Crispy Baked Polenta Wedges | With Fresh Cut Strawberry, Cucumber and Lime Salsa

Parents make a fairly accurate claim when they say that having a kid is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. I’m not even talking about the pushing-the-baby-0ut part – although I still stand by my assertion that being in labour feels (in my experience) like being hit repeatedly in the abdomen (and back) with a sledge hammer. The real work comes with figuring out just how to handle the darned thing once he or she pops out as a fully-formed infant.
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I used to roll eyes derisively behind my Ray-Bans when a parent would bemoan to me their toddler-induced exhaustion. But now that I have a toddler of my own I know only too well what they’re talking about: the non-stop night nursing, the refusal to eat certain foods (and the subsequent hurtling of said foods across the room or in the direction of the dog), the panic-inducing (for me) thrill seeking (my little guy loves to scale to the highest heights unassisted), the obsessive manhandling of only the filthiest household items (plunger and toilet brush), the seemingly unprovoked, back-arching tantrums. I could go on and on. I love the little sucker to bits and am growing more obsessed by the day – I even look at pictures of him on my phone while he’s napping – but HOLY COW does he put me through the paces at every conceivable moment!
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At a certain point one gets to thinking about taking a bit of a vacay, especially on days like today when the dog woke you up at 2am in the throes of diarrhea. Oh wait, except as a parent of a young child a true vacation – one where you can kick back with your oversized cocktail of choice and not have to worry about the proximity of your kid to the pool, and other potentially life-threatening considerations – isn’t really an option. Neither is leaving him with the in-laws, because as burned out as I feel at times the thought of not being around him for even a few days puts a very large and sappy tear in my eye. At any rate, we’ve decided to attend a friend’s wedding in Puerto Vallarta – although it’s not until November and I’m sure I’ll spend 99 percent of my time there chasing the little guy around with a tube of sun screen and worrying about the possibility of shark attacks, kidnappings and other statistically improbably occurrences. Being a parent has transformed me into the ultimate worry wart!
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While our sojourn to Mexico is still 6 months away (will I still be sane by then?), as soon as I was finished booking our seats with the travel agent my mind reverted to its favourite topic: food. And in this instance, Mexican food. My favourite item of Mexican cuisine, apart from a big old Mission-style burrito cram packed with fresh veggies, is also the most simple: fresh cut salsa paired with crispy tortilla chips (and an ice cold bottle of Sol, of course).
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Fresh cut salsa typifies the notion that food doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious. I love how the ripe tomatoes, cilantro, the mild bite of sweet onion and fresh lime juice come together and form something so bright and balanced on my taste buds. The salsa in this post deviates from the traditional by replacing tomatoes with strawberries, whose juicy sweetness is tempered perfectly by lime juice, minced shallot and jalapeno. It tastes great with tortilla chips (of course) or tossed into a green salad, but here I’ve made it into a nice light lunch and served it over baked polenta wedges – golden and crispy on the outside; warm and tender of the inside. Our vacation is still merely a dot on the horizon, but dishes such a this will do a decent job of tiding me over ūüôā
Recipe: Crispy Baked Polenta Wedges | With Fresh Cut Strawberry, Cucumber and Lime Salsa
Serves 3-4
Ingredients:
Baked Polenta Wedges
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 tablespoon vegan margarine
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon or so of extra virgin olive oil
Strawberry, Cucumber and Lime Salsa
  • 1/2 cup cucumber, skin and seeds removed and diced small
  • 1/2 cup strawberries, diced small
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and diced small
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 medium lime, juiced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Method:

Prepare Salsa

  1. Place lime juice and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
  2. Add cucumber, strawberries, cilantro, jalapeno and shallot to bowl and gently toss until everything is combined.
  3. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator until needed.

Prepare Baked Polenta Wedges

  1. Lightly grease an 8×8 pan with olive oil and set aside.
  2. Place almond milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
  3. Whisk in cornmeal then switch to a spoon as mixture thickens. Stir until liquid is fully absorbed.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in margarine and nutritional yeast (or parmesan), and a bit of salt and pepper.
  5. Immediately transfer polenta to prepared pan and smooth top with a wet spatula.
  6. Place in refrigerator for 45 minutes, or until firm.
  7. While polenta is in fridge lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil.
  8. Once polenta is firm, remove from fridge and preheat oven to 375F.
  9. Flip polenta onto a cutting board and cut into wedges.
  10. Transfer polenta wedges onto prepared baking sheet and brush tops with a bit of olive oil.
  11. Place in oven for 45 minutes or until tops are crispy and golden brown.

Assemble

  • Transfer polenta wedges to serving plates and top each portion with a few scoops of salsa. Eat!

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Spaghetti Squash and Zucchini ‘Noodles’ | In Fragrant Garlic-Ginger Broth

Brace yourselves! After a tragicomic ¬†7 1/2 months we’ve officially moved out of the RV and into a real house! On Saturday morning we hitched up the Gypsy Roller and hauled her out of the trailer park to our new abode, where she now sits in the driveway. While I feel somewhat indebted to the old girl for putting a roof over our heads for the past several months, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t fantasized about pushing her over the edge of a cliff or setting her ablaze and doing a wild dance around her charred remains. There are many worse fates than spending over half a year shacked up in a 28 ft. long trailer ¬†– but I’ve felt like a caged animal over the last few month and am quite relieved to be out of that brown-upholstered box!

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We’re far from settled in our new place. Ninety-nine percent of our belongings are still in storage, and there’s a ton of renovating that needs to be done before we can move in the rest of our stuff. I’m pleased to report, however, that I now have a functional kitchen to cook in. It’s in serious need of an update – the colour scheme (burgundy and teal!) is an assault on the senses – but unlike the kitchenette in the RV I now I now have¬†a normal-size stove, fridge and sink, and a decent amount of counter space. This means I no longer have to place a cutting board over the sink in order to chop vegetables, or cram all my fresh produce into a miniscule crisper – oh joy!

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I thought I’d use our new living arrangements as an opportunity to make a few changes to this blog.¬†It’s fully my intention to continue to create ‘delicious meatless recipes’ – as the byline of the blog declares – but as of the weekend the ‘straight from the kitchenette of my recreational vehicle’ bit ceased to be the case. In other words, I’m not longer ‘dispatching from the Gypsy Roller,’ so I think a blog name change is in order! I’m thinking of going with¬†Gypsy Roller’s Veggie Kitchen. We may have moved on from the Gypsy Roller, but I’d like to keep the name in the title of the blog – just to pay homage to its ‘roots’!¬†I also plan on posting more product reviews and joining Foodie Pen Pals Program (now that I have an actual mailing address!). If there’s anything you think I should post about, do let me know.

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This soup is one of the last things I cooked in the kitchenette of the RV (weep… I’m already feeling a little sentimental). With Spring approaching I’m starting to crave lighter fare, despite the still dreary weather outside. Nothing is more satisfying than a hot, steaming bowl of ramen when it’s damp and cold outside – but here I’ve replaced the traditional soba noodles with roasted spaghetti squash and zucchini sliced into thin ribbons. The broth is simple but full of robust flavours – garlic, fresh ginger and red pepper flakes – and will both warm you up and clear the cobwebs out of your head! Crunchy veggies and soft tofu top the soup and make it a perfect mid-day meal or light dinner ūüôā

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Recipe:¬†Spaghetti Squash and Zucchini ‘Noodles’ | In Fragrant Garlic-Ginger Broth

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

Fragrant Garlic Ginger Broth

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (I used low sodium)
  • Salt to taste

For the rest

  • 1 small spaghetti squash
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small zucchini sliced into ribbons (using a vegetable peeler or mandolin)
  • 1/2 small red pepper, julienned
  • 1 small carrot, grated
  • 8-10 snap peas
  • 1/2 cup soft tofu, cubed
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Method:

Roast spaghetti squash: Preheat oven to 425F. Carefully cut squash in half length-wise and scoop out seeds. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over each squash half and season lightly with salt and pepper. Place squash skin-side up in a casserole dish and roast in oven for 45 minutes, or until flesh is tender. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. While squash is cooling, prepare Fragrant Garlic-Ginger Broth.

Prepare Fragrant Garlic-Ginger Broth: Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over low-medium heat. Add garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes and saute just until fragrant and garlic is golden brown. Add vegetable broth and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and add zucchini, snap peas and cubed tofu. Once zucchini and snap peas are tender-crisp, remove saucepan from heat. Taste broth and adjust with salt if necessary.

Assemble soup: Once squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh with a fork and divide between 2 serving bowls. Ladle broth/zucchini/snap peas/tofu on top of squash. Top soup with julienned red pepper, grated carrot and chopped cilantro. Eat!

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‘Bloody Mary’ Tortilla Soup

While I’m not much of a drinker at this point in my life – apart from the odd box glass of wine or pint of beer – I’ve long been an aficionado of fancy cocktails. By ‘fancy’ I’m not referring to the neon-coloured concoctions served in sugar-rimmed martini glasses that have gained popularity amongst women drinkers, nor drinks that use – and it pains me to write this – Red Bull, or any energy drink for that matter,¬†as a mixer. By ‘fancy’ I’m talking about the cocktails popularized in and around the mid-20th century – the Manhattan, the Gimlet, the Negroni, to name a few – prepared stiff and poured into elegantly garnished glasses full of ice.
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On the trashier (or kitschier, if you want to be nice about it) end of the fancy cocktail spectrum are tiki drinks, which I also have a real soft spot for. These tropical cocktails were also big in the 1950s are traditionally served in ceramic Polynesian-themed vessels with a flamboyant garnish of some description – think mini paper umbrellas and plastic cocktails swords plunged through pineapple wedges and Marascino cherries. Tiki drinks tend to be ultra-sweet and always contain staggering amounts of alcohol – come to think of it, they’re the perfect beverage ¬†for hot summer nights at the trailer park, once the Coors Light runs out!
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I think what draws me to cocktails from this time period is lore surrounding them – specifically, formal cocktail parties and the idea of taking time to relax at the end of the day with a nicely-prepared drink. I’m sure popular culture has done much to romanticize the consumption of alcohol during this era, and surely it was used and abused as much (if not more) then as it is now. Regardless, I love reading old cocktail recipes and plan on someday putting together a well-stocked cocktail cart with all the necessary accoutrements!
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One of my favourite cocktails is the Bloody Mary. Here in Canada at least, the Bloody Mary seems to exist in the shadow of its more popular cousin, the¬†Caesar. The latter – which is actually a Canadian invention – consists of Clamato juice (clam-flavoured tomato juice), vodka, lime juice, Worchestershire and Tabasco and is normally consumed with brunch as a hangover ‘cure’. Regardless of my vegetarianism, anything clam-flavoured strikes me as WRONG and as such I’ve always opted for the Bloody Mary, which is basically the same drink but with tomato juice used in place of the dreaded Clamato.
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Truth be told it’s been a couple years since I drank my last Bloody Mary, but my favourite boozie libation was top of mind when I created this tortilla soup recipe. Its tomato-based broth and Mexican spices lend themselves perfectly to the flavours found in the Bloody Mary: fresh lime, tangy Worchestershire (I used the vegan kind as conventional Worchestershire contains anchovies), and Tabasco added ¬†to taste for some extra heat. Diced avocado, fresh cilantro and lime zest provide a cool counterpoint to the soup, and blue corn tortilla chips add a fantastic crunchy texture. This is definitely my favourite recipe of late – and I promise it won’t leave you with a hangover!
Recipe: ‘Bloody Mary’ Tortilla Soup
Makes 4 servings
Ingredients:
  • 1 small onion, diced small
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced small
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 small zucchini, diced small
  • 1/2 cup of corn kernels
  • 1 cup cooked pinto beans
  • 1 398ml can of diced tomatoes, preferably organic
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (I used low sodium broth)
  • 1 teaspoon vegan Worchestershire sauce
  • Juice and zest of 1 small lime
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 ripe avocado, diced
  • 2 cups blue corn tortilla chips
  • Tabasco sauce to taste
  • Salt to taste

Method:

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft and translucent. Add garlic, jalepeno and red pepper flakes and saute just until garlic begins to brown. Add paprika and chili powder and stir until spices coat other ingredients.

Add diced tomatoes, vegetable broth, zucchini, corn and pinto beans and stir until everything is combined. Bring soup to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and let soup simmer, partially covered, until zucchini is tender – about 20 minutes, or preferably longer to let flavours develop. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary. Remove from heat and stir in Worchestershire sauce and lime juice.

Serve, topping each portion with tortilla chips, avocado, cilantro, lime zest and Tabasco sauce to taste. Eat!

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Curried Quinoa, Black Bean and Pineapple Stuffed Bell Peppers

After last week’s ‘mystery illness,’ which left me exhausted, sans appetite and in full-fledged pity party mode for several days, I’m finally getting around to posting this recipe, which I managed to cook and photograph before the symptoms appeared. It’s a delicious dish and one I’ve made a few times now – so don’t go thinking it was the cause of my nausea or anything along those lines, haha ūüėČ The problem was I was feeling so distinctly (and very uncharacteristically) grossed out by food that I couldn’t even bear to write about it. It was rough few days.

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The starting point for this dish comes from a¬†recipe¬†on the fantastic¬†Veggie Belly¬†website, which uses Thai curry paste to flavour fried rice. After I tried the original recipe I thought to swap out the rice for quinoa, add black beans for additional protein, some pineapple for a little sweetness, and a bit of coconut milk just because it pairs so well with curry. Then I thought to throw the whole lot in some bell peppers, which make perfect edible receptacles. That’s how this recipe evolved – I suppose it bears little resemblance to the original apart from the Thai curry paste, but there you have it!

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The concept of stuffed peppers is hardly new, but something must have been in the air last week because not one but two¬†other quinoa and black bean stuffed pepper recipes appeared in my WordPress reader just as I was preparing my own version! I can’t recall the source of the first recipe, which is too bad because it looked really good, but the second appeared on one of my favourite blogs –¬†Love & Green Juice¬†–¬†and can be found¬†here. Larissa’s version has more of a Mexican vibe, which goes to show you can put pretty much any spin on a stuffed pepper!

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This recipe can easily be doubled and makes great leftovers. I like keeping my leftover peppers wrapped individually in aluminum foil (they can also be frozen this way), then throughout the week I throw them in a 350F oven for 20 minutes or so until hot. They also make a great portable meal – bring them with you in a ceramic or glass container and reheat in a microwave for a healthy and filling snack or lunch ūüôā

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Recipe: Curried Quinoa, Black Bean and Pineapple Stuffed Bell Peppers

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 3/4 cup water (to cook quinoa)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus a bit more to grease casserole dish)
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 cup cooked black beans
  • 1/2 cup pineapple, diced
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • 1/2 cilantro, chopped (plus a bit more for garnish)
  • 2 tablespoons yellow or green curry paste
  • 1 1/2 ¬†tablespoons Bragg’s All Purpose Seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons of sambal olek

Method:

Prepare quinoa: In a medium saucepan, combine quinoa and water. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Let cook for 15 minutes or until quinoa is tender. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Place in fridge to cool.

Blanche peppers: Remove tops from peppers and scoop out inner seeds. Fill a large saucepan or stock pot with water (enough to cover 4 bell peppers) and bring to a gentle boil. Add peppers and blanche just until tender crisp, about 4-5 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside until needed.

Prepare quinoa filling: In a medium bowl whisk together coconut milk, green curry paste, Bragg’s and sambal olek. Set aside.¬†Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and zucchini and saute until tender. Add garlic and ginger and saute just until garlic begins to brown. Fold in black beans and pineapple. Remove quinoa from fridge and add to skillet. Add coconut milk mixture and gently stir until everything is combined. Fold in cilantro. Remove skillet from heat.

Finish¬†peppers: Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a casserole dish (the one I used is about 9″ in diameter and 5″ deep) with olive oil and set aside.¬†Fill each bell pepper with quinoa mixture and stand upright in casserole dish. Cover casserole dish and place in oven for 15 minutes or until peppers are hot all the way through.

Remove from oven and serve, topping each pepper with chopped cilantro and freshly ground black pepper. Eat!

Festive Mandarin, Avocado and Fennel Salad | With Citrusy Cilantro Dressing

Being somewhat obsessive about food and eating, I’m always keen to dine out, but after our four day sojourn to Vancouver last week I’m actually glad to be back to cooking my own food again. Prior to our departure from the Okanagan I was looking forward to trying out the two new vegetarian restaurants that recently opened in Vancouver (how these places had the audacity to open after I moved away continues to baffle me!).¬†But after one essentially sleepless night (Hunter had a cold and woke me up every hour on the hour wanting to nurse… so satanic), a visit with my mum that turned into a protracted shopping expedition, bad weather (pummelling rain – no surprise there), and a couple of doctor’s appointments thrown in for good measure, at the end of the day it was a lot easier to grab dinner on the go rather than making the extra effort to go somewhere specific.

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I never thought I’d be¬†that person¬†who voluntarily eats at a chain restaurant when better options exist, even if they’re slightly out of the way – but there I was, repeatedly darkening the doors of Tim Hortons, White Spot and Moxie’s. Actually, despite the predictable blandness of their fare I do have a bit of a soft spot for the former two establishments as they’re iconically Canadian, but Moxie’s – where the food is as insipid as the ambiance – is utterly defenceless. And we ate there twice!

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We did, however, manage one decent meal out with friends, at a place on Commercial Drive that features an ever-changing menu of 40 craft beers. The food was good – I had a roasted beet and goat cheese salad followed by a margarita pizza – but was definitely overshadowed by the impressive beer selection. I started with an IPA from the North Shore Brew Co., which was fantastic, then switched to whatever Mike was drinking, which was also delicious but had a significantly higher alcohol content (7.5% if memory serves me correctly). From there things are a little blurry. I recall my friend dancing around with Hunter, and then Hunter grasping the rim of full pint glass using his surprisingly strong pincher grip, and subsequently throwing the glass on the floor, where it smashed into many pieces and left a massive puddle of beer under the table. Everyone around us was wildly entertained by this mishap (someone even yelled ‘Opa!’ from across the restaurant) with the obvious exception of our server who was left having to mop up the mess.

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While I’m glad to be cooking for myself again after four days of eating mostly fast food, this saintly salad is a somewhat distorted representation of my dietary choices of late! I’ve been making entire meals out of the gargantuan Christmas cake (someone get this thing away from me) gifted to me by my mum, and today is Mike’s birthday so I spent the afternoon whipping up a batch of these bad boys and risking salmonella poisoning by eating scoops of raw cookie dough. Oh well, ’tis the season, right?

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I’d like to think this salad cancels out the damage wrought by all that sugar and butter, but that’s probably wishful thinking. This is my first attempt using citrus fruit in a salad and I’m pleased with the results! The mandarins compliment both the avocado and the ¬†liquorice-y flavour of the fennel, and I like their juicy texture combined with the crunchiness of the other ingredients. I suspect I’ll be making this salad again soon as I have a 7 lb. box of mandarins to plough through!

How are your eating habits faring so far this season? Are you eating healthily overall or have you succumbed to the lure of festive treats?

Recipe: Festive Mandarin, Avocado and Fennel Salad | With Citrusy Cilantro Dressing

Makes 2 salads

Ingredients:

Festive Mandarin, Avocado and Fennel Salad

  • 2 cups organic mixed greens
  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced
  • 4 radish bulbs, finely sliced
  • 1/4 bulb of fennel, shaved (using a vegetable peeler or mandolin)
  • 2 mandarin oranges, sectioned into pieces
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Citrusy Cilantro Dressing

  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1/4 cup ¬†+ 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey (or agave syrup)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed cilantro
  • Dash of salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:

Prepare Citrusy Cilantro Dressing: Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and blend for another few seconds. Set aside until needed.

Finish salad: Arrange mixed greens on two plates and top with mandarin sections, avocado, fennel, radishes and walnuts. Drizzle each salad with dressing and top with freshly ground black pepper. Eat!

Jumbo Peanut-Stuffed Yams | With African Spices and Couscous

With Christmas approaching and Hanukah underway, the food bloggers here on WordPress are really pulling out all the stops! ¬†Over the last few days my blog feed has been a virtual conga line of drool-inducing recipes. This has had the effect of making me feel somewhat lazy, becuase it’s been a full week since I’ve posted a single recipe of my own, and has also distracted me from the latter task by providing me with an unbroken stream of bars, cookies, slices and cakes of various descriptions to ogle for hours. Even my favourite breakfast item has received a festive makeover in the form of eggnog french toast! It’s all too much for one stomach to handle.

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Lots of dishes on the savoury side of things have caught my eye lately as well. Emmy Cooks has been posting a series of savoury oatmeal recipes, all of which look fantastic. I tried her Savoury Oatmeal with Black Pepper, Blue Cheese and an Olive Oil Fried Egg for¬†breakfast this morning and it ruled. This Hearty Miso Soup on the Spontaneous Tomato blog is also incredible (in a warming, Winter-appropriate kind of way) and is healthy enough to (almost) justify eating my mum’s butter-laden Christmas cake for dessert several nights straight.

I’m not sure whether it’s a blessing or a curse to be the recipient of an ENTIRE Christmas cake (the thing must weigh at least 5 pounds), especially given the fact that I’m the only one in the household (make that¬†trailer) who will eat it. My boyfriend won’t go near it (like many he sits firmly on the anti-Christmas cake side of the fence) and the only solid items baby Hunter is interested in putting in his mouth these days are Cheerios and cardboard. (Not that I’d feel particularly great feeding him cake containing synthetically-died cherries anyway). Alas, it’s looking like it’s up to me to make sure the Christmas cake gets eaten. Talk about a #firstworldproblem!

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There are lots of other recipes I’ve bookmarked to try as well, but today I’m finally back with a recipe of my own in the form of these jumbo peanut-stuffed yams! When I was visiting with my mum last week in Vancouver we got to talking about stuffed potatoes, and I thought it would be interesting to try preparing yams the same way.¬†Yams are my kind of food: starchy and sweet, yet they have a low glycemic index rating and thus have less of an effect on your blood sugar than potatoes, and keep you feeling full longer.

However, I didn’t want to give my yams the usual butter/green onion/cheese treatment, as one would a potato. I love African yam and peanut soup and thought I could capture the same combination of flavours in a stuffed yam. This I did by combining onion, ginger, lots of garlic and peanut butter with some of favourite spices – red chili flakes, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and turmeric – and some couscous for added texture. A few handfuls of cilantro folded in at the end gives that refreshing flavour that only cilantro can give, and a dollop of yogurt on top (I used the thick Mediterranean stuff but feel free to use fat free or soy yogurt if that’s your preference) works well to cool off the spiciness of the dish.

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The only issue with this recipe is that by adding bulky ingredients like couscous to the yams, I had quite a bit of yam mixture left over after filling up the skins (which you can also eat, by the way, for extra fibre!). But this is hardly a problem in the real sense of the word, and can easily be rectified by saving the leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. They might even be good pan fried in a bit of coconut oil for breakfast! And one more thing – the yams I used for this recipe really were large (hence the ‘jumbo’ in the title), so I only used two. If you only have smaller yams at your disposal, use four of them ūüôā

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Recipe: Jumbo Peanut-Stuffed Yams | With African Spices and Couscous

Makes 2 large stuffed yams or 4 smaller ones

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup uncooked whole wheat couscous (or use one cup of cooked quinoa if you’re wanting a gluten free option)
  • 1/2 water (to cook couscous)
  • 2 large yams (or 4 small ones), scrubbed clean
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 4 medium cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 cup unsalted natural peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
  • 1 398ml can diced tomatoes, preferably organic
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt or soy yogurt (optional for garnish)
  • Salt to taste

Method:

Prepare yams: Preheat oven to 400F. Using a fork, poke several holes in yams then place in a baking pan. Place in oven and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until yams are tender all the way through. (The yams I used were very large so I microwaved them for 5 minutes each before putting them in the oven). Once yams are cooked, remove from oven and set aside to cool. While yams are baking, prepare couscous.

Prepare couscous: Bring 1/2 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add couscous to water and stir well. Cover and remove from heat. Let sit for 10 minutes. Once couscous is cooked, fluff with a fork and set aside until needed.

Finish stuffed yams: Once yams are cool enough to touch, remove top 1/5th of each yam and scoop out flesh (leave a little flesh on the skin so the yam doesn’t completely collapse). Place flesh in a bowl and set aside. Keep skins in reserve.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft. Add ginger and garlic and saute just until garlic begins to brown. Add all spices and stir until they coat other ingredients. Add peanut butter and stir until melted. Fold in diced tomatoes. Lower heat slightly and let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Fold in yams, then cooked couscous. Finally, fold in chopped cilantro. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary.

To serve, fill each yam skin with yam mixture and top with a dollop of yogurt or soy yogurt. Eat!

Green Lentil and Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Cilantro and Blue Cheese

Depending on where you’re reading this from, you may or may not know that Canada is in the midst of a massive recall of Alberta beef¬†due to high E. coli levels. My first reaction upon hearing about the recall was to feel renewed smugness confidence in my decision (going on 20 years) to not eat meat. I mean, in light of everything you hear about people getting sick from consuming meat, it makes you wonder why anyone wouldn’t convert to vegetarianism. But while it’s tempting to write off E. Coli as a meat eater’s problem and continue to scarf veggie burgers with impunity, this distorts the matter. Because like it or not, it’s very possible for foods other than animal products – yes, I’m talking about our saintly vegetables! – to be contaminated with E. Coli as well. I found a good fact sheet on E. coli and how it affects different foods here.

While the E. coli problem has a lot to do with how meat and vegetables are handled and cooked by consumers, the real issue – and one of the main reasons I became vegetarian to begin with – appears to stem from the scale on which meat is processed. In other words, too few meat processing plants processing are processing too much meat. With such a system in place, it’s little surprise that E. coli outbreaks aren’t detected quickly enough, and people get sick. This is definitely reason enough for meat eaters to boycott factory-farmed meat in favour of supporting smaller-scale operations, or even better, move toward a more plant-base diet. It’s a long shot – especially in light of the fact that a huge chunk of Alberta’s economy (and culture ) is rooted in the meat industry – but ideally there will be less need for large-scale meat processing if fewer people want to consume animal products. And with fewer large-scale operations, the threat to consumers – carnivorous and vegetarian alike – will hopefully be reduced. I’m probably preaching to the choir, but after hearing about the recall for weeks straight I needed to vent a little! Whew!

On a completely different note, there’s a storm a-brewin’ here in Lake Country! Gusts of wind are causing the RV to rock back and forth in an unnerving manner, and I’ve already had to run outside twice in my leopard-print housecoat and Birkenstocks (NOT a good look, FYI) to chase items that had blown out of the recycling box, surely inducing shock and alarm in any and all elderly neighbours who happened to be peering out their window at the time. Amidst all this chaos (and in spite of the fact I have a cold and didn’t sleep a wink last night… ugh!), I somehow summoned the will to whip up this salad for lunch. There are few vegetables capable of a more dramatic metamorphosis than cauliflower, right? Raw it’s the stuff of store-bought veggie platters (the ones that come with a packet of bottled Ranch dressing… I think I have a personal vendetta against bottled Ranch dressing) often spotted at potlucks and kids’ birthday parties, but steamed, sauteed and especially roasted it takes on an entirely new and tastier life! Such is the case with this salad, where caramelized roasted cauliflower combines deliciously with earthy lentils, fresh cilantro, a whisper of blue cheese and a subtle dijon-honey dressing. Serve the salad warm as soon as it’s ready, or chilled the next day!

Recipe: Green Lentil and Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Cilantro and Blue Cheese

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup green lentils, uncooked
  • 1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into small florets (approximately 3 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, stemmed and chopped
  • 1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

Dijon-Honey Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Cook green lentils until tender but still firm. If you’re new to the universe of dried lentils, there’s an nice tutorial on how to cook them here. Once lentils are cooked and drained, place in a large salad bowl and add salt to taste. Set aside.

Prepare cauliflower: Preheat oven t0 400F. Place cauliflower florets in a single layer in a large baking dish and toss with cumin and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and place in oven for 20 minutes or until tender and caramelized, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and place in bowl with cooked lentils. Add chopped cilantro and crumbled blue cheese. Gently fold all ingredients together.

Prepare dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard and honey. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drizzle dressing onto ingredients in salad bowl and gently toss to combine. Serve and eat!