Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Cookbook Review: Vegan Treasures of India

I have a new favorite cookbook, y'all. A couple years ago, pre-pandemic, I was hosting a monthly vegan potluck at Crosstown Arts, and I met a woman named Anusha. She mentioned that she was writing a cookbook, and now that book is finally here! Vegan Treasures of India features 60 homestyle recipes that span the country's regions and cooking styles. 

If you're a fan of Indian food, you probably know that North Indian cooking is quite different from South Indian fare. And then there are regional dishes from West and East India. And Anusha Moorthy Santosh's new book covers them all. I especially love that this book doesn't focus on any one specific region but offers a sort of culinary tour across all of India.

I also love that the recipes call for authentic ingredients that I need to make a trip to the Indian market for. So many Indian cookbooks that are written for an American audience leave out those ingredients — like hing, curry leaves, amchur powder, and all the various dals — to make recipes more accessible. But really, with the internet, anyone can access hard-to-find ingredients. And I'm lucky enough to live in a city with multiple Indian markets. 

The book is divided into dishes to share, weeknight meals, comfort food, meals for one, lunch box faves, one-pot meals, and treats (think drinks and desserts). My favorite thing so far was the Iconic Vada Pav, which is featured on the book's cover. These little besan-coated, fried potato patties are so crispy and satisfying, and the recipe also includes instructions for dry chutney and mint-cilantro chutney for serving. I had some Deep brand jarred dry chutney and some pre-made chutney that I used instead to save time, but one day, I want to try Anusha's recipes for those, too!

I've also got a new favorite breakfast in the Masala Toast. It's like a savory Indian French toast with a besan flour batter filled with chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic, scallions, and ginger. Great with chutney or ketchup!

The Refreshing Masala Lemon Shikanji was just as the name implied — refreshing! This cool drink was made with seltzer, lemon, and lots of spices, including black salt, which gave it a truly unique flavor. I love anything with black salt. Perfect drink on a summer day.

I was also lucky enough to be a tester for this book. Anusha sent me several recipes to try out as she was wrapping up her book project. It's been awhile since I made these, but I still remember how great they were. The Hearty Vegetable Ishtoo was a veggie stew with coconut milk. I loved that the recipe called for frozen mixed veggies because it made for a quick preparation. This will become a weeknight staple for me in the colder months.

The Khajur-Kaju Smoothie was a date and cashew cream smoothie that was so decadent, it felt like a dessert. But it was also totally whole food, plant-based, so it was super healthy. I enjoyed this before a workout one day, and it gave me all the energy I needed. I also tried it with added, unflavored vegan protein powder after a run one day. 

And finally, the Kanda Bhajayi with Special Onion Chutney was a flavor explosion in my mouth. These little deep-fried onion fritters were made with besan flour and thinly sliced red onion, and they're dunked in a chutney made from onions, chili powder, and the frying oil from the fritters. Onion on onion? YES! Just don't smell my breath afterward.

There are so many more things I want to try from Vegan Treasures of India. A few on my list include the Earthy Beet Poriyal (stir-fried beets with chickpeas and coconut), Light Lemon Sevai with Coconut Chutney (rice noodles with lemon juice), Soothing Thayir Sadam (tempered yogurt rice), Soul Warming Thukpa (eastern Indian noodle soup), and the Layered Triangle Paratha (whole wheat layered flatbread). In fact, I think I may try to make everything in the book eventually!

Monday, September 25, 2023

Happy Fall, Y'all!

Fall is not my favorite season. I don't hate it. But I can't help but think that it just means winter is coming. And I do hate winter. But I do love all the fall holidays — my birthday, Halloween/Samhain, Thanksgiving. So there's reason to celebrate! And I did on Friday, the day before Mabon/Autumn Equinox. 

I lit some candles for the new season and enjoyed a Cinnamon Bun from Lulu's with a Diskin Bob's Your Uncle dry English cider from Nashville-based Diskin Brewing. Unfortunately, Memphis doesn't have a cidery. I don't love the sweet, mainstream ciders, like Angry Orchard, but a nice craft, dry cider is a real treat.

For dinner, I made the Moroccan Sweet Potato Stew (with seitan beef), Cumin Rice, and Cumin Yogurt from the Llewelyn's Sabbats Almanac. 

This was so good. It called for beef tips, so I made some homemade seitan tips. Plus, it has sweet potatoes, carrots, and dried apricots (a nice touch!). Another thing I love about fall is hearty soups and stews. I try not to eat a ton of stew during the summer so that I have something to look forward to in the fall. The season is more enjoyable when it comes with special foods. Granted, it's still nearly 90 degrees in Memphis and will probably stay warm through late October. But the mornings are getting a little chilly!

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Cuban Brunch, OG Pizza, and Homemade Hot Dogs

A couple weeks back, Paul's nephew Jeff was in town, visiting Memphis from Missouri. We took him out to Wiseacre Brewing for beers and pizza, and I ordered The Slightly, the only vegan pizza on the menu. This is a traditional Pizza Marinara, which is naturally vegan. It has sauce, garlic, olive oil, basil, and Calabrian chilis, and it's really good! I'm normally a vegan cheese kinda gal, but I occasionally enjoy this more authentic pizza.

The next morning, we went to The Liquor Store (which is a restaurant, not a liquor store) for brunch. And I ordered my usual there, the Cuban Platter. It has the best seasoned black beans with rice, sauteed veggies, and plantains. LOVE those plantains!

Here's a recent meal from Black Lodge, a movie rental shop (yes, Memphis still has one!) and event space. They also have a cafe with vegan options, and this was my first time ordering the Lisa Simpson (two tofu hot dogs served in white buns with sauteed carrots, fried onions, barbecue sauce, and avocado). Is this stoner food? Absolutely! But it's good. The "dogs" are just seasoned slabs of tofu, so it felt pretty healthy except for all the white bread. 

And here's something I made at home: Whatever Grain Porridge from Bad Manners: Brave New Meal. This is a breakfast bowl made from oatmeal, millet, and quinoa, and the recipe suggests serving it with maple syrup, fruit, and nuts. But I prefer savory porridge, so I added nooch, olive oil, and tofu eggs. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Purple Carrot Fun!

My friend Melissa recently moved from Memphis to Florida, and she didn't get her address changed on her Purple Carrot subscription in time. So last week, a box was delivered to her old house, and she told me I could have it. So I drove by her empty house and stole it off the porch! I've never subscribed to a meal delivery service, so this was fun.

Here's a peek inside the box.

The first thing I tried was the Spicy Southwest Mac. This had cavatappi pasta, vegan shreds, Miyoko butter, onion, roasted red peppers, and pickled jalepenos with a pepita-nooch topping. This was SO good. I always forget how much I love cavatappi pasta, and the creamy, cheesy roux was perfect.

A couple complaints: The onion was rotten (luckily, I had plenty in the pantry), and the garlic was missing. Now, I'm not really complaining because it was free, but before I realized these two flaws, I thought I might consider subscribing. But considering the cost, those two things would be dealbreakers. And there was another big flaw, which I'll get to later. 

I served the pasta with charred broccoli and some Morningstar Farms Pringles Chick'n Fries.

Next up, I tried the Charred Corn Salad. I rarely deviate from the traditional green salad with whatever veggies I have on-hand. But I really loved the intentionality of these ingredients: charred corn and zucchini, shallot vinaigrette, avocado, cashews, dried chiles, and vegan tzatziki. A great salad!

But the mixed greens that came with the box went bad by the second day they were in the fridge. So I went out and bought fresh mixed greens at the grocery store. Another strike against me ever subscribing.

Finally, I made the Black Pepper Tofu dish a couple nights ago. And this was perfect. Spicy, cornstarch-coated tofu with scallions and celery, served over brown rice with a side of sauteed gai lan. No complaints here at all, and the ingredients stayed fresh. I especially loved the Hodo extra-firm tofu that came in the box. No pressing needed!

Overall, the meals were fantastic. And I'm glad the box came with a recipe book with extra recipes because I'm convinced the chefs who develop Purple Carrot know what they're doing. The only complaint was the freshness of the produce. If I was someone who hated grocery shopping and meal planning, I might still subscribe, even despite the produce issues. But I really love doing those things, so I probably won't be. But this was still so much fun!

Monday, September 18, 2023

Vada, Dosa, Idli, and Samosa Burgers

I love Indian food, perhaps more than any other international cuisine. And a week or so ago, I found myself way out east near Kirby and Quince by Mayuri. It's one of the few local Indian restaurants that serves both North and South Indian food. Most of the Indian places in Midtown, where I live, offer North Indian food, which isn't my fave. I love all the South Indian stuff, like dosa, idli, and vada. And wouldn't you know it? Mayuri has a combo — called the Mayuri Combo — with all those things! So I ordered it!

It came with one vada (the savory fried lentil doughnut), one idli (the steamed rice and lentil cake), sambar (vegetable soup), and a giant masala dosa stuffed with seasoned potatoes. A perfect lunch!

Speaking of Indian food, I recently made the Samosa Burgers from the No Meat Athlete Cookbook. These are samosa filling without the deep-fried shell. And yes, the shell is the best part, but I certainly felt less weighed down after eating the burger minus the fried part. It was great topped with some jarred cilantro-mint chutney. And on the side, I made some Curried Red Lentils with coconut milk and a bit of papad for dipping. 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Labor Day Burger, Sticky Tofu, and Corncakes

Labor Day is supposedly the end of grilling season, but it stays warm here in Memphis through mid-November, so last Monday certainly wasn't our last day to grill. But still yet, we grilled! I made some Everything Legendary Vegan Cheeseburgers (the cheese is inside the patty!), but I still topped it with a Tofutti slice. On the side we had grilled corn and mushrooms.

A friend from the Plant-Based Morning Show Discord group recently sent me her copy of Bad Manners: Brave New Meal. I love those cookbooks with all the cussing. They're fun! The first thing I've made from the book was the Sweet-Sticky Tofu, which has cornstarch-coated tofu tossed with a tangy-sweet sauce. It was lovely. I always forget how much I love cornstarch on fried tofu. 

And finally, here's a fun Costa Rican breakfast from The Blue Zones Kitchen. I made these Sweet Corncakes by blending corn with a little sugar and salt. That was supposed to be it, but the batter didn't cook up for me. So I stirred in a little whole wheat flour, and that was perfect. Like corn pancakes! They made for a nice brunch with black beans and avocado. 

Monday, September 11, 2023

Air-fried Wontons, Nachos, and Gnocchi

I found some Nasoya wonton wrappers on closeout a Kroger a few weeks back, and I already had Tofutti cream cheese in my freezer, so I figured I'd make Cream Cheese Wontons and Tofu Fried Rice for dinner one night. But I really don't love deep frying at home, so I air-fried the wontons. 

And they turned out really tasty. The ends got a little extra brown in the fryer, but they didn't taste burned or anything. A friend on Instagram suggested adding little foil bonnets on the top next time to ensure more even cooking. I'll try it!

Speaking of closeout sales, Big River Market downtown closed a few weeks ago, and they had everything in the store marked down. So I finally bought a jar of the Vegan Valley Nacho Cheeze sauce that was originally priced at $11. I wasn't going to pay that much for a jar of cashew cheese, but it was $7-something with the discount. Still kinda high, but I wanted to try it on Black Bean Nachos. And I did that on Taco Tuesday last week. It's good! Maybe not $7 good, but I'm glad I got to try it.

Here's some Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gnocchi with red sauce and garlic sourdough bread. I love that TJ's caul-gnocchi.

But I think my new favorite TJ's product is this microwave meal of Vegetable Biryani with dumplings! Can you believe this (just the rice part) was a frozen dinner? It was a lot of food, and the rice so fluffy. Tasted way better than most frozen meals. I enjoyed it with a paratha and some cilantro chutney. 

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Mushroom Barbacoa, Banh Mi, Burritos, & Bubble Tea

Here's a round-up of some recent takeout meals I've eaten. I stopped into Lulu's Cafe and Bakery last Friday for my usual end-of-week lunch there, and they had this Mushroom Barbacoa Sandwich on the menu. The mushrooms were finely chopped and slow-simmered in barbacoa sauce, and there were fermented jalapenos and a tasty spread (though I'm not sure what was in it). This ended up being an open-faced sandwich because it was just too messy to eat the normal way. 

After my sandwich, I got Lulu's seasonal Virgo Bubble Tea to go. I added a shot of espresso because I had a very early morning (3 a.m.!) and I needed a pick me up.

Here's another awesome sandwich I recently ate. A couple weeks back, I stopped by Le Delights in Cordova and got some takeout to share with my friend Autumn. Le Delights has an amazing Vegan Banh Mi with tofu ham!

And finally, here is a Mushroom and Potato Burrito from El Toro Loco. El Toro is not a vegan-friendly place, at all. They don't even have veggie fajitas on the menu, but I went there with some friends after we ran a beer mile together. And there were three vegans in our group. One friend crafted this burrito off-menu, and I just told the server, "I'll have what he's having." And it was not bad! You can really find something vegan anywhere with a little creativity. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Ramen Night!

A couple weeks back, I met up with some hasher friends at Good Fortune, a very vegan-friendly ramen place. We were planning an October run that we're haring with Memphis Hash House Harriers, and that's another story for another time. But here's what we ate. First, we started with almost every vegan appetizer on the menu (minus the Impossible spring rolls, which are great, but were only three people). Here are the Tofu Bites with vegan honey butter, the Charred Edamame with chili-citrus salt, and the Impossible Dumplings (exactly what it sounds like, and they're amazing).

We also got an order of the Kimchi, which is the best I've ever had. It was my first time trying their kimchi.

For my main, I went with the new (to me) Street Corn Mazeman. They always have at least three vegan ramen bowls on the menu, but some change out with the seasons. This one was new since the last time I'd eaten there. And it may be my favorite. It's more of a butter noodle dish than a brothy ramen. But it has Good Fortune's homemade noodles, corn off the cob, a vegan miso butter, fried tofu, and radishes. God, I could eat that again right now!