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.

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!

Types of Vegan Desserts

December 21, 2010

A lot of people are worried, when they are contemplating changing to a vegan diet, or when they are just beginning, that they will miss out on eating some of their favorite foods. While that is true, you’d be surprised at how much vegans can actually eat–and it tastes great, too! What about desserts? Here are several types of vegan desserts you can have.

The reality is, almost everything you can have as an omnivore, dessert wise, you can have as a vegan, with a few exceptions. Ice cream has to be made with something other than cream, marshmallows need something besides gelatin in them, and I’ve yet to see a decent rendition of anything made with egg whites as a base, such as macaroons or lemon meringue pie.

But as far as other desserts are concerned, you can still have your vegan cake, and eat it, too!

The main substitutions in these are to replace the eggs with something else that will produce a light end product. Often the biggest factor is a dense cake when the eggs are removed. But egg substitutes can work quite well here.

For a Halloween party, I made vegan chocolate spider cakes with a mixed berry “blood” filling. Scrumptious!

Butter must be replaced with oil or a dairy-free butter substitute. For cookies like gingersnaps or peanut butter cookies, oil is fine, because the other ingredients give a robust flavor. But plain cookies, like sugar cookies, really need the buttery flavor that a substitute adds to the equation.

Tapioca pudding is a fabulous vegan dessert, because it can be made with coconut milk. Chocolate and coconut puddings also are fine, but I haven’t yet found a decent vanilla pudding recipe. Too often it tastes like a starchy, sticky version of the soymilk or ricemilk it was made of.

Fruit pies are easy to veganize. The butter or lard in the crust needs to be replaced with vegetable shortening or oil. Alternately, you could use a raw pie crust made from ground nuts, dates, and other similar ingredients.

Some firmer pies, such as baked pumpkin or chilled “cream” pies use tofu to get them to set to a firm consistency. I’ve also had success using starch in cooked pies to get the same result.

Frozen desserts
Nope, you can’t have ice cream, but you can have soy, rice, nut, grain, or coconut milk-based variations. You can use soy yogurt to make frozen yogurt, like this chocolate frozen yogurt.

And the flavor combinations are just as varied as with normal ice cream, with the possible exception of maple-bacon ice cream. (Although, to be fair, I haven’t yet tried to make a vegan version. Hmm…add it to my to-do list?)

Rice-based desserts
Many Asian countries have desserts that are heavily based on rice and rice flour, including glutinous rice. These include mochi, sticky rice pudding with coconut milk, various cakes and sweets made with rice flour batters, and steamed glutinous rice bundles with sweetened beans or fruit tucked inside.

Chocolate, as long as there is no milk in it, is okay. And vegan sugar can be used to make hard candies. I’ve made chocolate truffles, fruit and nut clusters, and apricot-filled chocolates, all vegan.

Fruit-based desserts
In addition to pies, fruits can be served plain, or dressed up slightly with other flavors, like these Spiced Apples, or in a fruit salad. They can be made into crumbles or crisps, like this Vegan Apple Crisp. They can be put into breads and served for dessert, like Vegan Blueberry Muffins or Vegan Banana Bread.

You can see that vegans aren’t terribly limited when it comes to desserts, so you don’t have to worry too much about it. Vegan desserts are here to stay, and if you have never tried one, fear not. Try one of these recipes to see how delicious they can be.

Halloween Desserts Ideas

October 29, 2010
halloween cupcake decorating ideas

Easy Halloween cupcake decorating ideas

I played around with a couple ideas this year for easy to do, quick, yet effective Halloween dessert ideas. Cupcakes and cakes were the focus. They mix up quickly and you can prepare the frosting or other foods while they are baking and cooling.

Here are some of my favorites.

NOTE: If you don’t have chocolate clay/modeling chocolate, you can soften Tootsie Roll candies with your hands and shape those.

Find more Halloween party food ideas and tons of Halloween party stuff at my Halloween site.

Halloween Cupcake Decorating Ideas

Bite of the Vampire Halloween Cupcake

vampire bite halloween cupcakes

Vampire bite halloween cupcakes

This one is the simplest of all. With all the vampire movies and books around these days, it’s sure to be a popular theme.

Use any flavor of cupcake you like, although red velvet would be a fun and fitting surprise when you bite into it.

Frost the whole cake with a light colored icing. Using a chopstick, poke two holes for the fang puncture wounds. Using red gel icing or frosting, fill the holes and dribble some down, to look like blood dripping.

Zombie Hands Halloween Cupcakes

zombie hands Halloween cupcakes

Zombie hands Halloween cupcakes

Use either marzipan or modeling chocolate to make tiny hands, or purchase some novelty hands if you can find them. Make the arm portion extra long, so that it’s long enough to stick up once inserted into the cake.

Leave them out overnight to dry out a bit and harden.

Use any flavor cake and frosting, and poke a hole in the top with the large end of a chopstick. Stick the hand in.

Nummy Mummies Halloween Cupcakes

mummy halloween cupcakes

Mummy Halloween cupcakes

Use any flavor cupcake you like, and a light or cream-colored frosting. You’ll need two brightly colored, small round candies for eyes, two per cake.

Spread some frosting along the top edge and a little ways down the cake. Think of this as the bandage going over the mummy’s head. Leave an unfrosted area below that, just large enough for the eyes to peek out.

Add more frosting below the eyes, to cover the rest of the cake. Dip the eyes into a small amount of frosting to help them stick, then place them on the cake.

You can add a dot of darker frosting in the center of the candies for a better eyeball look.

Skulls Halloween Cupcakes

skull halloween cupcakes

Skull Halloween cupcakes

Use any flavor of cupcake, plus a light frosting. You’ll also need a darker frosting or chocolate modeling clay.

Spread frosting in a skull shape. Make a figure eight shape, but keep the upper section bigger, and make the lower section with straight sides.

Using frosting or chocolate clay, make two ovals for eyes. Make two tiny ovals or lines for nostrils. And make three narrow vertical lines below that for the teeth.

Cute Vampires Halloween Cupcakes

cute vampire halloween cupcakes

Cute Vampire Halloween cupcakes

Use any flavor of cupcake and a light colored frosting. You’ll also need either red gel icing or frosting, plus some fruit leather, chocolate modeling clay, or a darker frosting, but that’s optional. You can make the whole thing in red.

Spread frosting all over the cake. With the red icing, draw a curved line for a smile. Then make two triangles from either red icing, or cut them from fruit leather and add them to the mouth.

Use two dots of frosting, or balls of modeling chocolate for eyes. To make hair, use a narrow triangle, either cut from fruit leather, or use frosting. Have the narrow point down, towards the eyes, to look like a widow’s peak.

Halloween Cake Ideas

Graveyard Tombstones Halloween Cake

graveyard halloween cake

Graveyard Halloween cake

You can use any flavor of cake for this, and any type of frosting. You’ll also need pre-baked rectangular cookies, or cookies with a rounded, oval end. For adding tombstone writing, use another color of icing, such as red, orange, or black, or melted chocolate.

Frost the entire cake. Use the icing or melted chocolate to carefully pipe a tiny cross or RIP on each cookie. Insert one into the edge of each cupcake. You may need to place a toothpick behind the cookie to keep it from falling over.

For added effect, add a mound of crushed cookie crumbs, coconut, or frosting, to look like the mound of a grave.

NOTE: The cookies tend to get soggy once you place them into the frosting. So either add them just before serving, or be okay with a graveyard that is falling apart.

Slasher Halloween Cake

slasher halloween cake

Slasher Halloween cake

This one is really easy, takes no talent, and looks really gross.

The idea behind this is a violent killer with a knife. Use any kind of cake you like, in any flavor. You’ll need to frost the top with a light colored frosting. Using a tube of red gel icing, or some icing colored red, create lines and pools of “blood.”

If you have a severed body part prop, this gets even more gross. Put the hand, foot, finger, or eyeball on top the cake, with a pool of blood icing around the cut area.

For a final sickly touch, have a large knife nearby. Put red icing along the blade and in several spots on the handle, to look like bloody fingerprints.

I wrote “Happy Halloween” on mine, and you can see, you don’t even need to use fancy script or anything. It’s quite an effective look.

Find more Halloween party food ideas and tons of Halloween party stuff at my Halloween site.

I hope you’ll get to try at least one of these quick, easy Halloween desserts this year. Have a spooktacular, fun time!

Appreciation for the complexity of Nature

March 13, 2010

One miraculous, home-grown, organic strawberry

As I ponder the first strawberry from the garden that has not been eaten by something (I suspect roaches) before it has ripened, I marvel at the miracles of Nature.

One friend has died, gone from dancing and alive, to dead, within a month’s time. Liver cancer killed him quickly.

Another has diabetes. She is skinnier and younger than I am, rarely eats processed foods, eats lots of salads, exercises daily. Her doctor is stumped. She doesn’t fit the profile for the disease. I do, but I don’t have it.

Recently we were all on tsunami alert, awakened at 7 am by the blaring of the emergency warning sirens. The 8.8 earthquake in Chile meant a high risk of tsunami here in Hawaii. Yet nothing came.

What do we know?
Despite all the modern technology, all the science, all the drugs and surgery and diagnostic procedures and tests, we still know next to nothing. All we have are pieces of the larger puzzle, plus the finished picture, with no real idea how everything fits together.

People outlive their prognoses every day, seemingly because they have the will to live. Diabetes is rampant in our society, and despite what everyone says, they really don’t know why. Ditto for osteoporosis, cancer, and ADHD and autism. All the computer monitoring and calculating and predicting still can’t tell us if and when an earthquake, tsunami, or flood is coming.

We know there is still magic around us
In a way, it’s a good thing we don’t know all the answers. If everything were cut and dried, there would be no room for wonderment, creativity, and exploration.

This way, there’s room for hope, surprises, and good old-fashioned magic. And for those, like me, who respect the fact that Nature has healing power we can tap if we try.

Nature is amazing.
Plants and animals have the power to heal, kill, poison, hallucinate, attract, repel, destroy, remove pain, abort fetuses, strengthen entire bodily systems…all within them, naturally. We humans have been learning from them for eons.

We extract substances, dissect them, re-create them chemically and sell them as drugs and supplements. We are surprised when they don’t work as well as the original plants or hormones or chemicals. We forget that Nature has a world of infinite wisdom and complexity in a single, tiny strawberry.

Am I just plain old lucky?
Maybe. I’ve been a vegetarian for 26 years now. I’m mostly sedentary, overweight, and I don’t meditate. I eat white sugar and some eggs (from our spoiled brat chickens!) and dairy every now and then. I take a lot of supplements. I eat chocolate every day. Do NOT touch my stash!! I drink a lot of herbal teas, not for any specific properties per se, but a nice variety, because they taste good, and because I know each one has a bounty of good we don’t even know about, hidden inside it.

Unlike most everyone else my age, I don’t have high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure. So I must be doing something right. Yay!

Thank you, gods! Thank you, Nature! Because nobody else seems to have the answers.