Dead Simple Five-Layer Chickpea Salad Sandwich

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Today, we lunch. This fuss-free sandwich combines the convenience of pantry items with a generous heap of fresh ingredients to make one breezy little dreamboat of a meal. It all starts with chickpeas mashed with a simple mix of parsley, lemon, and olive oil. (If you're in an even bigger hurry, grab a can of white beans instead, which will mash readily with a fork—you'll lose a touch of texture, but whatever works.)

Next, add avocado for creamy texture and richness that balances all the lighter elements you're piling on. Finish the whole thing with convenient jarred roasted red pepper, a few slices of crispy cucumber, and a shot of grassy, fragrant chives. Season, sandwich, grill, and devour.

Grilling isn't strictly necessary, but the pressure really boosts cohesion, and the toasted bread adds welcome texture. Speaking of bread and texture, be sure to choose a nice, thick, hearty loaf that will stand up to your filling (and grilling). This guy will also make a great picnic sandwich served on baguette—see the note in the recipe below.

Dead Simple Five-Layer Chickpea Salad Sandwich

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yields 4 sandwiches

For the filling:

1 cup drained canned chickpeas

1 large (or 2 small) roasted red bell pepper (drained if using jarred)

1/4 oz chives

1 small-medium cucumber

flesh of 1 ripe avocado

juice of 1/2 lemon, divided

fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 cup fresh parsley, large stems discarded

1 TBSP olive oil

To assemble:

8 slices hearty bread

fine sea or kosher salt

freshly cracked black pepper

dried oregano

Rinse the chickpeas in a sieve and set aside to let drain thoroughly.

Meanwhile, cut pepper into 1/2-inch-thick strips and set aside. Finely chop chives and set aside. Thinly slice cucumber and set aside.

Use a fork to mash avocado with 1 tsp lemon juice and a generous pinch salt. Set aside.

Chop parsley leaves so that no large leaves remain. Use a potato masher to mash chickpeas, parsley, olive oil, generous pinch salt, and 1 TBSP lemon juice until chickpeas are broken up.

Heat a closing countertop electric grill. To assemble one sandwich, take two slices bread. Add one-quarter of the chickpea salad to one slice and one-quarter of mashed avocado to the other slice. Atop the chickpeas, add pepper slices, chives, and cucumber slices. Sprinkle a generous pinch each salt, pepper, and dried oregano over the mashed avocado. Sandwich, grill until browned (about three minutes), and serve immediately. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Picnic Variation: Assemble sandwiches using baguette. Do not grill. Wrap each snugly in parchment paper. Stored this way, sandwiches will keep well for 2-3 hours.



Baked White Bean, Artichoke, and Red Pepper Spread

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This lovely spread is a great way to add a breezy dose of brightness to the table in the depths of winter.

The name of the game here is convenient nutrition wrapped in a moderate amount of comfort. Start with a can of white beans and give it a shot of richness through almond flour. Then turn to a jar of roasted red peppers and a bag of frozen artichoke hearts to infuse those mild, creamy ingredients with sweet and zippy veg. Finished off with a little lemon and garlic, you have a winner that's great on everything. 

Baking combines the flavors and helps the base get nice and creamy, but the spread doesn't have to be eaten warm. This recipe makes a good amount, so feel free to toss your leftovers in the fridge and know you've got an irresistible chilled spread ready for crackers, crostini, sandwiches, or whatever. (If you try it tossed with pasta for a no-sweat cold pasta salad, let everyone know how it goes in the comments.)

Baked White Bean, Artichoke, and Red Pepper Spread

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serves 6-8 as an appetizer

12 oz frozen artichoke hearts, thawed

1/2 roasted red bell pepper (jarred or freshly roasted)

1 clove garlic

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/8 tsp ground cayenne

generous pinch freshly cracked black pepper

2 TBSP, plus 2 tsp olive oil, divided

1 15-oz can cannellini beans

1/2 cup blanched almond flour

Heat oven to 375.

In a food processor, combine thawed artichoke hearts, red pepper, garlic, lemon juice, salt, oregano, black pepper, and cayenne. Pulse until well chopped. Drizzle in 2 TBSP olive oil with the motor running and pulse until a bit broken down, but still chunky. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

Drain beans (do not rinse) and add them to the processor with the almond flour. Process until smooth. Stir into artichoke mixture until thoroughly combined. Adjust lemon and salt, if needed. Divide between two 5-inch ramekins. Drizzle 1 tsp oil over each and bake 30 minutes, until golden. Let cool a bit before serving warm, or let cool completely before refrigerating and serving chilled.



Roasted Tempeh, Green Bean, and Orange Salad with Tahini Dressing

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This is how you make a winner of a dinner salad on any given weeknight: bake a block of tempeh in a maple-tamari-Dijon glaze, toss in tender, convenient frozen green beans, and infuse the whole thing with fragrant orange slices. Toss some salad greens in a dead-simple tahini dressing, and you have a meal-sized green salad fit for bitterly cold winter days. While you're at it, feel free to make a double-batch of dressing to keep on hand for the rest of the week. It seriously comes in handy.

This salad is a particularly good argument for trying tempeh (or other unfamiliar foods) in context. Tempeh is famously earthy, deeply nutty, and apparently not for everyone. You can smother it in sauce to play down its distinct flavors (Frank's Red Hot, anyone?), but don't forget to try finding satisfaction in balancing those earthy characteristics with a gentler touch. You'll find the glazed tempeh here still tastes like tempeh, but the maple and other seasonings begin to smooth out the edges. A forkful of roasted veg and dressed greens—all gently scented with sweet orange—pair beautifully with the finished product.

Keep in mind that while baking the garnishes takes a bit of time, there's very little effort that goes into this lovely dish. You'll take your knife to a block of tempeh and an orange, but if you use frozen green beans and pre-washed salad mix, that's as tough as it gets. While the tempeh roasts, you'll whisk together the dressing and quickly toast some sesame seeds with plenty of time left to clean up. Then there's little left to do but open a bottle of wine, put your feet up, and wait for the timer to chime. Dress your greens, and dig in.

Roasted Tempeh, Green Bean, and Orange Salad with Tahini Dressing

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serves 2

1 medium-large orange, cut into 1/2-inch-thick half moons (discard ends)

2 handfuls frozen thin green beans

1 TBSP olive oil

pinch salt

a crack or two of black pepper, to taste

8 oz tempeh, cut into 1-inch dice

1 TBSP maple syrup (grade B preferred)

2 tsp reduced-sodium tamari

2 tsp Dijon-style mustard

1 TBSP sesame seeds

2 TBSP tahini

2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

1 TBSP lemon juice

1 TBSP water

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/8 tsp garlic powder

5 oz spring mix or tender lettuce

Heat oven to 400. Line a roasting dish with parchment.

Add orange, green beans, 1 TBSP oil, salt, and pepper to a mixing bowl. Toss to coat and transfer to prepared dish, leaving one-third of the space open for the tempeh.

Whisk together maple, tamari, and mustard. Add tempeh to the mixing bowl with half of the glaze. Toss to coat thoroughly and transfer to prepared dish. Roast 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, dry toast sesame seeds in a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, tossing frequently, until fragrant. Transfer to a plate to let cool.

In a bowl, whisk together tahini, 2 TBSP oil, lemon juice, water, salt, and garlic powder. Set aside. Add salad greens to a clean mixing bowl.

After the first 20 minutes, give the green beans and oranges a gentle toss, then toss the tempeh. Drizzle remaining glaze over tempeh and bake another 20 minutes.

When tempeh is done, toss salad greens with the dressing and divide between two serving dishes. Top each dish with half the tempeh and green bean-orange mix. Top each with half the toasted sesame seeds and serve.



Sweet & Savory Carrot Crostini with Vegan Molasses-Maple Ricotta

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Don't wait for a special occasion to make these little guys. They're only slightly fussy, but really beautiful, and you're totally worth it.

These crostini count on the lovely, mild, salty Kite Hill ricotta for the base. You'll season that with molasses and maple syrup for an earthy sweetness. (A double batch will yield enough for the crostini and plenty left over to use as filling for cinnamon rolls. Just sayin'.) The ricotta is pricey stuff, but you'll balance that out by using the widest-available—and therefore most affordable—root veggies for your topping.

Those diced carrots and thinly sliced onion are roasted in a touch of spicy mustard and tamari. Neither salty condiment will be assertive in the finished product, but they provide subtle balance to the natural sweetness you'll pull out of the veg so that the whole bite has some depth.

Plus, what doesn't taste great on toasted baguette?

Sweet & Savory Carrot Crostini with Vegan Molasses-Maple Ricotta

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yields about 12 crostini

2-3 carrots (6 oz total weight), peeled, trimmed, and cut into small 1/4-inch dice

1/2 small (or 1/4 large) onion, very thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup slices)

1 TBSP whole grain Dijon-style mustard (or plain stone-ground mustard)

1 tsp reduced-sodium tamari

4 oz Kite Hill ricotta

1 1/2 tsp molasses

1 tsp maple syrup (grade B preferred)

12 generous half-inch-thick baguette slices (from about half a baguette)

Heat oven to 400.

Toss carrots and onion with mustard and tamari. Cook 30 minutes, tossing after 15, until onions are golden and carrots are tender.

Meanwhile, use a mixer to beat the ricotta with the molasses and maple syrup for two minutes, until well combined and fluffed a bit, stopping halfway to scrape down the bowl. Set aside.

When the carrots and onions are done, transfer them to a dish to let cool a bit. Switch to the oven's broiler and toast the baguette slices on one side until golden, watching carefully to avoid burning. Let cool on a rack.

Divide filling evenly among the toasted bread slices (use a generous dollop of ricotta for each, but you may still have a bit left over, depending on the width of your baguette) and serve at room temperature.



Party Animals No. 41: Dijon Chickpea Crumble

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Do you like the sound of unfussy dinners that combine hearty chickpeas, thin green beans, fragrant dill, and a crispy topping? Seasoned with tangy dijon mustard? If so, today is your day.

Saucy and comforting, this one's not only a total no-brainer for weeknight dinners but is also flavorful enough to serve friends at a casual dinner. This was even the main dish at the tiny MSV family xmas-eve lunch with a salad of lightly dressed orange segments with pistachios, plus salad greens in a creamy dressing and savory nut crumble.

Basically, food is solved.

Note that there's a generous dose of mustard in this. If you use an especially strong or whole-grain variety, consider reducing the called-for quantity by a third.

Dijon Chickpea Crumble

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serves 4-6, adapted from Savory Baking

For the filling:

1 15-oz can chickpeas

1 TBSP olive oil

1 small onion, minced

1 medium-large celery stalk, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1 handful frozen thin green beans

1 1/2 cups almond milk

3 TBSP Dijon-style mustard

2 TBSP corn starch

1 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/4 tsp ground white pepper

For the topping:

3/4 cup panko crumbs

1 tsp dried dill

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

2 TBSP olive oil

Heat oven to 375. Drain and rinse chickpeas in a sieve. Set aside to let drain thoroughly.

Heat 1 TBSP oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until celery begins to soften and the onion liquid is starting to evaporate, about three minutes.

Add chickpeas and green beans. Cook additional two minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the green beans have lost their frozen look.

Whisk together almond milk, corn starch, mustard, sugar, and white pepper. Add to skillet. Once it begins to boil, reduce heat to medium to maintain a strong simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally until thickened, 5-7 minutes. You're looking for the mixture to turn from soupy to saucy.

While the filling reduces, whisk together the crumbs, dill, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl. Add oil and mix with a fork until all crumbs are thoroughly coated and the mixture is sandy.

When the skillet is ready, remove from heat. Carefully transfer contents to a medium baking dish, top with the bread crumbs, and bake until bubbly and golden on top, about 20 minutes. If needed, toast the crumbs further with the broiler for a minute or two at the end. Serve hot.



The Basics No. 2: A Batch of Burritos

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Another new year, another basics post (last year's is here). They feel good right as the calendar turns.

Fresh meals are great, but there's serious value in having a small stack of burritos tucked into the freezer for effortless meals at any time of the day. These are made with pillowy potato, fluffy seared tofu, creamy avocado, and seriously spiced pinto beans. They're filling enough for lunch or dinner, but their convenience works especially nicely for breakfast, since savory breakfasts tend to take a little more effort than sweeter grain-based ones.

Any meal you choose, this is a session of batch cooking that really pays off. There are a few items to prepare separately, so it's wise to wait until you're in the mood to cook to put these together. Even so, there are no advanced moves here, and you'll simply cook the tofu and beans in shifts while the potatoes take care of themselves in the oven—read through the recipe before beginning to anticipate a little multitasking that really helps. Roll them up, bake them off, and eat breezily for days.

Tofu, Potato, and Pinto Bean Burritos

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yields 8 burritos

3 cups frozen hash browns (look for a brand that contains nothing but potatoes)


1 15-oz can pinto beans

2 TBSP olive oil, divided

14-16 oz firm tofu

1 TBSP nutritional yeast

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp garlic salt

black pepper

1/2 cup vegetable broth (not tomato-based)

1 TBSP reduced-sodium tamari

1 TBSP apple cider vinegar

1 TBSP maple syrup (grade B preferred)

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp applewood smoked salt (or fine sea or kosher salt)

3/4 tsp ground cumin

8 10-inch flour tortillas

1 avocado, pitted

to serve, salsa of choice

Heat oven to 350. Spread hash browns over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle lightly with salt and bake until browning around the edges of the pan, 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain and rinse beans in a fine sieve. Set aside to let drain thoroughly. Drain tofu. Heat one tablespoon oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble the tofu roughly through your fingers into the pan. Spread into roughly one layer. Top with nutritional yeast, oregano, garlic salt, and a generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper, to taste. Let cook, undisturbed, five minutes. (While the tofu cooks, measure out the spices for the beans into a small bowl.) Toss. Let cook another three minutes, undisturbed. Toss and cook another two minutes. Toss and transfer to a bowl. Set aside.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the remaining tablespoon oil to the same skillet. Carefully—the skillet will be quite hot—add beans, broth, tamari, vinegar, maple syrup, paprika, smoked salt, and cumin. Let cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has cooked off, 5-7 minutes. While the beans cook, use a sharp knife to cut the flesh of each avocado half into eighths. Scoop the slices from the skin with a spoon and set aside on a small plate for assembly. When the potatoes are done, move the parchment off the baking sheet (you'll use it to bake the burritos now) and onto your assembly work counter.

Increase oven temperature to 375. To assemble, heat tortillas (microwave works quickly for this, if you have one). Assemble using about a scant quarter-cup potato, one-quarter cup tofu, a generous tablespoon of pinto beans, and two slices of avocado for each burrito. Roll up and place seam-down on the baking sheet. Bake until crisped and beginning to brown at the edges, about 25 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Serve with salsa.



Party Animals No. 40: Coffee Liqueur Chocolate Cake & Coffee Vegan Nog

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Now that Knox Whiskey Works is up and distilling right in the heart of cool-weather party season, who could resist grabbing a bottle of KWW coffee liqueur and pouring it in everything?

Setting aside for a moment all of the simpler, entirely tempting ways you might start drizzling this into your merry-making pie-hole, first we bake. (In a moment, we drink.)

Meet the new fruit cake. Prunes, a little brandy, and a good dose of apricot preserves up top contrast a pleasantly bitter chocolate cake. The coffee liqueur is loaded in in the cake and makes the powdered cocoa taste deep and rich without the hassle of melting chocolate bars. Talk about dreamy.

Coffee Liqueur Chocolate Cake with Brandied Prune-Apricot Glaze

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serves 8-10, adapted from Bakecetera

For the cake:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (measure by spooning in and leveling off, not scooping)

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

3/4 cup coffee liqueur

1/2 cup apple sauce

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 TBSP apple cider vinegar

For the Brandied Prune-Apricot Glaze:

1/2 cup prunes, quartered

1/4 cup water

2 TBSP brandy

1/2 cup apricot preserves (reduced-sugar, if available)

Heat oven to 350.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl. Separately, whisk together sugar, liqueur, apple sauce, oil, and vinegar. Add wet ingredients to dry. Whisk until just combined, then give another half-dozen stirs with the whisk to smooth it out a bit.

Spread batter into a 9-inch nonstick springform pan (or a greased and cocoa-dusted cake pan). Bake 30-32 minutes, until a tester placed into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool 15 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the pan's sides and run a thin spatula between the bottom of the cake and the bottom piece of the pan. Remove cake and let cool completely on a wire rack.

When the cake is cool, prepare the glaze. Combine prunes, water, and brandy in a small pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the prunes are very soft and most of the liquid has cooked off, leaving behind a thin syrup. Remove from heat and stir in apricot preserves. Continue to stir for a minute to let the heat loosen the preserves. Spread glaze over cake. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Next, a stab at vegan nog, made by someone totally ignorant about traditional 'nog (i.e. this lady). But parties call, and when some pals invited us over for a 'nog-themed gathering—and what with this new bottle of coffee liqueur still lounging alluringly on the kitchen counter—it felt sad to show up empty-handed. This concoction is thick, fluffy, boozy, nutty, and entirely inauthentic. Plus, totally tasty.

Coffee-Coconut Nog

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yields about a quart

generous 6 oz silken tofu (half an aseptic pack)

1/4 cup natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

12 oz full-fat canned coconut milk

4 oz unsweetened soy milk

4 oz brandy

3 oz coffee liqueur

3/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

In a large pitcher, blend all ingredients with an immersion blender until smooth. Chill at least eight hours before serving (preferably 12-24), sprinkled with additional freshly grated nutmeg.


Merry Happy to anyone celebrating this week. Just one last recipe to go for 2015.



Cinnamon Shortbread

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Today, a classic, elegant little cookie: a crisp, light treat that shatters pleasingly under the tooth and is filled with warming cinnamon. They're great served with ice cream, dipped in chocolate, or nibbled all alone. Keep them for yourself or load them in jars as gifts.

Cinnamon Shortbread

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yields about 40 small cookies

1/2 cup nondairy butter

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup all-purpose flour (measure by spooning in and leveling off, not scooping)

Cream the butter, sugar, cinnamon, and salt until smooth, pausing to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed if using a stand mixer. Add flour. Mix until fully combined and the dough begins to come together. Form into a rough log with your hands and transfer to a piece of parchment. Shape into a 10x2-inch rectangle. Roll up in the parchment and chill one hour.

Heat oven to 325. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Use a sharp knife to cut the chilled dough into 1/4-inch slices. Working quickly, lay cookies on the lined baking sheet. Bake on the center rack until firm and browned, 17-19 minutes. Let cool one minute, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.



Eggplant and Tomato Crisp

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This one owes a big debt to Savory Baking, where it's listed as a side dish with a couple of tweaks. Here, little more than a can of tomatoes and some pantry items become dinner once you realize that a dead-simple toasted topping gives you most of the satisfaction of eggplant marinara without the hassle of breading individual slices. Savory crumbles and crisps are bound to become a theme here this winter.

Eggplant makes for a truly classic-feeling dish with very little effort, but below you'll find two variations that offer more protein. One features big, creamy butter beans; the other, fabulously convenient smoked tofu—both are a breeze to assemble and satisfying to munch. Do note that since you'll simmer your own sauce, it will take the better part of an hour, largely inactive, from start to finish.

Whatever version you choose, dinner just got a lot easier. The crisp benefits from being served with the simplest of salads with a richer touch. Spring mix or other tender lettuce tossed with a tahini-soy-garlic dressing and savory nut crumble is just the thing. (This is a good time to remind everyone to make a full batch of that crumble regularly—it elevates a minimal salad like an absolute dream.) Offer a baguette, and done.

Eggplant and Tomato Crisp

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serves 4-6, adapted from Savory Baking

For the filling:

1 28-oz can no-salt-added diced tomatoes

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 TBSP drained capers

2 TBSP pepperoncini (or pickled banana peppers for the heat-averse), finely chopped

1 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1 tsp dried basil

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 small globe eggplant

For the topping:

1/3 cup panko crumbs

1/4 cup rolled oats

2 TBSP nutritional yeast

1 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp dried rubbed sage

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

Combine all filling, except eggplant, in a covered pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-medium-low to maintain a steady simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, combine all topping ingredients, except olive oil, in a small mixing bowl. Stir to mix well. Add oil and work it in with a fork until the mixture is fully coated and sandy. Set aside.

Trim eggplant. Beginning at the narrow end, slice nine half-inch rounds from the eggplant. (Save any remaining eggplant for another purpose.)

When the sauce is done, heat oven to 350. Heat a countertop electric grill (or stovetop griddle).

Grill eggplant slices with the lid closed until just tender with sear marks, 4-5 minutes. (For the griddle, cook a couple of minutes per side.)

Carefully place the eggplant in a snug single layer in an 8x8 pan. Pour the sauce over. Crumble the topping evenly on top. Bake until bubbling and the top has browned, 15-20 minutes.

Variations: In place of grilled eggplant, substitute a 15-oz can of butter beans, rinsed and well drained or eight ounces of smoked tofu squares, cut into half-inch-thick slabs.



Phyllo Cigars with Cream Cheese, Scallions, and Savory Nut Crumble

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The party season needs party food. Time to get a little bit fussy and put together some seriously satisfying finger food featuring irresistibly thin and flaky phyllo, dreamy nondairy cream cheese, gently sharp spring onions, and a sprinkling of MSV's own savory nut crumble for a boost in richness and depth of flavor.

For convenience and to reduce the cost a bit, these are rolled with the scallion tops in the center to add a little something green and roasted-tasting. If you're in the mood to splurge and want a little more bite, try substituting tender asparagus tips, thin broccolini stalks, or thin green beans instead.

Phyllo Cigars with Cream Cheese, Scallions, and Savory Nut Crumble

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yields 12 cigars

For the Savory Nut Crumble (half-batch):

2 TBSP raw almonds

2 TBSP raw walnuts

1 TBSP nutritional yeast

zest of 1/4 lemon

1/8 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

For the filling:

8 oz nondairy cream cheese, Kite Hill recommended

5 scallions

To assemble:

10 sheets frozen phyllo, thawed

3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

Heat oven to 375.

Add all nut crumble ingredients to a small food processor and process to fine crumbs. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Wipe out processor. Trim the scallions and add the white parts only along with the cream cheese to the processor. Process until very creamy and scallion is pureed into the cheese. (This will also make your cream cheese easier to spread onto the phyllo. If you don't have a processor, be sure to beat the cream cheese well before assembly.)

Trim scallion tops into three-inch pieces (you'll need only twelve, though you may end up with more—save the tender green portions for another use).

Place all 10 phyllo sheets in a stack and cut them into 3x3-inch squares. You should get six squares per sheet—you won't need them all, but it helps to have extras with phyllo as insurance. Discard scraps and stack all squares into one stack—this will help keep them from drying out while you work.

To assemble, brush one square with oil and place another square on top. Brush the second square with oil and place a third square on top. Spread on a scant tablespoon of cream cheese, leaving a half-inch border. Focus and work quickly—the spreading of the cream cheese does not need to be neat or precisely even. Sprinkle a teaspoon of nut crumble on top. Slice a scallion top into thirds and lay across the bottom edge of the cream cheese. Roll up, place seam-down on a baking sheet, and brush the top and sides with a little oil. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Bake 23-25 minutes, until golden. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.



Party Animals No. 39: Thanksgiving 2015

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MSV's real, live, all-vegan table for 2015:

  • Sangria
  • Tofu-Pecan Loaf
  • Biscuits
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Wild Mushroom-Chickpea Gravy
  • Cranberry Relish
  • Spiced Walnut-Fig Cornbread Dressing
  • Mixed Citrus Green Salad
  • Apple Cake

The tofu loaf is a slight variation on these tofu-pecan meatballs. The cranberries never get tweaked. You've seen those biscuits and dressing before (printable recipes here and here). The sangria is a bottle of Spanish grenache poured over a sliced orange, a couple handfuls of pineapple chunks, and a small chopped pear. Chill for several hours and drink it down in a fraction of that time.

The salad is 5 oz spring mix tossed in a dressing of equal parts black cherry concentrate, apricot jam, and olive oil with a dose of finely chopped mint. That all gets topped with two oranges, two grapefruit, and a handful of toasted pistachio (serves 4-6). The apple cake is from The Joy of Vegan Baking, and is always pretty. Even when you don't line up your apple slices just so.

The new kid on the table this year actually made its first appearance last year. (In fact, last year's table was such a winner, this year ended up mirroring it almost exactly.) But it's getting shared this year. It's pretty lovable: earthy, thick, and with two kinds of pepper, it's a great addition to any spud (or tofu-pecan loaf). You'll want to whip it up all winter long, holiday or no.

Wild Mushroom-Chickpea Gravy

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yield will vary based on desired consistency

1/2 oz dried wild mushrooms

2 whole black peppercorns

1/4 cup chickpea flour

2 TBSP olive oil

2 cups vegetable broth

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried sage

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp ground white pepper

Use a coffee grinder to grind the mushrooms and black peppercorns into a fine powder. Heat a medium pot over medium heat. Add mushroom powder and chickpea flour. Toast, tossing very frequently, until fragrant, a couple of minutes.

Whisk together oil, broth, and all herbs and spices. Add half the liquid to the pot in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in other half of liquid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook, whisking frequently, until thickened to the desired consistency. Adjust salt, if needed.


Hope anyone who gets a long weekend enjoys it. See you back here next week.



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.