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Archive for August, 2009

Polenta RoundsThis meal was fantastic. FANTASTIC I TELL YOU! I got the idea from this Giada De Laurentiis recipe, but adapted it quite a bit. Included in these adaptions is my own pesto recipe, which will flat-out knock your socks off. But first things first, I cooked up some Bob’s Red Mill polenta with boiling water and a pinch of salt, then I added in about 1/4 cup coconut milk once the corn had absorbed most of the water. Bob’s instructions were to simmer the polenta for 30 mins, however, after 10 minutes things were looking pretty good to me, so I turned off the heat and spread the polenta out into a small square baking sheet.  I gave it a few minutes to cool and set, then I cut the rounds out with a glass cup. Simple!

Since I don’t eat chicken I was trying to figure out what would be a nice replacement to top these cute little rounds. I went with sauteed julienned zucchini for one of them, since I have a nice zucchini surplus right now thanks to my generous next-door neighbor and her garden (why do I feel like such a mooch reaping the benefits from someone else’s garden?). Oh I should have topped the zucchini one with pumpkin or sunflower seeds or something, now that I think about it.  For a nice little crunch.  Note to self, do that next time.  And since I’ve been on a fish kick lately, I pan-seared some halibut with salt and pepper, and topped it with tomatoes on one, dried cranberries on the other.

polenta rounds on a dumb plate

I might broil the polenta for a minute or two next time.  It had a pleasantly soft and creamy texture to it, but I think a little crust action on top might be nice as well. This meal was seriously freaking delicious. This was also my first experience with polenta (not counting my one encounter with Polenta-in-a-tube from Weiss) which I feel was a raging success. The coconut milk really adds a nice creaminess and flavor to it. But to be honest, the real star here is the Pea Pesto.

pesto: the before shot

You will need:

1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup (packed) torn fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1.5 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon lemon juice
splash of balsamic vinegar
splash of tamari
red pepper flakes
salt & pepper
walnuts or pine nuts
3/4 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/3 – 3/4 cup toasted walnuts or pine nuts (I used both this time. Sometimes when I’m feeling crazy I throw in a few pecans.)
2 cloves garlic, minced
handful of fresh spinach
handful of fresh basil leaves
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 squeeze of lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
splash of Tamari
pinch of red pepper flakes
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
water to thin, if needed

Whir everything together in a food processor until you have a mostly smooth (you want a little bit of texture in there), heavenly, insanely delicious pesto. Hopefully your food processor isn’t a sad little mini version like mine is.
pesto - the delicious after shotYes, this pesto is vegan, and no, you absolutely do not need parmigiano reggiano to make it so face-stuffingly good that you will want to eat it with a spoon. That was in italics by the way because I was thinking about how Giada De Laurentiis would say it. Nutritional yeast, fortified and inactive, is basically a tangy vegan Godsend, as it can be substituted for parm in most recipes, especially in a recipe like this when there are so many other flavors going on. It certainly gives this pesto a nice cheesy bite to it. If you’re trying to cut back on dairy a bit, give nutritional yeast a try. You can find it in the bulk/natural food section at Wegmans and at most health food stores. Once the weather turns scary cold and I’m forced to retreat indoors making warm comfort food to take my mind off of the horrid conditions outside, I’m planning on making vegan mac and cheese using nutritional yeast and pureed squash! Crazy right!?

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Ok there is a reason my posting has been even more sporadic than usual: I’ve been in Africa for the past 2.5 weeks! My reason for going had nothing to do with food, but I figured while I was there I might as well document some of my fun African meals. We spent a week in Kenya first (the “we” being the Global Hope Network, the humanitarian group I volunteered with), and each night the wonderful local women would cook us dinner. It normally consisted of stewed goat, stewed carrots and potatoes, some kind of greens, sometimes a salad or bean dish, and this amaaazing flatbread called chapati, similar to naan, but in this case denser and chewier.

dinner in KenyaLocal, fresh bananas usually played a role in every one of my meals.  Now that I’m home again, eating bananas is such a let down as they aren’t half as flavorful as these wonderful African bananas were.

more dinner in Kenya
gambella-dinnerOur first night in the village of Gambella, the villagers made us dinner. Rice, potatoes and goat meat, eaten with our hands.

CarnivoreWe stopped at the famous restaurant Carnivore, an all-you-can-eat meat buffet in Nairobi. It was a fun experiment to see what I, a hungry vegetarian, would eat there. Luckily they had a whole separate vegetarian menu, as well as an extensive salad bar.

coconut veggiesI ordered coconut vegetables, but honestly the salad was better.  I loaded on every single one of the sauces and chutneys that were meant to be paired with the meat, which made for a crazy flavorful salad indeed.

Ethiopian foodFor our last night in Kenya, our local friends made us some traditional Ethiopian food, as Ethiopia was our next destination. Ethiopians pile stewed meat or veggies on top of a giant, sour crepe/pancake-like bread called injera, typically made from teff flour. They use their hands to tear off a piece of injera and scoop up the food (we did a lot of eating with our hands in Africa). It was so good – the sourness of the injera went great with the spiciness of the stew. I asked one of the women what spices they use, and she thought about it for a second then said “There’s too many to name!”

incense, popcorn and coffeeWe had dinner in an Ethiopian restaurant one night (as opposed to another night of nasty hotel food. bleh). Everything pictured above is traditional in Ethiopian cuisine: popcorn, coffee, and lots of incense burning. And that huge pan of bread off to the left was actually a birthday “cake” for our friend Dan.

injera, meat and cottage cheeseWe started with some flavored cottage cheeses, a big pile of meat, and some super spicy sauce with a random hard boiled egg in it.

aftermathA ton of meat ended up on our plate, which I picked around and around all night long. This meal was good, but it was just so meat-heavy that I felt like I barely ate anything by the end of the night!

Since I fell head over heels with Ethiopian food while in Africa, one of the first things I did when I got home was search yelp for best Ethiopian restaurant in NYC. I came across Zoma, located at 2084 Frederick Douglass Blvd in Harlem.

Fillo PastryWe ordered the Fillo Pastry appetizer, filled with spicy lentils. The cold chutney off to the side was a minty/cilantroy onion chutney I think. This appetizer didn’t blow me away, next time I wouldn’t bother with it. The REAL star of the meal was the Vegetarian Combination:

Veggie ComboFinally, vegetarian Ethiopian food! No picking necessary! This dish was seriously amazing. I chose the Gomen (sauteed collard greens), Misir Wett (red split lentils cooked with berbere, garlic, ginger, black cumin, plus a ton of other spices), Atakilt Wett (carrots, potatoes, cabbage and onions sautéed with garlic, ginger and tomatoes), and Shiro Wett (chickpeas, lentils and peas cooked with a “multitude of spices”). Everything was delicious, especially when I attempted to combine all four dishes into one bite. I had a chance to try the yellow split peas too, which were phenomenal. Next time I’d probably order those over the collard greens. My only qualm with the meal was the injera that was underneath our food tasted super old and stale. They gave us fresh injera on the side as well, but why bother putting practically inedible food on the plate to begin with?

yumWe also tried the honey wine – fruity and delicious! This meal was so freaking good. I’m craving it again right now. I guess I’ll be on a mission to find an Ethiopian spot a little closer though, as Harlem is a bit of a hike. I’ve been hearing about a restaurant in New Brunswick, but it looked really expensive. We’ll see, I might just need to make Harlem a regular stop off. For food this good, it would be worth the hassle.

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