Grills Gone Vegan

Things have been heating up around here.

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With temperatures soaring, cicadas (aliens!) humming, and my lawn o’ weeds growing to epic heights, the great outdoors are not exactly calling my name. However, with a big patio begging to host a party, the aroma of the neighbors’ grilled food wafting over to greet me when I climb out of my car at the end of a long day, and a few strands of twinkly lights romantically draped around our backyard, it is tempting to step outside and enjoy early summer. So when the publishers of Grills Gone Vegan by Tamisin Noyes asked me to review their vegan grilling cookbook, I decided to give it a shot. After all, we own two grills and rarely use them since we do not eat meat. Veggie burgers taste great on the grill, but firing it up just for a couple of No Bull burger patties seems silly. When Grills Gone Vegan arrived in the mail, I was excited to see a book full of recipes for foods we could actually eat, all prepared on a grill. I wanted to try everything! The options were so overwhelming that I had to invite a few friends over to help me taste test.

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Fast forward to last weekend, when I stood with a counter full of farmers’ market produce and local goodies from Ellwood Thompson’s, a cookbook with several bookmarked pages, and a rickety old laptop blasting dance music into my kitchen. When afternoon turned to evening, I was joined by Shannon of Thirsty Richmond and her husband Evan, and Adrienne of hippie itch and her husband Al. They all had more experience with vegan cooking and eating than I did, so I figured they would make great judges for the variety of dishes we prepared. They are also just super fun up-for-anything people, who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and skewer some seitan for the cause.

The book is full of creative recipes with manageable ingredient lists, and it includes a lot of fancy-looking dishes that, with my limited grilling experience, I never would have dreamed of preparing on a grill. Most recipes include sets of instructions for indoor non-grill preparation, indoor grill preparation, and an outdoor grill preparation, so you have a lot of options. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure approach to getting a delicious dish to the table. I was also really pleased to find dishes that incorporated grilling in the ingredients, like Charred Leek Spread, in which you take grilled leeks and process them with raw ingredients to make a creamy vegan spread for sliced baguettes.

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We chowed down on this dip while assembling skewers for the next dish and it was definitely a hit. The dill flavor is very light and springy, and leftover spread was a great dip for baby carrots and celery. It also added a unique flavor t0 veggie sandwiches the next day.

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I substituted some of my weekly farmers’ market finds for the vegetables called for in the Tunisian Seitan Skewers with Lemon Kissed Couscous. I used chicken-style seitan for this recipe, which incorporated a lemon and spice flavored marinade for a bright and citrusy grilled dish. The kohlrabi, which I substituted for mushrooms in the skewers, was pretty difficult to spear and it took longer to cook than the other vegetables. I will definitely try grilling kohlrabi again, but maybe in slices placed directly on the grill rather than on kebabs. Otherwise the vegetables and seitan were delicious, and the lemon kissed pearl couscous was tasty with this dish as well as the next entrée.

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The second entrée we prepared was Savory Grilled Tofu with Mushroom Sauce. The tofu is marinated first, and the marinade is really tasty so that the leftover tofu is great even without the mushroom sauce. Then the tofu is grilled and topped with a delicious herb-packed mushroom sauce. The couscous was supposed to go with the Tunisian skewers but it worked well for sopping up mushroom sauce in this dish. I really liked the idea of preparing a sauce on the stovetop while grilling the tofu outside. The result is an impressive dish that appears to be and elaborate showstopper, but is actually very easy to prepare.

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Finally, we grilled some nectarines that had been lightly brushed with agave nectar, and served the warm, caramelized fruit with Almond Dream vegan ice cream and fresh mint. I know some of you will disagree with me on this, but after trying it firsthand, I do believe that the almond ice cream was a better accompaniment for this dish than dairy ice cream would have been.

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If you are a vegetarian or vegan who wants to transform your grill from a piece of lawn furniture to a functional cooking element, or if you are an avid griller looking for some new recipes to add to your meat-laden collection, I highly recommend this book. It is easy to read, the instructions are simple to follow, and the recipes are very adaptable for any kind of cooking setup you may have. There are enough creative ideas in Grills Gone Vegan to keep you busy trying new things all summer. The book is available on Amazon or by mail order from the publisher.

I did receive a free copy of Grills Gone Vegan for testing the recipes. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this review and all opinions are my own.

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Seitan, Stripped

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Earlier today, I was standing in line in a local coffee shop, when I was tapped on the shoulder by one of my colleagues from work.

“Oh, hi there! Great to see you! What brings you to my neighborhood?”

We had a nice three minute conversation until it was my turn to order. On my way out, I met a member of my coworker’s family, wished them both a good day, and waved goodbye. As I walked away from the coffee shop, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a pane of glass. Then I came to the horrific realization that my tank top had slid down and about an inch of my zebra print bra was exposed. How long had it been that way? How many people had seen? Why do these things always happen to me?!

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I had been thinking all morning about what I was going to write about in my next blog post. With the humiliation of my unintentional striptease on my mind all afternoon, these seitan strips seemed like an appropriate topic.

I made these a couple of months ago, when Kyle decided he wanted to reduce the amount of soy in his diet. I cook with soy-based protein sources quite often, so his request required me to branch out a bit. As I struggled to put together the meal plan and grocery list that week, Kyle suggested that we cook with seitan. I’ve used the ingredient before, but I find that the pre-packaged seitan that is sold in stores tends to be high in sodium, so I’ve shied away from it.

A little research taught me that it’s a very high protein food, so I determined that it was worth investigating further. I quickly discovered that seitan is easy to make at home, where you can control the amount of sodium, with just a few ingredients. Most of the salt comes from the broth that it’s cooked in, so I searched for a low sodium vegetable broth and a few more essential ingredients, then I got to work. My stripped-down version has just the ingredients I want in my seitan, and nothing more.

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The basic recipe includes vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, water, liquid aminos or soy sauce, oil, broth, and seasonings. I made mine in a slow cooker according to this recipe from the Cathe’s Kitchen blog.

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The dough for the seitan comes together pretty quickly, then it gets dropped in a slow cooker bath of broth, onions, garlic, and herbs to simmer for a few hours. This time of year, when it starts to get pretty hot outside, I am a big fan of slow cooking to keep my kitchen cool.

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The seitan loaves look kind of creepy when they come out. I think my first batch had too many air bubbles, but I’ll get the texture down with some practice.

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The loaves freeze and defrost really well, so I recommend that you make a big batch. When you are ready to serve them, simply cut into slices or strips and cook them like you would chicken cutlets. If you want to simmer them in a sauce, it is best to brown them in a pan first, which makes the texture less spongy.  My favorite way to prepare them so far has been to marinate and grill them. I have only done them on the George Foreman indoor grill, but I am looking forward to getting them on my charcoal grill this summer.

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The strips are delicious when marinated in cilantro and lime, grilled to perfection, then stuffed into warm tortillas with roasted poblanos, corn and tomato salsa, and avocado.

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Whether you are looking for a way to prepare store-bought seitan strips, or you are experimenting with your own homemade version, this taco recipe is a simple introduction to seitan. The marinated and grilled strips are also great in sandwiches and on salads. I tossed them with some toppings over rice to bring to work for lunch, and they even tasted great reheated in the microwave.

Cilantro Lime Seitan Strips

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Ingredients:

  • 1 lb plain seitan (store bought or homemade), sliced into strips
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon agave syrup
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Combine olive oil, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, agave, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
  2. Spread seitan strips in a shallow baking dish. Cover with marinade.
  3. Marinate for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove seitan from marinade and grill for 6 minutes on each side, or until dark grill marks appear. Brush with marinade while grilling if desired.
  5. Serve hot. Stuff into warm tortillas, sandwich between two slices of bread, or place on top of rice or a salad. Cover with desired toppings and enjoy!

Stay cool and have a great week!

Veg:ology Turns Two!

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Last month, Veg:ology turned two years old. Kyle, the Weber grill, and I celebrated with a backyard bash at our new home. It was a star studded event, featuring several local celebrities who were able to make the short trip from the farmers’ market to our house:

  • Excellent Eggplant
  • Zany Zucchini
  • Heirloom Tomato
  • Beautiful Basil

We entertained them with fun facts about the growth of Veg:ology, the little vegetarian cooking blog that could. Some things haven’t changed much since year one. Zucchini is still one of the top search terms that lead people to the blog.

Top 3 Search Terms

  1. Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
  2. Vegology
  3. Zucchini

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Cupcakes have taken over the top spot from my beloved zucchini. I think we all know what needs to happen next. Zucchini cupcakes, anyone?

The most viewed post on Veg:ology is Chocolate Orange Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Ganache. (Warning: these are seriously addictive.)

The most popular advice post is How to Save a Crumbled Cake. (I still owe this girl a proper birthday cake… maybe next year.)

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Our honored guests roasted in the hot sun while I reviewed some pretty major events that occurred over the last year.

We moved to VegologyBlog.com.

We joined Facebook.

We attended our first blogger conference:

We had our first food photo published in National Geographic Traveler (iPad edition).

We joined Eating Richmond and Virginia is for Bloggers.

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While sipping my celebratory glass of old vine zinfandel, I realized that my favorite part of cooking out is drinking and waiting. There is a whole lot of waiting involved in grilling, and who could resist a nice beverage while he or she waits? Grilling is not just a man’s sport; women can play too! With wine!

After my revelation, I wrapped up the sentimental bit of our trip down memory lane, and then removed the eggplant and zucchini from the grill for plating.

I don’t always eat my dinner guests, but when I do, I prefer to grill and stack them.

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In lieu of a birthday cake, we had vegetable napoleons. I couldn’t imagine a more festive way to mark the occasion. Thank you to all the friends and family of Vegology who read, comment, cook, and share their experiences here. I have learned so much from the food blogging community, and the support I have gotten from other bloggers and from readers has been incredible. I wish I had more to give you to express my gratitude; for now, this recipe will have to do. Enjoy!

Grilled Vegetable Napoleons

Serves 4

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Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 – 15 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed (Great Northern, or Cannelini if you’re fancy)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided (see directions for measurements)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp fresh oregano
  • 1 cup basil leaves, divided
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced into rounds
  • 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Heat the grill.
  2. Brush both sides of each slice of eggplant and zucchini with olive oil. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. When grill is ready, arrange the eggplant and zucchini slices directly on the grates. Grill until grill marks appear and vegetables appear cooked throughout, about 5 minutes per side on a charcoal grill, then remove.
  4. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil, white beans, and garlic to the pan. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, then over low heat for 15 minutes, then remove from heat.
  5. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil over low heat. Chop 1/2 cup basil leaves then add to pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes, then cool and transfer to a food processer. Coarsely chop, then drain through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Set basil oil aside.
  6. When the white beans are done cooking, transfer to a food processer. Add 3 Tbsp olive oil, 3 Tbsp water, and the lemon juice and oregano. Puree until smooth then add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. On a round plate, add 1/4 of the white bean puree. On top of the puree, build the following layers, in order: tomato, eggplant, mozzarella, zucchini, 2 leaves basil, then repeat. There should be enough to make 4 plates.
  8. Put a toothpick or skewer through the center of the stack to hold in place. Insert a rosemary skewer next to the toothpick and through the stack from the top to the bottom.
  9. Drizzle each stack with basil oil and balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.