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SusanV I'm SusanV, and I love good food. Join me as I create delicious dishes made with whole foods and without a lot of processed fat and sugar. Want to know more? Check out my FAQs, look through my recipe index, or get inside info on Facebook. Like what you see? Then subscribe to receive email updates. But above all, enjoy!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Healthy Crunchy: Three Guilt-Free Snacks You Can Make at Home

Chili Roasted ChickpeasWhen I snack, I try to stick to fresh fruits and vegetables, but sometimes I want something with crunch, not the moist crunch of a carrot but the carb-filled crunch of a potato chip. When I get really desperate for a treat, I leave the pre-packaged snacks--with their fat, chemicals, and processed ingredients--on the grocery store shelves and make my own healthy snacks using natural ingredients that I usually have in my pantry.

My taste in snacks runs from the very simple (baked tortilla chips) to the unusual (roasted okra). But my very favorite, the one crunchy snack that almost everyone loves, is also the easiest to make: microwave potato chips. I've been making these for years, and I even bought this totally unnecessary gadget, which I used exactly once. (You're supposed to stand the potato slices in this piece of slotted, circular plastic from which, once they are cooked, it will take a bipartisan act of congress to get them unstuck. If you see one for sale, please don't waste your money.) After dozens of under- and over-cooked batches of microwave chips, I've found that the best gadget for making chips is simply the glass tray in my microwave. I've also discovered that the way to get the chips crispy without burning is to stop the cooking just as they begin to brown, let them sit in the microwave for a minute, and then finish the cooking. I'm pretty confident that if you follow the instructions below, your potato chips will come out golden and delicious every time.

Microwave Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips

Microwave Potato Chips
(printer-friendly version)

1 medium russet potato
parchment paper
optional seasonings: chili powder, Creole seasoning, Old Bay seasoning, etc.

Using a mandolin or v-slicer, slice one medium russet potato (peeled, if you like) as thinly as possible, taking care that all slices are the same thickness. Line the turntable tray of your microwave with parchment paper and place the potato slices on it without overlapping. Salt lightly and sprinkle with your choice of seasonings.

Microwave at full power--watching closely--until spots of brown begin to appear, about 4-6 minutes. Turn off the microwave for 1 minute. Microwave again at full power until the slices are golden brown. (Be very careful not to over-brown or they will taste burned.) Remove from the microwave and allow to cool. Repeat until all potato slices are cooked.

Salt and Vinegar Chips:

Dip each potato slice into cider vinegar before putting it on the parchment paper. Sprinkle with salt before microwaving.

Makes two servings. Per serving: 30 Calories (kcal); trace Total Fat; (1% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 2mg Sodium; 1g Fiber. Weight Watchers Core / 0 Points.

My favorite spur-of-the-moment snack is simple: rinsed, canned chickpeas sprinkled with Creole seasoning. It's hardly a crunchy snack, but it does satisfy the craving for salty foods. The problem for me is that it's all too easy to over-eat chickpeas when they take so little effort to chew. That's where roasted chickpeas come in: they satisfy the urge to crunch, and a few go a long way. There are recipes all over the internet for roasted chickpeas, some using soaked dried beans and others using pre-cooked beans. I recently did a little experiment to see which kind I prefer. I made two batches, one using dried chickpeas and one using canned. I flavored the dried with lime and chili powder and the canned with curry. Overall, I preferred the canned--the texture was lighter and less hard than the dried version. Plus, they're quicker to make, so they're better in the case of a snack emergency. Both versions are below, so you can conduct your own experiment.

Curry Roasted Chickpeas

Roasted Chickpeas Two Ways
(printer-friendly version)

You can use different spices in both of these recipes or leave out the seasoning altogether.

Chili Roasted Chickpeas from Dried Beans

1 cup dried chickpeas
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon lime juice

Pick over and rinse the chickpeas. Cover them with water 2 inches above the level of the beans and let soak overnight.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Put in a pot with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of the chili powder and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain. Place in a bowl and toss with the lime juice..

Preheat the oven to 400F. Lift the chickpeas out of the bowl with a slotted spoon and place them in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet. Stir after 15 minutes, brushing them with the lime juice remaining in the bowl. Repeat three times, the last time sprinkling them with the remaining chili powder and salt. When they are golden brown and crispy (about 50-60 minutes in total) remove from the oven . Cool completely before serving.

Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 125 Calories (kcal); 2g Total Fat; (15% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 549mg Sodium; 7g Fiber. Weight Watchers Core / 2 Points.

Curry Roasted Chickpeas from Canned Beans

1 1/2 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 400F. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well. Spray a baking sheet with canola oil and spread chickpeas out in a single layer. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until golden and crunchy, about 45-50 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 72 Calories (kcal); 1g Total Fat; (8% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 180mg Sodium; 3g Fiber. Weight Watchers Core / 1 Point.

This week I finally got around to trying a healthy snack that so many bloggers have said that they love. Kale chips sounded perfect--a green leafy vegetable magically transformed into a snack. Unfortunately, my family and I seem to lack the "kale chip gene." Even after I baked them perfectly--not burned like my first batch or chewy/underdone like my second--we just don't like them. Perhaps my kale was just overly bitter; if you give them a try, please let me know your opinion.

Kale Chips

Kale Chips
(printer-friendly version)

Timing is crucial for these chips: too long and they taste burned, two short and they are chewy rather than crispy.

4 large leaves kale
olive oil spray (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Wash kale and cut into two-inch pieces. (Try to make the pieces all the same size or they will not cook at the same rate.) Spray a baking sheet with oil and place the pieces of kale on it in a single layer. Spray lightly with oil, if desired, and sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 7 minutes. Turn the chips over and bake for 3-7 more minutes, until crispy and edges just beginning to brown. Cool and eat.

Makes 2 servings. Per serving: 25 Calories (kcal); trace Total Fat; (10% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 22mg Sodium; 1g Fiber. Weight Watchers Core / 0 Points.

Frozen Grapes

Ooops--Serene's comment below reminded me to add this photo of one of my favorite summertime snacks, frozen grapes. I keep a bunch in the freezer so that it's easy to grab a few when I'm hungry or hot or both!

What's your favorite low-fat snack? I'd love to hear about it. Feel free to leave a recipe or link to it in the comments section.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Vadouvan: A Delectable Seasoning and Two Recipes

ShallotsYou may not have heard of vadouvan, but I'm predicting it will be the next trendy ingredient. It's been popping up on restaurant menus a lot lately and caused a bit of web chatter when Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet, mentioned trying it a few months ago, but now that Gourmet has published a recipe for it in this month's issue--as well as on its site--I'm sure that soon everyone will be making this formerly hard to procure seasoning.

So what is it, and is there any reason other than trendiness to try it? The short answers are 1) a Frenchified version of a south Indian seasoning and 2) Yes.

According to Gourmet, vadouvan originated around the French settlement of Pondicherry in southern India. It appears to me to be a version of the Tamil Nadu seasoning vadagam or vadakam, which is made by combining onions, dal, cumin, curry leaves, and other spices, shaping the mixture into balls, and drying them in the sun to be stored for later use. In the Gourmet version, shallots are added to the mixture, which is roasted in the oven until practically dry, giving it a deep, smoky taste.

Since, as you know, I'm crazy for anything smoky or cuminy, I just had to try this recipe. It took a while, and it required me to heat up my oven and to hover nearby for frequent stirrings. And once I made it, my kitchen smelled like onion and curry for days, though perhaps turning on a vent fan would have helped, something I realized after the fact. But now that I've got it made and safely stashed in my freezer, I'm thrilled that I'll be able to add this savory, oniony, lightly-curry-scented flavor to anything quickly and easily with just a couple of tablespoonfuls.

Of course I adapted the recipe. The original made twice as much, and I was unwilling to commit so many pounds of shallots and onions to an untried recipe. It also called for frying in oil, though not a huge amount considering how much it makes, but I wanted to be able to add the seasoning freely without worrying about how much added fat it contained, so I reduced the oil to just a few quick sprays to keep it from sticking or burning. I altered the ingredient amounts just a little, adding a touch more cumin and mustard seed just because I like them. And finally, I used fresh hot chile peppers because I've got more of them than I can use in my garden.


(printer-friendly version)

3 small hot chili peppers (or 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes)
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 large onions (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into eighths
1/2 pound shallots, peeled and halved
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek (or whole fenugreek ground in coffee mill)
1/2 tablespoon curry leaves, thinly sliced (optional)
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Remove the stems from the peppers, place them in a food processor with the garlic, and process until minced. Add half of the onions and pulse to chop coarsely. Remove from the processor and repeat with remaining onions and shallots until all are coarsely chopped.

Spray a large skillet with canola oil and heat on medium-high. Add the chopped vegetables. (Turn your face away as you do this because the fumes will cause you to tear up!) Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often and scraping the bottom, until onions begin to brown, about 15-20 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients and stir well.

Preheat oven to 350. Cover a 4-sided baking pan with parchment paper, spray the paper lightly with canola oil, and transfer the onion mixture to it, spreading it out as thinly as possible:

Vadouvan Before Roasting

Spray the top of the mixture lightly with canola oil. Bake until browned and most moisture is gone, 1 to 1 1/4 hours, stirring regularly to break up the onions as best you can. Be careful not to burn!

Cool, break up any large clumps, and store in the refrigerator up to one month or the freezer up to six months.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups. Entire recipe provides 386 Calories (kcal); 3g Total Fat; (7% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 84g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 3255mg Sodium; 8g Fiber.

I didn't want to give you this long-cooking recipe without also showing you a couple of ways to use it. For my first use of vadouvan, I went with something simple, something that adapts easily to different seasonings, something using Indian ingredients, and something my family always likes: red lentil soup. Cooking the lentils with vadouvan gave them an indescribably smoky, sensual flavor. The curry flavor is there, in the background, but the pungency of the roasted onions and shallots wins out. It was a taste that my whole family loved.

Red Lentil Soup with Vadouvan Seasoning

Red Lentil Soup with Vadouvan
(printer-friendly version)

1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups masoor dal or small red lentils, picked over and rinsed
4 cups water
1/3 cup Vadouvan
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted)
3-4 cups baby spinach

Spray a large pot lightly with oil and heat it over high heat. When hot, add the cumin and mustard seed; cook for 1 minute or until seeds begin to pop. Immediately add the onion and saute for 3 minutes. Add the lentils, water, vadouvan, garlic, and coriander. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook, covered, until lentils are completely soft, about 20 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and salt to taste. Simmer, uncovered, adding more water if necessary, for about 20 minutes. Just before serving, stir in the spinach and cook just until wilted but still bright green.

Makes 4-6 servings. At 4 large servings, each provides 306 Calories (kcal); 1g Total Fat; (3% calories from fat); 23g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 372mg Sodium; 25f Fiber. Weight Watchers Core / 5 Points.

The vadouvan-cashew cream sauce in the recipe below may be the single greatest reason you should take the time to whip up a batch of vadouvan. I made this for lunch today, eating two of the four servings, and I could easily go back and eat the whole batch. The sauce makes the recipe and would be wonderful on tofu, tempeh, seitan, baked potatoes--anywhere you want a rich, oniony, almost meaty taste. Someday soon I'm going to be simmering chunks of tofu and sliced mushrooms in this sauce and serving it over rice.

Grilled Eggplant with Vadouvan-Cashew Cream Sauce

Grilled Eggplant with Vadouvan-Cashew Cream Sauce
(printer-friendly version)

I used small white eggplants from my garden, but any kind of small eggplant will do.

2 small eggplants
2/3 cup plain soy milk
1/2 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon cashews
1 tablespoon Vadouvan
1 large tomato
1/2 small green chile, seeds removed and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Cut off the tops and bottoms of the eggplants and slice them into 1/2-inch slices. If you like, you may salt the eggplants and allow them to "weep" for half an hour before rinsing and proceeding with the recipe; I did not bother with this.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook on a well-oiled grill pan until browned on both sides and soft in the middle. (You may also broil or bake the eggplant.)

While the eggplants are cooking, make the sauce by blending the soymilk, nutritional yeast, cashews, and vadouvan in a small blender. Pour into a saucepan, add salt to taste, and bring to a boil. Turn down to very low and keep warm until eggplants are ready.

Chop the tomato and add the garlic, chile pepper, and vinegar. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Assemble on appetizer plates by layering a spoonful of sauce followed by three slices of eggplant with a little sauce between each slice. Top with the tomato mixture and enjoy.

Makes 4 appetizer-sized servings. Per serving: 99 Calories (kcal); 2g Total Fat; (18% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 48mg Sodium; 7g Fiber. Weight Watchers 1 Point.

More vadouvan goodness:

Another vadouvan recipe.
Vendaya Keerai-Kathrikai Kaozumbu (traditional Tamil Nadu vegetable gravy served with rice)
Cauliflower in Cast Iron Pot (veganizable!)

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Random Act of Quinoa Salad

Random Act of Quinoa SaladIt's lunchtime, and true to form, I haven't eaten breakfast. I know, I know--most important meal of the day, keeps metabolism burning, aids in weight loss, yada yada. I'm sorry but I just forget to eat breakfast. I'm working on it, except when I forget to work on it. Anyway, lunch time rolls around and I'm getting pretty hungry until I remember something else I forgot, that we're all out of lettuce and tomatoes. Calamity! Another habit I'm trying to develop is eating a big raw salad for lunch. And it was going so well until today.

But there are vegetables in the fridge--cauliflower, zucchini, and 4-count 'em-4 colors of bell pepper. I could chop them up and have them as a salad, but it occurs to me that a little quinoa would make this a much more filling meal. Quinoa just so happens to be one of the grains you can eat more than once a day on Weight Watchers' Core program, which, yes, I'm trying to remember to follow.*

So I make up this salad that's mostly vegetables, mostly raw, and very random; if there'd been other vegetables in my refrigerator, I'd have used them instead of the ones you see here. Something about this combination just cried out to me "curry dressing" and then the curry dressing shouted "Add a mango!" So I did. See? Completely random.

Feel free to get random with it yourself. Use the veggies you have on-hand and substitute your favorite salad dressing. The Orange-Curry Dressing really hit the spot, but that was my spot--your spot may be crying out for sesame-orange dressing or tahini goddess dressing or even some bottled Italian dressing. Some legumes would be a tasty addition, too; I meant to add some chickpeas but, naturally, I forgot!

Random Act of Quinoa Salad

Random Act of Quinoa Salad
(printer-friendly version)

Adding the cauliflower to the quinoa during the last five minutes of cooking softens it very slightly without making it lose its crunch; if you prefer it raw, just skip that step.

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well
1 cup water
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups cauliflower flowerets
1 bell pepper (red, green, purple, yellow, or combination), chopped
1 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 mango, cut into cubes
about 1/3 cup of your favorite dressing or Orange-Curry Dressing

Orange-Curry Dressing:
1/2 onion
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 to 1 teaspoon curry powder (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon flax seeds, ground

Combine the quinoa, water, and garlic in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook covered for 10 minutes. Add the cauliflower and check to see that there is still water in the quinoa; if not, add 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and cook on low for 5 minutes, or until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender.

Put the quinoa/cauliflower into a large serving bowl and add the zucchini and bell peppers. (If you are using a pre-made salad dressing, add it now, just enough to moisten; refrigerate until chilled and add mango just before serving.)

To make the Orange-Curry Dressing:
Saute the onion in a small pan until just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer it to a small blender and add all the remaining ingredients. Blend well, until onion is pureed. Pour just enough of this dressing over the salad to moisten, and reserve the rest.

Cover and refrigerate until ready for serving. Add the mango and serve with extra dressing on the table.

Makes 2 servings. With Orange-Curry Dressing, each serving provides 281 Calories (kcal); 3g Total Fat; (10% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 57g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 50mg Sodium; 9g Fiber. Weight Watchers Core + 1/2 Point (for O.J.) /5 Flex Points.

*I do my own vegan interpretation of Core, which I've outlined at the FFV discussion board.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Roasted Eggplant-Almond Dip

Roasted Eggplant-Almond DipI'd like to take all the credit for this interesting version of eggplant dip, but I can't; it's minimally adapted from Paul Gayler's A Passion for Vegetables where its called Bhurtho (Smoked Eggplant Dip). From the name he gives it, I suspect Gayler was going for an Indian-style dish, yet the almonds and the lack of cumin, garam masala, or other spices set it apart.

D and I liked this dip well enough to make a meal of it with red and yellow peppers, zucchini slices, and toasted pita wedges for dipping. (E, our resident eggplant-hater, tasted it, at least, but stuck to hummus for her dipping.) We both enjoyed the spiciness of the chile and the surprise burst of flavor from the ginger; all in all, it was good for a change of pace, but it's not going to replace my beloved baba ganoush any time soon!

Roasted Eggplant-Almond Dip

Roasted Eggplant-Almond Dip
(printer-friendly version)

1 large eggplant
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 onion, minced
1 small chile, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon ginger root, minced
2 cloves roasted garlic
2 tablespoons plain soy yogurt
juice of half a lemon
cayenne pepper, to taste
salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 425F. Wash the eggplant and prick it all over with a fork. Place it in a pan and roast it until completely collapsed and charred-looking on top, about 45 minutes. (You can also cook it on a grill, turning regularly, until charred all over and soft.) Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Once the eggplant is cool, scoop out the flesh and put it into a medium-sized bowl. If there are lots of large seeds, separate and discard them. Mash the flesh with a fork until a coarse puree is formed.

Heat a small frying pan and add the almonds and mustard seeds. Toast them for about 2 minutes or until the seeds begin to pop. Add the onion, chile, and ginger and cook on medium for a few more minutes. Transfer to a small blender, add the garlic, lemon juice, soy yogurt, and two tablespoons of water, and puree.

Add the almond puree to the eggplant. Season to taste with cayenne and salt. Serve with raw vegetables or bread such as pitas or naan.

Makes 4 appetizer-sized servings. Per serving: 100 Calories (kcal); 5g Total Fat; (42% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 8mg Sodium; 4g Fiber. Weight Watchers Points: 2.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Achiote Beans Recado

annatto seedsWhen it comes to seasonings, I'm a compulsive buyer. When I see an herb or spice that I've heard of but never used, I can't pass up the opportunity to buy it—even if I have no idea what to do with it. I'm particularly bad about this when I'm ordering from Penzey's or The Spice House; I'll think, "Why not add a little jar of ajwain seed or Szechuan peppercorns to my cart? I'm paying for shipping anyway."

That's exactly how I came to own a jar of annatto seeds, which I promptly put in my spice cabinet and forgot about. Then a few days ago I saw the recipe for Lemon Achiote Grilled Tofu on 101 Cookbooks. Heidi used annatto (also known as achiote) in a marinade for a delicious-looking grilled tofu. I remembered my unused annatto seeds and started doing some research to find out what exactly they are and how they're traditionally used.

Annatto seeds come from the annatto (no surprise) or lipstick plant (bixa orellana) and are used as both a seasoning and food coloring. The brick red seeds are prized for the orange-yellow color they lend to foods as well as for their flavor, which is subtle and deep rather than pungent or spicy. In the Caribbean, the seeds are often fried in oil and strained out, and the oil used to fry vegetables or meat. In Mexico, annatto seeds are often ground along with pepper, cumin, and other spices and combined with the juice of Seville or sour oranges to form a paste, recado, used to marinate meat. The most popular dish they're used in (at least if you believe Google results indicate popularity) is pork pibil, in which pork is marinated in recado and then wrapped in banana leaves and baked in a stone pit, grill, or oven.

The recado seasoning sounded like something I'd like to try, but without the pig, of course. So I took the basics—annatto, black pepper, cumin, allspice, orange juice—and used them to season a pot of slow-cooked beans, sort of a cross between chili beans and barbecued beans. I used two cans of pinto beans and one can of mixed (pinto, kidney, and black) beans and allowed them to simmer on the lowest setting on my stove for an hour and a half. (I would have used the slow cooker but was afraid that mine is too large for this.) The results were delicious—slightly sweet, slightly tart, but with a rich flavor underneath that must have come from the annatto seeds because it didn't taste like anything I've had before. It was subtle but worth the trouble of making the seasoning mix.

Achiote Beans

Achiote Beans Recado
(printer-friendly version)

If you can't find annatto seeds, substitute regular or smoked paprika; the taste will be different, but good. You'll use only about half of the seasoning mix in this recipe, so save the rest for future experimentation.

2 tablespoons annatto seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 serrano (or other small, medium-hot) peppers, de-seeded and minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 15-ounce cans pinto beans or mixed beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 tablespoon agave nectar (or other sweetener)
1/2 tablespoon molasses (or other sweetener)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano (or 1 1/2 tsp. regular oregano)
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 pinch cayenne (or to taste)
fresh lime juice

Put the annatto seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and cloves into a coffee grinder or spice mill and grind to a powder. Add the allspice, mix well, and set aside.

In a large saucepan, sauté the onion the onion until it is beginning to brown. Add the two types of peppers and garlic and stir for another minute. Measure out 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of the seasoning and add it to the pot. Cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds and then stir in all remaining ingredients except lime juice.

Cover, turn the heat to its lowest setting, and cook for about an hour and a half. Check and stir periodically (every 15 minutes or so), making sure that the beans are not sticking and that there is enough liquid in the pot; if not, add a little water. By the end of cooking, the beans should be moist but still thick enough to sit on a tortilla without running off.

Remove from the heat, and just before serving add a squeeze of fresh lime juice and extra salt or red pepper to taste.

Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 219 Calories (kcal); 2g Total Fat; (6% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 1316mg Sodium; 10g Fiber. Weight Watchers 4 Flex Points (Core +1 Point).

How I served these beans:

Tortillas with Achiote Beans and Mango

I used the beans as a part of my taco salad for lunch and as a filling for soft tacos and tostadas for dinner. A year ago you couldn't have paid me to put fruit in a taco, but I've been doing it a lot lately, and mango (pictured above) was amazing in combination with these beans. I had planned to make it into a salsa but found that just dicing it and throwing it on the tostada with some tomatoes, red onion, and parsley was simpler and just as tasty.

Thanks to Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages, The Epicenter, and Practically Edible for info about annatto.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sunny Summer Squash Soup

Summer Squash SoupI'm not a big fan of "sneaking" vegetables into children's food--besides the fact that you're not teaching your kids to like vegetables, you usually can't sneak in enough to make any nutritional difference. But in the case of this soup, I didn't start out intending to deceive my daughter. When she asked what I was cooking, I said "chowder," and she assumed I was trying to replicate the potato chowder we all enjoyed at the End of the Line Cafe last week. She even looked into the pot and should have noticed that about 90 percent of the "potatoes" were bright yellow and had seeds, but if she did, she didn't say anything. And I, knowing her irrational fear of squash, couldn't bring myself to set her straight; I was sure that the truth would doom the soup to "yuckiness" in her eyes.

So I never told her. Even after she announced that the "potato" chowder was "better than the restaurant's--tell them that on the blog, Mom!" Even after she took her small bowl back to the pot for seconds... and thirds. Call me a bad mother, call me a liar, I don't care: I have a child who just declared a squash soup one of her favorite recipes, so I'm feeling pretty satisfied with myself. And not at all sneaky.

After dinner, I conferred with the resident chowder expert, my New England-educated husband, and we decided that this was more of a soup than a chowder. It's definitely thick and rich-tasting, but there's no cream (or cream substitute) and it's thoroughly pureed rather than chunky. Whatever you call it, it's good. Use the smallest, most tender yellow summer squash or zucchini you can find, and you'll be amazed at its fresh, sunny flavor.

Summer Squash Soup

Sunny Summer Squash Soup
(printer-friendly version)

When I made this, I tasted it before adding the optional ingredients and was ready to stop there--it was simple and delicious. But I couldn't resist trying to make it a little creamier and richer, so I added the nutritional yeast and tahini (plus turmeric for color). I'll leave it up to you to decide which way you like it best.

1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small hot pepper, seeds removed and chopped
2 ribs celery, strings removed and chopped
2 medium (12-14 ounces) gold potatoes, peeled and cut into small dice
1 1/2 pounds small yellow squash, chopped (or young zucchini)
1 pinch white pepper
4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (optional, for color)
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)
1 tablespoon tahini (optional)
salt and white pepper, to taste (optional)

Garnish: slivers of red bell pepper

Heat a large non-stick or enamel-coated pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, covered but stirring every minute or so, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes (add a little water if it tends to stick). Add the garlic and hot pepper and cook for another minute.

Add all remaining ingredients except the optional ones. Cover and cook until the potatoes are completely tender (they will mash if lightly pressed with a spoon), about 25-40 minutes.

Remove half of the soup and put it into a blender* and puree at high speed until completely smooth. (Be careful--hot liquids can erupt from your blender; I always remove the center cup from the lid and cover the opening with a kitchen towel.) Once it's blended, pour the soup into another pot. Add the remaining soup to the blender, along with any optional ingredients you choose to use, and blend well. Add to the other half of the soup, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls, garnish with slices of red bell pepper, and serve.

*I like this soup blended smoother than my hand blender can get it.

Makes 4 servings. Without optional ingredients, each contains 122 Calories (kcal); 1g Total Fat; (4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 28mg Sodium; 6g Fiber. Weight Watchers Core/ 2 Flex Points. With optional ingredients, each serving contains 161 Calories (kcal); 3g Total Fat; (14% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium; 7g Fiber; 3mcg B-12. Weight Watchers Flex Points = 3 or Core +1 Point.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Chili Mac

Chili MacI've always known that labeling recipes as Kid-Friendly is somewhat misleading; children, like adults, all have different tastes, so predicting what other children might like based on my own child's taste (which seems to change as often as her clothes lately) is kind of presumptuous as well as silly. Still, the error of my ways was brought home to me in a big way this week during our annual extended-family vacation.

Each year, the whole bunch of us, including my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and their three kids, ages 9 to 14, rent a condo on the Gulf coast. This year's destination was Pensacola Beach, where the condo had a huge kitchen that I would have loved to take home with me. I was in charge of making dinner for all of us one night, and I knew that it was going to be difficult to find something to please my nephews and niece, who are renowned in the family for being picky eaters. As my middle nephew told me, "We don't eat vegetables. Or beans." That pronouncement was made to me after I'd spent an hour making two large enchilada casseroles, something I'd hoped would be enough like regular, non-vegetarian food to entice the kids to eat with us, but no way: they wound up eating big plates of cheese-covered tortilla chips instead...and we adults wound up eating enchilada casserole leftovers for the next three days.

E Eating
Eating her beans & vegetables at the End of the Line Cafe

My point is, most of my recipes are kid-friendly only if the children you're cooking for will actually eat vegetables and beans. If you're trying to transition your family to a plant-based diet and your kids absolutely refuse to eat most of the foods on it, my kid-friendly recipes may not help much, and all I can suggest is that you try to veganize dishes that they already like. My daughter E was raised as a vegan, so she readily eats foods that cause other kids to say "yuck," like tofu, beans, and broccoli. Still, she's gotten pickier as she's gotten older, and sometimes we have to require her to at least try something before she decides she hates it, but usually she'll find that she likes it after all. When we went out for lunch in Pensacola at the all-vegan End of the Line Cafe, E tried everything we ordered and loved it all, except the stuffed grape leaves, which at least she tried. (She's never liked grape leaves--more for us!)

So I often forget how super-picky kids can be. Well, thanks to my nephew, consider me reminded! If I'd posted this family-favorite last week, I would have been selling it hard as a kid-friendly recipe; after all, it's a dish that my daughter asks for all the time. But it has beans in it and, in this version, it even has greens in it, so if your kids won't touch either of those ingredients, I'm afraid you may be out of luck. But if they're open to eating beans, I think they'll enjoy this vegan version of the childhood favorite, Chili Macaroni. Feel free to leave out the kale until you get your family addicted to it and then slowly add in the greens a little at a time. You'll find that the kale provides nutrition and color but relatively little taste, so your more open-minded family members won't mind it at all.

Chili Macaroni

Chili Mac
(printer-friendly version)

2 cups elbow macaroni
1 onion, chopped
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups water
4 teaspoons mild chili powder*
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
10 ounces frozen corn kernels
1 16-ounce can pinto or kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 to 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
5 cups thinly-sliced kale (thick stems removed before slicing) or other greens**
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling water until tender. Drain. SautHTML clipboardé onion in a large non-stick pot until translucent. Add remaining ingredients, as well as cooked pasta. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot.

*This is chili powder, not pepper, a mixture of mild chili peppers and cumin that adds no heat to the dish. If you want it spicy, add cayenne or additional chipotle chili powder.
**If you use a faster-cooking green such as spinach, add it during the last 3 minutes of cooking.

Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 259 Calories (kcal); 2g Total Fat; (6% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 854mg Sodium; 9g Fiber. 139mg Calcium; 2mcg B-12. Weight Watchers 5 Flex Points.

If you're ever in Pensacola, Florida, please check out the End of the Line Cafe. It's a small coffee house near the railroad tracks, but we were all impressed by the delicious sandwiches, hummus, quinoa tabouli, homemade vegan cheeses, and incredible potato chowder.

I've just been notified that this blog is nominated for a Veggie Award, so please consider voting for me as well as all of your favorite vegan websites, restaurants, celebrities, and products. Your vote won't count unless you fill out at least 50% of the survey and include your contact info at the end, but you'll be entered into a drawing for several nice prizes, including a trip to New York City. Remember, if you heard about it here first, you have to share the prize with me! That's the way it works, isn't it? Please?


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