Sometimes, the oddest combinations of ingredients result in some of the most delectable dishes you’ll ever eat. (Please, someone, tell the HH that this principle doesn’t apply equally when rummaging through the closet the morning before laundry day. Brown and green striped shirt combined with navy blue corduroys and black dress shoes does not a brilliant ensemble make.).
Today’s recipe was developed due to the overabundance of produce in my back yard–basil and jalapenos, to be exact. For the first time ever, my basil just refuses to stop growing (it’s sort of like the Jack Nicholson of basil plants). I am not complaining, believe me. I could eat pesto every day for the next three months and be happy.
The jalapeno plant shooting toward the sky like Jack’s beanstalk* was a bit more of a surprise, however. Last year’s plant yielded about a dozen jalapenos all season. This year, I pick a dozen peppers almost daily, and seems the very next time I glance in its direction, the stems have sprouted a dozen more peppers suspended from the branches, swaying like crystal teardrops from a ballroom chandelier.
I love jalapenos (and the über-frugal hausfrau in me loves saving all that money by growing my own even more), but what to do with 24 jalapenos?? (I am going to try these poppers next. The ones I already made, with homemade hemp goat cheese, were so hot I couldn’t feel my lips for an hour after the first bite. Note to self: remove seeds next time).
[Just look at that creamy avocado-basil action!]
I thought about what to cook. I thought about my burgeoning basil and my proliferating peppers. I thought about the remnants of potato, radish and avocado in my fridge drawers**. I thought about the fact that summer–despite my earnest, protracted entreaties to the Weather Gods and my eardrum-shattering wails of despair ricocheting throughout our house this past weekend when the temperature plummeted to 10C/50 F at night (sorry about that, Girls–I know your ears are delicate)–is on its way out. (Why, oh why can’t I live somewhere where there is no winter? Oh. Right. That would mean moving.).
The cooler temperatures may herald the end of BBQ season, but a good, warm potato salad is never out of place. This recipe combines my love of roasted potato (both white and sweet), my surplus of basil and at least a bit of the jalapeno along with a variation on my original avocado pesto dressing, and–optionally–crumbled tempeh bacon. When gently mixed together, the potato chunks are bathed in the smooth, garlicky pesto dressing, the sweet potato offering a perfect counterpoint to the starchy red-skins. The whole thing is punctuated by just the right amount of crunch from the radishes and a residual heat from the jalapeno. And if you love tempeh bacon as I do, the crumbles contribute a smoky accent that harmonizes beautifully with the salad’s more prominent flavors.
[Even on Day Two, still delicious. Here sprinkled with tempeh bacon crumbles.]
I just loved this salad. I’ve eaten it four times in the past week, and each time have welcomed it on my plate with good cheer and a hearty appetite. If you like unusual flavor combinations and are looking for a new twist on classic potato salad, I’d highly recommend you give it a try. If not, just try adding a bit of chocolate and see how it works out.
** Nope, not a typo. If you pop your avocados in the fridge the day before they are perfectly ripe, they will keep for another week in the refrigerator without going bad. Remove from fridge, bring to room temperature, and voilà–perfectly ripe avo.
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 Tbsp (15 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) dijon mustard
3 drops plain liquid stevia
1 medium just-ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
1/2 small jalapeno pepper, minced
1-2 Tbsp (15-30 ml) water, to your taste
fine sea salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a medium bowl, toss the white potatoes with one Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil and sprinkle lightly with fine sea salt. Spread out in a single layer on one of the cookie sheets. Next, toss the sweet potato with the other Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil and sprinkle lightly with fine sea salt; spread in a single layer on the other cookie sheet (you want to keep the two types of potato separate, as they will cook at different rates and will have to be removed from the oven at different times). Bake 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes are just soft and remove from the oven as ready; the sweet potato will likely be cooked first. Set aside to cool for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the radishes and green onions in a large salad bowl and set aside. Once the potatoes are ready, add them to the bowl.
Prepare the dressing: In a mini food processor or Magic Bullet, place the basil and garlic and process until the basil is finely chopped. Add remaining dressing ingredients and continue to process until a thick, creamy texture is achieved (add water until desire thickness is reached; I like it similar to mayonnaise). Add the dressing to the bowl and gently toss to coat the potatoes. If desired, sprinkle with tempeh bacon and toss again. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 4 generous servings. Will keep, covered, in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
The past couple of weeks have been beyond hectic here at the DDD household, what with a surprise party (at my place) for my office mate; a wedding shower (no, not mine–okay, breathe normally now); two new courses to prepare for my return to teaching next week (what?? Seriously, is my vacation over already?); and some heavy-duty baking from Sweet Freedomso I could deliver samples to a slew of people. Not to mention the energy it took to get over my excitement at having Ellen read my cookbook!**
With all this frenzied activity, I haven’t had a huge amount of time for cooking–at least, cooking anything that takes up more time than your standard elevator pitch. I searched through my mental archives for quick, easy recipes–and then I remembered Leticia.
Leticia (well, actually, I don’t remember her real name, but I do know it was seemed somewhat exotic to me at the time, and it started with “L” and ended with “A”), was a fellow don in residence when I was there during my PhD years. And who knows more about the ins and outs of “quick and easy” food than students living in residence over the long and lonely summer months?
Leticia (or was it Lydia?) was a new-agey, hip and–to my mind–somewhat radical young woman. One evening as we sat out enjoying the summer air on the residence balcony, she casually revealed to me that she’d once married another student during her undergraduate years, simply to help him avoid deportation. Wow! How daring! How outré! How anti-establishment! How illegal!
I was in awe of her.
Lydia (or Leora) was tall and thin as bullrushes, with thick, frazzled brown hair that seemed to be suspended around her square face like a floating birds’ nest, its stray strands protruding at erratic angles. She had a tendency to wear loose cotton dresses that were either tie-dyed or hand-painted, sporting faded splotches of color like an artist’s smock that had been bleached over and over. Leora (Larissa?) actually had a very pretty face, with large, heavy-lidded eyes and Angelina Jolie lips. And when Larissa (or Lorena) spoke, it was in a low, deep whisper like an FM radio announcer, as if she’d just unearthed a scandalous childhood secret.
Because of her Italian background, Lorena/Ludmilla informed me, she was an expert on pasta. One evening, when the two of us roamed the otherwise empty corridors in the residence hall, she invited me to share her pasta carbonara. I was entranced by how quickly it came together: she boiled the pasta, tossed it with a couple of beaten eggs and threw in crumbled bacon that had been fried as the pasta boiled. The final touch was a handful of green peas; the entire dish was then topped with grated parmesan cheese and a liberal grinding of black pepper. I was amazed at how creamy the eggy sauce was, and how well the smoky bacon complemented the almost-instant satiny coating.
Never mind that I don’t eat bacon any more; the idea of eating raw egg (the heat of the pasta supposedly flash-cooks it) is, to my current-day digestive system, repulsive. But the ease of preparation, the creamy-and-smoky texture and flavor combination–well, those still appeal. Big time.
So I set about finding recipes for pasta carbonara that I could adapt to my current dietary limitationss. And you know what? Not one of them contained peas! I’m not sure if the peas were Latoya’s own addition or if they were generated by my imagination, but I couldn’t conceive of the dish without them. So my version may not be conventional–but then again, neither was Lillianna.
After examining various other vegan pasta carbonara recipes, from Vegan Dad’s coconut-milk based to Urban Vegan’s with white wine to a more conventional recipe, I decided to go with my gut and create my own soy-free, wine-less version. I still wanted the sauce to be creamy and eggy (but without any resemblance to raw eggs). For the bacon, I adapted the tempeh recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance to create a super-quick, non-marinated version; and since I loved Loretta”s original creation so much, I retained the peas in the mix.
The result was a silky smooth sauce infused with a hint of smokiness from the bacon and a surprise burst of sweetness on occasion from the peas. As is our wont when I cook a vegan main course, the HH and I sat down to individual plates so he could doctor his up with something more animal-centric. With the the tub of parmesan by his side–something he perfunctorily dusts on every pasta dish I make–he decided to taste the pasta first, au naturel.
Slowly, he chewed, moving the penne around in his mouth, carefully assessing the flavor. He swallowed.
“You know,” he said, “it doesn’t actually need the cheese. I’m just going to eat it like this.”
It doesn’t need the cheese! He ate it just like that! TRIUMPH!
So we ate the pasta carbonara, the HH and I, both equally happy with its warm, filling, flavorful sauce and meaty, smoky bits of tempeh bacon. As he cleaned his plate, the HH pronounced, “I don’t think you could improve on this with anything.” (I nearly fainted.) ”It’s perfect as it is.” Well, knock me over with a feather! (Okay, it would have to be a pewter statue of a feather, because, as we all know, an actual feather would have no impact on me whatsoever. . .but whatever).
If you’re looking for a quick and delicious weekday dinner and feel like some pasta, give this a try. In no time, you’ll have a dinner that’s not only toothsome, but slightly unconventional and really hip, too. Like Lucinda. Or Leticia. Or whoever she was.
** (The quest continues–so please feel free to let Ellen know if you’d like to see me on the show! You will win a free copy of Sweet Freedom if I’m on! Click here to send her a comment about how talented and witty I am. Oh, and what a good cook, too. )
When you feel like something substantial but don’t have the time, try this quick and easy sauce. If you’re too rushed to make tempeh bacon, you can use diced smoked tofu, or your favorite brand of prepared “bacon”.
1 recipe of your favorite tempeh bacon (see above)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) smooth natural cashew butter
1 Tbsp (15 ml) white miso
1 Tbsp (15 ml) tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 tsp (1 ml) dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp (2. 5 ml) turmeric
fine sea salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup soy or almond milk
1 cup (240 ml) vegetable broth or stock
2 Tbsp (30 ml) potato or arrowroot starch
1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh or frozen peas (no need to defrost if frozen)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) chopped fresh parsley
Prepare the bacon: cut the tempeh into strips as thin as you can manage (I got 15 strips). In a large frying pan, mix together the remaining ingredients. Add the tempeh and turn each strip over a few times to coat it in the sauce.
Turn on heat to medium-low and cook the strips for about 5 minutes until the sauce has begun to evaporate and the bottoms are browned; turn the strips and continue to cook the other side, pushing the bacon back and forth occasionally to prevent sticking, until the liquid ingredients have been absorbed and the bacon is browned and crisp on the outside, another 5-10 minutes. If the liquid is absorbed too quickly, add a little more water, as needed. Turn off heat and set aside.
Prepare the pasta: Set your water boiling in a large pot. Cook the pasta according to package directions.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: In a medium pot, whisk together the cashew butter, miso, tahini, mustard, garlic, turmeric, nutmeg, salt and pepper until smooth. Very slowly, whisk in the almond milk, a little at a time, until the mixture is smooth and well combined. Add the vegetable broth and mix again.
Place the potato starch in a small bowl. Add about 1/3 cup (80 ml) of the liquid mixture and whisk until smooth; slowly add this to the liquid in the pot. Heat the mixture in the pot over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it begins to bubble; cook for about a minute more, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and creamy. If the pasta isn’t yet ready, turn off the heat and cover the pot.
Once the pasta is ready, drain it and reserve about 1/2 cup (120 ml) pasta water. Add the pasta to the sauce pot along with the tempeh and peas and continue to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is warmed through, about 10 minutes. If the sauce becomes too dry during this time, add the reserved pasta water (if the sauce remains smooth and doesn’t dry out, you can discard the pasta water). Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve. Makes 4 servings.