorite easy meal is Split Pea Soup, something I will actually stop and measure out one day so that I can share my recipe. It’s one of those things I have made for so long that I could do it in my sleep, but I have no idea how much of anything I add. We enjoyed a steaming pot of the stuff one rainy evening, along with these amazing Maple Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls. I have been toying around with wheat dinner roll recipes for years and never find one I’m totally happy with. I first gave this one a shot for our Christmas dinner, and now I’m hooked! I know I’ll be making it again and again.
Easy meals were definitely a theme this month, and included stir fries and coconut curries, one pot meals with quinoa, veggies, and whatever protein we have lying around, and other thrown together experiments. One quick and easy meal that I love is tempeh covered with bbq sauce and baked in the oven, accompanied by a baked sweet potato and some plain ol’ steamed broccoli or brussels sprouts. The husband refuses to eat tempeh, ever, so I always prepare a chicken breast for him in the same way.
Another favorite, fairly simple meal around here is pasta. I have been hooked on this recipe for marinara sauce for months now, and make it at least every couple of weeks. I try not to use canned anything when I can help it, so I always substitute the canned tomatoes in the recipe for a pound of halved local tomatoes, which means little cherry-sized gems around here, half of which are always green. It is outstanding! We’ve enjoyed it twice in the past ten days or so, and I have felt a bit better about the large amount of noodles we’re consuming since our local supermarket started carrying this einkorn4 pasta. It’s delicious!
A recent and persistent craving has been peanut sauce, so I tried two different recipes this month, including this one for Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce (bonus points for using chard from my garden!) and this one for Udon with Broccoli and Ginger Peanut Sauce. Both were delicious, but I loved the extra gingery kick from the latter.
Being from the southwest, the husband and I both have a deep appreciation for Mexican food, and a favorite meal is enchiladas. I don’t make them often, because they take so stinkin’ long, especially when you’re making a vegan and an omni version. It’s well worth the time when I can make it happen, however. Last week, I spent almost all of Monday in the kitchen, starting the Enchilada Sauce just before naptime, and continuing the preparations until we finally sat down sometime around 6:30pm. I typically use black beans and tofu, seasoned with this mixture for my own filling and chicken and cheese for the husband’s. In lieu of cheese for me is this “Super Fantastic Vegan Cashew Cheese Sauce.” The enchilada sauce was outstanding, the best I’ve made so far, but it was much too hot for Annabelle. I made a single batch and found it too spicy, even for my tastes, so I whipped up a second batch with no chili powder and mixed the two together. It was fantastic for the husband and me, but Annabelle repeated for days that she, “no like spicy enchilalas.”
My gardening guru and good friend has a Calamansi tree in her back yard and gifted me with a bag full of the citrusy gems recently. I juiced them and combined them with a bit of simple coconut sugar syrup5 and some sparkling water to make a delicious, refreshing treat. I am really going to miss having Calamansi around when we move, and will have to locate a tree for our yard if we end up living someplace with a favorable climate. California, I hear they grow well for you! If there’s a Filipino market in your area, you may be able to give these babies a try. I highly recommend it!
For lunches, I’ve been craving Hickory Smoked Tofurky, which is not only processed, but over-packaged and expensive. To satisfy my desire, I tried this delicious recipe from Vegan Dad for Hickory Smoked Veggie Turkey Lunchmeat and I’m a huge fan. I think I’ll try substituting pureed beans for the tofu next time so that I can make it soy free. It has gone into a wrap every day this week and I’m still not tired of it!
Another hit this month was a little something to satisfy the husband’s and my sweet teeth. I used this recipe as a guide for my own healthier, vegan version of:
Fudgy Vegan Espresso Brownies
1 9oz bag Vegan Semisweet chocolate chips
5 Tbsp Coconut oil
3 Tbsp Vegan Cocoa Powder
1.5 Tbsp espresso powder
3 flax eggs (3 tbsp flax meal + 9tbsp water)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup coconut sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp aluminum free baking soda
1 cup white whole wheat flour
Combine flax meal and water in a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until an egg-like consistency is reached, about five minutes. Set aside. Place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan with a bit of boiling water and melt chocolate chips and coconut oil, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients, including flax eggs. Mix well and place in a greased 8in square pan. Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes.
When cooking beans, like the black beans I made for our Mexican feast, I have taken to adding a piece of kombu to the pot, and I find that they cook up softer, more quickly. It also adds a bit of a mineral and flavor boost and can be tossed in the garden when the beans are finished. I am hooked!
My Calamansi source is also incredible in the kitchen, and has been putting me to shame by making her own tofu and tempeh from scratch. Not only have I had the opportunity to enjoy the freshest and most delicious tofu and tempeh around, but she has shared the by-products of the tofu making process with me and I’ve enjoyed learning about and experimenting with them. Okara is the soybean pulp, left over when you make soy milk. It is sold in supermarkets in Japan, from what I can gather, and is extremely nutritious. I have added it to pancakes, stir fries, and anything else that could use a bit of a protein boost. I’ve also dried some and used it to make Okara Parmesan. The other useful soy by product is soy whey. I haven’t gotten around to using it in the kitchen yet, but it has another uncommon use – laundry. I’ve been soaking our whites in the stuff before washing and it’s amazing how clean and sparkling they are afterward! It has been really interesting to experiment with these lesser known ingredients!
I have also been relying heavily on things like hemp seeds and nutritional yeast, which are great things to add to your food when your nutritional needs are especially high, as mine are right now. They’re delicious when sprinkled on top of just about anything.
Tomato paste without the can was an exciting find for me, since I don’t like to use canned items. It wasn’t this month, but I figure it’s worth mentioning that the stuff exists, since I have listed a couple of recipes that require tomato paste.
And that’s our month in food. As I publish, I have my first batch of homemade, hemp milk yogurt culturing, so I hope to have some interesting yogurt recipes for you next month, among other things. If you have a recipe or food-related post you’d like to link up, please do so below!
- Can you call it a substitute when it’s better than the original? ↩
- If you enjoy cooking as much as I do, beware. Indian markets can be dangerous. I had to empty an entire drawer in my kitchen and dedicate it to Indian spices exclusively, as my spice cabinet became too fulll. ↩
- My only complaint is that this one, unlike most Indian dishes, was not as good the next day. If you make it, I don’t recommend a large batch for the purpose of leftovers. ↩
- It’s okay, I had to look it up, too. It’s an especially nutritious, ancient variety of wheat ↩
- Coconut sugar, dissolved in boiling water until it makes a syrup ↩