Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Attack of the Crepes!

Luscious Strawberries and Cashew Creme Crepes
Back when H came to visit, around the end of May, I started experimenting with crepes. It turns out that they are incredibly easy if you have the right tools! Luckily, in this case, "the right tools" all happen to be pretty inexpensive (excuse me while I momentarily geek out over gadgets, most of which have been in my kitchen for a while): a mesh sieve, colander, strainer or flour sifter; a well seasoned cast iron skillet, crepe pan, comal or flat griddle; a silicone brush; a crepe spreader (although an offset spatula may work, too); and a flexible stainless steel spatula.

The mesh sieve is for sifting your flour to make sure your crepes are light and lump-free. Mesh sieves are very useful in the kitchen as they can ensure your sauces, soups, sorbets, coulis, etc. are smooth and silky. You can also use it for rinsing dry grains or bean, or draining soaked nuts.

The skillet is where you'll cook the crepes, and cast iron is my favorite cooking medium: it conducts heat well so that food can cook evenly, it's durable as long as you treat it well, it takes on the best flavors and imparts them back into your food, it's naturally non-stick if it's well-seasoned, without being toxic (unlike Teflon....), and can be really inexpensive if it's a bare bones style. Of course, there are also the high-end enameled pieces of cast iron like Le Creuset which are pricey, but definitely worth it....they're just not for everything. While Le Creuset makes a crepe pan, I think it's unnecessary if you have a small kitchen or a tight budget.

The silicone brush enables you to keep your hot crepe pan well lubricated without having to worry about melting the bristles. I'll admit I was skeptical when I first saw the thick, rubbery bristles of a silicone brush. I though, "How in the world is that thing supposed to hold any oil, or agave nectar, or heaven forbid, a lighter liquid like soymilk?" And then I tried one. Immediately, I was hooked. Silicone pastry brushes are, in my opinion, the only way to go. Have you ever made baklava? If you use a plastic bristle pastry brush, the firm bristles catch and tear the delicate filo, and if you try using a soft natural bristle brush, you'll inevitably end up losing bristles in your baklava, which sure is appetizing! And the best reason to use silicone brushes is that they don't melt when you're working with heat, as silicone brushes have high melting point, usually around 500° F.

I'm sure the benefits of a crepe spreader are obvious, so there's really nothing for me to add.

Finally, there's the super thin and flexible stainless steel spatula. These are amazing tools. Perfect for flipping pancakes or crepes, moving hot cookies from cookie sheet to cooling rack, flipping burgers, tempeh or tofu in a cast iron skillet, or even for moving a cake from a square cake pan to a cooking rack. I certainly don't advise you to use any non-stick coated pans, but if you do, you'll want to avoid the stainless steel spatula, and instead opt for one of the nylon versions.

So, now that you know what the utensils do, I suppose you'll want a recipe and some pictures.

Simple Crepes
Christina Terriquez

1/2 cup organic whole wheat flour, or more if needed
1/8 teaspoon unrefined sea salt, SI brand recommended
organic safflower oil
3/4 cup organic unsweetened soy milk or rice milk

Sift flour and salt into a small bowl.

Mix 1 teaspoon of safflower oil and soy milk together, then whisk into dry ingredients. Batter should be about the consistency of melted ice cream, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time if needed. Set batter aside.

Lightly brush safflower oil onto a griddle or cast iron skillet and heat to medium–high heat. Pour 2--4 tablespoons of batter onto hot skillet and quickly spread batter into thin round. Gently flip crepe in a quick, fluid motion and cook just until crepe is set. Crepes should be beige and flexible, not golden brown or crispy. Remove crepe from pan and repeat until all batter has been used. Brush more oil onto pan if needed.

-Fill crepes with fresh fruit and cashew créme for a simple but elegant brunch.

-Fill crepes with cooked tempeh, steamed asparagus or sautéed mushrooms for a savory meal.

The crepe recipe is pretty easy and straight forward, so I'm showing you some of my favorite ways to enjoy crepes. I think my favorite of all were the Crepes with Wild Asparagus and Shiitake Béchamel and the Luscious Strawberries and Cashew Créme Crepes: both of these dishes were gorgeous and delicious, but they also had very complex flavors and textures while being clean and simple. The Luscious Strawberries and Cashew Créme Crepes are something I would never order at a restaurant, but oh. my. god. were they amazing!

Quinoa, Teff and Corn Timbal with Appled Beets, Zucchini, Carrot, Candy Cap and Sugar Snap Pea Sauté, and Tempeh Crepes with Chives and Béchamel

For tempeh: simmer tempeh in water, shoyu and oil for 20 minutes, or alternately, steam tempeh for 20 minutes, then marinate in shoyu and pan fry until crispy.

For b
échamel: heat olive oil in a skillet and mix in flour to make a white roux. When flour is well incorporated into oil, add unsweetened soy milk and whisk until sauce/gravy texture is achieved. Season with sea salt and/or shoyu and herbs or pepper if desired.

Tempeh Crepes with Chives and Béchamel: wrap 2-4 pieces of tempeh up in each crepe. Covered with béchamel and garnish with chives.

Asparagus in Crepes with Wild Mushroom Béchamel
For Wild Mushroom Béchamel: reconstitute dried wild mushrooms and slice, or wash and slice a mix of fresh wild mushrooms. Sauté mushrooms in olive oil with a bit of shoyu or tamari. Remove cooked mushrooms from pan, add more olive oil and mix in flour to make a white roux. When flour is well incorporated into oil, add unsweetened soy milk and whisk until sauce/gravy texture is achieved. Add mushrooms back into sauce and season with sea salt and/or shoyu and herbs or pepper if desired.

For Asparagus in Crepes with Wild Mushroom Béchamel: blanch or lightly steam asparagus. Fill crepes with cooked asparagus and roll crepes. Pour hot béchamel over crepes.

Crepes with Wild Asparagus and Shiitake Béchamel

For Crepes with Wild Asparagus and Shiitake Béchamel: Blanch or lightly steam wild asparagus. Stuff asparagus into crepes, cover with shiitake béchamel and garnish with fresh, ripe tomatoes and scallions or chives.

Fresh Fruit and Cashew Créme in Crepes
Cashew Créme: soak approximately 1 cup of cashews in filtered water overnight. Drain water, purée with a pinch of sea salt, sweetener or your choice (I use agave nectar) and a small amount of water if needed. You can season with vanilla beans, vanilla extract, lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon or any combination thereof.

To prepare
Fresh Fruit and Cashew Créme in Crepes: slice or dice fresh seasonal fruit or your choice you can use one variety or many (I used blackberries, pineapple, and mango). Fill crepes with about 1 tablespoon of cashew créme, 3 tablespoons fruit, and roll closed. Garnish with fresh mint, fresh fruit and/or cashew créme.

Luscious Strawberries and Cashew Créme Crepes

Luscious Strawberries: Slice berries and macerate in fresh squeezed orange juice, liquid sweetener of your choice (like agave or maple syrup), or for super luscious berries, a little maraska and/or amaretto liqueur and a bit of raspberry jam. In this case I opted for the super luscious variation, which was divine!

To prepare Luscious Strawberries and Cashew Créme Crepes, fill crepes with about 1 tablespoon cashew créme, add some berries, roll closed, top with more berries, a generous amount of berry liquid, and an extra dollop of cashew créme.

Blackberry Crepes

Blackberry Crepes: Fill the crepes with fresh blackberries and a touch of blackberry or raspberry jam (I was lucky enough to have some homemade blackberry jam from JD's mom), roll up crepe, top with a few more berries, and dust with powdered sugar, brown rice syrup powder, or drizzle with maple syrup or agave nectar.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Vegan Ceviche

Vegan Ceviche

A few months ago, my boss asked me to come up with a few vegan versions of seafood dishes, and ceviche was at the top of the list. Ceviche is a Peruvian seafood dish where raw seafood is marinated in citrus juice, usually lime juice, until it is "cooked". It's traditionally eaten with fried plantain chips or tortilla chips in the summer.

Growing up, the most common types of seafood I had were frozen fish sticks and canned tuna made into tuna casserole, and by "most common types of seafood", I mean the seafood we had maybe 3 times a year. I think I've had shrimp cocktail maybe twice in my life, but never any other kind of shellfish, no fresh fish, and certainly not any raw fish, so I have never had authentic ceviche.

It always seems difficult to try to create a dish that mimics something you've never had, but really, this was a snap. My immediate reaction was to use mushrooms, since they have such a distinct texture and flavor, but I decided to try an experiment and see if tofu would work, since I know many people who are not fans of fungi. Just before I went shopping, I saw Bazu's post about her ceviche, which uses hearts of palm to beautiful visual effect, so I thought I'd try that as well. I decided to experiment with four versions: tofu, frozen tofu, mixed mushrooms, and hearts of palm.

In the end, each version had its own set of pros and cons, and I realized that a combination would work best. For example, some of the mushrooms get a bit toothsome, which is how I imagine calamari or shrimp would be in ceviche, while the tofu is nice and tender, and if you use frozen tofu it absorbs a ton of flavor. The hearts of palm are beautiful and an ingenious addition, giving a slight visual nod to calamari, but also lending the dish a nice flavor and texture.

You'll notice in the pictures I didn't use cucumbers or tomato, although they are mentioned as optional ingredients in the recipe; I've been having a terrible eczema/psoriasis outbreak this summer, so I've been using tomatoes very sparingly, as nightshades can aggravate any inflammatory disease. However, tomatoes would be a great, colorful addition, especially if you used various heirloom tomatoes, or a combination of yellow pear and cherry tomatoes. Additionally, if eaten in the summer, tomatoes can be very cooling. Oh, and I simply didn't have any cucumber on hand.

Textural Close-up of Vegan Ceviche

Vegan Ceviche
Christina Terriquez

Yields: 4–8 servings

1 cup organic red onion, diced
1/2 cup organic cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1 medium organic tomato, seeded and cut into 1/2” cubes, optional
1/2 medium organic cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2” cubes, optional
2 pinches unrefined sea salt, SI brand recommended
1 teaspoon umeboshi vinegar
juice of 5 organic limes
8 ounces hearts of palm, sliced 1/4” thick
8 ounces organic soft tofu, frozen overnight, then thawed and cut into 1/2” cubes
1/2 cup organic oyster mushrooms, cut into 1/4” thick slices
1/2 cup organic button, crimini or wild mushrooms, cut into 1/4” thick slices
1/2 cup organic fresh shiitake mushrooms, cut into 1/4” thick slices
1 tablespoon organic unpasteurized shoyu
1–2 tablespoons organic agave nectar
1 organic avocado, cut into 1/4”–1/2” cubes, optional
1–2 tablespoons organic hemp oil, optional

In a glass bowl, mix red onion, cilantro, tomato and cucumber, if using, sea salt, umeboshi vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of lime juice. Marinate for 1–2 hours.

Meanwhile, in a separate glass bowl, mix hearts of palm, tofu, mushrooms, shoyu, agave nectar and remaining lime juice. Marinate for 1–2 hours.

Add onion mixture to mushrooms mixture, add avocado and hemp oil, if using, and adjust seasonings.

Spoon into individual servings in martini glasses, and garnish with additional fresh cilantro. Serve with fried plantain chips, tortilla chips, or water crackers.

-For a more pronounced cooling effect, add 1–2 cloves minced garlic to onions before they begin marinating.

-For crisper cucumbers, add them at the last minute instead of pickling them.

-Add diced celery just before serving.

-Instead of freezing tofu overnight, press it for 30 minutes, then blanch or steam it for 15 minutes and cool before marinading.

-You could use all oyster mushrooms or all shiitake, but I wouldn't recommend using all crimini or button mushrooms as they tend to get a little bit...soggy. I really like the textural differences you have when you use a combination, too.

August Updates

The Art of Vegan Sushi

I've had a busy summer, with two out-of-town guests (H, of course, and M, JD's sister), taking classes and teaching them, creating a class worth of raw desserts, painting and decorating the house, a new Harry Potter movie AND the final Harry Potter book, the National Poetry Slam, hosting two potlucks, a broken radiator and transmission hose, unusual monsoon-like conditions, trying to keep a garden alive despite outrageous bugs due to said monsoon-like conditions, plus fighting off a bout of food poisoning, AND a cold....but I have been cooking. And I will be posting some recipes.

Upcoming recipes/posts to look forward to:

Simple Crepes with Asparagus and Shiitake Bechemal

Raw Lime Tart

Raw Raspberry Cashew Creme Tart with Chocolate Mousse

Raw Peaches and Creme Tart

Fusion Tempeh with Triple Sesame Rice

Strawberry Limeade

Spiced Cauliflower, Paratha, Red Lentils, and Curried Sweet Potatoes over Basmati

Roasted Vegatable and Polenta Napoleons

Luscious Strawberries and Cashew Creme Crepes

Raw Black Forest Cheesecake