Oven-Baked Plantains w/ Guacamole (Gluten-Free & Vegan)

Admittedly, I still find plantains kind of strange. This is in very large part because I had never tried them before this summer, when I ate them nearly every day in Nicaragua. The gracious family who hosted me during my stay actually sold fried plantain chips out of their house, and so the starchy yellow snacks accompanied many home cooked meals. Many Nicaraguan restaurants also serve a version of plantains called tostones— underripe, sliced plantains that are deep fried and usually topped with cubes of queso seco, a type of firm, salty cheese that’s really popular in Nicaragua.

So, how to make a vegan version that isn’t deep-fried? Well, one answer is to oven bake them. [This] recipe inspired me, and though I more or less followed its general gist, there were some things I’ve altered to make the end product a bit livelier (i.e. using less heat, coconut oil instead of cooking spray, and topping them with guacamole). The really cool thing, of course, is that these are also gluten-free. And surprisingly, they even taste good (if not better) after they’ve been refrigerated.

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Ingredients:
(serves 2-4)

-2 ripe plantains, sliced diagonally
-3 TB coconut oil

For the guacamole:
-1/2 avocado
-4 TB finely diced tomato
-2 TB cilantro, chopped
-1 TB lemon juice, fresh
-salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1. Heat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small mixing bowl, combine the sliced plantains with coconut oil. Place slices on a baking sheet. (Make sure plantains have plenty of room and don’t overlap; you want to give each side the ability to brown). Bake for 10 minutes, flip using tongs or a spatula, and the cook for an additional 10 minutes.

2. While the plantains are cooking for the second time (post-flip), make the guacamole. In a bowl, smash the avocado with a fork. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix, tasting for salt and pepper. One the plantains are out of the oven and have cooled a few minutes, top each one with a light dollop of guacamole.

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Vegan Maque Choux

As I mentioned in my last post, spending a week in New Orleans really elevated my excitement towards food to another level. While there, I tried dishes I’d never even heard of before and fell in love with coffee all over again. (Curse you, Café du Monde). When I returned to Tuscaloosa and found myself daydreaming about NOLA, I recalled this small notebook that I’ve had nestled in the back of my desk drawer for years. About four years ago, I jotted down a recipe for Maque Choux (pronounced mock shoo) that I discovered in my old college’s library. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the cookbook (which was fairly dated) or author now, but I do know that other recipes included “Creole Rice,” a “Cajun Bloody Mary,” and “Stuffed Nectarines” braised in Southern Comfort. Needless to say, I was charmed even then.

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Of course, the original recipe for Maque Choux wasn’t vegan (in fact, original incarnations of the dish often included bacon fat). But it was vegetarian. By substituting vegan margarine for butter and non-dairy milk for regular milk, I knew I’d be able to make a version that was pretty damn delectable. Of course, it only took me four years to do so, but I’m really excited to share it with you guys nonetheless. I decreased the butter in the original recipe and used paprika instead of cayenne pepper, but this spin on Maque Choux still has a sweet, distinctly southern flavor. Another favorite thing about this version is that it’s actually quite unique: while most versions of Maque Choux involve whole corn kernels, this recipe asks you to puree them so that the end product is closer to scrambled eggs. Preferring a bit more of a bite to my dishes, I opted for something in between.

Ingredients:
(Serves 2-4)

-3 TB vegan margarine
-1 medium onion, diced
-1 green bell pepper, diced
-1 large tomato, diced
-3 cups of fresh corn (frozen is okay too, just make sure to defrost beforehand)
-1/2 cup non-dairy milk (almond, soy, coconut, etc.)
-1/2 tsp paprika
-salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Melt 2 TB of vegan margarine in a pan over medium heat. Add onions and soften for about 5 minutes, or until translucent.

2. Add bell pepper and tomatoes and leave to cook while you prepare the corn.

3. Combine the non-dairy milk and half of the corn kernels into a blender/processor and blend into a thick (but still fluid) paste.

4. Stir both the whole corn kernels and corn paste into the pan and let simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes, stirring regularly.

5. Stir the remaining 1 TB of vegan margarine into the mix and season to taste with salt, pepper, and paprika. Enjoy with toast for breakfast or with rice and beans for lunch or dinner. And don’t forget the hot sauce. (I used Louisiana’s own Crystal).

Review: “Tofu Scramble” from Satsuma Café, New Orleans, Louisiana

I went to New Orleans for the very first time this past summer, and I want to talk about this vegan tofu & black bean scramble I had at Satsuma Café not one, not two, but three times. I also feel the pressing need to talk about Crystal hot sauce (which is sort of like a hybrid of Tabasco and Tapatio, but better, and less than $1 at most grocery stores). Or rather, to write an ode to it. But perhaps I should spare you.

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Tofu Scramble, $9, Satsuma Café, 3218 Dauphine St., New Orleans

So, eating vegan in New Orleans isn’t the hardest feat in the world, but it’s not the easiest either. While there are vegan options sprinkled throughout the city (and more popping up, especially after Hurricane Katrina, which has altered the city’s demographics in some very marked ways), you do have to search for them, bike to them, walk long, sweaty distances to them, take buses to them, etc. Or have a car that you’re willing to drive around, of course. Therefore, I was really stoked to come across Satsuma Café, which was about a fifteen-minute walk from where my brother and I were staying in the Bywater area of the city. The restaurant’s interior is modern and more or less homogenous in its clientele, but I won’t knock a place that offers vegan and vegetarian options as well as fresh juices, clean facilities, and friendly staff.

That said, I don’t know that Satsuma Cafe’s tofu & black bean scramble was the best I’ve ever had (actually, I’m sure it wasn’t, which makes me want to post my own version of tofu scramble on here soon). It could have been more texturally appealing, more flavorful, etc. But it was good, and it was filling, especially paired one one of their freshly made juices, which are completely customizable. And the scramble made for a nice, quick breakfast before walking along the Mississippi River or taking a swamp tour (oh, yes, we did) a bit outside of the city. And boy, drizzled with a spritz of lime, a few shakes of Crystal hot sauce, and piled on whole wheat toast, it really hit the spot in the morning. You see the little metal container of what looks to be butter on my plate of tofu scramble? That’s actually vegan margarine. All you have to do is ask for it to be vegan, and they’ll readily oblige.

All that said, there are some other wonderful vegan options to check out in New Orleans as well, many of which I didn’t get the chance to try in my one week there. (And, of course, if you’re willing to eat eggs/dairy, you’re sure to never go hungry). Of course, I did get to order vegan campanelle from Pizza Delicious in Bywater, vegan crepes while hanging out at the French Market, and channa masala à la NOLA, so there may be more dish reviews on the horizon.

Until next time!
Nicole

The Fair Table: A September Return

Hello all,

I realize that I’ve been away a long time. An unacceptable amount of time. Months. You see, graduate school happened, summer happened, international travel happened, teaching happened. Actually, the school and the teaching are still happening. In truth, things are a little crazy right now.

Still, I have the food blogging itch. I still have the desire to try out recipes, to clumsily write about them, to take bad photos of food with my terrible camera and, most importantly, to share this with you all. So, the idea is to start posting more regularly beginning this month (is it September already?), to try my hand at veganized culinary classics and more daring things as well (recent trips to New Orleans and Nicaragua have left their magical marks). But just a small disclaimer. Posts may come in crazy spurts, and then The Fair Table may look like a ghost town for weeks. If this happens, I am sorry.

But I’m hoping this won’t be the case. I’ve already got my senses set on a few recipes I think you guys will like. (Remember, suggestions are always welcome as well). But more than anything, I just want to say thank you to folks who have followed/supported me in the past and to those who plan to in the future. You all are great.

Nicole
The Fair Table

Flax & Chia Chocolate Pudding (w/ COCOZIA)

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I always develop an intense craving for pudding every time I see someone post a picture of soaked chia seeds, so I decided to make my own version using milled flax, chia, and chocolate. The awesome & generous people at COCOZIA gave me a box of their organic “chocolate coconut water” to try out, and it was so delicious that I knew I had to use it for this pudding recipe. You can find their product here. Their chocolate coconut water actually has more of a milky consistency than a watery consistency, which actually works out really well as a pudding thicker. To be honest, I had a very difficult time not just chugging all of this stuff down, it was so good. It basically tastes like a healthier and more delicious version of Yoohoo or Chocolate Nesquick (staples of my youth). That said, if you aren’t able to get this specific chocolate coconut water, chocolate almond or soy milk would also work as a substitution.

Ingredients:

– 1 container COCOZIA chocolate coconut water
– 1/2 cup milled flax/chia seeds (you can also substitute whole chia seeds for a different texture)
– 1 TB agave nectar
– 1-2 TB carob or chocolate powder
– 1/2 a banana (optional, but acts as an additional thickening and sweetening agent)

Directions:

In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until fully incorporated. Pour pudding into a bowl or Tupperware container and refrigerate for anywhere from 2 hours to overnight in order for the pudding to thicken. I enjoyed mine with a sprinkle of coconut shavings, carob powder, and chocolate chips on top; fruit would also be a tasty topping.

Sopa de Estrellitas

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These past couple of weeks have been pretty darn cold in Tuscaloosa, so I decided to make sopa de estrellitas as a way to stay warm, fat, and happy. My grandmother used to make this soup, which is how I first learned to love it. The fortunate thing about sopa de estrellitas is that it’s quite accessible in terms of ingredients and is also very simple to make.

Ingredients:
-1 cup star-shaped pasta (you may use other shapes, though I was able to find an organic version at Target)
-1 medium onion, diced
-3 TB oil
-1 cup tomato sauce
-2 to 3 cups water (less if you like your soup thick, as I do)
-1 medium tomato, diced
-salt & paprika (a pinch of each)
-cilantro, to garnish

Directions:
-In a sauce pan, heat the cooking oil over medium. Add the diced onion and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Then, add the pasta and sauté for an additional 5 minutes, or until stars become golden brown, stirring often (this a very important step and one from which this soup gets much of its flavor, so make sure to be patient and keep moving the pasta around the pan so that it is consistently cooked). Next, add the tomato sauce, water, diced tomato, salt, and paprika. Bring to a boil before turning the heat down to a steady simmer. Partially cover the soup with a lid and let cook for 8-10 minutes, checking occasionally. Serve with cilantro and enjoy!

Potato Tacos (Tacos de Papa)

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Today, I tried making tacos de papa for the first time and I’m glad I did. I hadn’t had them since I was probably eleven or twelve years old, when they were one of my favorite meals to eat thanks to my best friend’s grandmother, who also made an amazing torta de milanesa (definitely not vegan). Still, tacos de papa have always reigned supreme in my heart, and I found a helpful recipe online at Saveur. I followed the recipe pretty closely, but since I omitted the cheese and tweaked a couple of ingredients or measurements as I saw appropriate, I’ll include the alternate version below. There’s also a helpful video on the logistics of making fried tacos here. Additionally, you can find some more helpful tips at the bottom of this post.

Ingredients:
-1 TB finely chopped cilantro
-1/2 tsp dried oregano
-1/2 tsp sugar
-2 ripe tomatoes
-2 jalapeños
-3 cloves garlic
-2 TB vegan margarine
-1 lb russet potatoes, peeled
-2 tsp kosher salt
-1/2 tsp granulated garlic
-1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
-1 tsp ground cumin
-1/2 cup grapeseed oil
-about 10 corn tortillas
-thinly sliced green cabbage and cilantro for serving

Directions:
1. Puree cilantro, oregano, sugar, tomatoes, jalapeños, garlic, and 2/3 cup water in a blender until smooth and set salsa aside. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil, add potatoes, and cook until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain potatoes and transfer to a large bowl. Add granulated garlic, margarine, salt, pepper, and cumin, and mash until smooth. Set potato mixture aside.

2. Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Spread 2 heaping tbsp. potato mixture over half of each tortilla, and fold over to form a taco. Working in batches, add tacos to oil and fry, turning once, until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes.

3. Cover tacos with cabbage and drizzle with salsa before serving.

Tips:
1.Toothpicks are handy, but it’s possible to manage without them so long as you’re able to use a spatula to apply initial pressure to the tacos to keep them flat.
2. Fresh corn tortillas work best since the store-bought ones tend to break when folded, but it’s still possible (with a bit of extra care) to make them work. In a way, the potato mixture acts as a glue (a delicious, delicious glue) after a minute and holds the broken tortilla together anyway.
3. Saveur’s recipe makes a lot of salsa. At least, it did when I made it. You can half it and still have plenty, but it’s also really tasty (and spicy) and perhaps worth making a big batch so that you have some for later.
4. You’ll absolutely want to drain these tacos on paper towels before serving in order to get rid of excess oil. That way, they’re still delicious but not greasy.

Raw Coconut & Carob Bites (feat. COCOZIA coconut oil)

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I’m stoked about this dessert recipe because it uses carob powder instead of chocolate as well as COCOZIA extra-virgin coconut oil, neither of which I had tried before. The carob powder is stupendous because it’s caffeine-free, improves digestion, and is purportedly rich in phosphorous and calcium. It’s also surprisingly delicious. I’m glad that my local health food store was out of organic cocoa powder today, or I may have never tried this instead. And the kind folks at COCOZIA were (again!) gracious enough to send me one of their products, this time their organic and cold-pressed extra-virgin coconut oil, which turned out to be delicious, decadent, and a perfect compliment to this dessert. I’m definitely looking forward to trying it out in more recipes as it’s said to boost the immune system and is super creamy and delicious as well. So, onto the raw bites!

Ingredients:
(makes about 20 bites)

-3 cups unsweetened, dried coconut shreds
-1/2 cup agave nectar
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-3/4 cup COCOZIA coconut oil
-1/2 cup carob powder
-3 TB raw sunflower seeds

Directions:

-Combine all ingredients except the sunflower seeds in a mixing bowl and combine thoroughly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Now for the messy part: take about 2 TB worth of the mixture in your hand and form it into a small ball. Do this until the entire mixture is used up (this will produce about 20 bites). Press several sunflower seeds into the top of each bite and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes (or as long as you can wait to eat them, as these will keep a good while). Note: These hold together better when they’ve recently been pulled out of the refrigerator rather than after they’ve been sitting in a warm room. Enjoy & share!

Vegan Caesar Salad & Homemade Croutons

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It’s been a regrettably long time since I made my last post on The Fair Table (curse you college, curse you work), but I’m excited to be back. This past holiday season I was gifted several lovely kitchen additions (all of which I plan to use & review soon), one of which included a cook book, The China Study, from my dear sous chef. The first recipe I’ve made from this book is Laura Theodore’s “Caesar Salad, Jazzy-Style” detailed below (fun fact: the Caesar salad was actually invented somewhere between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico by Italian immigrant and chef Caesar Cardini in the 1920’s–thanks, Wikipedia). Please note, however, that I found myself greatly adjusting Theodore’s recipe in order to get the desired amount of flavor, especially being that the dressing for this salad is tofu-based. Therefore, the recipe listed here is the one including these various adjustments. All that said, the finished product turned out quite delicious. Even my sous chef, who isn’t an inherent salad-lover, left no romaine leaf unturned. I’ll also include the recipe for homemade croutons (a must!!!) below. These are super easy to make so long as you have some fresh bread and your favorite spices on hand.

Ingredients:
-12 cups romaine lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces

For the dressing:
-8 ounces firm tofu, drained
-4 tsp capers
-2 tsp dijon mustard
-2 garlic cloves
-juice of 1 lemon
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/4 tsp ground black pepper

For the croutons:
-5/6 slices fresh whole-grain bread, cubed
-1 tsp garlic powder
-1 tsp salt
-1 tsp thyme
-3 TB olive oil

Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a mixing bowl, combine all the crouton ingredients, making sure that the bread is evenly coated in the olive oil and spices. Spread the seasoned cubes on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Let the croutons bake for about 15 minutes, flipping once if necessary. These should be golden brown and crisp, but not too dry.

2. In a small blender, combine the dressing ingredients. Pulse until thoroughly incorporated. Also be certain to check for seasoning and adjust as needed (everyone’s taste buds vary; mine favor spiciness and tanginess, so if this isn’t your preference you might want to go lighter on the capers/mustard/garlic).

3. Once the dressing and croutons are ready, you’ll want to toss the romaine lettuce and the dressing in a large mixing bowl. If you’d like, you can even mix the croutons in as well so that they’ll also be coated with dressing. Otherwise, simply place them on top of the plated Caesar salad and serve! This is delicious as a light meal by itself or as an accompaniment to pasta, ravioli, or your other favorite dish.

Spicy Cashew & Brown Rice Medley

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Confession: though this rice is more of a side dish, I ate it for lunch two days in a row while visiting family in California over the holidays. The roasted cashews make it super fulfilling as does the spiciness from the cayenne pepper. You’re welcome to use whatever rice you fancy for this, though I used a brown rice medley (brown rice, black barley & daikon radishes) from Trader Joe’s (sadly absent in Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas) this time that was a-m-a-z-i-n-g. This rich and spicy rice is perfect for the colder months and is, in my opinion, best served warm.

Ingredients:
(serves 2-4)

-1/4 cup raw cashews
-2 TB oil
-1 cup brown rice medley (or plain rice)
-1/4 cup chopped onion
-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
-1/2 kosher salt

Directions:

1. In a pot, heat the oil and fry the cashews until golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cashews and set them aside on a paper towel (the paper towel will absorb the excess oil).

2. In the remaining oil, sauté the rice and onion until the rice begins to turn golden brown. Add two cups of water, the cayenne pepper and salt, and bring to a boil before covering a setting to simmer for about 30 minutes. Once the rice is done, stir in the fried cashews and enjoy.

P.S. I’m so excited for The Fair Table to carry over into the new year! I hope to post many recipes, some new and some tried and true, during 2015. Stay tuned!