Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Redneck hommous

In a fit of mad science, I decided to make a "hommous" using traditional southern cuisine ingredients. It sounds bizarre, but if you think about it, it should work! I tweaked a little past this video (added citric acid to improve the acidity). It's not as pretty a color as traditional stuff, and black eyed peas don't quite spin as smoothly, but it's not a bad variation!

Here's the finished product, topped with some paprika and served, in true redneck fashion, with saltine crackers.

Monday, March 29, 2010

So how's your diet going?

This is the number one inquiry into my vegan experiment, and it's interesting to think about it. Most folks think of vegetarian and vegan food as super-prim rabbit food. From the examples given in most pop culture, I can't blame folks. What is it again? Tofu, bean sprouts, lettuce lettuce lettuce?


So when folks asking how my diet's going, I point to my pretty substantial middle and arch an eyebrow.

"How do you think it's going?"

I eat gooood. Probably "too good" heh. Vegan sure as hell don't mean diet, I can help you go ahead and dispel that rumor. So I figure I might as well go ahead and offset some of that by getting my workout routine back on schedule. Did a good 2 1/2 mile run tonight, which was fun to do while playing with Juno and watching the news. Hope to make it a habit again now that the weather's turning nice.

In the meantime, maybe I should eat more taboulleh and less falafel. Yeeeaaaah....

At least this way I can afford the occasional bit of evil I dish up.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Welp, I'm farming for reals now

I've gone ahead and done it now.

To the tune of about 80 bucks, I've gone ahead and stuck myself into the farming racket, and purchased my first batch of seeds for the season. Mind you, I've got a nice half acre of land I can turn into veggies if I'm lucky, so hopefully this will be a fruitful (lol) endeavor.

The trick now is to stick to this. I've pretty much done the easy part. What I now need to do is to get a tractor or a tiller and tear up the earth good and proper the first time (should be easier after that!) go ahead and work in some composted manure and other nice stuff, then get a UV lamp to sprout some of the little babies as I grow 'em in bathroom cups. I'm trying to not overextend myself with growing too much stuff that I may not be able to control. Arugula, broccoli, some tomatoes, peppers, herbs, a few beans, corn, butternut squash, some kale. I'm getting okra from a friend, so that'll get put in as well. There's also the possibility something else might tickle my fancy and I might want to plant other stuff. I want to start small, but larger than last year.

Now to find a benevolent soul who can let me drive their John Deere on my property for a day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I'd sneak into the Gaza Strip for a good Falafel...

...fortunately, I don't have to.

Falafel's one of those things you don't realize it's potential until you have a good one, and then you spend an eternity wallowing in inferior ones, cursing the world that you can't find a good one anymore. At least, that's how it is for me. I had the luxury a few years ago of having a really good restaurant near my office that made what I still consider to be the best falafel in Birmingham. They were a little unconventional, as they were patties instead of the round hush-puppy-esque balls most places serve. The flavor was fantastic, but what really made the falafel an experience was the texture. I believe the shop owner fried em up in a cast iron skillet, because the mouthfeel was almost exactly like a good piece of good southern sage sausage. That perfectly crispy, yet fork-tender outside that yielded into a substantial, very moist, yet meaty interior. It was light years beyond the usual Lebanese stuff to be found in town, which had a sort of shapeless soft texture that reminded me more of dry cornbread stuffing than anything.

I was content to rest on my laurels and eat there pretty much forever, and then the shop closed. It broke my heart. I haven't been that upset about a restaurant shuttering in effectively ever. It wasn't just the falafel, which alone was worth every meal. Their baba ghannouj was the richest, their maamoul made me never want for a fig newton ever again, and I probably shouldn't talk about the electric-purple pickled turnip straws in their salads and shawarma plates, lest I get kind of emotional. Suffice to say, best pickled anything. Ever. Nevermind that the place had a hookah (and the same three dudes were always out front puffing on it, just chilling out) and had a market in the back where you could buy everything from spices to turkish delight to tea sets, but to make it even better, the proprietor was a big Alabama fan. I could go in there and BS about cooking, BS about the Tide, and enjoy every moment of it.

I tried to replicate the magic for years and the results were hit and miss. My falafels would fall apart. I'd try to dredge in some rice flour to crisp them up, which resulted in a hard outside and a fairly under-done inside. It was still better than chain falafel, but man, it was nothing like the good stuff. I began looking for volunteer slots in UNICEF to see if I could go on sabbatical doing humanitarian work that would be paid in falafel. I was that desperate.

Fortunately, I struck gold, pretty much because I was randomly looking for a recipe to try. I yanked this recipe from Chow Vegan, which is actually a baked falafel. I tweaked it a little bit because I wanted it fried (basically removed the baking powder, lemon juice, and oil) let each batch rip in 320 degree oil for about nine minutes. The results weren't as good as the best falafel I've ever had, but they're so close that I can curb my nostalgia a little bit. The bits of onion carmelize into that deeply bittersweet flavor, and the little bits of un-smashed chicpea get very nutty and provide a great difference in texture to the rest of the falafel. I crammed those into some homemade pita breads with some spinach, plum tomatoes, and diced purple onion, then spooned some dill hommous over it. I realize it's a bit of a weird move, hommous on falafel. Chicpea dip meets chicpea croquette, but seeing as tzatziki isn't vegan, it's perfectly passable, and more to the point, tastes good.

So while I eat this complete badass of a pita, I'm pouring out a little cardamom chai on the ground for my departed homie, and while it still sucks that the restaurant is gone, I'm at least able to make a falafel that I know can throttle anything else in town I've tasted.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Boom, headshot!

Now that I have your attention. Looks good, huh? We all like crackery things we can dip into tasty stuff, eh?

Poppadoms, my friends, are the cure to your itch. Whether it's smearing some leftover curry on top, or dunking into a chutney, it's one of those awesome little snacks that I've eaten plenty of, but never made until now.

I even made a few videos to help you do the same:

Now, this is more of a snack thing than a meal accompaniment thing, but I was really hungry yesterday and I needed to make actual food, so how about a tofu mattar recipe as well? This is vegan-ized paneer mattar, but paneer and tofu are so similar to each other that it doesn't really matter to be honest.

Here's your meez for making tofu mattar:
  • 1 pound tofu, cubed
  • 1 cup sweet green peas
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • about a cup of tomato puree
  • about 7 ounces of coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp dried chili flakes
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • handful of cilantro, chopped, for garnish
  • basmati rice, for accompaniment
It's a song and dance you probably know by now if you've followed my recipes. Heat your oil to near-smoking in a pot, toss in cumin, let it pop, then coriander, then turmeric, garam masala, chili flakes, pepper, onions, and salt in rapid succession while taking the pot off the heat to stir. Drop heat to low, cover, sweat for 10-15 minutes.

Add your coconut milk and tomato puree. Now I left the measurements approximate here because you kind of want to add and combine until you get to an orange color. Add, stir, and taste. You want just enough coconut milk to not make the sauce overly tangy, but not enough to make it just completely coconutty. Err on the side of more tomato to coconut. Take the pot off the heat and onto a trivet, and either blend with a wand blender or transfer to a food processor and whiz up until it's a uniformly thick liquid. Return to the pot if you took it out, add your peas and tofu, then let the pot ride on low heat while covered for at least 15 minutes. I let mine go for a while and everything generally comes together nicely.

From here, serve with the basmati rice, chop up some cilantro and sprinkle some on top, and it's food. And since I was starving, go ahead and add on the poppadoms and chutney too. And if you're really wanting to seal the deal, crack open a bottle of IPA and be in pure bliss.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Three weeks in

Hey guys, sorry about the lapse between posting. I promise I've been cooking fun things and enjoying the hell out of them, just haven't quite gotten to the point of posting anything substantial. Maybe this weekend will be the time.

I just by happenstance managed to check today's date, and realized it's three weeks into Lent. That makes twenty-one days of me on the vegan kick. How's it been? Pretty damn easy for the most part. The closest I've been tempted was maybe two days in when somebody had some good southern fried chicken livers. I thought "hey, I want one!" then immediately "naaaahhhh".

I'm not going to become one of those new-age health promoters. Going vegan hasn't added years to my life, made me rich and powerful, or taught me how to fly. I feel pretty good, but that's also because I'm not eating as much convenience foods as anything else. Probably the best thing I've been doing is eating plenty of fruit, which keeps me full of energy, and I only need one cup of coffee a day, instead of tapping an IV to the bean like I'd been doing before.

To be honest, I eat about like I ate before, minus a few frivolities that I usually reserved for the weekend anyway. I'm still a curry fiend of the like that puts Dave Lister to shame. It's just convenient that it takes zero effort to make vegan curry. I'm also getting through the backlog of a few slow-mover items that come in my CSA, so anything that gets us to finish our portions is always a good thing.

It's been fun to put myself into a lifestyle I haven't experienced before. I've found a lot of things that I expected to see, namely a lot of people not understanding/fearing veganism, and the really bizarre tendency of folks to blatently prosthelytize their eating habits to me. I could probably go out tomorrow and say I'm a member of the Church of Satan and have less people come rushing up to me to steer me on the path of their choosing. Mind you, I've seen the cheerleaders for vegans like everybody else. When your best known white knights are PETA and Moby, I guess it sort of makes credibility something you have to cook yourself at home.

Restaurants have been pretty chill for the most part. As long as you're not a dick, it's easy to ask people "Hey, does this thing have any animal products in it?" Whenever I do eat out in the first place, it's at places they generally care enough about their food to be able to tell me. Going to Flip burger boutique and getting a fauxlafel burger, they made sure to avoid both the butter on the bun as well as the feta, which I subbed out with artisanal ketchup anyway (Their rutabaga fries, by the by, are ridiculous and you should eat them if you get the chance). The key is don't be a dick, but this is sort of the golden rule isn't it? I'm from the South, so manners are always a good thing. I find that people respond well to them.

It's still not a game changer y'all. If some people are trying to convert this wayward lamb, don't worry. I still like food of all sorts. But I still think there's wisdom in both walking miles in other peoples' shoes, and learning how to prosper even when doing without.

And, I hate to be all doom prognosticator here, but people who deride vegetarians and vegans need to at least figure this one out: America (and to some extent other first world nations) can not survive without changing the way we eat, and being so dependent on meat as the centerpiece of each meal. I didn't eat much meat before I went vegan. I'll eat it again, sure, but I still won't eat much at all, because the amount we eat on average these days ain't sustainable.