Soo-Youn's Kimbab (Korean vegetable hand-rolls)

My friend Soo-Youn makes these amazing Korean vegetable rolls (Kimbab) for me sometimes when we are studying. ("Studying" meaning drinking coffee, gossiping, and occasionally cracking the binding of a book.) They were her favorite food when she was a child, and I can see why: soft, sesame-flavored rice wrapped around crunchy cooked vegetables with a spicy, salty sauce, all in a seaweed wrapper perfectly designed for chubby little hands to grip. They're great for children, but cut into slices they also make an acceptably sophisticated appetizer or entree for discerning adults. Here's how its done, minus precise measurements because Soo-Youn don't play that. ("Just taste it! Can't you tell if its right?") Well, don't take my word for it, try them once and crave them forever after. And never, EVER call them sushi.

(Note: Seaweed wrappers, sticky rice and good quality sesame oil are essential for this recipe and can all be found at your local asian market (and maybe even at healthfood stores). Try looking for korean chili paste or "goju jang" to add to miso for a dipping sauce, and you're really in Korean delicacy heaven.)

Step 1 is to make the rice. The best way is to make it in a rice cooker, using short grain rice that is made for making sticky rice. Immediately after taking it out of the rice cooker, add it into a bowl and while its still steaming, add in some toasted sesame seeds, crushing them slightly with your hands. Also add in a hearty drizzle of sesame oil, a few pinches salt, and a little bit of vinegar (say, 1 tsp. per cup, or less.) Mix with your hands or a wooden spoon and set aside. (The taste changes as the sesame seeds infuse the rice.) You can always adjust it to taste later, it should be a bit smoky from the sesame, salty, and tangy from the vinegar. If you like it, its correct.

Step 2 is to cook the vegetables. Use a hot pan, a bit of oil, and cook one at a time any of the following julienned vegetables until crunchy but cooked: carrots, leeks, onions, mushrooms, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, radishes, etc. My friend uses eggs in hers as well, but you could also use thinly sliced and fried tofu. Pickles of some sort of also an option. Salt and pepper the veggies well when they are cooked. (The rationale for cooking seperately is that each vegetable takes a different amount of time to be perfectly "done".)

Step 3: Set up your work station with seaweed papers (plain, not toasted), the rice and a wooden paddle, and the vegetables. For each wrapper, pat a thick layer of rice down about filling about halfway up the sheet of seaweed. Then, place your selection of cooked veggies in the middle of that layer of rice. Carefully roll upwards, using your hands to even out the roll so it doesn't bulge too much on one side. (But messy is also ok.) If cutting, cut off to thin slices on the side (and pop into your mouth) then slice the remaining roll with a sharp knife into uniform slices. Like so:

Step 4: Serve with any sauce you like, (sriracha, soy sauce, sweet chili sauce, etc) or the Soo-Youn special: a knob of asian chili paste (goju jang), and a few gulps of soy sauce and sesame seed oil. Mix well and toss in a few more sesame seeds or some thinly sliced leeks or scallions... so incredibly delicious.

A different variation on this recipe can be found here.

Song of the Day: The Smiths- Hairdresser on Fire


Brussels Sprouts Hash

I know that people are entitled to different opinions on brussels sprouts, but I love them so much I have confused them in my mind with junk food, and gobble them up like I'm going to get caught. If you haven't had them since you were a kid, now's a good time to give them a chance.

Today I made a simple "hash"- I fried some potato cubes in oil until browned, then tossed in messily sliced brussels sprouts, diced apple cubes, some chopped almonds, and salt and pepper. When everything was cooked and kind of burnt, I squeezed half a lemon on top. It was so heavenly- nutty and fresh and slightly sweet. I recommend you try it at home with whatever random ingredients you have at home. I myself might eat the same tomorrow.

It was definitely a nice lunch to prepare for an evening consisted of the sisyphean task of standing around holding up a large heavy board, and occasionally turning in time with some 30 other folks, all while remaining perfectly silent and still for 2 hours. (Part of an art project I mentioned yesterday, that I am getting paid for.) But tonight was the actual "performance" and actually, people really seemed to dig it! You see, we made like a maze with these boards, that changed in tune with the music to lock some people in and some people out. Since I was directed to stare only at the board, I didn't see people's reactions, but they seemed enthusiastic afterwards. And who can complain at getting paid to participate in real live art? I think I'm going to add to my cv... T: lawyer, performance artist, admirer of brussels sprouts.

Song of the day: The Clash- London Calling


Muffins and Performance Art

Although Berlin and DC are not entirely dissimilar, there are some major differences that can't be explained just by language or culture. For example, why do Germans like the band eels so much? Why do they largely prefer to roll their own cigarettes? Why is there such a bottomless pit of fondness for performance art? And why, oh why, do they have thousands of baked products of every type and assortment, but barely pay any attention to such classics as muffins, bagels, and cupcakes?

I've been trying to correct this by keeping lots of muffins and bagels around to tempt my friends and roommates. (Cupcakes, unfortunately, are out of reach at the moment as I have no hand-mixer for frosting.) The other day I made non-plum muffins for once, instead using apples and lots of cinnamon and topping them off with peanut butter caramel, in an act of mindless rebellion to use up the last drops of my precious Canadian maple syrup. However, I wasn't really able to spread the gospel of muffins since I ate almost all of them. But whatever.

As for the performance art affinity, I have gotten the opportunity to get an inside perspective, since I am actually participating in some today and tomorrow! Yes friends, I will stand in a dark auditorium, while ambient electronic music blasts from the speakers, and my colleagues and I will hold up large drywall pieces that we slowly spin around every 5 minutes. It is very meaningful, not mention tiring.

And although I have no idea what the hell the point is of this exercise, I am doing it anyways. First of all, because it is ART! And second, because I am getting paid 50€. I expect that this will make a large impact on the scene here, and I will hopefully become a very famous performance artist. And then I will be able to afford gallons of maple syrup and make as many muffins as I like! I'll let you know how it goes...

Song of the Day: Art Brut- Formed a Band


Cabbage Rolls and Potato Latkes

When you are low on cash, condiments are your friends. The simplest (and cheapest) things become special when there is some sauce or dip to accompany them. And if you're anything like me, than even when your fridge is completely devoid of veggies or fruits, you still have a boatload of random barbeque sauces, mustards, and curries.

So, being short on funds this week, we've been trying to eat as cheaply as possible and rely more on condiments to spice things up. Thursday night I made cabbage rolls: the leftover (non-moldy) inner pieces of a cabbage that had seen better days became a wrapper for mushrooms, onions, and almonds simply spiced. On the side was the real action: tahini-miso dressing, spicy soy+ chili sauce, and a simple mix of sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and garlic. It was cheap and reminded me of the fancy days when I used to do things like "go to restaurants" and "order appetizers."

Friday evening was equally inexpensive and fabulous with S. whipping up a batch of latkes that we gobbled up with some apple sauce and washed down with a lot of beer. Potatoes+ onions+ a little bit of cornstarch and flour, and you are there. I've seen a lot of fancier recipes for vegan latkes, but if you are patient I think the flour and cornstarch method (outlined in more detail here) works wonders and takes less time. And who couldn't use some greasy, filling latkes once in a while?

song of the day: ELO- Mr Blue Sky



It's almost Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays! Last year at this time I was in Belgium, choking back tears at a 12€ buffet at some stupid posh nightclub where I couldn't eat anything except a martini. Not this year, my friends! Although Germany doesn't "do" thanksgiving, I am going to have a real American one in my little apartment and try to convince people that green bean casserole is really delicious. (Failing that, I will just eat it all myself.) Luckily, my Mom is meeting me in London in a week so I can get her to bring a few essentials that are hard to find here in 'Schland.

As I usually do, I thought I'd do a round-up of ideas for all you celebrating Thanksgiving with your families who still don't know what vegan is. (Or pretend not to know and try to serve you gravy anyways.)

Speaking of Gravy, Tofu Mom over at More Than Tofu and Sprouts is doing a whole month of gravy for VeganMoFo, with lots of varieties (like mushroom and miso gravy) that would be perfect for the occasion.

As for a centerpiece, if you are going to an omni Thanksgiving do as the vegans do and bring a few sides and your own gravy, and maybe put in a request that the mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes be vegan. But if you are hosting your own, or want to have turkey-less centerpiece to impress, there are a few options. How about Hickory Smoked Apple Cider, Maple Syrup and Bourbon Glazed Tofu Lollipops from What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat Anyways? Or you could try the gorgeous Seitan en croute from 1,000 Vegan Recipes.

As for desserts, this Chocolate Pumpkin bread pudding from the NY Times looks pretty kick ass, and cranberry chocolate tartelettes from Mihl is a classy choice.

Looking for a full-on Menu? Over at the PPK Isa posted Thanksgiving in an hour a few days ago, but if you have more than an hour, peruse the rest of the recipes including 3 ingredient cranberry sauce and chickpea cutlets. Yum! VeganYumYum also had a full menu a few years back with a creative stuffed seitan and a yummy green bean casserole. For the more adventurous, non-vegan websites also have excellent ideas, many of which are veganizable with a few tweaks. (Earth balance for butter, no brainer.) Epicurious has a huge selection of recipes and videos at their Thanksgiving headquarters. And over at 101 Cookbooks there are also a handful of luscious ideas, including shredded brussels sprouts and apples, one of my faves.

What will I be serving? Well, I'm going traditional all the way so as not to confuse the Germans. (Well, traditional in my household. I guess we will also have to argue about politics the whole time if I really want tradition.)

My (tentative, very tentative) menu
-A simple salad of roasted Beets, walnuts, and mixed greens
-Green Bean Casserole (with imported vegan cream of mushroom soup!)
-My Aunt Mary's simple and fabulous sweet potatoes w/ apples, pecans and brown sugar
-Fluffy roasted garlic mashed potatoes
-Mushroom and shallot gravy (from Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan)
-Roasted brussels sprouts
-Chestnut stuffing
-Cranberry-orange sauce
-And EITHER chickpea cutlets or homemade seitan, depending on whether I can get my Mom to bring some vital wheat gluten.
-For dessert? Natch, pumpkin pie, provided by my friend Kat who doesn't mind making them from scratch (unlike myself, who finds pies nerve-wracking enough w/o the pumpkin roasting element.) Maybe a chocolate pudding pie as well, if I can find the right kind of soft tofu.

Now, this will be a challenge with my tiny kitchen and limited heating space. But I can't take another year in Europe without a proper Thanksgiving and I can't afford a plane ticket, so its worth a shot!

What are you guys cooking up for the biggest food holiday of the year?


It ain't easy, but it ain't so hard

Another good dinner, plantains, Venezuelan beans from Viva Vegan, soy yogurt and some rice.

Today is a day for dancing and getting things done! Eating is (literally) on the backburner...


Gumbo Z from Vegan Soul Kitchen

I did something kind of exciting today! (Read: not real world exciting, like base jumping, but kitchen exciting, like canning or reconstituting dried mushrooms.) Ahem. I made my own stock! And a roux! I've neither done either before, but hey, its Vegan MOFO, the perfect time for trying new (nerdy) things!

Both of these endeavors were for the purpose of making "Gumbo Z" from Vegan Soul Kitchen, by Bryant Terry. (Yeah, like I wouldn't own THAT cookbook. Come on.) Aside from the brilliant title I really love this cookbook, not just as a cookbook but also as a sort of inspirational scrapbook with cool ideas, photos, songs, and stories. And the recipes are just my style: they always have something that *snaps*, like caramelized grapefruit or hot apple cider vinegar. I sometimes read it just for fun. (And as a side note, I once SAW Bryant Terry. I was having a glass of wine at the end of a long day of Bar Exam prep at Busboys and Poets, a bar/ cafe/radical bookstore in DC and he had just finished giving a book signing, which I didn't realize until I saw him walk right by. But I was too shy to approach him as my mind was too Bar Exam-addled to say anything other than "Uhmmm, so....I like your cookbook" so I just sat there staring at him like a weirdo with my glass of pinot. So that is my Bryant Terry story.)

Anyways. When I first got the book I thought, wow, does this guy know how to complicate simple things. Like, who makes homemade broth and then spends another 2 hours making Gumbo? But you know, it was worth it! Homemade broth smells amazing and doesn't taste as salty/ carroty as store-bought, and the process of making roux is a bit of transfixing kitchen magic that every foodie should try for themselves. Every element of the recipe smelled and tasted so good, that it was actually really fun to cook although it took a while.

I fed my version (with spinach and cabbage rather than the prescribed Southern greens that I can't find in 'Schland) to my hungry and picky boyfriend and he loved it, I loved it, it was just a big Gumbo lovefest. Its not so pretty to look at, but if you've been hesitating before cooking a long or seemingly complicated recipe like this, I would reccommend that you try it! You might learn something new and surprise yourself.

Song of the Day: Janelle Monae- Tightrope


Coconut Kale with a side of douchery

So sometimes I get a little annoyed with the NY Times and their food section's pissy coverage of vegetarian food. It will always be like, "here's a decent vegetarian side dish that goes great alongside ribs for us normal people!" Or like, touting bacon ice cream as the greatest thing ever and mocking those who think its kind of offensive. Today was no exception, in the short article "The Greens Party" in which the author discusses a bunch of "dudes" at an Indian restaurant who just ordered meat, to the chagrin of the chef who suggested they also eat some token veggies, to be healthy (or whatever.) After discussing the shared recipe for coconut grilled kale the author says,
Made over a charcoal fire or even in a wickedly hot pan, it becomes a dish of uncommon flavor, the sort of thing you could eat on its own, with only a mound of basmati rice for contrast.

But you know, why would you? Here in America, after all, we will always be from Montana somehow.

Lame. I'm so sure there are no vegetarians in Montana and they all subsist solely on cattle based products. I'm also sure that real men don't eat vegetables unless they are grilled. (RAWR!) Anyways, despite the annoying (so annoying) coverage as usual of vegetarian dishes, I took one look at the recipe and thought... "but actually... I have spinach, coconut milk, and lemons in the fridge...."

So I made it. And I wish I could say it was bad, alongside some roasted pumpkin and basmati rice, but dammit, it was delicious. (I seriously took the first bite and was like, "HA! Not good at.... DOH!") So here's the recipe, but don't take it as my tacit approval of the Times snarky vegetarian coverage, just take it as a yummy kale or spinach recipe that has a few of everybody's favorite things in it, and really doesn't need like, a mound of lamb skewers to accompany it. (It also doesn't need 4 hours of marinating.) But that's according to me, not to the Times.

Song of the Day: MGMT- Its Working


Improvisation, European Style

I've realized since I've been in Belgium and Germany that I have an unusually high reliance on recipes and cookbooks. Most of my friends here, when making lunch or dinner, just glance around the kitchen and throw something together step by step. In contrast, even if I am making one of my own recipes I'll look back at the blog or my jotted notes to find out how exactly I did it. When my friends and I are cooking, this leads to some funny situations, where I am begging them to let me look quickly at a cookbook to find out what the cooking time, quantities, or temperature is, and they are heavily rolling their eyes saying "ahhh, you can just tell when its right, just taste it!!!"
Pumpkin+ Pumpkin oil+ bread + margarine
I have a whole cultural theory behind this: Europeans did not experience the same boom in reliance on prepared foods that Americans did in the fifties and sixties. (Ie, European recipes do not usually look like: "empty a can of mushroom soup onto chicken, toss, and bake for 30 minutes...") As a result of the fact that Europeans, either because of stronger traditional adherence, relative poverty in the post-war era, or the Common Agricultural Policy, retained a reliance on elemental ingredients, and thus passed down to their children techniques for cooking that became second nature. American kids, on the other hand, found themselves at a loss for making things from scratch, having grown up with canned beans, cake mix, and Hamburger Helper. (Not everyone, mind you, but I think its more typical in the US than here.)

Roasted carrots+ Avocado+ olive oil+ salt and pepper

This might be why European cookbooks are so sparse in explanation (as opposed to the novels in American cookbooks), and why my generation had to teach ourselves to cook relatively simple things: we grew up with so many prepared foods at our disposal that we forgot improvisational cooking techniques, and feel more attached, (even, fervently attached) to cookbooks that teach us how to get those skills back.

Now, this is all a theory and I may be totally full of it, please let me know if you have an alternate explanation in the comments.
Mashed potatoes mashed w/ brussels sprouts+roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, and pears

At any rate, this is all to say that here are a few meals that were bravely improvised, with nary a recipe in sight. You may notice that they have very few ingredients, but still, I'm making progress here! However, I don't care if I live in Europe till I die, you will still have to pry my Veganomicon from my cold, dead American hands.


In search of simits

When I traveled to Istanbul I was totally enchanted. Aside from the dreamy, dusty city, the food was fantastic and totally vegan friendly. But one item in particular captured my attention, probably because they were so ubiquitous and affordable: "simits," these round, kinda-crispy, sesame covered breads that you can find everywhere. Vendors sold them everywhere out of large baskets, and you could see students, tourists, and little old ladies eating them happily with butter or cheese and a cup of the ubiquitous sweet tea.

Here in Berlin, with a substantial Turkish population we also have plenty of simits. I could buy one for less than a euro at any given shop or at market places, where they are piled into huge stacks alongside other Turkish breads. (I often eat them with fancy mustard like a pretzel, as a German twist.) However, I really want to make them myself! First, because I want to make a bunch to eat all week since they keep well, and second, because I want to have a handy recipe for those times I'm not in Berlin or Istanbul, or to share on the vegan interwebs.

So the other day, I interrogated a vendor for his secret recipe, as carefully as possible given my crap German. It went something like this:
Me: Hello, these are simits, yes? I have allergic. Do they eggs inside have?
Vendor: No, naturally not, no eggs.
Me: Do they milk have?
Vendor: No, these are simits, they aren't made with milk.
Me: So, then, water, flour, and.... yeast? Or bake powder? I want have cooked them at my house.
Vendor: Very complicated recipe, better just to buy some from me, all fresh.

Hmmph. The woman at the store downstairs (which also sells them) gave me a similar run-around, and seemed a little pissed that I wouldn't just buy one. So, before alienating more people, now I've resorted to baking small batches of recipes I find online, and so far I've reached a few conclusions:

1. Definitely yeast and not baking powder.
2. The outside is brushed or dipped in something sticky to make all the sesame seeds stick, and its not soymilk.

Above you see the first attempt, which was definitely tasty with black tea but not quite right and missing the requisite deep brown crust. I have a feeling that it could be a few drops of pomengranate syrup diluted in water, from some vague references. Anyways, the simit mystery is not solved yet, but I will keep at it, until I can enjoy a lovely vegan treat with tea and soy margarine without leaving the house. (Lofty goals there, I admit it.)

Well, if any of you readers are aware of a perfect simit recipe out there, let me know. If not, I'll keep laboring after them myself, which I'll admit, is not all that bad of a way to spend an afternoon.


Tahini Two Ways

Tahini is one of those ingredients that people are rarely aware of before they turn vegan, like agave nectar, kale, or almond butter. But upon being tapped by the vegan fairy, you are obligated to consume large quantities of it in everything from soup to muffins, and I gladly oblige, especially since its so cheap and plentiful here in Germany! Its one of the middle eastern ingredients I've become exceedingly fond of, alongside pomengranate molasses. I'm basically using both every day.

Last night I made a simple tahini-miso dressing (equal parts tahini and dark miso, a bit of agave and some water whisked together) to drizzle over roasted sweet potatoes and carrots, alongside rice and garlicky rainbow chard. It was such a light and perfect meal, and the tahini sauce was a total match made in heaven for the sweet potatoes.

Then, this morning, still on my tahini kick, I whipped up a big batch of thick, spreadable hummus for my sesame and poppy seed bagels du jour, which my friend and I happily gobbled up drizzled in a little pomengranate molasses. Total heaven.

And I've heard that sesame seeds have calming properties, which is good since I am fairly freaked about the elections today in the USA. I guess not all tea-partiers are anti-gay, anti-immigrant, ultra-nationalist religious fundamentalists, right? RIGHT?

Song of the Day: NOFX- We got to jealous agains

PS: You absolutely MUST go check out Kittee's Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls at Cake Maker to the Stars and Amey's equally gorgeous and outrageous sugar cookies at Vegan Eats and Treats, I'm so in awe!


Step by Step Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Hello and welcome to November, aka Vegan Month of Food and the time when vegan bloggers unite in a fearsome quest to blog everyday for the whole month. This is def the time to bookmark some recipes and ideas from the vegan blog-o-sphere because they will be flying at you faster than you can handle all month long!

So, starting us off on this end is my (simple as humanly possible) recipe for sweet potato gnocchi, in pictures. Its such a good way to use up sweet potatoes if they're abundant in your area, and they freeze perfectly. Best of all, they are vegan, which you can't always say for the gnocchi you find at restaurants or in your grocer's freezer. The only reason people don't eat them everyday is because they're scared, I guess, so now you don't have to be intimidated: if you can make a snowman with play dough you can do this!

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

*Serves 1-2 so def double or triple for bigger groups.

1. Either bake or microwave one large sweet potato until easily piercable with a fork, then peel and either mash it or force it through a potato ricer. (I prefer the latter.) Let it sit and cool for as long as it takes to reach room temp.
2. When its finally cool, put the mound of sweet potato onto a lightly floured surface, and add in approx. 3/4 of a cup of all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt. (I use about this much flour per cooked potato, but it can be much more or less depending on humidity, potato size or juiciness, and your horoscope sign.) Using your hands, knead flour into potato for about ten minutes, or until you have a smooth and basically dry dough. You want it to be just dry enough to roll a piece between your fingers without it sticking to your hands- the goal is to use as little flour as possible to reach this consistency.
4.) Now that you have your dough ball, pinch off a palm full of the dough at a time and, using your fingertips, roll it into a log as fat as your thumb, give or take. Repeat for the rest of the dough until you have a bunch of little logs.

5.) Using a sharp knife, slice each log into small rectangles. (If its really hot/humid where you are live you might want to refrigerate the logs first to make this easier on yourself.)

6.) Finally, roll each little log off the tip of a fork to create tiny indentations to hold sauce and just to be cute. No one ever died from eating gnocchi without these little lines, but I recommend it. :)
7.) You are now ready to either freeze or cook! If freezing, freeze separately on a cutting board or parchment-paper lined cookie sheet, then consolidate into a freezer bag. (So they don't stick together.) If cooking, add gnocchi into boiling salted water and cook about 5 minutes, or until floating. You can also fry them in oil or margarine along with onions, garlic and shallots. Its all tasty.


song of the day: Arcade Fire- We Used to Wait