Vegan Mofo: BBQ and Cupcakes

People constantly ask me what the difference is between Germany and America. I usually say that its not all that different, that socio-economic and cultural factors make more of a difference than the actual country you are living in, bla bla bla until the person gets bored and walks away. But if really pressed, I'll talk about the food.

First off, we've got the bread. Americans don't have one standard, but in general we like it relatively soft and fluffy with a crust. Germans, on the other hand, like bread that is as healthy as humanly possible. I'm talking coarse brown, sour bread with 15 different kinds of seeds and grains so big you can make them out from across the room. Just try to give a slice of Wonderbread to a German, I dare you.

The second thing is, Germans (and Belgians, and Dutch...maybe French too) think its totally normal to eat chocolate for breakfast. As a kid I sometimes indulged in Cookie-crisp cereal or the like as a treat, but in general chocolate is more a dessert thing to me... not so with the dozens of breakfast products here created with chocolate. You've got spreadable chocolate, chocolate flakes to sprinkle on buttered bread, even muesli at health food stores contains chocolate. Dream come true, right?

Anyways, there are many other scandalous food habits of the Germans that I could expose for you today (bread and cheese at every meal! 6 cups of coffee a day! beenkuchen!) but I don't want to ruin the mystery. I, meanwhile, steadfastly maintain my American way of life as best I can. This week, that meant BBQ'd soy curls for lunch (above) and chocolate cupcakes with no proper icing. (Shortening is apparently not a part of the daily diet. Will bring back 6 tubs after Christmas...).

As I always say, Germany isn't better or worse than the US, just different. And they both have something to learn from one another. For instance, let's introduce icing to Germany, and they can teach us about chocolate for breakfast... pretty soon, we've got inter-cultural breakfast cupcakes. Ah, a world without borders. :)


Vegan Mofo: Soup and Salad

Here's the latest in my continuing series, "What to Serve People that Aren't Crazy About Your Weirdo Vegan Food".  I had S.'s parents over for dinner last weekend, and unlike my parents, I can't (or more like, won't) serve them wild and spicy things, eg, chipotle plantain enchiladas or penang tofu, because they would think that is just crazy town.

(I should mention, however, that I am extraordinarily lucky to have parents that will literally eat whatever vegan food I like, from a casserole made with beets to Chili made with cinnamon and beer to stir-fryed Brussels Sprouts...on Christmas. I mean, my parents are in it to win it.)

So instead I made something just weird enough but reminiscent of things normal people eat. I cooked up a big batch of Curried Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Soup (without hot peppers), baked some instant vegan cornbread, and threw together a huge romaine salad tossed with garlicky miso-tahini dressing (which looks just like Caesar but tastes a zillion times better.) For dessert? Chocolate cupcakes (from VCTOTW, natch) with a light dusting of cinnamon.

S, me and his Mom, enjoying the bounty

It was a hit! I am getting good at this "convincing people I'm normal" thing.


Vegan Mofo- Hard to Mess Up

As promised, here is my list of 5 recipes I make over and over again, with delicious, crowd-pleasing results every single time.

5.)  Pizza Crust- Joy of Cooking
Sure its a non-vegan cookbook, but its got a lot of hits, and often contains the most simple baseline recipe for something you've heard of but never cooked. That makes it great for veganizing. This recipe, however, needs no alteration, and I've made perhaps 100 times, always with phenomenal results. A no-frills classic.

4.)  Venezuelan Black Beans- Viva Vegan
Once you try Terry Hope Romero's recipe for simple black beans, you may feel tempted to throw away all of your other cookbooks. Resist. Man cannot subsist on black beans alone. However, this is the perfect recipe with which to attempt that feat.

3.) Minimalist Tagine (from moi)
I came up with this streamlined take on the classic Tagine in Brussels and ever since I've made it at least once a month, always a little differently. Sometimes its mushrooms and eggplant, sometimes I throw in some chickpeas, the nuts depend on what I have around... in other words, its flexible. But the cinnamon and cumin spiked sauce, with golden apricot bits, is exotic enough to feel like a feast, even when you just throw it together. Its also a good centerpiece to a Moroccan themed dinner party.

2.) Eggplant Potato Moussaka- Veganomicon.
Isa and Terry might be over-represented on this list, but there is a reason for that.  I've served this impressive casserole to everyone, from my parents, to a bunch of omni Germans on Passover. Its always a hit. The filling- layers of potatoes and eggplant with a toothsome tomato sauce- perfectly compliments the custardy pine-nut cream topping that no one ever believes is vegan. Its simple enough to make, but everyone will think you are a star vegan chef when you serve this.

1.) Banana Flapjacks- Vegan Brunch
I have plenty of pancake recipes that I love and enjoy, but let's not kid ourselves- Vegan Brunch's version are the sine qua non of pancake recipes.Without them, there is no breakfast. I get so many compliments on these babies that I feel like I should send a royalty check to Isa every time I make them. But then I'd really have to be a millionaire. Try them once, and watch as your attachment to all other pancake recipes fades away....

What recipe or cookbook can you not live without?


Vegan Mofo: The perfect recipe

So I made the pineapple cashew quinoa stir-fry from Veganomicon again last night. This time I made it with tofu and ommitted a few steps. And guess what? It was freaking PERFECT. The quinoa is like caviar coating the pineapple pieces that pop in your mouth, the spicy basil and mint are bright and hot, the flavoring is perfectly savory, its just a complete and total winner.  S. was like, "why don't we make this more often?" And I was about to reprimand him that I make it about 10 times per year, when I realized that most of the time I make it with leftover quinoa and eat it all myself. Ooops.

Anyways, this success got me thinking about some of the other cookbook recipes that I make time and time again, always with great success. Tomorrow I'll post a list, and try to find links to recipes for each.

In the meantime, I received an award!  Thank you to Michelle from A bit addicted to cookbooks for nominating me for the Liebster award! (Hey its even in German!)

Now I have to nominate 5 people with less than 200 followers, and so shall do so! Congrats folks, you are my lieblings (though I'm not totally sure you all have less than 200 followers... whatev.)

1.) Crack the Plates
2.) Pixiepine Blog
3.) It ain't meat, babe
4.) Seitan is My Motor
5.) Veggie Terrain

Ich liebe euch!


Vegan Mofo: I love my Kiez

A hipster baby eating at Cafe Marx? OMG that is so Kreutzberg, Alter...
Not to brag, or anything, but I live in pretty much the coolest neighborhood (or "Kiez" in Berliner slang) in the world. That's right, Kreutzberg 36, sort of a German Sesame Street for hippies and hipsters, maybe you've heard of it from your annoying globe-trotting friend who claims Berlin is the new Brooklyn. It's gained sort of a reputation lately and has experienced an influx of ridiculously hip British, French, and Spanish ex-pats looking to live in an artisitic, up and coming neighborhood. (This, of course, infuriates all the people who lived here before it was the center of world-hipsterdom, but what can you do.) People can complain about foreigners and gentrification all they want, but to me this neighborhood is pretty much paradise. Here are a few reasons why:

A vega-burger from Germany's first vegetarian fast-food restaurant, on Wienerstrasse
Now might be a good time to mention that punks burnt down a local McDonalds... twice
Guerilla gardening is really taking off. Check out above ground U-bahn-tracks in the background.
A soja latte w/ extra foam at Cafe Marx
One of several Sudanese restaurants around, serving up excellent tofu wraps.
Thrift store at Spreewaldplatz- meeting all of your bowling shoe, accordian, and cowboy hat needs.

Morrocan vegetable tagine, falafel, fresh carrot juice, and Veggie doner's at Rissani

And of course, every open surface is covered with murals and graffiti.

So that's my neighborhood, at least for the time being. And although I move around a lot, I'm proud to call multi-kulti, vegan friendly, hipster populated Kreutzberg my home. Come visit sometime!

Song of the Day: Kiezkiller


Vegan Mofo: A Miso to Remember

Miso and I, sizing eachother up (I'm Cary Grant, obvs)
I have this needlessly tempestuous and stormy relationship with miso (ie, fermented soybean paste.) Its like, every time I see it in a bio-store I go up and examine it flirtatiously. I hold onto it for five minutes at a time while I walk around the store, pretending to be totally casual. Sometime, I even bring it to the register. But in the end I always return it to the shelf. Why? Because I simply cannot bear to spend 8 f#@king euros on what is basically a condiment. But then... I dream all night of all the things I could have made with it. Macaroni and cheeze.... miso-tahini dressing... mushroom gravy.... soup.... and then I get annoyed and think of rushing back to the store, only to realize its too late, its already closed and my hesitancy has cost me my chance for happiness. I mean, with me and miso its like An Affair to Remember... star-crossed lovers, always too late, kept apart by misunderstandings and fate.

Until today! I found a huge tub of miso for 4 euros in an Asian market near Alexanderplatz, and finally, all of my miso fantasies can come true!! First on that list was a simple classic, roasted vegetables with miso-tahini sauce.

I started with roasting a gazillion vegetables- beets, zucinni, carrots, onions, sweet potato, a fistful of mushrooms, a tiny pasrnip, ect- with some oil, salt and pepper at 400 degrees (200 c) for about 25 minutes, or, long enough to call all three of my student loan officers. Then, I made the ridiculously simple miso tahiuni sauce--- whisk equal parts white miso and tahini, add a drizzle of agave nectar, and whisk in warm water until desired consistency is reached.

The end result was the super healthy plate of my dreams- mixed vegetables, roasted to perfection, fluffy quinoa and my perfect, heavenly miso-fix. Perfection attained.
Song of the Day: Fiona Apple- Why try to change me now


Vegan Mofo: Mushroom Risotto

Just a quickie today, kids!

Made risotto last night, the same way I always do, except this time, S had a brain flash. We could leave out the veg of the day (in this case, mushrooms) and just add it into our individual servings. Then, we can make a different veg tomorrow and add that into the leftovers! Brilliant, right? Especially if you have a ton of risotto rice and not a lot of one particular vegetable.

Two other small pieces of news: The NYT actually managed to have a whole article on vegan recipes without snarking! And the recipes look fairly good! Check it out here.

In other news, I started a new blog on a totally different subject- migration, statelessness, and refugees. In the off chance that those topics interest you, please feel free to check it out:


Vegan Mofo: Let's Talk About Veganism

Two things happened in the last few months that made me want to write this post: 1) I finished Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and 2) I decided to look up my old friend the "Voracious Vegan" and saw what a shit-storm has been going on with her blog, which is now a non-vegan food blog called Voracious Eats. (You can read the now infamous post, "A Vegan No More" here.) Since I didn't eat anything of note yesterday, being a bit sick, I thought I would go ahead and comment on these two issues for Vegan Mofo.

These two "events" (if you can call them that) intertwined because they both deal, on some level, with how vegans and vegetarians interact with omnivores. In Safran Foer's book, he researches factory farming extensively, and also looks at small sustainable animal farms to research what is the best food to feed his child. Although he eventually lands on vegetarianism, for both ethical and practical reasons he finds it hard to disown those that are working hard to provide good alternatives to meat-eaters, and at the end feels compelled to support their plight as well.

The point is that, while he advocates vegetarianism strongly, he makes the point that the dialogue between veggies and omnis should not be quite so, well, fraught with rage and accusations. Discussing diet choices can already bring out the worst in people (just ask my boyfriend how racist I am against Germans and their love of mayonnaise), and when we involve animals in that discussion we really get into sensitive territory. This is because human beings have an incredibly complex relationship with animals, which is really about our relationships with ourselves. The way we feel about animals, not to mention our views on whether or not they ought to be eaten, are inextricably intertwined with our views on human beings, God, nature, and morality. And you expect to untangle all of this over a dinner party?

The point is, when we talk about vegetarianism, we also talk about all of these other matters. ("Here comes everyone.") So its no surprise that people get extremely emotional about it. However, let us do ourselves a favor, and try to separate two things when we discuss veganism/ vegetarianism: ethics and health.

1.) Ethics
I went vegan for ethical reasons. (And to impress my hot vegan boyfriend at the time. So shoot me.) I thought about it deeply and felt that, if I were on a desert island alone with my dog, I would probably have to eat her. But not being on a desert island, I was privileged to not have to eat my dog, or any other animal. I always could, but I don't have to. So why should I contribute to a system that harms the planet, causes unspeakable cruelty to living beings, and facilitates human rights abuses on labor?

The answer, for me, is obviously I shouldn't. BUT.... what if I lost that privilege of being able to choose? What if I had to eat meat?

2.) Health
When I went vegetarian almost 10 years ago, I noticed two changes to my health: one, I didn't get stomach aches anymore (I think I was mildly lactose intolerant) and two, I ate a wider range of food which made me feel happier.

But that's basically it, friends. I didn't lose weight, my skin didn't clear up, I didn't notice a huge change in energy or mood... basically, I was the same, but I liked my food a lot more and enjoyed cooking a lot more. But for me, it wasn't some miraculous health change. (I know it is for some.) It also, on the other hand, did not have any negative effects. I had the same health problems as before (eczema, hay fever) at the same levels, and didn't suffer from any huge physical changes.

But here's where I bring up the example of the artist formerly known as Voracious Vegan... she did experience massive changes apparently. She got very ill, lost her energy, and became depressed. To me, this effectively removes her choice. This is now the desert island scenario.

It is my opinion that if, for whatever reason, you cannot sustain a vegan diet (and given the variety of people on this planet, this has to be a possibility for some) than you should not have to sacrifice your health and happiness to do so. Similarly, you should not continue to eat grains if you are gluten intolerant or peanuts if you have a nut allergy. (Isn't this sort of a no-brainer?) I can't see any reason why a vegan diet cannot provide all of the essentials that people need for their life, but I'm not a doctor so how the hell should I know? Listen to your doctor and don't eat what makes you sick.

I love animals, but I love myself more, and I would not put myself at risk to be vegan. So far, I have never had any diet-related health problems in my 10 years of vegetarianism and 6 or so years of pretty decently adherent veganism. I don't personally know any other vegans that have either. But I am willing to admit that it is possible and that if you are struggling big time, maybe you should try something else. Let's not torture people to beleaguer the point, vegans: if everybody ate less meat we would already be getting somewhere important, and forcing people to stick to a diet they don't like, or even makes them sick, is not our job.

Voracious Vegans
That being said, I was bewildered to read, both on the comments section of Voracious Eats and elsewhere, tons of people angrily tearing down vegans as propagandists, liars, cheats, and fundamentalists, who will do anything to get their way. Looking around at vegan cooking blogs, I see so much positivity, delicious food, and just general love- but maybe I'm not reading the right blogs?

The way I see it, vegan food speaks for itself. It is just as delicious as non-vegan food, with the added benefit of not containing dead animals. If that's not enough of a sell for you, then I'm not going to be able to convince you by screaming "meat is murder!" I was really disappointed to see people accusing Tasha of having lied about her illnesses or secretly hating animals or calling her a bitch and even evidently sending her and her family death threats. (WTF?) Guys, we don't win the war against factory farming and cruelty to animals by attacking non-vegans, especially people who tried it and couldn't make it work for them. In my opinion it is much more effective to seduce people gently, by serving them delicious vegan and vegetarian options to eat, providing them with information if necessary, and raising awareness of the dangers of the current food system. A lot of people come over on their own, but almost no one changes the way they think about food because of being cursed out or attacked. I mean, is that how you went vegan?

Its not necessary to demonize non-vegans. People contribute to the cause in their own way, and if that way is veganism, then that is awesome, please pass the cupcakes. But if not, it doesn't mean you are an evil person. Just as my diet doesn't make me a fanatic or human-hater. But also not a saint.


Vegan Mofo: Polenta w/ Plantains and Onions

I know what you are thinking. "Sweet Lord, this woman eats a lot of plantains." Yes, ok, but  in comparison to Budapest, Berlin might as well be the Dominican Republic for how many plantains are available and I am taking advantage while I still can. These dear "koch bananen" are so wonderful in savory stews, curries, enchiladas.. you name it, and I miss them terribly when I'm gone. (Gone where, you ask? Weeeelll I am in the first stages of arranging a move to Belgrade, Serbia in a few months to continue the work I started in Budapest on statelessness and legal invisibility. Its exciting!)

For this "recipe" I simply browned some plantains and some onions in a pan while boiling the water for polenta. When said water was boiled, I whisked in the polenta, then waited till it was thickened to add in plantains and onions. On top was plenty of salt, pepper, sweet paprika, cumin and hot sauce. A perfectly decadent comfort food lunch. Also, polenta is so cheap and makes so much, it is an excellent investment for the pantry.


Vegan Mofo: Skills III: Vegan Lasagna

S-Y, enjoying the latest Vegan Mofo skill
Hey guys, isn't Vegan Mofo great? I'm loving the chance to find so many cool blogs I never heard of before, all cooking up gorgeous treats on the reg. My blogroll is going to be out of control by the time this month is over.

Any old ways, today I return to my mini-theme, Vegan Skillz. (With a "z", to appeal to the kidz.) That is, the stuff that all old-school vegans know how to do, and everybody else should learn. Today's skill is: Make a kick-ass lasagna.

Vegan Skill 3: Make a Kick-Ass Lasagna!
When asked, 99% of people would agree with the following statement: "Lasagna is my favorite food. It is the thing I like to eat on my birthday." Why? The answer is simple: layers of carbs draped in toothy tomato sauce with your choice of fillings in between. Its like eating several pizzas in every bite. (And who doesn't like that?)

However, when you go vegan you quickly realize that your favorite food is kinda gross. All that ricotta (with eggs in it? Why?) and greasy meat juice soaking it, and not enough sauce and too much mozzerella... it can go very wrong. That is why it is incumbent on you, my little friend, to create your own no-fail lasagna. It should be the ideal thing to bring to potlucks, to pull out of the oven on a rainy day,  to serve to your in-laws when your girlfriend comes out of the closet. (Happy National Coming Out Day, btw!)

So here's my favorite recipe, layers of crunchy baked eggplant with a fruity sauce, but look around the blogosphere for you favorite ideas- some have pinenut-cream stuffed inside, others are layered with spinach or artichoke, still others have faux sausage crumbles inside. Just make sure you have one recipe down, so you can always be sure to have in your repertoire something that pleases all of the people all of the time.
T's Famous Eggplant-Parma-sagna!

-Glug of olive oil
-1 large white onion, diced
-4 cloves garlic, diced
-T. balsamic vinegar
-2 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes
-2 tsp. brown sugar
-1/2 tsp each marjoram and oregano
-crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

The Rest
-2 large eggplants, cut into 1/2" round slices
-1 cup bread crumbs
-olive oil or other oil
-1 package no-bake (eggless) lasagna noodles
-Nutritional Yeast or shredded vegan cheese

1.) First, get your eggplant station set up. Take your eggplant rounds and layer them, sprinkled with salt, in a large colander. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (200 C) and layer two cookie sheets with baking paper. Beside them on work-space, place a bowl or dish filled with bread crumbs, and a small glass with olive oil  and a basting brush.

2.) Next make the sauce. In a pot on the stove, heat some olive oil over medium low. When oil is hot add in onions and a pinch of salt. After 2-3 minutes, add in garlic and cook together until soft and starting to brown. The add in balsamic vinegar to de-glaze. Cook for 1-2 minutes more, then add in rest of ingredients and raise heat to a boil. Cover, and lower to a simmer and let cook while you prepare the eggplants.

3.) Rinse the salt off eggplants and take them over to the bread crumbs. For each slice, pat dry with a kitchen towel, brush with oil, and dip both sides in bread crumbs.  Layer on cookie sheet and when they are all dipped, place both in oven and cook until golden brown and crispy.  While they cook (about 15-20 minutes), turn off heat under sauce, and if desired, blend with an immersion blender. Taste and adjust spices, then set aside for later use.

4.) Now we put it all together! In an oiled casserole dish, layer lasagna noodles, sauce, and baked eggplant rounds. When you get to the last of your eggplant rounds, put a layer of noodles and the rest of the sauce. On top of that, put a sprinkling of nutritional yeast and dried herbs, if desired, OR a layer of shredded vegan cheese. Cover with a tented piece of aluminum foil and cook 45 minutes at 400 degrees, then an additional 10 minutes with the tent off (you can even broil the top if desired.)

Serves 3-4

Serve with a side salad w/ creamy faux-caesar dressing and a glass of strong red wine. I really just ate this and I'm dying its so good, seriously.  I have got this skill down.

Song of the Day: Bright Eyes- Four Winds


Vegan Mofo: Rosenkohl

What's for dinner in Berlin yard? Roasted rosenkohl (brussels sprouts) with caraway seeds and mashed potatoes with mushrooms, onions and garlic.

Perfect alongside an episode of Breaking Bad on one of the first truly gross, rainy and cold days of Autumn. Now back to that...


Vegan Mofo: Not-Elvis Banana Bread

Frequently, when at a little shop or something, I come across something that is named after Elvis. More often than not, this item contains peanut butter, bananas and chocolate. I even used to order a milkshake in college that had chocolate, coffee, peanut butter and bananas, all called an Elvis milkshake! Guys, this is not biographically accurate!

I have been to Graceland. (I even stayed at the Heartbreak hotel, which may be in the running for the most surreal place in America.) Anyways, what Elvis apparently liked was peanut butter and bananas, grilled in between two slices of bread, with a couple of slices of bacon. (Its even in the Elvis Presley Cookbook.*)  No chocolate. No coffee. Please, let's keep his legacy pure.

And therefore, this quickbread recipe, containing chocolate, peanut butter, and bananas (and no G.D. bacon) will be called "Not-Elvis Banana Bread" in hopes that I can start a trend of titular honesty in baked goods.

Not Elvis Banana Bread

2 C. all purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
pinch salt
3 over-ripe bananas, mashed
1 and 1/4 C. soymilk
1 T. applecider vinegar
1/4 C. oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 C. smooth peanut butter, melted
1/3 C. chocolate chips
(I omitted sugar from this recipe as I felt the bananas would be sweet enough, but feel free to add in 1/3 C. granulated sugar if you like it sweeter.)

1.) Preheat oven to 375 F. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk and vinegar. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
2.) After milk has thickened, add in bananas, oil, vanilla extract and sugar (if using). Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and stir together until "just mixed". Gently fold in chocolate chips and peanut butter, just carefully stirring so you can still see swirls of peanut butter.
3.) Pour batter into a loaf pan, or muffin tins if desired, and place in middle rack of oven. A loaf takes about 45 minutes, muffins take somewhat less time, but either way remove when top is golden brown and a toothpick placed into the center comes out clean.


*And by the by, now I really want to purchase and veganize the Elvis Presley Cookbook, the menus look AWESOME.

Song the Day: Elvis- Heartbreak Hotel


Vegan Mofo: Baking up a storm

There's nothing I like better than spending a weekend morning in the kitchen making baked goods with whatever is left in the cabinets. I would say it feels a bit like playing housewife, especially when S. is in the other room hard at work and I am in the kitchen measuring cups of flour, but its a little pathetic to be "playing" anything at 28, let alone "housewife" when half of my friends are younger than me and married. So, we could say that rather than "playing" I am "being" a house-girlfriend, while simultaneously consciously and consensually reproducing a socially enforced gender role and thus fulfilling my Butler-ian feminist obligations. How 'bout that?

So anyways, the food! I made bagels! I've made them a zillion times before, (and here is a recipe) but this time they were different because I forgot the sugar! So, that was an innovation, of sorts, and they taste a little sour, but not necessarily in a bad way. And like many baked goods, after making them 5 times you can make them with your eyes closed so they aren't really a pain in the ass anymore. Try it, "T's 5X Method" on anything that you don't know how or don't like to do. It really works.

Song Movie of the Day: The Stepford Wives (the original, 70's version)


Vegan Mofo: Ahh, fig season...

A perfect Fall breakfast- soy yogurt, slivered almonds, figs, and a drizzle of agave nectar.

Have a great weekend!


Vegan Mofo: Skills- Cooking beans from scratch

Today's essential vegan skill is cooking beans from scratch- that is, transforming them from their dried state on the bottom shelf of the grocery store aisle into a big pot of saucy deliciousness. Why should you bother to learn this?
 1.) Buying a big bag of dried beans is cheaper than buying as many cans of beans! (And that's saying something, because canned beans are already kind of cheap.)
2.) You have more control over the flavor. Ever noticed all the gross salty water they pack in there?
3.) You get to have cred! Like, look! I took something that could take about ten seconds with a can opener, and stretched it over 2 days!

Ok, maybe I'm not selling this correctly. The truth is, if they had canned black beans in Europe readily available, maybe I would never have learned this "skill." But I still think people should try it once, because it can make a huge difference in the taste, and also, don't you want to know that you COULD make beans from dried if you needed to? If you were shipped off to war somewhere with no canned beans? And besides, you might find out that the taste is so much better that you always want to do it this way. And here's how!

Skill two: Cooking beans from scratch!
1.) Take your beans and spill 'em out somewhere to sort through them. My technique is to pour them about 1/4 a cup at a time onto a kitchen towel on the counter, sort them for rocks and broken pieces, then gather the towel at the top and dump it into my soaking container. (In this way, you can avoid spilling beans all over your kitchen at 11 o'clock at night like I always do.)

2.) Now for the soaking. As I demonstrated yesterday, you just need some kind of big container in which you place you beans and fill it with cold water. The best thing is to do this before you go to bed, stick it in the fridge, then it gets to sit the next day and they should be really ready by the time you want to cook them. (If you are making black beans, why not soak some cashews too and make cashew sour cream?)

3.) Alright now comes the rigorous part. After you beans have soaked as long as you can bear it (10-12 hours is usual for me) then you can start you cooking. Drain the beans in a colander than cover them with a few cups of fresh water in a large pot and bring that baby to a boil. Then reduce to simmer and cover, with a little room for steam to escape. (If you get some white foam at first you can skim it off with a spoon, though it won't hurt you.) How long you let it sit and simmer depends on many things: what quantity of beans you are cooking, how long they soaked, what phase the moon is in, and most of all, whether or not you have dinner guests. But I have found that the most common length of time is between 2 and 2 and 1/2 hours for 1 cup beans. You will have to keep adding more water periodically. (But don't add salt until the end!)

4.) In the meantime, you fry a bunch of stuff to put in them when they are done! (Terry Hope Romero calls this, "sofrito!") This is where your creativity comes in.  Good combos:
-Simplicity: garlic, onions and peppers
-mushrooms, garlic and onions
-potatoes, carrots, onions
-small tempeh pieces, peppers, onions
Last night I fried up some quartered plantains first of all, then setting them aside, used the same hot pan to cook a bunch of onions and garlic. It doesn't matter whether they stay hot because you are just going to add them into your beans.

5.) Now that you've done that, painted your nails, replied to all of your emails, and whatever else you can accomplish is 2 and 1/2 hours, you can check on your beans. When they are perfect, it won't be huge effort to chew one and they will be easily mashable with a fork. At that time, you can add in your "sofrito", as well as some canned or fresh diced tomatoes (1/2 cup per cup of beans is good, but add more for saucier beans), and some cumin. I also add in cayenne pepper at this point, and a pinch of paprika. Beans eat up spices so you need not be stingy, and feel free to be creative. (Like if you are one of those cilantro types.)

6) Let the beans cook another 10-15 minutes with all the new ingredients folded in, or as long as it takes to cook some rice. Taste and adjust salt and spices. Serve with rice and some cashew sour cream, or if you're in the mood, with hot sauce, pickled onions, avocados and mango... whatever you have on hand!

It may not be the most gorgeous dish, but its so delicious.

Q: "But T, this is just for black beans! Is it the same for other kinds of beans?"

A: Kind of! You can use a similar process for other types of beans (except for lentils), but they take different amounts of time and go better with other flavors. Red beans take about 1 and 1/2 hours, and go great with just garlic and onions and a tons of spices (served with coconut rice, yum!) Adzuki beans take less time, chickpeas take more. But once you've experimented with dried beans you will find that the process doesn't vary much and there is a big reward to cooking them this way- namely, the taste.

What do you prefer, canned or dried?

Song of the Day: MGMT- It's working


Vegan Mofo: Essential Vegan Skillz 1- Cashew Cream

Hey Mo-Foers! Now that I'm fairly settled back in Berlin and not moving to any other country's capitol that starts with a B until *at least* November, I can start a little bit with my very first Vegan MoFo "theme"!

Its not like I'm going to stick to this every day, because that's obviously too organized for me, however I thought it would be nice to have a little reoccurring item, namely, "Essential Vegan Skillz." I'm talking about those things that you learned how to do only when you started cooking vegan. The innovations made by the cookbook Gods, and perfected in the kitchen and in blogosphere. The simple tricks that have made everyone's life a little easier, and tastier. My idea is to explain the concept, demonstrate how-to, and then to show a few uses, maybe using other people's recipes as well. And then, hopefully, y'all will add variations and stuff in the comments!

First up: CREAMING CASHEWS for fun and profit

Who knows who first thought of using cashews to make a creamy base for dips, sauces, and sweets, but whoever it was may have been allergic to soy. After all, us vegans had to rely on on silken tofu for all of our cream needs for years, with short interludes of coconut milk... and to be fair, it wasn't such a bad choice. But sometimes you don't want to eat tofu in a soy based sauce washed down with a glass of soymilk. We vegans need variety as much as the next fool. Thus, was born the genius idea of blending cashews.

The basic concept is generally this: take raw, unsalted cashews and place them in a container with plenty of water, overnight. (Or at least for 8 hours, like, while you are away at work. )

Cashews soaking, next to some black beans for tomorrow's "skill"
Blend a lot, and scrape the sides of your container with a spatula.
Next, you blend the plumped up cashews with a bit of liquid and some flavoring if you so desire, using a food processor or a handheld immersion blender.

Finally you have something that looks like this (or more liquid and creamier, if you added more liquid and blended longer.) It has a delicate taste and can be enhanced to suit your sordid needs.
Seen here as a topping for rice and beans- heaven
 Of course, there is my favorite use, as a sour cream substitute. (Both Vegan Brunch and Viva Vegan offer variations on this recipe.) A little bit of cooling vinegar blended in with the cashews, plus a little salt and you've got an excellent topping for spicy soups and beans. Used this way its also good blended with fresh herbs, onions, garlic or cucumbers for dips. The other main way I use it blended with a bit of agave nectar for a creamy compliment to pies, as seen below with peach pie.

In addition you can use it as a creamy base for casseroles and stove-top specialties. For instance, Isa uses cashews as the base for her awesome Mac and 'Shews. Its also the basis for her famous Rad Whip, an amazing whip cream substitute. You can even make cashew cheese as an app to serve your skeptical omni friends. (You use a cheesecloth to make the cheese more thick and creamy...yum!)

Once you have mastered the art of taming the cash(r)ew, there is no stopping what you can accomplish. Well, food-wise at least.

So that was my first "Essential Vegan Skillz" topic, stay tuned for more in the month to come!

Song of the Day: The Smiths- This Charming Man