Herbaceous Babe is going to be a little less regular in the days to come as the author gets launched in her professional career. Keep checking back, because there's no telling when a new post will appear!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Senza Ricetta Stew

Senza Ricetta  is regular fare in my family. But the phrase "just like ma used to make" holds a different meaning for us. You see, my mother almost never used a recipe, especially for soup. It usually involved a legume, a grain, with a handful of this and a dash of that, then served with the disclaimer, "If you like it, great. If you don't, oh well. Either way, you'll probably never have it again." Over the last year, I've carried on the tradition, making one-time wonders nearly every week. The Wild Rice and Lentil Stew from last month was one such recipe, followed by many other variations of Senza Ricetta (Italian: without recipe).

If this post provided a recipe, the title would be an oxymoron. However, hopefully the following ideas will inspire a bit of reckless creativity in your kitchen!

Once upon a time, my sister left me for a week without a dinner companion. On lonely nights, I have a terrible habit of raiding the cupboard for rice cakes and raisins. To prevent such aimless grazing, I assembled an epicly nutritious soup with chickpeas, kale, zucchini, tomato, onion, carrot, celery, jalapeno, salt and pepper that bears a striking resemblance to December's Winter Bean Soup or Happy Herbivore's Chana Palak Masala.

This one reminds me a bit of paella. It was near the end of the grocery week, and any leftover veggies went into the pot: tomato, squash, and who knows what else, paired with the ubiquitous wild rice. Hearty, cozy, and perfect for a winter evening.

A festive spin-off of the Creamy Kale, I used wild rice and threw in some chopped red bell pepper for a slightly different flavour.

Finally, a crowning moment. Nothing can transform a standard lentil and rice soup into a gourmet wonder quite like balsamic vinegar and sage. Of course, the garlic, ginger and chili powder may have helped a bit.

Soups are pretty hard to mess up. So play a little. Treat every day as a culinary adventure. And, if all else fails, remember you never have to make the same thing twice.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Nori Rolls

The first time I made nori rolls, I thought, If I had known it was this easy, I'd have made it more often. They turned out perfect, and beautiful, and positively delicious.

Admittedly, I cheated a little. Instead of using the traditional vinegary sticky rice (that's what makes it "sushi"), I used basmati mixed with mashed avocado. Then I stuffed with red bell pepper, marinated mushroom, and lightly steamed asparagus - SO TASTY!

2/3c dry basmati rice
3c water
1 avocado, mashed
2 tsp lemon juice (I didn't measure, just squirted...)
2-4 thin stalks of asparagus, lightly steamed
red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced and marinated*
2 sheets of nori

Cook rice in water and let cool uncovered (The second time I made it, I put the rice in the fridge with a lid, so the moisture couldn't escape. Bad choices.). Mix rice, avocado and lemon juice, then spread thinly on nori sheet (leave 1" bare on end farthest from you). Arrange vegetables along the 1/2 closest to you, then roll as tightly as possible. Wet the last inch slightly to seal. Cut roll into 1" segments (or slightly smaller if roll is thicker). Serve with Nama Shoyu (or equivalent) and sesame seeds. Eat with chopsticks.

I used 3c water to 2/3c rice, hoping it would make it stickier, but it didn't seem to make much difference....

My marinade was one of those "mad scientist" moments, where I just grabbed whatever looked good from the cupboard: liquid aminos, olive oil, sesame oil, and red wine vinegar (I think). 

I almost tried to make it without using a mat, but when I was at the store getting the avocado, I saw one and grabbed it - and I'm so glad I did! It helps evenly distribute the pressure while rolling, plus protects the nori from any moisture on your hands.

Between the two of us, we could have probably eaten 3 rolls easily, but we ran out of rice :)

Here's a link to a site that has a recipe and step-by-step pictures:

Making sushi at home isn't fool-proof, but it's simple. And cheap. Even if your first few tries are miserable failures, chop up the nori roll, pull an Amber Shea and call it a de-constructed sushi bowl and hope for better luck next time. Because, let's face it, sushi is worth a "next time."

Bon appetit! 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Eggplant Champignon

Call it what you will: Casserole d'Aubergine, Mushroom Melanzane, or Eggplant Champignon. Each name, like the ingredients, receives inspiration from the countries that comprise the Mediterranean coastline.

Prep time: 35 min, Cook time: 30 min. Servings: 8

2 large eggplant
3 c cashews, soaked and drained
6 petite artichoke hearts
3 cloves garlic
1 T lemon juice
4 c water
1-1/2 c quinoa
8oz mushrooms, chopped
6 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
pepper to taste

Peel and slice the eggplant (round or julienned) and place in a colander to “sweat” for 30 min. In a blender, combine cashews, artichoke hearts, garlic, lemon juice, and water. Pour quinoa into a large casserole dish with 1/2 of the cashew cream, making sure all the quinoa is covered. Add the eggplant, then top with mushrooms and the remaining “cream.” Bake at 375 on the center rack for 20 minutes. Sprinkle rosemary on top and bake for another 10 minutes, until warm through and the quinoa’s germ ring shows.

*If you're allergic to cashews, try using macadamia nuts. Or substitute 3-1/2c coconut milk, omitting 1c of water. (I haven't tried this, but if it works, let me know!) And if you can't get artichoke hearts, don't sweat it; just leave them out.

For me, the dish represents life. In France, I could eat anything. "Restriction" and "intolerance" had no place in my gastronomic vocabulary. I was free; I was alive; and the possibilities were endless. Similarly, eggplant champignon demonstrates a broadening horizon. It is an embrace of a transforming palate (having spent most of my life hating both eggplant and mushroom) and a celebration of what I can eat, not a desperate imitation of something I can't.

It's also about love. Eggplant Champignon is a flavourful compilation of my many passions: France, food, health, creativity - the cashews and quinoa even lend a bit of Hispanic influence!

And since I enjoy researching the finer details of my unique diet, here's a little history and nutrition lesson:

Aubergine: The eggplant originated in India but is very popular in the countries in the Mediterranean basin. Surprisingly, it contains nicotine. But don't worry; you'd have to eat 20 lbs (9 kg) to equal the nicotine in a cigarette. Eggplants also help lower cholesterol and may aid in weight loss.
Mushroom: The white button mushroom (aka. crimini or Paris mushroom) matures into a portabello. It contains vitamin D2, sodium, phosphorus, and potassium. A mushroom-rich diet has also shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Artichoke: This North African relative of the daisy is rich in antioxidants, folate (B9) and magnesium, and may lead to healthier heart, bowels, and gall bladder.
Rosemary: A Mediterranean native, rosemary is an excellent source of iron, calcium, and B6 and has been linked to improved memory.
Quinoa: This pseudo-grain from the Amaranth family is actually South American in origin, but due to my gluten-intolerance, bulgur wasn't an option. Besides, quinoa is an excellent source of protein, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, and dietary fiber - so what's not to love?

*This recipe made its debut at the ARC Vegan Hotdish Cook-Off in Minneapolis, MN on February 9, 2013. It is an Allyson Holdahl (that's me) original recipe.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sweet Potato Cauliflower Soup

Winter has brought with it many an orange soup - my cousin's Pumpkin Curry Soup, a simple Butternut Soup, and this guy from Manifest Vegan: Sweet Potato Cauliflower Soup.

Basically, drizzle the cauliflower with olive oil, dust with garam masala, and bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes. At the same time, boil the sweet potato until tender, mash, and add cauliflower. (Save the boil-water/broth to add back in until desired consistency is obtained. I put in too much this time, and too little the next... but it was still cozy and satisfying.)

Add salt, pepper, onion, and garlic to taste, and partake.