Friday, November 27, 2009

Starring Vegan Planet

So Robin Robertson's Vegan Planet is definitely my favorite cookbook these days. The sheer volume of excellent recipes that are neither overly fussy nor obvious (like macro cookbooks for "steamed broccoli"), and the huge range in flavors and influences, are truly superb.

Vegan versions of traditional Thanksgiving fare usually tend towards tvp, tofu, and/or lackluster imitations of meat-based dishes. I went for these Middle Eastern dishes because--like in Thanksgiving food--there's a tendency to mix sweet and savory flavors. As an interesting side note, this Thanksgiving ended up being completely soy-free, except for the miso in the sauce for the greens. Now, I adore miso and tempeh, and I'd be lost without EarthBalance for baking, but it is interesting that we ended up with a feast that felt balanced without soy. The reason? Sooo many nuts. Almonds in the chickpea stew, walnuts all over the eggplant dish, tahini all over the place, and almonds in the ill-fated whipped topping. This made for a rather rich as well as balanced meal. Interestingly, this meal also ended up incorporating a lot of nightshade-family vegetables (tomato, peppers, eggplant), which I usually avoid since they are inflammatory and not incredibly nutritious. But it was a special occasion.

I'd made the Chickpea and Green Bean Tagine from Vegan Planet one time before, and I really liked its use of cinnamon, almonds, and lemon zest--a more interesting version of the ubiquitous Middle Eastern chickpea stew. However, I overdid it on the tomatoes this time, and I think the dish suffered because of it. The stew already calls for a considerable amount of dried fruit, and the overabundance of canned tomatoes made it a bit too syrupy and tomatoey.

The Turkish-Style Stuffed Eggplant with Walnut Sauce, on the other hand, was incredible. This walnut sauce, which contains onion, turmeric, ground walnuts, stock, tomato paste, brown sugar, pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and salt and pepper, was like nothing I'd ever tasted. Tangy (due to the juices), yet meaty (due to the walnuts especially). I swore it tasted like a really classy sloppy joe, but was outvoted by my guests--and after all, I probably haven't had a sloppy joe in six years. The eggplants are stuffed with a mixture of onion, eggplant, bell peppers, rice, more walnuts, and fresh mint and parsley. I think the amount of fresh herbs could easily be doubled.

One thing that was nice about the eggplant dish and the roasted green dish was that I was able to prepare them ahead of time, place them in baking dishes, and then pop them both in the oven for about 15 minutes right before eating. I did the pie first thing in the morning, so the only other dish to worry about was the tagine.

Chickpea and Green Bean Tagine
(from Vegan Planet)

1 1/2 c mixed dried fruit
1 TB olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp allspice
*at least* 8 oz green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-in pieces
*less than* 14.5 oz diced tomatoes, undrained
1 1/2 c stock
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper
1 1/2 c cooked or canned chickpeas
1/4 c slivered blanched almonds
2 TB minced fresh parsley
*at least* 1 tsp grated lemon zest

1. Soak dried fruit in boiling water for 20 min. Drain and chop.
2. In large pot, saute onions in olive oil (5 min). Add garlic and spices. Add green beans, tomatoes and juice, stock, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and simmer about 20 min.
3. Add fruit and chickpeas. Cook 5-10 min. Just before serving, stir in almonds, parsley, and lemon zest, and season to taste.


Turkish-Style Stuffed Eggplant with Walnut Sauce
(from Vegan Planet)


2 eggplants, halved lengthwise
3 TB olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 c ground walnuts, divided
1 c stock
salt and pepper
2 TB tomato paste
1/4 c brown sugar
1/4 pomegranate juice
2 TB fresh lemon juice
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 c cooked basmati rice
2-4 TB minced fresh mint leaves
2-4 TB minced fresh parsley

1. Bake eggplant face down on an oiled baking sheet at 400* for about 15 min.
2. When eggplants are cool enough, scoop out insides, leaving 1/4-in shells intact. Coarsely chop the eggplant flesh and reserve.
3. Heat 1 TB olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add half of the onion, cook until softened. Add turmeric, half of the nuts, stock, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low heat and simmer about 15 minutes until sauce begins to thicken.
4. In a separate bowl, combine tomato paste, sugar, and juices, and blend well. Add to sauce and simmer on very low heat.
5. Heat remaining olive oil in a large skillet. Saute remaining onion and bell pepper and cook until softened. Add eggplant and salt and pepper to taste and continue cooking about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and combine with rice, remaining nuts, and herbs.
6. Place eggplant shells in an oiled baking dish and stuff the shells with the mixture. Bake about 15-20 minutes. Top with walnut sauce.

Either my guests were conservative in their sauce consumption, or this recipe made far too much sauce for the eggplants. Not that this is a problem. I'm going to be putting this delicious sauce on everything for the next two weeks.

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