Vegan Monday

Vegan Monday: Sourdough Flatbreads

Vegan Monday this week has to be totally bread related. I know that bread is my gig right now, and that I am living and breathing dough daily for the past two months. I am reading, simultaneously mind you, no less than 5 separate bread related books and I would be lying if I said that I could remember everything that I've been reading. Every baker has a different approach to bread, every sourdough cultivator a different feeding schedule and method. What I really love about experimenting with sourdough is that there are only three ingredients in my bread: starter, water and flour. That's it, and it can feed almost anyone. And it is amazing how tweaking the proportions even in the smallest degree changes the entire finished product.

I am beyond excited now that I have successfully converted, with success, several regular yeast recipes into sourdough starter recipes. If I run into you and start elaborating at length, please forgive me (and/or stop me). In part, I'm excited because the more I can incorporate the culture into my daily life, the less I have to wash away down the sink, and given my recent focus on waste, that makes me very happy. It would also make me very happy to share my starter, so once again, if you are local(ish), let me know and you can have some to experiment with yourself!

I think the key to my successful conversions is counting my sourdough starter as liquid, and adjusting the water in a recipe ratio accordingly. It also probably helps that I am an obsessive type, and regularly bake by weight and not by measure. I usually feed my starter equal weights of water and flour, keeping it roughly the consistency of pancake batter.

Earlier this summer, I had tried the Msemmen (Algerian Flatbread) recipe from the Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day book and loved the flavor. I had never seen a flatbread recipe that actually incorporated a spice mixture right into the dough, and being a spice fanatic, I loved it. The day after making the cauliflower pizza, I figured I would try a few of these breads with the leftover dough, and it worked out better than I imagined. The flatbread is called "msemmen", which is a Morrocan or Algerian bread that is almost like a crepe. From what I have read elsewhere, it is less pliable than traditional flatbread, maybe a bit more similar to a cracker.

This could be what I love most about cooking "ethnic" foods: I don't have a frame of reference, so I can infer all of the best things and from reading about food and countries and eat something I find truly delicious, that suits me alone. My apologies to those who have grown up eating this delicious staple, and on whose authorities I would likely change my opinion... But as of this writing, and short of taking a very long trip, it is unlikely that I could gain a frame of authenticity no matter how much I would LOVE to do so.

I made tortilla-sized breads, maybe about 6 or 7 inches across, but rolled them up the same way that Jeff and Zoe suggest in their book. I have scaled the recipe back here, but you can find the original recipe and conventional measures in the HBin5 book. If you are interested in adding more sourdough to your life, I hope my scribblings of a recipe will help!

I add only enough olive oil to the spice mix to make a thick paste. This way, it doesn't run out of the dough as much when it is rolled out. It is inevitable that some escapes, but it stains the bread a gorgeous deep turmeric yellow so I count it as a positive.

This is a lolly-gagging, beat-around-the-bush approach to writing a recipe, and I do apologize in advance. If you have a question, please ask! Since I am making far more work out of a quick and easy recipe, it seems par for the course... but really the work is in the natural yeast taking longer to do what it needs to. If you do give the dough time to rest in the refrigerator overnight, you will have more "sour" flavor in the sourdough.

Coiled doughs, resting.

Sourdough Msemmen (adapted from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day)
makes about 10 flatbreads
(Begin the dough the day before you'd like to bake the breads...)
  • 180 grams whole wheat flour (6.25 oz.)
  • 67.5 grams AP flour (2.5 oz.)
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1 T. vital wheat gluten
  • 80 grams sourdough starter (heaping 1/4 c. or 2.8 oz.)
  • 145 grams water, room temperature (5.11 oz.)
(The total amount of liquid for the recipe should equal roughly 225 grams or 8 oz. ) In a small bowl, I first measure in my starter, and add liquid to come up to the correct weight. Stir the starter well with the water to emulsify, then add to the dry ingredients. Correct with additional water if the dough seems too dry, but remember than the dough will slacken some with the long rising time. You don't really have to knead the dough, but I like to turn it over several times in it's bowl to make a cohesive ball of dough. Let rest until double in size, about 8 hours depending on the strength of your starter. At this point you can refrigerate the dough. (I haven't attempted any longer term storage, but left the dough under refrigeration for a day, and had positive results.)

for the spice paste:
  • olive oil
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1 t. turmeric
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 t. salt, to taste
Mix all the spices in a small dish, and add oil enough to make a semi-liquid paste.

When the dough is raised, you can make the breads right away, but since mine was refrigerated, I took out the dough and pinched off golf ball sized pieces. I formed them quickly into balls, taking care not to deflate the dough too much. Just try and be gentle. Then, I let them under a towel for at least a half hour. Roll each ball into a thin round, spread with the spice mix to within an inch of the sides, and then roll up the round tightly like a cigar. Then, coil the cigar tightly onto itself to form a "cinnamon roll looking shape". Let these coils rest on an oiled sheet for about 20 minutes.

When ready to bake, heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles when tested. (I did not need to grease my pan at all, since I have a very well seasoned one.) Roll the coil out into a thin round and don't worry if some of the spice mix escapes. Use a bit of flour to keep it from sticking as you roll, but try not to add too much. Transfer to the pan and bake until small bubbles form on the surface of the bread. Flip, and continue cooking on the second side until deep brown speckles form, maybe a minute or two. (I covered the pan with the lid of a larger, non-related pan during the cooking of the first side. I don't know why, but I figured it would make it more tender. You wouldn't have to - it boils down to doing it how you like!)

A good rule of thumb for handling this dough is to treat it gently. It is fragile, or at least I pretended it was and it worked for me. Wheat flour has far less gluten in it that regular old white flour, and there is but a whisper of the white stuff in this dough. You can't hurt by erring on the side of caution.

I think, since I was raised on them, I equate all things baked in a cast iron skillet to tortillas. My Mom's version unmatched still by anything I have ever made or likely will make. She does not measure, but the flour tortillas are so light and tender, fully floppy and studded with brown 'beauty spots'. I tend to compare everything round to them, even things like this that are not really that similar, just to see how they stack up.

These are tender in spots and crisp in others, spicy with cayenne (heavy on that, in my case...) and interesting in general. They separate into layers due to how they are coiled and then rolled, and I am amazed that they are still soft at all after the beating they seem to take with the rolling pin. I ate them for lunch with ample amounts of hummus I made using roasted red peppers I had made in advance and frozen (I do about 10 lbs of them late every summer, and then use them throughout the year), and with garbanzos I had pressure cooked a month ago and frozen. With totally unrelated, but no less delicious, chile marinated olives from Outpost, I was in vegan dining bliss.

Had I had some cucumber and tomato, maybe some lettuces, I could have served it to others as a main course. But for me, bread alone is worthy of a meal. Simple, yes, but wholesome and satisfying - and now successful which makes it even better.

These two that were leftovers were cooled several hours and then cut into wedges and polished off when SS came for dinner later that evening. We had pizza for supper, since I did make the Lahey Cauliflower pizza again using the traditional Lahey crust. I have officially crossed it off my list. I may just have to try more Lahey recipes using the sourdough starter. I can't help it. It's in my blood now.

I tried making a version of these using this leftover sourdough dough that I had in the refrigerator for several days. The dough is from Burp! blog, and it also makes great pizza. I didn't even let it come to room temperature, I just broke off a couple balls of dough, and rolled them out as described above. They puffed up and made a more puffy flatbread, but they were delicious! Creamy inside, with a nice, brittle crunch to the outside - I'll definitely make them again soon. Pictures here.

Vegan Monday: Tofu Scramble (and Bonus: Sweet Potato Smoothie)

I sometimes wonder if my library sees my check-out trends and stocks new books just for me. On our weekly trips to the library, Boy-O usually dictates the time that I can spend looking at books for myself, but usually is able to use his "library voice" long enough for me to at least peruse the New Books shelf. Last week, I was excited to find a brand new vegan cookbook: The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen's book is a guide to vegan entertaining, and recipes are organized seasonally and by occasion. It's full of great photography and recipes, exactly the type of cookbook that I can read cover to cover and then drop into my endless Amazon cart since I know it will continue to be an inspirational addition to my kitchen library.

So, early this morning when I was "Vegan Mondayless", and awake bright-eyed at 6 AM instead of bleary-eyed at 7 thanks to that daylight savings time, I decided that I had to make a tofu scramble for breakfast. Tofu scrambles, or the vegan approach to scrambled eggs, are things that I've eaten out numerous times, but for some reason have never made at home. The scramble in The Vegan Table looked so good when reading about it late last night, and since I had it on two accounts with recently reading a similar recipe in the VitaMix cookbook, I felt more than confident that a good breakfast would ensue. Well, needless to say, I loved it... and now know that I will probably be making it a lot using up all kinds of different veggies.

Now, I should note that I wish I had a bottomless appetite. The truth is, it usually doesn't take much to fill me up. I used a half recipe (amount from The Vegan Table) which should have fed me, one person, but it actually could have fed me twice. That's OK, since now I have tomorrow's breakfast taken care of...

Vegan Tofu Scramble (adapted from The Vegan Table and the Vita-Mix cookbooks)
serves 1-2, easily doubled
  • 8 oz. firm tofu, crumbled (not silken)
  • 1 T. olive oil or water
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 10 crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 - 1 red or green (or some of each) pepper, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or pinch of granulated garlic)
  • 2-3 leaves fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 t. turmeric
  • 1/2 t. cumin
  • 1/4 t. paprika
  • 1 T. nutritional yeast
  • salt and pepper
  • (optionals: chopped jalapenos, diced tomatoes or salsa, red chile flakes... etc.)
Heat olive oil or water in a large pan over medium high heat. Saute onion, mushrooms, garlic and pepper(s) until softened. Stir in crumbled tofu, spices, nutritional yeast and spinach, and saute about 5 minutes until tofu is bright yellow, and heated through. Season with salt and pepper.

I ate half of the above portion with a Black Bean Tortilla that I had made the other day using some leftover pinto beans. The tortillas are also vegan and freeze well.

Tomorrow's breakfast.

Happily working through my morning organizing my house and paring down clutter before Winter comes, I eagerly anticipated this smoothie for lunchtime. Yesterday afternoon, I roasted some sweet potatoes (whole, in their skins at 400 degrees for about an hour) with this recipe in mind. It is in the VitaMix cookbook, and I never would have imagined how delicious it is. So good in fact, that even if you don't have a VitaMix, it would be worth trying to approximate in a food pro or with an immersion blender. But hey, if you live in Milwaukee, just stop in so you can share one with me!

Autumn Sweet Potato Smoothie (VitaMix cookbook)
makes 2 generous cups (I drank one glass, and saved one glass for later...)
  • 1 c. red grapes
  • 1/2 medium orange, peeled
  • 1/2 sweet potato, cooked and cooled
  • 1/2 medium apple, halved
  • 1/4 c. fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/2 t. fresh ginger root (I love ginger, so I used a two inch section of ginger root, roughly chopped)
  • 2 whole pitted dates
  • 2 c. ice cubes
  • (I also added about 1/4 c. water)
"Place all ingredients into the VitaMix container in the order listed and secure lid. Select Variable 1. Turn machine on and quickly increase speed to Variable 10, then to High. Blend for 1 minute, or until desired consistency is reached."

Every once in a while, one part of a whole makes me feel like alone it is worth the price of admission. That is how this smoothie is. Like if it was the only thing I ever made in my new machine, it would be fully worth astronomical VitaMix pricing. (Though, in all reality, I couldn't be happier with my machine. It stands up to it's hype, is worth it's price, and impresses me daily - so consider me a proud spokesperson!)

I was thinking about Mark Bittman today, and how he likes to "go vegan until 6 PM". I guess that would be 5 PM central time, and I'm well on my way for today anyway. It is an intriguing idea for those of us omnivores who tend to be heavy on the veg side of things. If it wasn't for my leftovers, that often loom large for me to clobber days after a meal if I forget to appropriately scale down, I would certainly be able to commit to this diet myself!

Vegan Monday: Spaghetti Squash Soup

vegan spaghetti squash soup, originally uploaded by Rcakewalk.

I guess I should have waiting until after lunch to write my Vegan Monday post... since I took my own advice and did use up some forgotten vegetables in the fridge to make this soup for my lunch.

I had about 1 1/2 cups of leftover spaghetti squash, added 1/4 onion, one carrot, cut in half, one cup of water, some sliced garlic and sliced ginger root. I seasoned with red chile flakes, cassia cinnamon and salt and pepper and mixed everything in the VitaMix. (I decided about half-way through mixing to add a teaspoon of cornstarch to help thicken it. I'd have liked it a little thicker, perhaps I'll have some cooked leftover potatoes or sweet potatoes next time!)

One of the fun things about the VitaMix is that it can blend so fast that it makes soup hot. I don't need piping hot soup, so I let it blend for about 4 minutes, maybe a bit longer. Then, I poured my soup into an old tureen from my Gram and garnished with lots of raw walnuts, chopped Hidden Rose Apple, and Aleppo pepper.

Hidden Rose apples are new to me this year, and I love them. They are firm and spicy - not to mention a beautiful and surprising rose color on their interiors. Externally, they are a blushing green, so it is startling to see the pink middles.

If you don't have a VitaMix you can always make soup the normal way, and puree with an immersion or regular blender. A sure way to incorporate leftovers and vegetables into your diet is to remember that you can include them in soup. Never the same twice, I think I'll adopt this approach a lot in the coming months.

Vegan Monday: Spicy Biriyani

Not only do I love spicy food, but I love the word "spicy". In cooking, it so often denotes when something is hot or sharp in flavor, but I get excited when I see true spicy spices like cinnamon working hard and in tandem with more traditional definitions, turning something that would otherwise be a bit bland into something "awake" and exciting.

That is what I thought about when I was making this biriyani last Thursday. I had seen the recipe at Saveur quite a long while ago, and bookmarked it. The original recipe calls for chicken, but seeing as I had a block of tofu that needed using, I decided to marinate and bake it using the same flavors called for in the chicken. I then upped the amount of peppers in the rice, using a combination of jalapeno, red, orange and green peppers. Though you would be hard pressed to see them in the final picture, they are there I assure you.

I pressed the tofu to remove any additional water (I like our local Simple Soyman brand best) for about an hour before marinating and then baking. Since I had the time, I actually let the tofu sit for several hours in the marinade before baking it, but you probably wouldn't have to. I also was happy to discover that I could practically "juice" a jalapeno by grating it on the microplane - and it also allowed for less cleanup.

I baked the tofu and made the rice separately, and then tossed them together to serve. Even my Husband liked this (and had 2 servings!), a huge boost to my ego after he came from a shopping trip in which he purchased jam. (I have an entire shelf dedicated to homemade jams and jellies in my basement...) To store the leftovers, everything was combined. It was even better cold a couple of days later.

I don't really measure things when making baked tofu... I just add as much as I feel like, and make sure not to use too much oil so that the tofu develops that little bit of crispness around the edges as it bakes. That said, the spice mix below is approximate!

Spicy Baked Tofu
  • 1 package (16 oz or so) firm tofu (not silken)
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 3/4 of a jalapeno, grated
  • 1/2 t. ground coriander
  • 1 T. grated ginger root
  • 1-2 t. cassia cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cut the block of tofu in half horizontally (the Simple Soyman blocks are almost square sometimes...) and press between two towel lined plates for at least a half hour to remove any excess moisture. Meanwhile, mix remaining ingredients in a glass baking dish (9x9 works well).

After pressing, cut the two halves in half horizontally again, so you have 4 slabs about 3/4 inch thick. Dredge in marinade, and coat all sides well. Let sit for awhile, or bake right away as you prefer.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the tofu for 30-40 minutes, flipping over every 10, until the marinade has absorbed and the tofu looks semi-dry and "baked".

I ate a half of a square while working on the rest of the recipe:

A lot of the same flavors appear again in the rice, and the same thing applies. You can add or subtract as you like. The original recipe also called for soaking the rice. I have read that some types of basmati need soaking, and others don't. I typically don't soak the Tilda brand that I use, but did this time, just to follow instruction. You can or not - if you choose to, just soak for 20 minutes, then drain and rinse and proceed with the recipe.

Vegan Spicy Biriyani (adapted from Saveur)
  • 1 c. basmati rice
  • 2-3 T. coconut oil
  • 2-3 chiles de arbol, crumbled by hand
  • 1 medium onion (I used a white one), chopped medium
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ginger root, about 2 inches, grated
  • 2 t. cassia (Saigon) cinnamon
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced and/or chopped finely
  • 1/2 red pepper, finely diced
  • 1/4 orange pepper, finely diced
  • 1/4 green pepper, finely diced
  • a lot of cilantro
  • salt and pepper
(If you would like to put it in the oven to bake, you can time it to go in around the same time as the tofu is coming out: preheat the oven, or reduce the heat, to 350. You could also do the whole dish on the stovetop, the cooking times would be about the same. I used the oven for this instance.)

In a large, lidded saute pan, heat the coconut oil. Add the onion, sliced garlic and spices, and saute until the onions soften, about 6 minutes. Towards the end of the saute time, add the peppers, and let sweat for a minute or two.

Add the rice, along with 1 1/4 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt (you can add more later if you like). Bring up to a boil, and (if cooking on the stovetop), reduce heat to low and cook covered for 15 minutes before checking to see if the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and that it is tender. I like to let it sit off the heat for about 10 minutes with a kitchen towel between the lid and the pan to let it continue to steam. If you are baking it, after it boils, pop the lidded pan in the oven, and let it bake for 15-20 minutes, checking on progress of the rice around the 15 minute mark.

Using either method, let it stand several minutes before eating, and toss with the tofu and lots of chopped cilantro. In our case, you will also need to serve with a bit of Mae Ploy Sweet Chile Sauce.

With all the focus on local eating, I should be ashamed that I insist on foreign basmati rice. A few years ago, when I discovered that cooking rice wasn't a science that I needed to attend school to get to know, I visited an ethnic grocer looking for the famed Tilda brand of basmati rice. At that time, I couldn't find it, and went with Swad, a similarly delicious import. As with most specialty foods that at one time seemed scarce in my neck of the proverbial woods, Tilda is now relatively easy to find, and worth every extra cent it costs. All of the flavor of the faraway place can be found in that rice, and when I eat it, I think of the many many people worldwide who have a staple diet of rice. I also think of all the foods in that part of the world that I've never experienced, or that in general, I just know so little about. It has an overwhelming amount to offer me! Maybe that will be my next adventure: the foodstuffs of India and surrounding regions. I like not knowing what comes next from my kitchen... I'll likely wait a bit to embark on a new full-out obsession, since the sourdough is overtaking me and my reading habits lately.

(Lastly, an extra special thank you to Mary-Catherine for telling me that you like my Vegan Mondays. It really inspired me to get my act together and think consciously about making one interesting vegan thing a week to write about. I'm not eating a meat-heavy diet, but it's nice to have that extra little nudge of encouragement! :) )

Vegan Monday: Sourdough Peanut Butter Blondies.

Directly after finishing last Vegan Monday's Chocolate Sourdough cake, my fervor for all things sourdough led me on a quest for more sourdough desserts. Whilst looking at too much information, I found that I really can use sourdough starter in any baked good if I use this proportion: 1 cup of sourdough starter = 1/4 c. flour and 1/2 c. liquid. It seems logical to me, and it made this already great recipe into something even a bit healthier, at least in my own opinion.

I turned once again to Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero. (I still have these books on loan from Ginny, and it's embarrassing that I haven't even thought of returning them. You'll likely receive them back with some baked goods, Ginny - hope that makes up for my negligence!!) I am usually a chocolate person. I like chocolate with peanut butter, but not peanut butter with chocolate. Well, this recipe changed all that. It's fudgey and peanutty, thick and dense but not too rich. The perfect non-chocolate brownie.

I omitted the salt from the batter since I only had salted peanuts on hand for the top, and it was a horrible error. The blondies were still great, but missing that once nuance. Nothing a little homemade chocolate syrup (and *gasp*, a little homemade ice cream) didn't cure, but I won't omit it in the future.

Vegan Sourdough Peanut Butter Blondies (adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero)
  • 3/4 c. peanut butter (I used smooth, plain peanut butter from my co-op. Ingredient list: peanuts.)
  • 1 c. sourdough starter
  • half of a 1/3 c. measure of oil (I used coconut oil, and eyeballed it)
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/3 c. peanuts (for the top - I didn't measure)
Preheat oven to 350. The girls say to use a 8x8 square metal baking dish, but I don't have one, so I used an 8 inch cake tin, and it worked fine. Lightly grease your baking container of choice.

In a large bowl, mix together peanut butter, oil and brown sugar. Mix well, until well incorporated. Add the sourdough starter and vanilla, and blend in thoroughly.

Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix the dough (using your hands if you need to) well. The batter is very thick, and doesn't spread on it's own. Transfer dough to baking tin, press into sides, and press the peanuts into the top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until set and lightly browned on top. Cool completely in tin before slicing.

There isn't much more to say about these beauties. They are what they purport to be, and they are delicious. No one would guess they are vegan, and any die hard peanut fans can rest assured that a peanut craving will be satiated. This pan is long gone, but I feel like I want to make another one.

Oh, it's so easy for me to fall head over heels for sweets during this time of year. From the first whisper of cool weather straight on til January, I feel like I'm entitled to make (and, by default, eat) any and all sweets my heart desires - and fortunately December allows me to give away to my hearts content. By the time January rolls around, I'm easily reconditioned. In time and solidarity with other resolution-makers, I want no sugar whatsoever, and I want to be a virtuous and healthy eater, free of the entrapments of my all mighty sweet tooth.

I have to make a serious pact with myself to eat less sugar, at least until Thanksgiving. Part of the problem, is that I just love to bake, and falling leaves and brisk, humidity free days only serve to add fuel to the fire. But now that I've made actual bread with my starter, I have less excuse to want to use up starter in hollow caloric and fleeting deliciousness, and can concentrate on more healthful endeavors. Wish me luck!