Potatoes and Poblano Roasted in Spicy Coconut-Tomatillo Sauce

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After a fairly balmy introduction to November, the temperatures are finally beginning to dip here and there, and the oven is officially back in play. Creamy potatoes to the rescue.

But not just any creamy potatoes. Instead, take two minutes to open two cans and blend up a blissfully fast, tangy, and downright dreamy mixture of rich coconut milk, hot serrano pepper, a little garlic, and a handful of acidic tomatillos. And because poblano peppers and potatoes are always fast friends, throw a little extra green on top. Let the oven take care of the rest. The result is comforting, warming, unexpectedly zippy, and entirely irresistible.

This sauce obviously works well on potatoes, but no one would blame you if you started roasting all kinds of things in it (beans!). If you try something different, be sure to share it in the comments.

Potatoes and Poblano Roasted in Spicy Coconut-Tomatillo Sauce

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serves 4 generously

1 lb baby gold potatoes, halved or quartered into bite-size pieces

1 small-medium poblano pepper, seeded, trimmed, and cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 12-oz can whole tomatillos, drained (about 4-5 small whole tomatillos)

1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk

1 serrano pepper, trimmed and seeded, roughly chopped

1 small-medium clove garlic

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp ground coriander

Heat oven to 425.

Lay the chopped potatoes in one layer in a baking dish that fits them fairly snugly. Sprinkle the chopped poblano over, keeping them toward the center and away from the edges of the dish.

Use a small food processor or immersion blender to blend the tomatillos, coconut milk, serrano pepper, garlic, salt, and coriander. Pour slowly and evenly over potatoes.

Bake 55 minutes, or until potatoes are browned, tender, and the sauce is thickened and bubbling. Let cool five minutes before serving.



On the Town No. 2: Knoxville, November 2015

AKA that time that week spent playing tourist in-town—and mostly in-neighborhood—resulted in almost no cooking, lots of window shopping, a little gallery hopping, attending several musical performances (not pictured but tons of fun), and combing through one very cool pottery studio's fall open house (another hasty photo essay):

Back later this week with a recipe. For real, this time.



Party Animals No. 38: Halloween 2015

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Murderous cupcake toppers! They happened because Halloween was celebrated at the MSV house this year with a Clue-themed party. Since the party was dreamed up based on the styling in the movie (though all costuming interpretations were welcome), that meant for planning purposes the year was 1954, and everyone had gathered for a fairly fancy dinner. Working with that theme for a casual home party, the spread:

Working front to back:

  • Roots & Branches crackers (three varieties: plain, sesame, and black pepper)
  • white wine-garlic almond paté
  • mushroom-pecan paté
  • tart apple, cream cheese, and dijon sandwiches on store-bought seeded wheat bread
  • chocolate cupcakes a generous friend contributed
  • smoky eggplant-wrapped dates

Scroll down for drink details. The cupcakes and frosting are Isa's recipes. The original plan for the sandwiches was to use brie, but our Whole Foods was out of the Kite Hill soft ripened. A simple swap for Kite Hill cream cheese still made for a really tasty sandwich.

To make the dates, prepare eggplant strips per the instructions in this post. When cool enough to handle, wrap the eggplant around pitted dates, heat them seam-down for 10 minutes in a 400-degree oven, apply toothpicks, and transfer to a serving dish. (You'll get about 25 dates.)

The recipe for the white wine-garlic almond paté is in this post. Served here is the shortcut version where there's no fooling with molding—the paté was served directly from the ramekins. The mushroom paté was only slightly tweaked (only for convenience, and this one is too close to the original for posting the recipe here to be cool) from New Vegetarian, landed a couple months back at a local second-hand bookstore. It's dead lovely. Portobello mushrooms, toasted pecans, shallots, thyme, black pepper, and brandy all team up to make one seriously flavorful, if gray, paté.

Because there's no lily that doesn't get gilded around here, cocktails started with a couple of great syrups made from the ingredients above. That's as close as you'll get to photos of drinks today.

The two main drinks were a ginger-sage sparkling wine cocktail to start, plus rye and ginger ale. The three things offered in dialogue in Clue are champagne, whiskey, and brandy, so that's where planning started. Additionally, there was a big batch of sparkling lavender lemonade, which could be enjoyed alone or combined with gin.

In the back there are the two Mrs. Peacocks chatting with each other.

Back next week with a new recipe.



Dead Simple Date-Pumpkin Butter

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Pumpkin may be the face of October around here, but this spread is really more of an ode to the date, possibly the most decadent whole food there is. To celebrate that sticky little fruit, you'll add a dose of wildly convenient canned pumpkin puree to smooth out and lighten up what would otherwise be a decidedly thick paste. Otherwise, there are only gentle enhancements from a little brandy and vanilla, plus a subtle undertone of warmth from black pepper and cinnamon.

The result tastes a whole lot like dates and pumpkin in spreadable form and is a handy jar to have around for all those muffins that keep coming out of your oven this time of year.

Dead Simple Date-Pumpkin Butter

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yields about 1 1/4 cups

15 dates, pitted

1/4 cup unfiltered apple juice (look for a brand that contains nothing but apples)

1 TBSP brandy

3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree (look for a brand that contains nothing but pumpkin)

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/16 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

Add dates, apple juice, and brandy to a small pot. Bring to a boil, covered, reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a strong simmer, and cook five minutes.

Meanwhile, add pumpkin, vanilla, cinnamon, and pepper to a food processor. When the dates are ready, carefully add the contents of the pot to the processor. Process until smooth.

The spread can be used immediately, but it's best to chill it several hours before using to let the flavors mingle.



Spicy & Smoky Two-Bean Dip

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Say, do you like beans? Well, are you ever in the right place.

That may not look like much, but you're approaching the height of comfort food with this dish right here. And it's dead simple. Simmering canned pinto beans with chipotles en adobo and a bay leaf gets you a pretty great dip by itself. (The heat here isn't intense, but if you're sensitive to it, reduce the chipotles or try substituting them altogether with some liquid smoke.)

But there's no reason to stop there.

While the pintos are simmering, you might as well combine a can of black beans with a couple different spices and let them get soft and saucy. Put them together and you've got a bowl of joy. Serve it all with a salad spiked with citrus—green or otherwise—or use that salad as a taco topper (swap cilantro in for the mint) and tuck this creamy dream of beans into warm tortillas. Did it just get hungry in here?

Spicy & Smoky Two-Bean Dip

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2 15-oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

3 small-medium chipotles en adobo (seeded, if desired)

1 dried bay leaf

1 cup vegetable broth (not tomato-based), divided

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

salt, to taste

Add pinto beans, chipotles, and bay leaf to a medium pot with 3/4 cup of the broth. Stir to combine. In a small pot, combine black beans, cumin, coriander, paprika, and 1/4 cup broth.

Bring both pots to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer. For the pintos, cover and simmer over low heat. For the black beans, simmer uncovered on medium-low (or slightly lower, as needed) heat. Stir both pots occasionally and let cook 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, the black beans should be hot and still a little saucy. Adjust salt, if needed. Turn the heat off and cover to keep warm. At this point, uncover the pinto beans and let simmer an additional five minutes.

Remove pinto beans from heat and mash thoroughly with a potato masher. The beans should not be soupy, but there may be what seems like some extra liquid remaining, which is good. The beans will thicken shortly. Adjust salt, if needed.

Transfer mashed pinto beans to a serving bowl. Top with black beans and serve at once.



Penne in Dead Simple Eggplant Sauce with Smoked Almonds and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

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You get a lot of lovable stuff on this plate: chewy pasta, silky eggplant, smoked almonds, and sun-dried tomatoes. They sell themselves.

Eggplant is notoriously difficult to cook to pleasing texture. It can turn mushy, which becomes an advantage if you're making pasta sauce. Cooked with white wine and garlic, it's a great autumnal alternative to tomato sauce.

Now for the ease with which you can get all that lovable stuff onto your plate. Come home, pour yourself a glass of wine (or don't), chop an eggplant, chop some garlic, run your knife through the tomatoes and almonds. Put the sauce ingredients in a pan (don't even bother sauteing), cover, and walk away while it simmers. Put your feet up. Read a magazine story (or don't). Sweat absolutely nothing. Boil some pasta, and dinner is served.

Penne in Dead Simple Eggplant Sauce with Smoked Almonds and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

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serves about 6

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium globe eggplant, 1 1/4 lbs total weight, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch cubes

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 TBSP nutritional yeast

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1 cup dry white wine

scant 1/4 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP salted smoked almonds, chopped

1 lb whole wheat penne, or other pasta

Add the oil, cubed eggplant, garlic, oregano, salt, and nutritional yeast to a large skillet. Pour wine over skillet contents. Cover, bring wine to a boil, and reduce heat to low to maintain a steady simmer. Cook, covered, 30 minutes. Use a potato masher to create a pulpy sauce. Stir in sun-dried tomatoes, cover again, and keep warm.

Cook pasta according to package directions (10-11 minutes for al dente whole wheat penne). Drain well. Add to a large serving bowl. Pour the sauce in, toss well, and top with chopped smoked almonds. Serve at once.



Party Animals No. 37: Chili Dinner for Mom's Birthday

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Peeking out to the left there is cornbread. To the right, a brownie recipe in progress.

It's definitely getting there.

And in the tureen, the only red chili recipe you'll ever need.

It's very good. The mushrooms sometimes don't make their way into chili around here, but otherwise, follow the recipe faithfully, and you will be rewarded.

On top there (and too far to the left of the frame to be seen in the picture up top), homemade vegan sour cream. To make your own, first make a batch of soy yogurt. Once you have that, combine two tablespoons of yogurt with one cup of soy milk and one-quarter cup of refined coconut oil. Leave, covered, on a warm counter for 24 hours. Whiz with the immersion blender after adding a pinch of salt, and that's it. Keeps for a week to 10 days in the refrigerator.

Zsu has a sour cream recipe on her site, but it calls for adding some other stuff. Which is fine, of course. It may be just the thing—let me know if you try it. But this version is so blissfully straightforward (from a dairy recipe here) that it's likely to become the go-to around here on the rare occasions we might really want some sour cream on the table. Like a chili dinner for four on a gray, rainy day. It's mild in flavor, but cool and creamy and does just what it's supposed to with no fuss.

See you next week with a new recipe.



Hash Brown Bake for MSV's Third Anniversary

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Let's begin with a confession: I created this recipe for Thanksgiving. I know that's a holiday nearly two months away, and this post is for MSV's third anniversary, but bear with me. I also know that Thanksgiving is about as insensitive and manufactured a holiday as you could dream up, but my family celebrates it. I think most holidays here get uncomfortable. Folks in the U.S. fire up the grill and crack open the brews on Memorial Day. We hit big sales at big box stores on Labor Day. National holidays are meant to recognize dramatic parts of our history, yet it's perfectly human to want to gather with friends and family when those of us lucky enough to get it find free time.

I don't think the dominant U.S. culture is particularly good at gathering with people to remember and recognize. We're trained to be optimists and told we're masters of our destinies. When someone tells us their troubles, we're prone to insist the silver lining is bigger than the cloud. Instead of recognizing, we "celebrate," with decidedly upbeat connotation. Jovially celebrating dramatic parts of our history gets inappropriate pretty fast.

To be honest, I do love Thanksgiving as a celebration of fall harvest and as a way to ease the long nights. It helps that it's a food-centric holiday, and my hobby is cooking, and I get to prepare the big meal for my small family. Most of the time, I cook for myself. In a way, I cook for you guys here on MSV. But people need people, and actually serving food to people means something to me.

I took over Thanksgiving hosting duties in my late twenties because one year neither my mother nor my boyfriend's mother, the traditional preparers, wanted to cook. I thought skipping it sounded like a bummer, so I offered to host. I've done it for years now, but I went vegan a few years in, and I'm firm about not cooking animal products in my home. The lack of tradition allows me to tweak the menu annually for variety, and also to figure out what plant dishes everyone likes best. That means by Halloween, I'm fretting about a centerpiece for late November.

My hosting dinner started out with really low stakes. I was just trying to make sure we didn't miss out on a day most of the people we knew were digging into full tables. But I'm testing early this year because this Thanksgiving feels like a bigger deal than it has been in the past.

My boyfriend's mother, Shirley, died in early September after many tough years of living with pulmonary disease. I knew her as a selfless woman who always made me feel welcome in her home (no small task when dealing with someone as lousy at conversation as I am). Even though we weren't legally family, I never doubted that she considered me part of hers. She accepted both me and my relationship with her son and genuinely appreciated them as they are, even if the shape of those might not have been easy for her to understand. She went to her grave without knowing what practicing veganism means, though I'd been doing it for nearly four years at the time of her death. And that my boyfriend and I aren't married after the better part of a decade together is probably a fact that seemed strange (possibly even wrong) to her, but one that she never asked me to answer for.

Shirley kind of hated Thanksgiving, at least in the time I knew her. Occasionally, I feel badly that I probably forced her to keep celebrating it. We might have let the whole thing drop, and I suspect that would've been all right with her. A decidedly fussy eater in general, she once announced over a holiday meal she had prepared that she hated holiday food. But her family loves it.

I didn't host Thanksgiving last year. Shirley struggled once a year with weak lungs to climb the two flights of stairs that lead to our apartment, and she'd understandably had enough of it. She instead searched out one of the buffets in town where we all went together, and I made a spread for my boyfriend and me the next day. Now, given that fall is here, one of the ways my boyfriend and his father have talked about looking ahead and spending time together in the wake of Shirley's death is planning to gather once again at our home for the Thanksgiving meal.

One of the dishes Shirley made for special occasions was a potato casserole, heady with saturated fat, topped with breakfast cereal flakes, and greeted eagerly by everyone in the family (except me, with the incomprehensible diet). I'm not going to try to make it. She liked that casserole. It was one of the few things she did eat off a holiday table(*). It would seem misguided, even ghoulish, to me to try to recreate her casserole. I'm setting this table for people I care about who are in pain. It's important to me to recognize that in whatever small way I can. But I can't quiet the urge to commemorate her when it comes time for me to host my family, and I tend to respond to life with food.

So instead I've worked out a potato dish of my own that I hope will serve a similar function to Shirley's casserole. This one keeps it simple and adds creamy fat through foods I'm comfortable working with, almond meal and soy milk. And as a replacement for the beloved thinly sliced herbed potatoes from Veganomicon I used to make for Thanksgiving, it's much quicker to throw together, a definite bonus when you're putting together a large spread. It also takes one convenient cue from Shirley's casserole by using pre-cut frozen potatoes. Though nontraditional, it's nevertheless a rich and comforting dish. It can't do a thing about the death of a family member. But it's what I need to cook right now.

This is MSV's third anniversary, and I'm grateful you guys are all here for it. In the weeks leading up to this, I persisted in testing a cake to post for today, but I finally had to admit it felt forced. A classic marker of festivity doesn't fit here right now. This fall for my family isn't really about celebration. It's more about recognizing and remembering. We have things to regret and things to be happy for. This year, fewer of us will do just that around a full table.


(*Another was biscuits, which I always made sure to include for her. Note I'm updating that recipe this year to substitute vegetable shortening for half the nondairy butter, which makes a dramatically more tender biscuit. I always used it as an omnivore, but eventually skipped buying it. I recently splurged on the shortening for a gift batch and was shocked at the difference. Sorry I fell down on those biscuits in the last few years, Shirley. You deserved better.)

Creamy Hash Brown Bake

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serves 6-8

1 cup unsweetened soy milk

1 cup blanched almond meal

1 clove garlic

1 TBSP nutritional yeast

1 TBSP lemon juice

3/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt, divided

1 lb frozen hash browns (look for a brand that contains nothing but potatoes)

3 TBSP panko crumbs

Heat oven to 375.

In a quart jar with an immersion blender, blend milk, almond meal, garlic, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, and 1/2 tsp salt.

In a shallow medium baking dish, spread hash browns evenly. Slowly and evenly pour milk blend over potatoes.

In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 tsp salt and panko crumbs. Sprinkle evenly over potatoes.

Bake 40 minutes, until creamy throughout and browning at the edges. Switch to the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top. Serve hot.



Dead Simple Za'atar-Spiced Tempeh Flatbreads

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So homemade soy yogurt has been happening around here. It's good stuff, and it works a humble kind of magic in this simple, generous wrap, where it's mixed with prepared hummus (like from these folks at area grocers or from your favorite corner falafel joint) to add creamy texture and mellow that potent dish out a bit. Next, slice up some tempeh, toss it with za'atar, and throw it on the countertop grill (or stovetop griddle).

Chop a little cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and parsley for one last gasp of summer produce. Finish it with a good dose of lemon, and say hello to a seriously satisfying wrap, easy enough for lunch and substantial enough for a dead-simple dinner.

And don't skip wrapping your flatbread with parchment or foil. It ensures all your filling stays in the flatbread, where you want it, instead of on your plate. Unwrap it little by little as you eat.

Dead Simple Za'atar-Spiced Tempeh Flatbreads

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serves 4

12 oz tempeh (1 1/2 8-oz packages)

1 1/2 TBSP olive oil

1 1/2 TBSP za'atar

1/2 cup hummus (preferably one not shy with the garlic)

1/4 cup plain (or unsweetened) nondairy yogurt

16 cherry tomatoes

1 small cucumber

small handful parsley

4 7-inch flatbreads (or pita loaves)

1 lemon, cut into four wedges

Heat a countertop electric grill (or a griddle on the stove).

Lay the block of tempeh in landscape position (with the long end toward you), and cut it in half. Cut each half in half. Cut each quarter into four equal slices. Repeat with other half-block of tempeh. You will have 24 slices.

Add oil and za'atar to a mixing bowl. Add tempeh slices and gently toss with hands until evenly coated (some will break—don't sweat it). Arrange tightly on the countertop grill in one layer and close the lid. Cook until golden, about 10 minutes. (If using a griddle, flip halfway through cooking.)

Meanwhile, cut cherry tomatoes in half. Chop cucumber into small dice. Roughly chop parsley.

When the tempeh is done, transfer to a plate and carefully wipe off grill. Cook each flatbread on the grill a few minutes each, until softened and showing some grill marks.

To assemble, place a piece of foil or parchment halfway down your plate. Place a flatbread on top. Spread three tablespoons of the hummus-yogurt mixture vertically along the center, leaving one inch at the top and bottom. Add six slices tempeh, eight tomato halves, a quarter of the cucumber (about two tablespoons), and parsley. Give a generous squeeze of lemon, fold the sides over, and fold the parchment or foil over that, twisting at the bottom to seal. Serve warm.



Lemon-Thyme Potato and Chickpea Hash

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Cooking a satisfying meal isn't always as simple as throwing a bunch of lovable things into one skillet, but today we get lucky. Both well balanced and deeply comforting, this mix of hearty chickpeas and tender potatoes offers high reward with low effort all in one skillet.

Brown the potatoes with salt and thyme, stir in the chickpeas, then top the whole thing with garlic and lemon. The heat does the rest of the work, and you have time to whip up a pretty green side dish to round out the plate. Shown above is a side of seared green beans topped with cubes of salty, smoky eggplant, all given a squeeze of lemon. It made for a great plate.

Red potatoes are recommended for texture and contrasting color next to the chickpeas, but feel free to use a gold or fingerling variety, if that's what you have around. Either way, don't reduce the oil called for in the recipe. Even if you use a nonstick skillet, the oil in the recipe is needed to keep the hash from becoming dry.

Lemon-Thyme Potato and Chickpea Hash

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serves 2 generously

1 TBSP plus 1 tsp olive oil, divided

1 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1 lb baby red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained well, but not rinsed

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lemon, sliced

freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes, thyme, and salt, and stir to combine. Let cook, undisturbed, 4-5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low, toss, and let cook another 8 minutes, tossing only every 3-4 minutes. The potatoes should be well browned.

Make a well in the center of the skillet and add the remaining teaspoon oil. Add chickpeas and let cook, undisturbed, 2 minutes. Toss everything in the skillet together, then sprinkle on the garlic evenly, and top with the lemon slices. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, undisturbed, until potatoes are tender, 10-12 minutes. (The moisture from the lemon and keeping the pan covered should prevent everything from sticking, but if you run into trouble, use water a tablespoon at a time to scrape loose any stuck bits.) Discard lemon slices, stir in freshly cracked black pepper, to taste, and serve hot.



Tofu, Smoky Eggplant, and Avocado Sandwich, AKA The "Hello, Sunshine"

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Tender tofu, intensely salty strips of eggplant, and rich avocado all come together on sourdough to make a deeply satisfying vegan breakfast sandwich. Before sandwiching, you'll top the whole thing with freshly cracked black pepper for heat and lemon zest for brightness. Irresistible. You'll likely find yourself eating it for lunch and dinner, too—it's way less fussy than the recipe might make it look.

The eggplant comes from this totally great Vegetarian Times recipe from a few years back, in which thin eggplant slices stand in for cured ham. Around here, it's a go-to for anything that could use a blast of salt and paprika.

There are a few reasons this eggplant is so adored around here. Tempeh can be difficult to slice thinly and needs a long-ish marinade to really soak up flavor. (It also works best fried, which is kinda gross in a kitchen without ventilation. Like the MSV kitchen.) Coconut bacon is beyond convenient, thanks to industrially produced dried coconut flakes, but it does taste of coconut. Which is fine, until it's not.

Eggplant, on the other hand, is notoriously thirsty, which means it takes on a bunch of flavor in only minutes. And knowing your end result needn't be super-chewy or crispy (i.e. not calling it "bacon") means there's way less pressure to nail a specific texture. Letting the eggplant be eggplant and, well, seasoning the hell out of it is all you need. Especially when paired, as here, with tofu, which already gives you good texture. Oh, and while the link calls for grilling, don't worry, the oven does just fine.

So dig in, already.

The "Hello, Sunshine" Sandwich

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yields four large sandwiches

For the eggplant, adapted from Vegetarian Times:

1 medium eggplant (about 1 lb), trimmed and peeled

1/4 cup olive oil

2 TBSP reduced-sodium tamari

2 TBSP apple cider vinegar

2 TBSP grade B maple syrup or brown sugar

2 tsp smoked paprika

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

For the tofu:

14 oz extra-firm tofu, drained

2 TBSP nutritional yeast

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

To serve:

8 sourdough slices, toasted

sliced avocado

freshly cracked black pepper

zest of 1 large lemon (about 1 tsp)

Whisk together all eggplant marinade ingredients in a mixing bowl and set aside. Use a vegetable peeler to slice the eggplant into long strips. When you hit the seedy center, rotate the eggplant. Continue all the way around. (Reserve the center for another use.) Add eggplant to the mixing bowl and toss thoroughly—tongs work very well for this. Let marinate 10 minutes, tossing every few minutes to ensure even coating.

Heat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Meanwhile, prepare the tofu. Heat a large nonstick griddle (or skillet) over medium heat. With the tofu in landscape position (long end toward you), cut it into 8 even slices. When the griddle is hot, carefully add the tofu in a single layer, without touching. Whisk together the nutritional yeast and 1/2 tsp salt, sprinkle over the tofu, and let cook, undisturbed, 5-6 minutes. Flip the tofu and cook another 4-5 minutes, until golden brown. (If you use a skillet, you may need to work in two batches.)

Lay the eggplant strips onto the prepared baking sheet one at a time in a single layer—hands work well for this. Bake 10 minutes, flip with the tongs, and bake another 5-7 minutes, until the surface has dried out a bit and the edges are browning.

To assemble, lay a toasted slice of sourdough, untoasted side up, and layer on two slices of tofu, a few eggplant strips, and avocado. Add freshly cracked black pepper, to taste, and sprinkle on 1/4 tsp of lemon zest. Sandwich and serve.



Sweet Corn and White Bean Spread

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It's no secret that garlic, lemon juice, and fat make pureed beans a sure hit. And you'll find all of those items in this spread, too, but the end result is something decidedly understated, and pretty lovely.

Rather than stopping at the usual suspects, those ingredients are instead pureed with a generous portion of sweet corn, which you'll saute (with the garlic and shallot) before processing with white pepper to add a touch of warmth to the mild, sweet mixture. It's a terrific reminder that bean spreads and dips can showcase a variety of flavors, not only the most dramatic spices in your cabinet.

Try it slathered on a good bread or paired with crudite. Or both.

Sweet Corn and White Bean Spread

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serves 4-6, adapted from Food & Wine

2 TBSP olive oil

2 cups frozen (or fresh) corn kernels

1 large shallot, roughly chopped

1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped

1 cup cooked canned white beans, drained, but not rinsed

2 TBSP lemon juice

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp ground white pepper

Heat oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add corn, shallot, and garlic. Reduce heat to medium and cook for two minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking, until shallot is tender, another 7-8 minutes. Deglaze pan with 1-2 TBSP water, as needed, let water evaporate, and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, place all other ingredients in a food processor. Carefully transfer cooked corn mixture to processor and process until fairly smooth with some visible corn bits, pausing to scrape down sides as needed. Serve at room temperature or chilled.



Black Bean, Lime, and Herb Salad Crostini

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Start with a convenient can of earthy black beans, then stir them into a deeply fragrant pile of shallot, parsley, basil, and carrot.

Toss the whole thing in a blissful blend of red miso, fruity olive oil, and a big shot of lime juice. What you get is a dead-simple salad to pile atop toasted slices of crusty bread, which make a gorgeous foil for the assertive dressing. The whole thing is colorful without being fussy, and is hearty yet fresh and undeniably zippy. For the biggest lime punch, serve the dish immediately. Alternately, make it a few hours in advance to let the flavors come together and the lime mellow a bit.

Black Bean, Lime, and Herb Salad Crostini

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serves 4 as a small course or 2 as a main

2 TBSP apple cider vinegar

1 tsp natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1 tsp salt

2 TBSP water

1 carrot, cut into small 1/4-inch dice

1 15-oz can black beans

1/2 tsp red miso

1 small garlic clove, minced

juice of 1 lime

2 TBSP olive oil

1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup packed fresh parsley leaves

1 small shallot

freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

bread slices from about half a baguette

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, sugar, salt, and water. Add carrot dice and let marinate 15-20 minutes, while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Drain and rinse the black beans. Set aside in a sieve to let drain thoroughly.

In another small bowl, whisk together miso, minced garlic, lime juice, and oil. Set aside.

Chop well the basil and parsley. Add it to a mixing bowl. Finely chop the shallot and add to herbs. Add drained black beans.

Drain carrots and add to the mixing bowl. Give the dressing another whisk and pour in. Toss thoroughly and add a generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper, to taste.

Toast the baguette slices and serve immediately. Alternately, salad can be assembled a few hours before serving.



Party Animals No. 36, Reader Request No. 1: Tomato Head's Strawberry Cream Pie (and MSV's Dead Simple Cream Cheese Pie)

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A couple weeks ago, local television station WBIR posted a recipe for Strawberry Cream Pie from Tomato Head owner Mahasti Vafaie, and an MSV reader requested a vegan version.

Happily, it isn't particularly complicated, but it's a touch fussier than the original, since you'll chill a can of coconut milk for a day in order to skim off the thick cream before assembling (a bit more on that below). In terms of actual assembly, it's every bit as simple as the original. If you aren't familiar with shopping for some of these foods, there's some detail here to prepare you.

Starting with the crust, Oreos, Newman-O's, Joe-Joe's—none of these chocolate-and-creme sandwich cookies contain dairy or eggs, so the crust is adjusted simply by using refined coconut oil.

Both Tofutti and Kite Hill brands of nondairy cream cheese worked in this recipe. (I can't recommend any other nondairy cream cheeses I've tried.) Kite Hill has a lighter texture and a more mild, fresher, and saltier flavor. It's also more expensive and only carried by Whole Foods. It's distinct and rather lovely—if there's one nondairy cream cheese to spread alone on a bagel, Kite Hill is it. Tofutti brand tastes less fresh, but a bit richer. The texture is aces, and it works great as a recipe component, like in this pie, where its stronger flavor holds up well to the coconut cream.

For the coconut cream, Trader Joe's brand canned coconut cream is the cheapest, easiest route. Once the can is chilled, you'll find nearly the whole can comes out cream, whereas with Thai Kitchen brand, you'll need two chilled cans of coconut milk in order to get enough coconut cream for the recipe. Note that Trader Joe's brand does taste more strongly of coconut. That flavor—quite assertive once the filling is mixed—will mellow a bit over the course of the pie setting. Thai Kitchen brand will provide a more subtle effect throughout.

An option for the (slightly) rushed or coconut-averse is this dead-simple no-bake vegan cream cheese pie. It's just the thing when you have a casual gathering to attend, and you can't be bothered to think much about, or work too hard at, your contribution.

With extra cream cheese and a little yogurt to fluff everything up, it's not as rich as the Tomato Head pie but has a lightness that's perfect for the warm months. It, too, uses a blissfully easy cookie crust. The pie above was taken to a party last June. A friend hosted a group viewing of a U.S. Men's National Team game during the 2014 men's World Cup, and she put together a classic suburban "all-American"-style cookout menu. Enter this red, white, and blue number to help her out with her theme.

In this version, a round springform pan is lined with parchment around the sides before adding the filling, then peeled off after setting, so there's no side crust. Naturally, make the version you prefer.

Tomato Head's (Vegan) Strawberry Cream Pie

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adapted from Mahasti Vafaie, via WBIR

20 Oreos

1 TBSP melted refined coconut oil

8 oz nondairy cream cheese (Tofutti or Kite Hill recommended)

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted

1 cup loosely packed coconut cream (from 1-2 cans full-fat coconut milk, chilled for 24 hours)

Topping ingredients and all recipe instructions can be found on the original recipe—use the stand mixer for the airiest texture.

MSV's Dead-Simple No-Bake Cream Cheese Pie

7 oz Mi-Del brand ginger snaps (or other cookie)

1/4 cup melted refined coconut oil

16 oz nondairy cream cheese (Tofutti recommended)

1 TBSP lemon juice

1/2 cup natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/2 cup plain nondairy yogurt (Whole Soy Co. or So Delicious recommended)

2 pints mixed fresh berries, marinated in 1 TBSP orange liqueur or balsamic vinegar for 30 minutes, to serve

In a food processor, process the cookies to fine crumbs. Add oil and process until evenly coated. Transfer to a 9-inch round springform pan, sides lined with parchment. Press the crumbs firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan.

Wipe out the processor well and add cream cheese, lemon juice, and sugar. Process until very smooth. Add yogurt and process until smooth, ensuring the sugar is fully dissolved. Add to prepared pan, smooth the top, and chill 8 hours. Remove side piece of pan, gently remove parchment, and serve, letting each diner top their slice with marinated berries, to taste.



Sun-Dried Tomato Butter

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A jar of sun-dried tomatoes provides plenty of character alone, but that and half an hour gets you a deeply dreamy condiment you'll never stop reaching for. Rich and potent, a little goes a long way, and makes a table of munchies feel like a treat.

Start with the tomatoes in oil, and use that heap of flavor to fry onions, the tomatoes, and paprika, then sweeten the mix with a little brown sugar and bourbon. Simmer, puree, and grab the crusty bread.

In the unlikely event you get tired of using it as a spread, add a spoonful to your favorite hummus, other bean puree, or tofu spread to liven up your routine.

Sun-Dried Tomato Butter

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yields about 3/4 cup

8-oz jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil with herbs

1 small yellow onion (or half a medium-large), thinly sliced

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

1 TBSP turbinado (or brown sugar)

1/4 cup bourbon

1/2 cup water

Drain the tomatoes and reserve the oil. Heat 1/4 cup reserved oil (save the rest for another purpose) in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onions, reduce heat to medium-low and let fry, stirring occasionally, until onions are beginning to brown, 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, roughly chop the tomatoes. When the onions begin to brown, add tomatoes, paprika, salt, and pepper. Cook another 3 minutes. Add sugar and cook another minute, stirring, to combine well.

Increase heat to medium. Add bourbon and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low to maintain a steady simmer. Let simmer, covered, 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. (At no point will your mixture reduce so much that it's in danger of sticking, but check every five minutes and give it a stir.) Remove from heat and let cool a minute.

Carefully transfer mixture to a wide-mouth quart jar and puree with an immersion blender. Let cool completely before storing in the fridge.



Party Animals No. 35: Smoked Tofu Sandwiches & Blueberry Crisp Bars for Dinner with Pals

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When your friend with the smoker suggests a summer potluck, it's tofu time. My pal smoked the two pounds I brought: one to take home, and one to tuck into MSV's own banh mi-style sandwich to eat and share on site. Because smoked tofu isn't nearly as rich as the eggplant in that recipe, it was necessary to cut back on the acid in the condiments a touch. Only half the chile sauce went on, and a couple extra tablespoons of oil went into the herb spread. The crowd seemed to approve.

What the crowd loudly approved of was dessert. Flipping through the trusty old second-hand copy of The Wine Lover's Dessert Cookbook while planning yielded this casual and delightful blueberry number. And it was already vegan (if you choose a nondairy milk for the milk).

These bars are sweet without being sugary, the blueberries take center-stage, and, happily, they're dead-simple to make. But the real genius is combining fresh and dried berries in the filling. During cooking, the fresh berries get soft and glossy and get you that sticky little corner piece pictured above. Meanwhile, the dried berries stay intact, plumping up and tenderizing into adorable, perfectly round bits that retain a touch of chew. So smart. Make a note.

Back with a new recipe next week. Until then, happy cooking out.

About the Party Animals posts: these posts contain brief mentions of other people's vegan recipes—and/or house-created vegan recipes—for special occasions, be they big, small, casual, or dressed to impress.



Puy Lentil and Potato Salad with White Wine-Shallot Sauce

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This salad is totally handy, and fabulously nourishing. Creamy little bite-size potatoes and earthy green lentils are balanced by acid and complexity from the wine sauce. A shot of parsley and chives finish it off.

You'll make the three elements separately, which makes the recipe look fussier than it really is. The lentils and the sauce both simmer while the potatoes roast, and the sauce finishes while the potatoes and lentils cool a bit. Be prepared to spend up to 45 minutes in the kitchen, but it's all light lifting.

This eats well warm, but it's also great chilled. Which means you can consider the time you spend on this a session of batch cooking. Store leftovers in the fridge so you can spoon out a serving, add a side of fresh fruit, and have one seriously satisfying instant meal.

Puy Lentil and Potato Salad with White Wine-Shallot Sauce

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serves 4-6

1 lb gold bite-size potatoes (or fingerling or other potato cut into generous 1-inch dice)

3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 cup dried Puy lentils

4 cups water

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 large shallot, finely chopped

3/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup water

1 tsp all-purpose flour

1 TBSP chopped parsley

2 TBSP chopped chives

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

Heat oven to 400. Toss potatoes with 1 tsp oil and cook until tender, about 30 minutes, or as needed, tossing every 10-15 minutes. When ready, transfer pan to a rack to let cool a bit.

Meanwhile, bring lentils, 4 cups water, and thyme to a boil in a covered pot. Reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a strong simmer. Cook, covered, until tender, 20-25 minutes. When tender, drain well, and transfer to a heat-resistant mixing bowl. Set aside.

While the lentils simmer, heat 2 TBSP oil over medium heat in a small pot. Add shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to the low side of medium-low to maintain a steady simmer. Let simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally (while you check on the other elements and chop the parsley and chives).

When the sauce has simmered 10 minutes, whisk together the remaining 2 tsp oil and 1 tsp flour. Add to simmering sauce, whisk to incorporate, and cook an additional five minutes, stirring frequently, to let thicken slightly. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, chives, and salt.

Add potatoes to the mixing bowl containing the lentils. Add sauce and toss thoroughly. Adjust salt, if needed. Transfer to a serving dish and serve warm or chilled.



Tomato Tart with Dill and White Bean-Dijon Puree

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Does anything capture summer better than tomatoes and a chilled rosé? In any event, add rich dough, a little spice, and fresh herb, and you're more than set for sunny afternoons, rainy evenings, and whatever else summer throws your way.

This tart is a simple riff on the classic french tart featuring tomatoes with a dose of strong mustard at the base. Here, dijon mustard is pureed into white beans to add a little creamy comfort and satiety.

Shown is a thin serving of the most irresistible pie dough that never fails to please a crowd around here (substituting an equal weight of Earth Balance will do fine—no one complains, promise), but the only problem with the otherwise unimpeachable tomato tart is trying to keep solidified fat cold in the heat of a July kitchen. This is the time of year rolling your dough out between wax paper can be a life-saver (or that olive oil crusts can come rushing to the rescue), but if you have a store-bought crust you like, consider this the perfect time to make a swap for convenience.

Tomato Tart with Dill and White Bean-Dijon Puree

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serves 4-6

tart dough of choice, rolled out to a 10-inch, 1/8-inch-thick circle

3/4 cup cooked white beans, drained

1 TBSP dijon mustard

1-2 TBSP water, as needed

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

3 small, ripe tomatoes, trimmed and sliced

2 TBSP fresh dill, plus more for garnish

Heat the oven to 375.

Lay dough in a 9-inch tart pan and rest in the freezer while the oven heats. Par bake as needed, depending on the dough you're using, but do not let it brown, keeping in mind that the dough is rolled rather thinly (reduce directed baking time, as needed).

Meanwhile, puree the beans and mustard with 1 TBSP water. Add a little additional water, if needed, just to make the pureeing go smoothly. You should still have a thick mixture at the end, but it should seem more creamy than paste-like. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Have your tomato trimmed and sliced 15-20 minutes before assembly to let the tomato slices give off a bit of extra liquid while they wait.

When the dough is ready, spread the bean puree evenly over the bottom of the crust. Sprinkle dill evenly over the puree. Add tomato slices in a spiral pattern, letting them overlap slightly, and top with a pinch of salt. Bake until tomatoes begin to shrivel and the crust is golden, about 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack. Garnish with fresh dill before serving at room temperature.



Ginger-Cherry-Mint Tequila Smash

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Tequila time.

Of all the nice things about summer produce, one of the nicest has to be the pleasure of fresh fruit in your cocktails. Or spiked soda, which is really kind of what you have here. Either way, don't even think about turning on the stove to make a custom syrup. Hot days call for breezy, tall, cool ones, and not too much sauce. Thank heavens for ginger beer.

But probably not the ginger beer up in that shot. It wasn't until the second bottle of the pack was on its way to the recycling bin that I caught the giant list of ingredients on the front label announcing its non-vegan nature. Never stop reading labels, apparently.

To complement the spicy ginger beer, sweet dark cherries and fresh mint pair with a little lime and sugar to stand up to a swim with a serving of golden tequila. It makes for a seriously festive-looking drink begging to be handed to a friend.

Ginger-Cherry-Mint Tequila Smash

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2 sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted (plus another whole, for garnish, optional)

2 medium mint leaves (about 2 inches in length each)

1 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/2 oz lime juice


2 oz tequila anejo

6 oz ginger beer

In the bottom of a Collins glass, muddle the cherries and mint until the cherries are pulpy and the mint is well bruised, but mostly intact. (Alternately, use a mortar and pestle and transfer the mix to a glass. You'll lose a touch of flavor, but that's life.)

In a small bowl, stir the sugar and lime juice until the sugar is dissolved. Fill the serving glass three-quarters full with ice. Add the sweetened lime juice, then pour in tequila. Top with ginger beer, stir, and garnish with a cherry, if desired.