Taking Back Summer

I am taking a stand against the narrative that people are now sick of cooking. I do miss restaurants, but I hope this time bent over a stovetop has given everyone an appreciation for these culinary arts. That being said, I am raising to the rafters, long and exhaustive recipe making. I am happily throwing bread making out the window (for now). With light starting to pierce through the cracks of the hollow cave that is the Covid19 pandemic in Ontario, I am proposing simplicity as the theme of summer 2021.

Simple and easy recipes that allow to make up for lost time. Starting with this one.

Vegetable summer rolls with sambal peanut sauce

Ingredients

For the rolls

  • 1 small fennel bulb
  • 7 red radishes
  • 3 large carrots julienned
  • 1/2 cup of fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup of fresh dill
  • 2 green chilies
  • 1/4 cup pickled onions
  • 10-12 sheets of rice paper
  • 15 large shrimps (Optional)

For the sauce

  • 1 cup of crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp of rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp of sambal
  • Salt
  • 1 tsp ginger powder

How to do it

  1. The recipe starts with a simple mise en place. Slice all your vegetables in uniform slices and set aside for the assembly of the rolls.
  2. Fill a small sheet-pan with room temperature water, and dip your rice paper sheet in the water for roughly 30 seconds.
  3. Remove the sheet from the water, and then assemble the rolls with all the vegetables on a dry surface. Make sure to place the ingredients near one side of the sheet, rather than the middle. This makes the actual rolling easier.
  4. Roll the sheets like you would a burrito. Bring both sides in, over the vegetables, and then roll tightly. Tucking in the ingredients into a tight roll.
  5. Slice the roll in half, and then repeat the process until you have finished the veggies.
  6. For the sauce, heat up the peanut butter in a sauce pan with the other ingredients. Cook on low heat for 5 minutes, and gradually add water until it becomes smooth and dip-able.
  7. Enjoy on the patio with a chilled rosé.

How to keep food exciting as a vegetarian

I would be lying if I said that it’s easy to keep food exciting while you are trying to make a healthier choice for your body and the planet.

Eating with no restrictions for most of my life combined with a short attention span has resulted in a lack of interested towards my cooking lately. I was sick and tired of constantly eating plant based burgers every day. I was sick of opening and closing the fridge 5 times, thinking each time that something new would appear.

With summer comes inspiration. There is just something in the air other than pollen and blue skies. I cannot stress this enough, for people who live somewhere where the seasons do not exist, in Canada, summer is a breath of fresh air.

Zucchini noodles with fresh herbs, green peas, shallots. (Fun fact: I once had an idea for a fast food health chain called Impasta.)

I decided to shake my food up by going to summer markets, buying the most unique produce I could find, trying new restaurants. And I can confidently tell you, I feel invigorated.

My advice for anybody looking for a little excitement in their food is to step outside of your culinary comfort zone. Buy that weird looking veggie, order something you wouldn’t regularly order, explore recipes from other cultures and shop for vegetables in season from markets.

Here are some of the things I have been cooking and eating lately, maybe it’ll spark a little inspiration in you.

Veggie rice salad wraps. We picked up some ingredients from the market to make these bad boys. I love dipping them in peanut sauce.
Really rad radish sprouts we picked up at the Sudbury Downtown Market.
Colorful breakfast at Café bloom in Montreal.
Kombucha from Fous de l’ile in Montreal. Perfect summery drink.
Normally I hate the trendy avocado toasts, and kombucha etc, but this one from the Laughing Buddha in Sudbury is ridiculous. Avocado, crispy chickpeas, beet hummus, sunflower sprouts, spicy drizzle on top.
Finally, my own beet hummus, made with love.

Let’s cook like it’s summer

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What is happening in Canada? I gaze out my window this morning with a glimmer of hope.  The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the day has begun.  It is nearly the month of May, and from what I remember, year after year, May is the month of golf, apparitions of shorts, beer case sunglasses.

SO what do I spot when I walk out my door.  A snow bank.  Mocking me with a blank stare. I am upset.  I was just about to invite my friends to a cliff jumping and dockside beers.  But this unwanted couch surfer just keeps hanging on.  Let it go frosty, it’s summertime.

This why today, after a good day at my new job, I am not letting the weather bring me down. I am throwing my apron on, a warm sweater underneath, and I am kicking the grill on.

Here is my recipe for my grilled, lemony, veggie, lentil salad. This summery meal will leave you light on your feet and dreaming of warm days.  Don’t be afraid to pair it with your favorite cocktails and put on your favorite Hawaïn shirt.

What you’ll need

1 can of lentils

1 small sweet pepper

1 small zucchini

2 large tomatoes, or a handful of chopped cherry tomatoes

Olive oil

Salt, pepper

2 Tbsp of Zahtar spice mix

1 chili pepper, sliced

Half a red onion

Juice and zest lemon juice

A handful of feta (optional)

Chopped parsley and basil

How you’ll do it

  1. Open the can of lentils, drain and wash the lentils.
  2. Cover the zucchini’s with olive oil, salt, and pepper and grill them, until you notice nice char.
  3. Chop all ingredients, and mix together in a bowl.
  4. Zest lemon into the salad, top with herbs and feta.

*The Zahtar is what takes that salad to the next level.

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Let’s talk about the veggie bowl for a second

I usually hate food trends.  There’s nothing that boils my water more than lame avocado toast, displayed in all its glory.  One trend that I can’t help but love, are veggie bowls like this one.

The variety is endless.  Infinite combinations of root vegetables, nuts, pickled veggies, seaweed, avocado, etc. These can be piled on top of grains, rice, quinoa, barley.  It’s like a massive wardrobe of ingredients.  So when following a recipe, just know items can be mixed and matched.

Bowl basics

When composing your bowl, you just need to follow these basic rules, and it’ll be a successful meal. The number one rule for making your bowl is balancing the element of crunch, spicy, sweet, acidic and salty.  A crunch can be introduced to the bowl by adding crushed peanuts, pistachios, crushed tortilla chips, etc.

The sweet can be in the dressing.  For example, I like to make a tangy tahini and orange sauce top dress my bowl.

For an acidic punch, I love pickling root vegetables and onions. You can check out my pickling methods here: https://whatsyourdill.blog/2019/04/02/making-pickles-is-a-spiritual-experience/

In order to add some kick, I usually chop up a small chili and sprinkle it on top.  An easier option is to add a dash of hot sauce to some roasted Brussel sprouts or some stewed eggplants.

The next key is to choose a good base for the toppings. If you are looking for an earthy bowl, I recommend brown wild rice.  For a vessel to absorb big bold flavors, white Jasmin rice will do the trick.

The final key for an extravagant bowl of veggies is to add a little citrus and fresh herbs to make it look visually appealing and let the other flavors shine. I like to zest an orange, lime or lemon on the bowl just before serving.

Vegetarian recipes for when it rains

What do I do when it rains? The cliche of comfort food and rain pairing together is authentic for a reason. I can remember coming home to smelling heavy meaty stews, deep cooked spaghetti sauces, pork shoulders roasting slowly for hours.  Those dishes defined rainy days and comfort for my family.  Now that I am dabbling in the vegetarian diet, I’m designing recipes to mimic that level of reassurance during a downpour.

We need to first define what is comfort food? The term was first used in 1966, in an article by the Palm Beach Post.  It was defined as a recollection of pleasant childhood memories through food. The food brings you back to a place of security.  I guess that’s why we need these kinds of meals during shitty weather. For this recipe, I want anyone who makes it, to think of it as a beautiful culinary memory, for their future selves to feel comfort.  If that makes any sense at all.

Here is an interesting article by The Atlantic, discussing studies done on the psychology of comfort food.

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/04/why-comfort-food-comforts/389613/

So here is the recipe.

What you’ll need

1 can of chickpeas

1/2 cup of pasata (strained puréed tomatoes)

1 Spanish onion

1/4 cup of chopped fennel

3 chilies

1 clove garlic

2 tbsp olive oil

salt, pepper

Juice of one lemon

2 tbsp plain greek yogurt

1 bunch of cilantro

3 bay leaves

Pinches of cumin, chili powder, garlic powder

Bunch of spinach

How you’ll do it

  1. In a pan, add the olive oil, the diced onion, the garlic clove, and the fennel. Cook until the onions are translucent.
  2. Next add the spices, the bay leaves, and the chilies. Cook for 1 minute, just to toast the spices. Then add the tomato sauce.
  3. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the chickpeas, the lemon juice and a bit of olive oil.
  4. While this is cooking, in a bowl, whisk garlic powder, yogurt, olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
  5. Add the spinach to the chickpeas and mix together.  Plate the stew in a plate topped with cilantro and yogurt lemon crema.
  6. Do not forget to take out the bay leaves.

Disclaimer: It’s got some kick and heat, so beware.

Vegetarian chicken and waffles

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Savoury waffle with pulled King oyster mushrooms, mole sauce , corn and guac

I remember waking up every morning, early enough to hop on the school bus.  I would be at my kitchen table, watching the show Arthur on our 20-inch box television.  And on most mornings, this routine would include 2 frozen Eggo waffles getting popped into the toaster oven for a perfect golden brown tan.

Regardless of the quality of the breakfast, waffles remain on top of the food chain when it comes to culinary comfort. I decided to kick things up a notch with this recipe.  This will break the stigma that waffles are only to be paired with butter and maple syrup, or fried chicken.

This recipe is for a lazy Sunday morning, you wake up at 10, you stay in your pajamas all day, and you have no obligations but the bonding covenant of a comforting meal.

Here is a short video of how to make the recipe.  Directions will be right below.

What you will need

For the “chicken and mole sauce”

2 large King oyster mushrooms

salt, pepper

1/4 cup dark chocolate

2 jalapeño peppers

1 large sweet red pepper

1 onion

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp paprika

1/2 a soft corn tortilla

1/2 cup vegetable stock

juice of 1/2 a lime

2 cloves garlic

For the vegan waffle

1 and 1/2 a cup of all purpose flour

pinch of salt

Tbsp of sugar

splash of olive oil

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp chipotle flakes (or red pepper flakes)

1 1/2 cups of cashew milk

Toppings

Cilantro

1 avocado

1/2 a cup corn

1/4 cup of sunflower seeds

How you will do it

  1. Shred the oyster mushrooms with a fork until it resembles rotisserie chicken.  Toss in a bowl with salt and pepper.
  2. In a cast iron skillet, cook on high heat, the peppers, onion, garlic, and the corn, until they gain nice color.
  3. In a food processor, add the seared vegetables (except the corn), the chocolate, the spices, the garlic, the stock, the lime juice, the tortilla, and a little sugar and blend until it becomes a smooth sauce.
  4. Add the mushrooms into the skillet. Cook until tender. Then add sauce to mushrooms.  (You can always keep some of the sauce for later, to put on EVERYTHING)
  5. In one bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  In another, the wet ingredients.  Then slowly incorporate the wet into the dry. In a waffle iron, add the batter and cook for 5 minutes until ready.  The batter will make enough for 4 waffles
  6. Top the waffles with the mushroom and sauce, the corn, avocado, the cilantro.
  7. It is spectacular!

This is how you conquer the grill as a vegetarian

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Where I’m from, springtime is the boost of morale that every Canadian desperately needs after the everlasting dreary winter.  Spring means a few things, that weird smell born from the melting snow and the awakening of the earth, the unnecessary wearing of shorts and of course, barbecues.

As a vegetarian going through his first spring, I feared I would miss out on this fantastic tradition.  It’s really hard to get a satisfying taste of the charcoal, eating simply vegetables.  So I decided to design a recipe that captures the taste of the grill, the feel of springtime and a vegetable dish that stands up to any grilled meat dish.

What you will need

  • 2 large eggplants
  • 2 tablespoons of plant-based butter
  • 1 tsp of ginger
  • juice and zest from half a lime
  • 1 full lime
  • salt, pepper
  • fresh cilantro
  • crushed up sunflower seeds
  • Greek yogurt
  • hot sauce

How you will do it

  1. In a bowl, mix the cold butter with the grated ginger, lime zest, and juice.
  2. Cut the eggplants in halves.  Top with the compound butter.
  3. Add the lime to the grill, as well as the eggplant.
  4. After about 5 minutes on each side, they should be ready.
  5. Squeeze the grilled lime onto the eggplant.  Top with cilantro, and crushed seeds.
  6. Combine Greek yogurt with hot sauce, lime juice, and cilantro to make a dipping sauce.
  7. Enjoy!

Making pickles is a spiritual experience

I was once at a food festival in southern Ontario and I noticed this strange man in a tent, playing around with vegetables, jars, and bottles of vinegar. There was massive crowd standing in the pouring rain watching this bearded wizard of marination do what he does best.  So I had to witness excellence in motion.

I stood with the crowd as he explained the ins and outs of making the crunchiest, saltiest, best-tasting pickles.  Since that day, I have used these tricks for making HUGE amounts of snacks to decorate my fridge.  The jars are empty very very quickly.  I will share my own recipes for my crinkle cut golden pickle beets, and then I will share the wise bearded man’s tips and tricks. So here we go.

Golden beets crinkle cuts pickles

Ingredients

  1. 3 big golden beets
  2. Equal parts vinegar (I like apple cider vinegar) and equal parts water
  3. 1 tbsp salt
  4. 2 tbsp honey
  5. 1 tsp pickling spices (coriander seeds, fennel seeds, peppercorns, red pepper flakes (optional).
  6. 1 clove garlic

Wise bearded man’s tips and tricks

  1. Pickle ANY kind of vegetable that stays crisp. Example: Beets, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, turnips.
  2. When making the pickling liquid, add honey instead of sugar to the vinegar, water, spices, garlic clove.  Bring to a boil, just enough so the honey dissolves into the vinegar.
  3. Slice the vegetable with a crinkle cut mandolin.  The tip for the best tasting pickles is to salt them half an hour before you introduce them to the bath.  I don’t want to get into the science of osmosis, but water leaves the vegetable as its salinated.  When it meets the pickling liquid, it can absorb more of it.
  4. Add the crinkle cut beets to a mason jar, then add the liquid. Let that cool down before you put it in the fridge.  Once you do, you can keep it there for a while.
  5. You can eat these like crinkle cut chips, throw them on sandwiches, salads.

What to make for special occasions as a vegetarian – Sweet potato gnocchi

There’s nothing better than making a hot bowl of gnocchi for someone you care about.

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Cooking is always better with someone.  This is my brother and I making fresh pasta and gnocchi.

Choose someone you like, get in the kitchen and give them the plate of recognition they deserve.  Whether it’s a special occasion, a birthday or your average night, this is what I ALWAYS make. I last made this for my brother’s 19th birthday.  It was a raging success! But get ready for a good after meal snooze, giving the heaviness and richness of the dish. We sat down in front of the television, tuning in to the coverage of the World juniors hockey tournament, a birthday tradition.  I missed half the game creating these pillows of joy by hand, but it was worth it seeing the reactions while my family was indulging.

This recipe is generally healthy-ish, all plant-based and really, really good.  It is slightly labor heavy but so worth it, while simultaneously showing that person that you care.  Get ready to get your hands dirty making gnocchi.  Maybe pour yourself a glass of wine, go nuts.

What you will need

For the Gnocchi

2 large sweet potatoes

2 cups of flour ( 1 cup per large potato)

1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 small pinch of cardamom (if you have it)

Salt, pepper

For the sauce

1/2 cup of plant-based butter

1/2 cup of fresh sage

1 clove garlic

1/4 cup of white wine

salt, pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

Parmesan cheese (optional)

How you will do it

  1. Cube the potatoes and then in a pot of water, boil them in salt until tender.
  2. Mash the potatoes, add the spices and then let cool.
  3. Gradually combine the flour and the potato mixture until it forms a ball of dough that holds its form.  (If the dough is too soft, you can add more flour.  If the dough is too dry, add a little water).
  1. Cut the dough into 4.  Then start rolling the dough into long snakes. Cut the snakes into small bitesize pieces.  Then press them with a fork or a gnocchi board if you have one.
  2. In a saucepan, add the butter to brown.  After the butter turns to a nutty brown color, add the garlic and sage.  After 3-4 minutes, add the white wine and reduce until the alcohol has simmered out.
  3. Add the potato dumplings to a pot of boiling water for 3 minutes.  Take them out and toss them into the sauce.
  4. Cook the gnocchi in the sauce for 2 extra minutes.
  5. Plate the gnocchi, and add a squeeze of lemon juice on top, as well as the cheese.

There you have it.  An instant heartwarming classic. It will leave everyone eating it, just a little happier to be alive.