Happy Meals

I have absolutely no scientific evidence to back this up, but I am convinced that eating orange food in the winter counteracts some of the effects of sun deprivation. Maybe its just the bright, cheerful color of sweet potatoes and carrots that lift my mood, or maybe beta carotene packs some kind of happy punch. All I know is, when the weather is grey I can't get enough orange. (And Germans seem to agree: almost every restaurant offers pumpkin or carrot soup this time of year.) (But my sweet potato lentil soup is better. :) )

So for the last few weeks, faced with the prospect of moving to a new country, planning two weddings, and staving off poverty until impending permanent residency (and accompanying work permit) I have been trying to lower my stress levels by loading up on delicious orangey bliss. Its been kind of working.

Above we have a simple dinner from S.- sweet potatoes mashed with a little bit of maple syrup, white miso, and cinnamon, fried tofu  that has been dredged in soy milk then coated in cornstarch, a little flour and sesame seeds, and green beans sauteed with salty soy sauce. Perfection.

And then here we have a variation on an old standby: carrot-cashew pasta. This time I aimed for more of a savory flavor profile rather than the sweet flavor my other recipe gets from ginger and agave nectar. This time I boiled sliced carrots, a handful of plain cashews, and a clove of garlic until tender, then blended them with a few tablespoons of the boiling water, plus a sprinkling of curry powder and black pepper. This was tossed with pasta and topped with sauteed brown mushrooms.

And finally you have my purest version of a happy meal:

A homemade black-bean burger on a sesame seed roll topped with onions, spinach, and sriracha-laced ketchup, served with sweet potato fries and, sure, more ketchup. Eat your heart out Micky D's.

How does one make sweet potato fries, you ask? Simply preheat your oven to 400 degrees and slice up a peeled sweet potato into thin, fry-like slices. Toss resultant slices with olive oil plus any of the following: salt and pepper; cumin, cinnamon and paprika; lemon pepper and salt; ect. Bake until crispy and  try to wait until they cool down.

So, that concludes my primer on stuffing your S.A.D. face full of orange. Here are several more dishes on the same theme:
Butternut Squash Risotto with sage
Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

And now, friends, I'll continue my panicked Serbia preparations! Next time you hear from me, I'll be writing from Belgrade!
Следећи пут када чујете од мене, ја ћу бити у Београду!

Song of the Day: Tears for Fears- Everybody Wants to Rule the World


Turkish Delight

Chestnut seller by Gallata bridge, Istanbul

Ferry ride to Kadikoy
Glorious Hagia Sofia
Oh, Istanbul, there's really no reason ever to leave, but its January, vacation is over, and its time to get back to work. After an enchilada and Thai-food-filled Christmas back in the states, I headed back to Europe to go on a week's visit to Turkey with my boyfriend S. I was so absolutely enthralled, for the second time, that I think Turkey should hire me as touristic ambassador to the world.

You see, to me, Istanbul is the perfect vacation site. First off, its the Puta Madre of all cities. Thousands of years old, geographically sprawling, and filled with millions of different types of people, its the combination of the Big Apple and ancient Babylon. Dazzling architectural gems like the Blue Mosque or Gallata tower lurk behind every corner, and the bubbling domes have the effect of looking at once close and far away, creating a 3-D effect as you ferry along the sea. Its a bit surreal. Alongside the ancient and mystical are thousands of shouting food cart owners, hustlers pushing everything from prayer rugs to flying bird toys to Adidas tennies, and normal Istanbulus in commute.

At the same time as the sensory overload, it is possible to enjoy moments of breathtaking views and silence from almost any corner of the city. Just go near the water, or up a hill, and you are certain to find a little cafe with hookahs and tea where you can bask in the sunshine and the Golden Horn. Or escape to a Hamam (like we did) and sweat out your sins under a star-etched ceiling, followed by a fresh orange juice and a manicure.

But I haven't even mentioned the food. In my opinion, Istanbul is extremely accommodating to vegans and vegetarians. Street vendors pimp fire roasted chestnuts and corn, sugary rock candy, fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice, sweet tea and (vegetarian) Simits, the Turkish bagel. Restaurants tend to be meat-oriented for mains, but offer countless small plates with delicious vegan vegetable preparations. For instance, peppers and eggplants stuffed with bulgur or fragrant rice, lentil soup,  roasted vegetable kebabs, simple salads topped with pomegranate seeds, and "kumpir" (baked potatoes topped with your choice of different sauces and veggies.) No matter what, the emphasis in Turkish cooking is simply, correctly prepared fresh ingredients with a minimum of sauces or seasonings. Rather than complicated techniques or recipes, they rely on mixes of cooked and fresh ingredients to create texture and layers. For instance, adding fresh herbs, fresh fruit, or chopped onions to top a cooked dish.

I was definitely inspired by the many delicious meals we had to make a new year's resolution: cook more in the Turkish style. The first meal I tried when we got back was the following.

Scored, broiled eggplant with a spice mix of cinnamon, cumin,  and paprika, rice with garlic, onions and carrots, and salad with french lentils and pomegranate seeds. Not exactly Turkish, but definitely delicious.

Aside from a new-found obsession with Turkish food, I took something else home with me from Istanbul: a new fiance! S. asked me to marry him and I've accepted.... crazy, right? I can hardly believe it myself.

But I am very happy. Even if this does mean two weddings, and months of obsessing about how to make a perfect vegan wedding cake. (I apologize in advance.)

Hope you all had an equally great holiday season! Now, on to an exciting 2012....