Russian Korean Carrot Salad

December 30, 2010
vegan carrot salad

Vegan Russian-Korean Carrot Salad

Here is a very simple and easy carrot salad that you can throw together at the last minute and take to that holiday potluck. Or if you find yourself with too many people and need more food, this can round out any meal. Carrots are cheap and nutritious, and even kids like them. Here is my recipe for Russian-Korean Carrot Salad.

There’s an amusing story behind this recipe. Several years ago, our family took a trip together. My siblings, parents, and two of my mother’s sisters all journeyed abroad on a cruise of the Scandinavian area of the world, to countries like Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

One of the stops was in Russia, where we took a personal tour that included lunch in a Russian family’s house. I know that the best food is often home-cooked food, so I was excitedly anticipating this part of our trip.

The woman and her son lived in their small apartment. She cooked us a delicious meal of borscht, blini with caviar, and other things I have since forgotten about. She was also kind enough to specially make some borscht for me, without the beef broth, and a carrot salad without animal ingredients, so I’d have enough to eat.

I loved both dishes, and the salad was unusual enough, that I asked if I could have the recipe. She took me into her kitchen and dug a box out of the garbage can. She had used a mix! Even more interesting, the mix was from Korea. I recognized the Hangul on the label.

I was able to write down the ingredients and come home to develop a reasonable facsimile of the salad. It is always well received at potlucks and blends well with any type of food. Here’s the recipe:

Recipe: (Vegan) Russian-Korean Carrot Salad

6 cups grated carrots
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
3 Tablespoons oil

Mix all ingredients together. Chill.

I tried grating the carrots by hand…once. My arm got so sore, I regretted it and never did it again. Instead, I opt for a food processor. Cut the carrots into pieces about 3 inches long or so, enough to fit into the feeder of your food processor.

And another tip: I never peel my carrots. I don’t see why I should. I buy organic and wash them. More fiber and nutrients for those eating it; less work for me. Hey, I’m practical!

I know the photo looks like there is nothing but carrots, but trust me, there is something else there, and there is definitely flavor. It tastes better as you let it stand, too, because the flavors meld.

Give this Russian-Korean carrot salad a try. It’s a little salty, a little sweet, a little sour, a little spicy, and just an interesting and nice addition to any meal.

How to Thicken Soup

December 30, 2010

It’s soup season! The cool weather screams for some warm, liquid nourishment. But sometimes you make a soup and it ends up thinner than you’d like, and you want to fix that. How to make soup thicker? Here are some soup thickening agents you can use.

Add or subtract
You have the choice of either adding a thickening agent to the soup, or subtracting some the whole ingredients already in the soup to make it thicker.

Some ingredients make creamy, thick broths as they cook down. These include lentils, split peas, and mung beans. As long as you don’t add too much water, you’ll end up with a thick, hearty soup. So you can start with those to ensure a thicker finished product.

Blend or mash some of the soup
To “subtract” ingredients, take some of them out and blend or mash them, to create a thicker texture. No need to remove them from the pot.

You can use a potato masher and smash some of them. Leave some of them whole, to get nice texture. I do this with a Portuguese Bean Soup recipe I make. Without mashing, I get a watery broth with chunks of potato, carrot, and beans. After I mash part of the soup, I get a thick, creamy mixture loaded with beans, carrots and potatoes. Delicious!

You can also use a blender to blend part or all of your soup. This works especially well if you have a starchy ingredient in your soup, such as potatoes or pumpkin. The starch creates a velvety texture.

When you add hot foods to a blender, NEVER put the lid on completely, without leaving room for the air to escape. This can cause your blender to explode, spurting hot soup everywhere.

ALWAYS take the lid, or at least that center section out, and cover it with a cloth or towel. Or leave the lid ajar. I do this and also cover it with a towel, just to be safe.

Use a starch slurry
A slurry is a mixture of starch and water. You can use any number of starches, including cornstarch, flour, potato starch, rice flour, arrowroot, or tapioca starch. But the properties of each differ. For example, a flour slurry will end up with a cloudy or opaque soup. Cornstarch slurries end up clear or translucent.

To use a slurry, blend the starch with a small amount of COLD water until it is dissolved. Then add to your soup and stir constantly until the soup boils and the mixture thickens. Often it will thicken even more as it cools.

You can try something like 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch in 1/4 cup cold water. Or about 4 Tablespoons flour in 1/2 cup water. See if that is enough. If not, repeat until it is thick enough.

Since you just diluted the soup, taste it and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. And I recommend taking notes every time you make a new recipe. Nothing is more frustrating than cooking something, and not taking notes, since you figure you’ll never make it again, and having it turn out so delicious, you WANT to make it again, but you didn’t write anything down or measure as you go! (It’s happened too many times!)

Use a cooked roux
Roux is the classic thickening method used in Cajun and Creole cooking in Louisiana. Gumbo gets its thickness and flavor in large part from the roux.

Basically, equal parts of fat and flour are used. Fat can be lard, bacon fat, shortening, oil, or butter. The mixture is cooked and stirred for up to several hours. It must be watched carefully so it doesn’t burn. The starches in the flour brown and produce a rich flavor and dark color.

Each cook will have a special mixture and procedure to make their dishes shine in their own fabulous way. Some people make the roux in the oven, but however you make it, patience is required.

Those are the basic soup thickening agents you can use. Now that you know how to thicken soup, you’ll be able to fix your too-watery concoction the next time it happens.

Vegetarian/Vegan Minestrone Soup

December 28, 2010
vegetarian minestrone soup

Hearty and filling Vegan Minestrone Soup

Minestrone is a classic Italian soup which usually contains vegetables, beans, and pasta or rice. It is a hearty and filling soup and can be a complete meal in itself. Here is my recipe for Vegan or Vegetarian Minestrone Soup.

A close friend is grieving the loss of her husband, and comfort food to her means soup. So even though the weather here so far this winter has been alternating between rainstorms and hot days, and I have heat rashes every day, I made more soup for her.

This time it was minestrone, a hearty classic. You wouldn’t think a mixture of vegetables, beans and pasta would be so tasty, but it is.

If you use pasta and are vegan, check to be sure eggs are not one of the ingredients. And the black beans were a mistake. I meant to put kidney beans, but I was looking at the can next to the one I grabbed, since they are usually in separate sections in my pantry. But when I opened it, I discovered it was black beans, so I added them and then another can of kidney beans also. They taste great, and my friend prefers black beans anyway, so it’s just as well.

I use fresh herbs from my garden. But if you only have dried, substitute three times the dried amount. Also, some people find the taste of fresh oregano too overpowering. But the herbs aren’t even noticeable in this recipe.

The final product ended up being almost no liquid at all, so you might want to alter that if you like a lot of liquid in your soup. I suppose this recipe is more like a stew. I would eliminate one of the potatoes and cut the pasta amount in half, and see where you end up. Or you can just add another cup or two of water and adjust the salt level to taste.

Vegetarian (Vegan) Minestrone Soup

3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (6 ounces, 170 grams) tomato paste
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15.25 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
7 cups water
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 medium potatoes, cubed (I used Yukon golds)
1/2 small head of cabbage, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, or 2 teaspoons dried
4 Tablespoons fresh basil, or 4 teaspoons dried

1 cup small pasta (I used elbow macaroni)
1 cup frozen peas, rinsed

In a very large pot, saute the onion, celery and carrots in olive oil for 10 minutes.

Add the garlic, tomato paste, beans, water, salt, potato, cabbage, and herbs. Cover and cook 15 minutes.

Add the pasta. Cover and cook 15 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in the frozen peas. Let sit at least 5 minutes.

You can drizzle each serving with a little extra virgin olive oil, if desired. Serve with a hearty bread for a complete meal. Makes 10-12 servings.

If you are a soup lover, here are some more ideas and tips for vegetarian and vegan soup.

Vegetarian and Vegan Soups

December 28, 2010

Your favorite soups might include chicken noodle, minestrone, and clam chowder. But if you are a vegetarian or vegan, chances are, you can’t eat those any more. Or can you? Here is a guide to vegetarian and vegan soups.

Obviously, soups that rely on meat or animal ingredients for their main flavor components cannot be vegetarian. But you can sometimes make acceptable versions by replacing those animal products with other ingredients to mimic the textures and flavors of what you are leaving out.

Generally, you can use vegetable broth in place of animal broths in recipes, such as chicken or beef. Adding a small amount of roasted sesame oil can give a soup a little boost of somehow more meaty or hearty flavor.

Mushrooms add nice texture and flavor to soups. Starchy vegetables, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin allow you to make a creamy soup without any cream, although the dairy flavor won’t be there.

If you are a vegetarian, using cream may be an option to you. Vegans can use a commercial soy creamer. But I usually opt for boosting the flavor with other vegetables, herbs, spices, or other ingredients.

There are several types of soups. Here are a few of them, with tips on how to make vegetarian or vegan versions of them.

Clear soups
These are usually clear broths with small pieces of other things in them for texture. You can use a commercially prepared vegetable broth or vegetable soup base to replace chicken or beef broth in any recipe. But don’t try to substitute with just water. You’ll end up with salty water with stuff floating around in it. You really need to use a good stock, for the complex flavor it offers.

Some examples of clear broth type soups are French onion soup, miso soup, and spinach and fake bacon soup. Chicken broth made with nutritional yeast, salt and spices is another option that can be consumed as is, or used like chicken broth in another recipe.

Cream soups
Traditionally, cream soups are made with heavy cream, half and half, or milk. If you are a vegetarian, that will work out just fine. Some you can try are cream of mushroom, cream of spinach, broccoli, or cauliflower.

But if you are a vegan, you will need to replace the dairy products with an alternative. You can try using soymilk or coconut milk instead. The higher fat content in coconut milk gives that richness that you sometimes long for in a cream soup.

As an alternative, you can blend soups that have a lot of flavor into a creamier, smoother soup. That way you feel like you are having a cream soup, but it won’t have any cream in it. This works especially well if you have potatoes or sweet potatoes in the soup, because they blend into a velvety texture that is luxurious when you eat it.

My Vegan Roasted Vegetable Soup recipe uses roasting, plus the creaminess of pumpkin, to make a rich, velvety soup.

Chunky, hearty stews and soups

Another type of soup is the chunky, hearty one, loaded with grains, pasta, beans, legumes and vegetables. These are wonderful served as main courses in and of themselves. I like to add some mouthwatering homemade whole-grain bread and a green salad, too.

Vegetarian lentil soup is a perennial favorite, especially because you can use water instead of animal or even vegetable broth. The lentils cook down to create a flavorful broth by themselves. But if you add celery, carrots, onion, and garlic, you can boost the flavor even more.

Lentils also pair well with just about any vegetable or spice combination. Some favorites are sweet potatoes, kale, and curry or sweet sour flavors. Here is a very mildly Vegan Curried Lentil Soup to try.

In-between soups
Then you have those vegetarian and vegan soup recipes that are not too terribly hearty, but aren’t light clear soups, either. They often contain beans, grains, and vegetables in some combination, but keep a clear broth.

This recipe for Vegan Chocolate Vegetable Soup is a good example. It also has the distinction of being one of the few savory chocolate recipes you will find. It’s unusual and quite delicious, as well as easy to make.

There you have a basic introduction to vegetarian and vegan soups. They are perfect when the weather gets chilly, and they are a great way to use up leftovers. And they are easy to cook, because you can do something else while they simmer away, warming your house and filling it with delicious smells.

Vegan Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins

December 24, 2010

(SORRY, no photo this time. I gave the whole batch away while they were still warm (minus one for quality control, of course!) I’ll take a photo the next time, because I WILL be making these again.)

Calling all pb and j fans!

Here’s a quick and yummy recipe you can whip up for a snack or to give away as last-minute gifts. You are likely to have everything in your pantry already, and by altering the type of jam you use, you can make different flavors. And need I say it is a huge hit with kids?! Here is the recipe for Vegan Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins.

One of the challenges with vegan baking is getting an end product that is not dense or tough and that will hold together instead of falling apart. Because you don’t use eggs, you need a substitute that can provide leavening and binding both.

After one of our refrigerators broke, I scrambled for two days, cooking the frozen fruit we had in there, which had been intended to make smoothies the rest of the year, into jam. But I didn’t process any of it. It’s in the fridge, biding its time. It should last a month or two, probably, before it gets bad.

But because I never eat jam, except in the occasional peanut butter sandwich, which is perfect for traveling with, I had to find another way to use it. Voila–these muffins!

My first attempt came out too wet, heavy, and the batch was much too big. This second attempt is perfect. The muffins are light, and the flavors of the peanut butter and jam both come through beautifully.

I added the jam near the end, because I wanted to have a few small pockets of just jam, although it seems to not have made much difference. If you want chunks of jam, you’re better off using jam that has big chunks in it.

I used a strawberry jam with chunks of apple in it. Fabulous, although the little strawberry seeds do get stuck in your teeth.

Recipe: Vegan Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins

1/2 cup peanut butter
2/3 cup nondairy milk (I used soymilk)
1/2 to 2/3 cup sugar, depending on how sweet or sour your jam is
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar (I assume white vinegar would also work)
1/2 cup chopped peanuts, optional
1-1/3 cup whole wheat flour (regular would be fine)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup jam

In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter, milk, sugar, vinegar and peanuts. Mix well.

Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt until almost completely mixed. Add jam. Stir gently to just incorporate it.

Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray. Fill muffin cups. Bake at 375 degrees F for 25-30 minutes, or until a stick comes out clean.

Let cool a few minutes before removing from the muffin tin. Makes 12 muffins.

I used a creamy peanut butter and added the chopped nuts because I wanted the texture, but you can omit them if you prefer. These baked up light and surprisingly soft and tender. I will definitely be making these vegan peanut butter and jelly muffins again!