Tasty Vegan Dinner Or Brunch Dishes

High Summer Feasts For People And Plants

After the longest stretch of high temperature summery days in many years (here in the maritime Northwest, anyway), heat lovers like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are producing like crazy. The raspberries and basil just keep coming as well, and cherries and plums are also having a super good season. We’re eating as fast as we can to keep up, and canning and freezing as well. All those sunny, hot days can take it out of people and plants alike, so this is a grand time to give everybody a boost.

For the plants, the best booster I know combines fish fertilizer and liquid kelp, along with a little humic acid. The combination is perfect for high-volume producers, from tomatoes to hanging baskets or color bowls of bright annuals. To give tomatoes and peppers a second wind, spray it on plant foliage and water some in to the roots as well. Here’s my favorite recipe:

Happy Plant Elixir

1 tablespoon liquid kelp concentrate
1 tablespoon humic acid concentrate
1/4 cup liquid fish fertilizer
1 gallon water

Combine in a gallon jug and let stand overnight. Store in a cool, dark place. After watering, give each large plant (tomato, hanging flower basket, or pumpkin, or etc.) 1 cup of elixir, and each smaller plant (basil, parsley, etc.) 1/2 cup of elixir every 2 weeks. Plants in 1 gallon containers get 1/4 cup each on the same schedule.

Vegan Italian Tomato Pie

My family’s favorite dinner on a warm summer night is some version of the classic Italian Tomato Pie. The basic recipe is very simple: Line a pie dish with crust, then layer in ripe red tomatoes and some generous scatterings of chopped herbs, such as basil, oregano, lavender and/or rosemary as well as bread crumbs (especially if garlic-infused). For an extra flavor pop, add some whole cherry tomatoes, which explode into divine taste bombs in your mouth. Vegetarians who do dairy can add coarsely grated hard cheese, such as Pecorino, Romano or Parmesan. No matter how you assemble it, this beautiful, savory pie makes a refreshing and satisfying meal.

Fresh Tomato Pie

1 pie crust (vegan, gluten free, or any favorite)
2 thick slices whole grain bread
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon rosemary, stemmed and chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, whole
1 cup fresh basil with stems, chopped in fine ribbons
1/4 cup stemmed fresh Italian parsley
1 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1/4 cup coarsely grated Pecorino or any hard cheese (optional)

Line a 9-inch pie dish with the crust, set aside. Grate bread in a food processor to get about 1-1/2 cups coarse crumbs, set aside. In a heavy frying pan, heat oil, garlic, and bread crumbs over medium high heat. Cook, stirring, until garlic is pale golden (3-4 minutes). Add rosemary and sprinkle with salt and pepper, cook 1 minute, set aside. Layer tomatoes, fresh herbs, and onion slices into pie crust, sprinkling each layer with salt and pepper and alternating with (and ending with) bread crumb mixture. Top with cheese if using and bake at 400 degrees F until hot through (20-25 minutes). Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves at least one.

Cherry Tomato Tart With Goat (Or Vegan) Cheese

This summer, our favorite cherry tomatoes are coming from our crazy-cool grafted Ketchup ‘N Fries combo tomato-potato plant. They are utterly scrumptious and I have to keep a sharp eye on them or my unrepentant offspring eat all the ripe ones before I get a chance. (Yes, I am talking about you, Kate.) Pretty much any kind will be tastefully delightful in this warm tomato tart, laced with capers, shredded basil, and bits of sweet onion. Smoked paprika and smoked sea salt add a mysteriously rich note, while just a tad of creamy goat cheese (or vegan cheese) makes for a meltingly lovely finish. This simple tart looks gorgeous and tastes simply awesome warm or at room temperature, and leftovers heat up beautifully in the toaster oven.

1 pie crust (vegan, gluten free, or any favorite)
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 teaspoons capers, drained
1/4 cup fresh basil, finely shredded
1/4 cup sweet onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon smoked sea salt (or any)
1/8 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
2-3 ounces fresh goat cheese or vegan cheese, crumbled

Roll pie crust out into a rough circle (or unfold the store bought one), then place it on a heavy duty baking sheet and fold about 1 inch of the edge inward. Flute the doubled dough with your fingers to create a half-inch-high outer edge.  Brush crust with a little oil and layer on half the basil. Add tomatoes, cut side up, and sprinkle with capers, red onion, salt and paprika. Top with remaining basil and dot with crumbled goat or vegan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees F until crust is crisp (20-25 minutes). Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 4-6 as an entree or makes 18 appetizer slices.

Gluten-Free, Dairy Free Garden Pie

For those who eschew grains, here’s a gluten-free vegan version of a classic Italian torta. This crustless pie replaces eggs with tofu, which binds everything together in a gentle, custard-like base. This works best with firmer vegetables, since less dense ones will make a soupy, sauce-like mixture that tastes good but isn’t very pretty.

Savory Garden Pie

14-16 ounces firm tofu
1 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped (stems included)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8-1/4 teaspoon chipotle pepper flakes
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
10 pitted kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise
1 ancho pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 Walla Walla onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups chopped fillet beans
2 cups small cauliflower florets
1 cup sweet corn kernels

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor, combine chunked up tofu with 1/2 cup cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon salt, the chipotle pepper and nutritional yeast, puree, set aside. In a wide, shallow pan, heat oil, olives, onion and garlic over medium high heat. Sprinkle with remaining salt and cook until barely soft (2-3 minutes). Add beans and cauliflower, cover pan and cook until beans are bright green (2-3 minutes). Remove from heat, gently fold in tofu mixture and spoon into a pie dish. Bake until set and lightly browned (35-40 minute). Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 4-6.

Posted in Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Is That Garden Hose Safe?

Think Before You Drink

Over the years, I have often reminded readers that most garden hoses are not really safe for certain uses. This comes up in my own garden a lot these days, especially when my 2-year-old grandson wants to drink from the garden hose. Is that a safe practice? In a word, probably not. (OK, two words.) In fact, ordinary garden hoses are not safe for anyone to drink from. I had never really thought much about that issue until I was paid to trial a bunch of hoses for various qualities.

At the time, I was very clear that my ideal garden hose won’t kink easily, since I rend to drag them around corners, behind big rocks, and under bushes. I also like hoses that can take being driven over a few times without bursting, and those that wind up readily even in cool weather. However, I never gave much thought to the idea that hose water might not be safe until I actually read the warnings that come printed (in very small print) on the backs of most hose packaging.

Look Before You Sip

During that trial, I preferred both the Flexogen and Colorite Water Works hoses. Over time, however, the Flexogen hoses have gotten softer and more prone to kink. After a dozen years of use (and mild abuse), the Colorite Water Works hoses are still in good shape and are still less apt to kink. They remain more supple than most hoses in cold weather as well. So far, so good, right? But wait, there’s more to think about! Colorite Water Works hoses (sold as drinking water safe) are among a mere handful that are lined with medical grade plastic. That prevents lead and other harmful substances in the hose itself from reaching the water.

Next time you shop for hoses, check the label, front and back. Legally, any hose that is not of drinking water quality must carry a disclaimer on the label, such as: “This hose is NOT intended for drinking water use. WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer. WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.”

Get The Lead Out

If this label is present, or if there is no disclaimer and no statement about drinking safety, it means that it is not a good idea to drink–or let your kids drink–from that particular hose. When I first learned that, it made me determined to buy only drinking water safe hoses from then on. I wouldn’t even let my kids play in a splash pool unless the hose I used wasn’t adding a chemical bath to the bubbles.

So what’s in those funky hoses? Several consumer agencies wanted to know as well, and you can find recent results reports online. Most  garden hoses contain phthalates, substances  that make plastics and vinyl softer and more malleable. Phthalates are found in thousands of plastic-based objects and tools, but they are illegal to use in toys or in any products children will use. Some garden hoses also include lead in amounts exceeding federal Safe Drinking Water standards.

Why Is It There?

As it happens, lead is a common stabilizer in the kind of plastic (polyvinyl chloride) used to make many types of hose. The lead can leach from these hoses, especially when they are left full of water, but closed with a shut-off valve. A quick slurp on a hot day can deliver an unsafe amount of lead to an unsuspecting child, gardener, or dog. Even small amounts of lead can lead to brain damage, significant anemia, and other health problems, especially in children.

Since lead damage is irreversible, a safe hose starts to seem like a bargain. Several studies found that many ordinary hoses leach significant amounts of lead into the water passing through them. Even some safe hoses contained tiny amounts of lead in water left standing in the hose for a day or so. However, all drinking quality hoses tested lead-free after running fresh water through them for a full minute. For me, the bottom line is this: Don’t let your kids drink from any hose you don’t know to be safe. Always flush any hose, even a safe one, with running water for several minutes before sipping or filling the splash pool, or the pet’s bowl.

Finding Better Hoses

Companies that make or carry drinking water safe hoses include Teknor Apex Boat and Camper, Swan Marine & Camper, and other boating and camping supply sources. A lot of the drinking water hoses used in recreational vehicles and on boats are very light weight, far too flimsy for long-tern garden use. A few, however, are sturdier, including the Camco heavy duty hose (model #22853), which costs around $30.00 for a 50 footer, MegaDeal’s Super Heavy Duty Drinking Hose ($36.00 for 75 feet), and the Gaterhyde Drinking Water Safe hose ($57.00 for 75 feet), all available online.

Gardener’s Supply Company carries a number of safe hoses (www.gardeners.com), and the Craftsman All Rubber Garden Hose is widely available at hardware stores, running about $35 for the most useful 50 foot length. However, it is important to understand that not all hoses from any company is safe to drink from: Only hoses specifically labeled as drinking quality or drinking safe are safe to drink from.

Posted in Nutrition, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | 4 Comments

Vegan Coconut Yogurt?

Store Bought Or Make Your Own…

After a mention last week, several readers asked whether coconut yogurt is really vegan. The answer, as usual, is ‘that depends.’ My local grocery store carries half a dozen forms of coconut yogurt, ranging from cow or sheep milk yogurt with coconut flavoring to cultured coconut-milk yogurt that’s certified vegan to almond milk yogurt that isn’t, though it’s not clear why, since it’s lactose- and dairy-free. Are they interchangeably yummy?

Well, no. Some of the coconut-flavored dairy yogurts are too sweet to use in a savory recipe (or anywhere, in my opinion). The Almond Dream version is pretty good in sweet or savory applications; not horribly sweet, with a definite almond flavor and a slightly gritty texture reminiscent of ground nuts (not too surprising). It’s best poured over berries, or jazzed up with toasted coconut flakes and chopped nuts. The texture is overall runny, yet more like old fashioned junket than regular dairy yogurt (though no rennet is involved). It has a quivery, slightly gel-like quality several people found off-putting, thanks to gummy-making ingredients such as tapioca, corn starch, and locust bean gum.

Gummy Or Runny?

In my informal taste test involving everybody who passed through the kitchen one day, the almond milk version ranked fairly low, largely due to the texture. One person liked it enough to go buy some, but my grandson spat it out with two-year-old frankness, making a horrible face and plaintively asking for ‘YO-gut’ (he clearly felt tricked and wanted his idea of the real thing).

SO Delicious brand cultured Greek style coconut-milk yogurt  is even more gel-like, with almost a solid rather than a semi-liquid texture. The flavor is surprisingly mild, not especially sweet or intensely coconutty, despite being made from organic coconut milk. Nonetheless, it works pretty well in fruit salads and added to soups, curries, and/or tacos in place of sour cream or even goat cheese. It got several top choice votes, and it’s quite well received when I serve it with vegan meals. Though the texture is slightly weird (this stuff is so thick it’s sliceable), it’s fun to cut or mold it into little rosettes and other playful shapes (coconut playdough?). It’s quite delicious as a spread or dip, blended with fresh minced mint, a squeeze of lime juice, and a little sea salt, or mixed with toasted coconut and some garam masala.

Dairy Coconuts

Of the dairy versions, Noosa Aussie style coconut yogurt was the overall taste test favorite (though it wasn’t my own first pick). It’s very sweet, with lots of coconut bits and a caramel-like, flan-ish flavor overtone that comes from sweetened condensed milk (along with whole milk, coconut milk, and coconut cream). It’s very thick, like a Greek yogurt, but again without as much coconut punch as I’d like. However, four other people said it was fantastic or at least seriously yummy, so there you go!

Next most popular, Liberte coconut yogurt is less sweet and also quite thick and creamy, thanks to whole milk, cream and what’s simply listed a ‘coconut’, presumably a combination of coconut milk and coconut cream as well as some coconut shreds. As flavored yogurts go, this is a pretty good version for both sweet and savory recipes. I was going to try it in a few zipped-up versions but it got eaten up by enthusiasts too soon.

Put The Lime In The Coconut

Overall, I was disappointed by the lack of coconut pizazz I was expecting. Happily, there are a number of ways to boost the flavors you want in a yogurt, whether vegan or dairy. For instance, you can make wonderful vegan versions from coconut cream by adding lime juice, toasted coconut flakes, and sea salt, or take it in new directions with brown rice syrup, chopped candied ginger, and a touch of hot paprika. The recipe below makes an amazing topping for curries or roasted vegetables or a sumptuous garnish for soups, from garlic-laced carrot to Scandinavian cherry, hot or cold.

Coconutty Vegan ‘Yogurt’

1 can organic coconut milk (not light)
pinch sea salt
1/4 cup toasted unsweetened coconut flakes (*)
juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 teaspoons)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend for 20-30 seconds. Taste and adjust seasonings, then let meld for 15-20 minutes before serving. Makes about 2 cups, keeps for 3-5 days when refrigerated.

(*) Bob’s Red Mill offers lovely coconut flakes without sweeteners, so you can doctor them to your taste. I usually just toast them on a rimmed baking sheet (350 degrees F for about 8 minutes) to bring out their full, rich flavor.

Coconut Dairy Yogurt

For dairy versions, I start with Nancy’s plain whole milk yogurt, which has the tartness and grass-fed flavor I love, but you can of course use any plain yogurt you prefer.

2 cups plain whole milk yogurt (or any)
1/2 cup toasted unsweetened coconut flakes (*)
1 organic lime, juiced, rind grated
1-2 tablespoons brown rice syrup or honey (optional)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Combine yogurt with coconut flakes, grated lime rind, 2 teaspoons lime juice, sweetener (if using) and a pinch of salt. Let stand a few minutes and adjust lime juice and salt to taste. Chill for at least an hour (overnight is great) before serving. Makes 2-1/2 cups.

Herbed Or Spicy Coconut Yogurt

To make this version vegan, use coconut milk, thinning with coconut water to desired texture/pourability. For variety, add some garam masala, smoked paprika, or chipotle paste to taste.

Savory Coconut Yogurt

2 cups plain whole milk yogurt (or any)
OR 1 can organic coconut milk (not light)
1/2 cup toasted unsweetened coconut flakes (*)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup stemmed cilantro or basil
2 tablespoons minced mint
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

In a food processor, combine yogurt with half the coconut flakes and all remaining ingredients and process for 15-20 seconds. Stir in remaining coconut flakes and chill for at least an hour before serving. Makes about 2-1/2 cups.

Posted in Recipes, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Less Cooking, More Delightful Dining

Summery Entree Salads

Hot weather makes the kitchen more about the fridge than the range, and it’s fun to see how many meals we can enjoy without turning on the stove. To make cold meals more satisfying, I soak grains overnight, then cook them in the early morning, before the day heats up. Presoaking grains makes them more easily digested, so it’s a good habit to develop in any season. By relying heavily on the garden, it’s easy to make memorable meals that are vegetarian and so tasty that you don’t need to mention it. A few simple substitutions can even make them vegan, again with no loss of flavor, texture, or beauty.

A Beautiful Beet Salad

This is a very pretty dish, brightly colored by raw ruby red beets, though you can also make it with yellow ones, which taste just as sweet and delicious. Wear an apron that covers your shirt, though, as the beet juice stains for life! You can change up the herbs as well, since all work well despite very different flavors. Ripe raspberries add a surprising sweet-tart note, but you can use blueberries or even raw corn kernels instead. Vegan coconut yogurt brings a velvety richness to the mix, as will Greek style plain yogurt.

Raw Beet And Quinoa Salad With Raspberries

2-3 small beets (about a pound)
1 small clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup stemmed cilantro, basil, or parsley
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
2 cups cooked quinoa (any kind)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup raspberries, blueberries, or raw corn
1/4 cup plain coconut yogurt or Greek style yogurt

Peel and chop beets, then pulse them in a food processor until coarsely shredded (not pureed). Add garlic, herbs, and oil and process for a couple of seconds. Transfer to a bowl, add quinoa and season to taste with salt, pepper, and vinegar. Toss gently with green onions and fruit or corn and serve at room temperature, garnished with a scoop of yogurt. Serves four.

Crispy, Crunchy, Chewy

Barley has a chewy texture that adds pleasing contrast to this crisp blend of fresh fruit and vegetables. Creamy chickpeas and crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds add extra protein, the watermelon comes as a sweet surprise, and a generous splash of lime juice brings it all to lively life.

Crunchy Summer Salad

1 cup shredded red cabbage
1 cup shredded green cabbage
1 cup thinly & diagonally sliced celery
4 thinly sliced radishes
4 thinly sliced green onions
2 cups cooked barley
1-1/2 cups cooked chick peas
1 red or orange sweet pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced snap peas in pods
1 cup chopped watermelon
1/4 cup shredded basil OR stemmed cilantro
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
2 organic limes, juiced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
pinch smoked paprika

Combine everything in a serving bowl, seasoning to taste with lime juice, salt and paprika. Serve at room temperature. Serves 4-6.

Summery Taco Salad

This hearty, satisfying salad can be as mild or spicy as you like, depending on the salsa you use for dressing. I like to use short grain brown or black rice in this, but any kind will taste fine. Thick, chewy yellow corn tortillas make terrific spoons, but any type will work; just use your toaster oven to keep the kitchen cool. Add soft goat cheese if you like a little creaminess for contrast.

Gardenly Taco Salad

2 cups shredded Romaine
2 cups shredded green cabbage
1/2 cup chopped red onion
2 ears sweet corn, kernels trimmed
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
2 cups cooked rice (brown, black, or any)
1-1/2 cups cooked black beans
1 cup salsa
1/4 cup stemmed cilantro
4 yellow corn tortillas, toasted and quartered
1 lime, quartered

Combine all but the tortillas and lime in a serving bowl and let stand 10 minutes to meld before serving. Serve with toasted tortilla wedges and fresh lime wedges. Serves four.

Stay cool!

Posted in Nutrition, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening | Tagged , , | Leave a comment