Vedge Cookbook Review + Spanish Roasted Brassicas Recipe

As I mentioned in my last blog post regarding development and consumerism, I find myself feeling quite uncomfortable during the holiday season—a time of family, love, generosity, and unity that our modern Western culture has overshadowed with greed, overconsumption, material accumulation, and Black Friday casualties. These disconcerting cultural tendencies, magnified during the holidays, bolster my urge to live simply, with minimal possessions and producing minimal waste. My view of living simply, though, does not necessarily mean living without gifts—indeed, they can provide a heartwarming medium through which to foster community and relationships—but rather prompts a rethinking of gifts and gift-giving.

My discomfort with our current mainstream notion of gifts stems from the attitude surrounding them. As a child, I judged the quality of my Christmas by the number of presents I received, even having the nerve to cheekily ask my mother, “That’s it?” if I felt dissatisfied. But would I ever feel satisfied if the importance of gift-giving lied in accumulating as much as possible? Could I ever escape the power that possessions wielded over me if the absence of the latest Apple product in my Christmas haul inspired in me resentment toward my mother?

Gifts with which I can feel comfortable stem not from the desire to own the latest technological gadgets, nor from a false need to surround oneself with “stuff,” but from a genuine feeling of love and gratitude between both of the gift-givers, and between them and the earth. In the dire state of our world, we must imbue all of our actions with a consciousness of alleviating our impact on the planet, and gift-giving proves no different. In my view, loving and earth-friendly gifts include those that the recipient can put to good use, and those that generate little to no waste. For example, the bulk of my Christmas list comprised of donations to various organizations such as Our Hen House, and Kindle cookbooks, which require minimal resources to produce as opposed to print books, and which I use every day.

But literally…every day. Not an exaggeration in the least. Because I view the act of providing non-vegans with flavorful, hearty, and unique food as integral to animal activism, I constantly look to my collection of virtual cookbooks for inspiration in such endeavors. I also view my cookbooks as helpful in honing the skills necessary for my ideal career path—one that creates a livelihood out of the aforementioned activism. Thanks to my dear mother, the latest additions to this Kindle cookbook collection include Vedge by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby; Vegan Secret Supper by Merida Anderson; Dirt Candy: A Cookbook by Amanda Cohen; Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry; Betty Goes Vegan by Annie and Dan Shannon; and The Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook by Jere and Emilee Gettle.

PicMonkey Collage

So that the section of my brain devoted to culinary creativity would not explode from all of the tantalizing recipes within the pages of these six cookbooks, I decided to limit my kitchen experimentation first to recipes from Vedge, since it comes from the masterminds behind my favorite restaurant. Featuring 100 recipes from the Vedge menu tweaked minimally to suit the home kitchen, Vedge perfectly reflects the sophistication, beauty, and locally sourced/seasonal philosophy of the highly acclaimed Philadelphia restaurant. Organized in a manner similar to that of the restaurant menu, Vedge starts off with “Small Bites and Small Plates” such as olives, salads, and light vegetable dishes; moves on to “Soups and Stews” that span from brothy pho to creamy parsnip-chestnut bisque; includes a “Dirt List” with preparations that maximally highlight seasonal and specialty varieties of vegetables; offers heartier “Plates” that hire beans, lentils, and grains as backup singers to the superstar veggies; appeals to the baker in all of us with creative fruit-based desserts (can you say Strawberry Sorrel Bread Pudding?) and unpretentious breads; and finishes with unique cocktails.

Spiced Little Carrots with Chickpea-Sauerkraut Puree (photo from the Vedge website).

Spiced Little Carrots with Chickpea-Sauerkraut Puree (photo from the Vedge website).

Eggplant Braciole (photo from the Vedge website).

Eggplant Braciole (photo from the Vedge website).

Salt-Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers, and Red Onion (photo from the Vedge website).

Salt-Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers, and Red Onion (photo from the Vedge website).

Since Christmas, I’ve had the pleasure of making and eating four of the book’s recipes, two of which my mother and I first enjoyed at the Vedge restaurant itself. The Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce constituted the appetizer of my family’s two-course Christmas dinner, though I used a homemade silken tofu mayonnaise instead of the Vegenaise recommended for use in the recipe (many of the recipes in Vedge call for vegan mayo, and Rich and Kate recommend Vegenaise. However, I found that homemade mayo provides a quality substitute in the recipes for those of us who like to avoid prepackaged products). A dish just as tasty as that we remembered from our visit to the restaurant, the smoky, just-charred sprouts with the tangy mustard sauce created a winning combination. My mother also noted that the texture of the shaved sprouts harbored so much substance that she almost mistook them for pasta. I have a feeling that we will be making this dish often.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce

The night after Christmas, Vedge once again graced our plates with Celery Root Fritters and Remoulade (a pseudo-play on crab cakes and tartar sauce). Fostering an intense love of the knobbly, underused root, I found myself immediately taken by its double use in the recipe: once, roasted with onions, mashed, formed into patties, coated with chickpea flour and Old Bay seasoning, and pan-fried; twice, grated, blanched, and combined with vegan mayo, capers, dill, mustard, shallots and tarragon to create a tartar sauce-like spread, the taste of which you’ll never want to leave your tongue. I only wish that the recipe had specified to squeeze the excess moisture out of the grated celery root after blanching it, for the remoulade turned out a bit waterier than I would have preferred. All in all, though, a fabulous dish (the veggies you see in front of the fritters comprise a simple sauté of brussels sprouts and sunchokes, not featured in the cookbook).

photo

Celery Root Fritters & Remoulade; Brussels Sprout-Sunchoke Saute.

To please the ethnic food-loving palate of my best friend Maddie, whom I invited over for dinner one night, I played with Vedge’s Squash Empanadas with Green Romesco—homemade dough encasing a mash of squash roasted with coriander and cumin, accompanied by a bright yet deeply flavored sauce of roasted green peppers, garlic, cilantro, and toasted almonds. I substituted spelt flour and coconut oil for the all-purpose flour and vegan butter/shortening called for in the recipe, yielding flaky, toothsome results. However, the saltiness of the dough proved a bit much for my saltily sensitive palate, and I would probably omit the salt altogether as I usually do if I decide to recreate the dish. The other qualm I have with the recipe comes from the amount of roasting time specified. The recipe calls for roasting the squash at 400°F for 8-12 minutes and the peppers for 6-8 minutes, yet with small-diced veggies and an oven that errs on the side of too hot, the veggies required about double the time specified to adequately cook (I experienced the same problem with the celery root in the fritter recipe above). If you find yourself with the Vedge cookbook, I would recommend planning on roasting the veggies in any recipe for longer than specified, and to plan the cooking of your meals accordingly. Recipe technicalities aside, the dish proved crowd-pleasing and flavorfully stunning. I served it alongside a recipe of my own creation for Spanish Roasted Brassicas (recipe below).

CIMG7832

Finally, I tried my hand at another recipe with which my mother and I fell in love while dining at Vedge: Saffron Cauliflower Soup with Persillade. Between bites of the soup, my mother and I could not help but exclaim, “This tastes exactly like bouillabaisse. But there can’t be fish in it…dear goodness, I hope there’s not fish in it…”. Rest assured, the folks at Vedge had not decided to renounce their morals in a single dish, but they sure created a memorable gastronomic experience for my mother and I. The soup features simmered cauliflower crushed to a rice-like consistency surrounded by a tomatoey broth spiked with white wine and Old Bay seasoning, complimented by a gremolata-like topping of parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. My version of the recipe increased the amount of rice called for and added chickpeas for substance, substituted brown jasmine rice for white, and (sadly) omitted the veryveryveryveryvvery pricey saffron. While I quite enjoyed the texture of the soup, I found its flavor a bit lacking, and I doubt that this unfortunate occurrence owes itself completely to the omission of the saffron. Unfortunately, this particular dish might be best left in the hands of the Vedge team (or in the hands of someone with some damn saffron…).

photo 2

Saffron Cauliflower Soup with Persillade

Tomorrow, I plan to experiment with Vedge’s Soba Bowl with Shiitake Dashi and Market Greens (a dish that authors Rich and Kate purport to enjoy every morning for breakfast with their son, Rio), adding a bit of pan-fried tempeh for some good old-fashioned protein. Beyond this surely warming and grounding soup, recipes I’d still like to try from the Vedge cookbook include a dish of peeled-open, marinated, and grilled portobello stems known as anticuchos; the Napa Cabbage Funky Kimchi Stew; the Warm Ramp Hummus; and the Whole Roasted Carrots with Black Lentils and Green Harissa.

If you enjoying playing around in the kitchen with involved recipes that feature the best produce the earth has to offer, then I would highly recommend picking up a (digital!) copy of the Vedge cookbook. With that, I shall leave you, dear readers, with the simple, Spanish-inspired dish I created to accompany the empanadas featured above. Enjoy.

Spanish Roasted Brassicas—Soy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium, Low Fat.

Serves 2-4.

Ingredients:

1 small/medium head cauliflower, chopped into smallish florets
2 small/1 medium head broccoli, chopped into smallish florets
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp sherry vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the cauliflower and broccoli florets with the oil, paprika, and sherry vinegar to coat.

Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the brassicas are tender and golden-brown. Serve.

Until next time, Ali.

Advertisements

Philly Day 2: Surprising Brunch at MiLah

Verily impressed by Philadelphia’s vegan eats at both Sweet Freedom Bakery and Vedge (where I experienced the most perfect meal of my life), my mother and I expectantly journeyed once more into the heart of downtown Philly for our last memorable meal in the city: brunch at MiLah Vegetarian.

Owned and operated by Buddhists, the restaurant features eastern-style decor, yet boasts a plethora of decidedly non-Asian ingredients and dishes on the worldly menu of mouthwatering items inspired by Caribbean, Mediterranean, African, and Mexican cuisines among a sprinkling of Thai, Indonesian, and Japanese offerings. MiLah details their compassionate, admirable mission statement on their website:

“Mi Lah” originates from an Indian Buddhist word that denotes nature, harmony, happiness, and kindess and we strive to embody these principles through our work. We aim to fill the need for healthy, whole and delicious vegetarian cuisine in our neighborhood as well as to be a friendly and active member of our community. Our menu features fruits and vegetables from local farms instead of heavy sauces and substitutions.

The notion of vegan activism through yummy food has long resonated with me, especially when my friends bite into an animal-secretion-free cookie and demand, “is this reallyvegan? I can’t believe it!” Ha. Score one for the planties.

After snacking on a complimentary fruit plate of oranges, apples, and grapes (not particularly astounding at all), our meals arrived promptly…and my mother and I became nervous. Rather amateurly plated, the food looked plain, insipid, and blah. Slapping identical faux smiles on our faces and bracing our forks, my mother and I tentatively took our first bite…and then another…and another…and another, until we found ourselves positively devouring the homely yet surprisingly scrumptious food before us. Moral of the story: don’t judge a meal by its plating!

I opted for the gluten-free version (aka hold the English muffin) of the Tofu Benedict with kale, oven-roasted tomatoes, seared tofu, hollandaise, and sweet potato home fries, accompanied by a side of roasted brussels sprouts (because who can say no to roasted brussels sprouts?). Each component of the dish tasted immensely more complex than its bland appearance would suggest: the tender kale, which I first mistook for simply steamed (rather boring for a restaurant), had been infused with a dose of lip-smacking miso; the pasty white sponges of tofu held a hearty, chewy texture, accented by their crispy exterior; the tomatoes, which I feared couldn’t possibly taste anything like a tomato considering their current out-of-seasonality, proved wonderfully succulent, juicy, and (dare I say?) tomato-ey; the sweet potato home fries…well, I had expected them to please my tastebuds, due to my ardent adoration of sweet potatoes, and they certainly did, especially with a generous grinding of black pepper; finally, the lemony, bright hollandaise complemented every aspect of the dish with its creamy goodness, even though I originally disdained its pastel yellow color. As for the brussels sprouts, they could have used a tad longer in the oven, though I enjoyed their juiciness and distinct sprouty flavor.

My mother chose the Smoked Portabella Mushroom with mustard greens, oven-roasted tomatoes, remoulade, and sweet potato fries. Also gawking at the unbelievably rich flavor of the tomatoes, she assured me of the portabella’s tenderness and deep smoky flavor, as well as the remoulade’s tanginess. The mustard greens, however, coincided with our originally pessimistic view of the meal, as they tasted both undercooked and underseasoned.

By our final brunch bites, my mother and I had happily admitted our mistaken assumptions and enjoyed an overall surprisingly delicious meal. I would love to return for a dinner reservation to sample their tantalizing Pepper-Encrusted Tofu over Edamame Puree with Truffle Oil and Miso Broth, or perhaps their Cambodian Amok with Spinach, Eggplant, and Tofu in a Coconut, Lemongrass, and Dried Chili Sauce. Mmm, mouthwatering vegan noms in the home of the Liberty Bell.

Until next time, Ali.

Philly Day 1, Part 2: Transcendental Dinner at Vedge

After an active day of exploring downtown Philadelphia and touring Bryn Mawr College, my mother and I eagerly retreated to the relaxing dining room of Vedgeone of the most acclaimed upscale vegan restaurants in the country (recently reviewed by Dynise Balcavage in the Spring 2012 issue of VegNews)—for a long-anticipated and undoubtedly spectacular meal.

Showcasing locally sourced ingredients that “closely follow the beautiful Northeastern seasons,” as their website so elegantly phrases it, Vedge treats vegetables like absolute royalty, highlighting their distinct flavor profiles and defeating the notion that they operate only as “side dishes.” Vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike crowd into Vedge’s welcoming, elegant dining room every night to appreciate the well-crafted, thoughtful approach to plant-based fare, which even ardent meat-lovers admit is “pretty damn tasty” (as quoted from a burly bearded man I overheard upon leaving the restaurant).

Functioning as a tapas-style restaurant, Vedge arranges its menu in three sections of small plates: Small Bites including housemade pickles and olives; Plates in order of increasing portion size, beginning with salads, roasted veggies, and soups, then bulking up to grilled tofu, garbanzo bean crepes, and stuffed eggplant “braciole”; and finally the Dirt List, featuring that day’s selection of particularly in-season vegetable dishes. Our attentive waiter suggested that each person order two or three plates to share, though my mother and I opted for a total of eight dishes to nourish our grumbling, expectant bellies. I must preemptively apologize for the horrendous picture quality—as I’ve lamented before, mood lighting does not serve photography well!

We recieved our two soups first: an orange-cauliflower soup with saffron, fennel pollen, and green olive persillade, accompanied by a vegan pho broth swimming with soba noodles, smoked mushrooms, and scallions. Upon first spoonful of the cauliflower soup, my mother swore it contained seafood before recalling that the Vedge kitchen exploits no animals, land or sea. Oddly redolent of bouillabaisse, the deeply flavored soup contained tiny chunks of cauliflower in a bright orange broth for a more pleasing and hearty mouthfeel than the common baby-food-like texture of pureed soups. As for the pho, the perfectly al dente soba offered an entertaining occasion for noodle slurping while the chewy smoked mushroom flavor permeated the entire soup, imparting a delightfully earthiness.

Next came our smaller vegetable dishes from the Dirt List: shaved and grilled brussels sprouts with smoked whole-grain mustard; nebrodini mushrooms, wood-grilled baby fennel, and shaved artichokes in a fennel consommé; and roasted miniature broccoli in a kimchee-sesame dressing. My mother named the brussels sprouts one of her favorite three plates of the night—their crispy char and succulent smokiness mingled deliciously with the sharp, tangy mustard sauce. I, on the other hand, positively fawned over the nebrodini mushroom, fennel, and artichoke dish, marveling at the astoundingly complex marriage of indescribable flavors—I’ve honestly never tasted anything even resembling this stunning plate of vegetables. While not quite as stunning as its sister dishes, the nicely toothsome minature broccoli offered subtle notes of sesame, complemented by the creamy, salty sourness of the kimchi dressing—a sauce with which I plan on experimenting in my own kitchen.

Three “entree-sized,” if you will, dishes rounded out the savory portion of our meal: a garbanzo bean crepe filled with fresh hearts of palm on a bed of curried gold lentils with green harissa; a smoked eggplant and cauliflower braciole over an Italian salsa verde and topped with cured olive; and finally grilled tofu with fresh English peas, maitake mushrooms, and haricots verts over a spring pea sauce with hints of fennel. While I would have preferred a chewier, more substantially textured crepe, the hearts of palm filling verily impressed me with its balance of tangy acidity, deep roasted flavor, and flaky texture. The silky-smooth ribbons of eggplant in the braciole encased another medley of flavors I had never before experienced (surprising, since it contained the two very familiar ingredients cauliflower and chickpeas), and sat atop a beautifully herb-laden, verdant sauce, sprinkled with juicy roasted tomatoes and unctuous cured olives. Finally, I experienced a tofu epiphany after sinking my teeth into the most perfectly cooked triangle of tofu I’ve ever eaten. With a substaintially crunchy crust encasing a hearty yet smooth interior, this tofu remains the golden standard of bean curd. I also adored the kelly green sauce underneath, restraining myself from licking it off the plate, and assume it contained a complex blend of peas, mint, and fennel, among other unidentifiable ingredients.

Though the revelation of a dinner left my mother too happily stuffed to enjoy dessert, I eagerly partook in a salted white chocolate cheesecake drizzled with pistachio pesto and sprinkled with thinly sliced dates. Rich, creamy, and utterly decadent, the dense , subtlely sweet cheesecake paired gorgeously with the bright, lemony basil in the pistachio pesto for the perfect end to a perfect meal.

Completely floored by every single bite of this meal, I earnestly await my next visit to Vedge, whose philosophy of carefully respecting the essence of each vegetable while extracting the most out of their natural flavors I deeply admire. If everyone realized the enormous gastronomic potential of humble plants, we would live in a much healthier, environmentally friendly, and compassionate world.

Until next time, Ali.

Philly Day 1, Part 1: Sweet Freedom Bakery and Lots of Juice

Last Thursday, my mother and I jetted out to Philadelphia to peruse the idyllic campus at Bryn Mawr College. Our journey, though quite enjoyable, reinforced my deep desire to attend Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, simply because it proved that not even the most gorgeous campus, strongest-willed female student body, or unique amalgamation of courses can, in my eyes, exceed the perfection of Vassar.

However, one cannot spend an entire two days touring a college campus, no matter how picturesque. Thus, my mother and I partook in a number of vegan eating adventures around the city, all superbly yummy. I plan for this series of Philly posts to span three parts, the first of which, today’s, focuses on Friday morning and afternoon.

By the time our air travel ceased on Thursday night and we had finally trudged up to our hotel room, the clock had struck an ungodly 1:00 am, three-and-a-half excruciating hours past my usual bedtime. Needless to say, I tumbled into dreamland immediately upon contact with my pillow, awakening fairly late in the morning. In no rush, I headed to the hotel workout room before preparing for an active day in Philadelphia, finally venturing into the downtown area with my mother by 11:30.

I hadn’t mapped out a breakfast/brunch restaurant prior to arriving in Philly (shocker, I know! Usually I plan in detail my “restaurant schedule,” if you will, when traveling), but a quick search for “juice bar” on HappyCow.net returned The Basic 4 Vegetarian Snack Bar at the Reading Terminal Market, deep in the heart of downtown. Strolling through the indoor market’s wide array of international eateries, herb and soap shops, and handmade jewelry stands, my mother and I regarded our unintended visit as an extremely lucky one and marveled at the market’s slew of cultures. After exploring a bit, we stumbled upon our vegan merchant, where I ordered a large juice of carrot, apple, and celery. The snack bar also featured a deli case full of create-your-own salad fixings, meatless “hoagies”, and veggie patties, but none of the fare appealed to me at 11:30 in the morning.

Further wandering through the market, we happened upon yet another juicy stand called the Four Seasons Juice Bar. Ravenous that morning, being the juice fiend I am, and craving my morning leafy greens, I partook in another juice of carrot, kale, and spinach with a shot of wheatgrass. This blend satisfied me intensely more than the first, most likely due to its richness in greens and its refreshingly cold temperature.

Just look at all the wheatgrass! My mother proudly displays it.

Ahh, lovely green juice.

Sufficiently full of delicious liquid nutrition but craving more fibrous, solid fare, I proposed walking down the main drag in downtown Philly to stop by Sweet Freedom Bakery, the city’s gem of a vegan, gluten-free, refined-sugar-free bakery—my kind of place! For all you Cupcake Wars fans out there, the bakery also battled it out on the Food Network competition, holding its own against the mainstream animal-and-gluten-based bakeries. At first glimpse of the bakery’s sunny baby blue exterior, I felt immediately at home—a sense which only intensified as I entered to discover a glass case full of tantalizing baked goodies, a small refrigerator boasting both coconut water and kombucha, and this joyful sign:

Read: Everything is PERFECT for Ali!

Case of cupcakes, donuts, cookie sandwiches, and fruit crumble bars.

Bright, welcoming facade.

After sufficiently fawning over the mouthwatering array of wholesome sweets and seriously contemplating our choices, I opted for two fruit-filled bars—one blueberry-oat crumble and one lemon-raspberry drizzled in a lemon-coconut glaze—while my mother settled on a fat slice of carrot-raisin bread with a vanilla glaze. Reveling in both the gorgeously sunny day and our positively delectable treats, we happily munched at a table in front of the bakery.

Both of my bars’ crusts offered a pleasingly crumbly texture, contrasted with the smooth, not-overly-sweet fruit filling. The oats sprinkled on top imparted a nice crunch, though I half wished that the blueberry bar had featured walnuts in the topping. While I verily enjoyed both of my treats, I willingly admitted that my mother’s choice proved the most delicious. Unbelievably moist, densely textured, studded with gems of plump raisins, and superbly spiced, the thick slab of carrot-raisin loaf fulfilled every requirement of a perfect baked good—and without the use of animal secretions, gluten, or white sugar (the bakery relies upon coconut sugar for their sweetening needs)!

Our tummies contentedly full of impeccably tasty, healthy baked goods, my mother and I hopped in the car to journey to the Bryn Mawr campus for our college tour and eagerly awaited our dinner reservations at the acclaimed Vedge restaurant later that night…but I’ll have to save that for my next post.

Until next time, Ali.