Friday, July 15, 2011

speedy vegan?

I was originally going to title the post "Speed Vegan" but I didn't want it to be confused with the cookbook by the same name.  Although I sure would enjoy the SEO hits that may result from such a clever title, I don't want to be the cause of all the disappointment people would feel upon discovering this was not an associated blog.

However, I do want to share with you one of my cookbook gems: Vegetarian Times Fast and Easy.  This is a pretty good book - a lot of recipes are surprisingly tasty.  That truly was not intended to be the backhanded compliment it looks like.  What I mean is that some of the recipes combine bizarre (and sometimes difficult-to-find) ingredients but it always comes out well.  Other recipes you can look at and just know they'll be great.  I enjoy the first kind - I love being surprised by dinner.  This is actually pretty funny, considering what a picky eater I was as a child and how I hated to "try new things."

A few nights ago, I made one of the latter - an old, faithful standby, Tuscan Vegetable Ragout.

It's an incredible melange of crunchy, creamy, squishy, and squeaky.  Squeaky?  Well, yes - haven't you ever noticed how sometimes artichoke hearts make a squeaky sound?  You'll notice now.

Anyway, there are general ingredients - white beans, tomatoes, zucchini, artichoke hearts - which make up the standard Italian cuisine base, wouldn't you say?  Then there are embellishments, just like a good opera. [If I could take a brief detour: through my adolescence, I was trained as a classical vocalist.  One of my favorite things about Italian music was the Aria - the purpose of an aria is to showcase the ethereal voice and undeniable talent of, normally, a soprano.  As luck would have it, that was the part I sang.  The structure of an aria is similar to a canon in instrumental music - you start with a simple theme, but then to "show off" you sing through the exact same tune a second time but with wild - yet tasteful and perfectly articulated - ornamentation.  I am not saying that I fulfilled all the lovely descriptions I just gave of the Diva, but I did adore singing the second round of an aria.]

In Tuscan Vegetable Ragout, the ornaments take the form of cubed smoked tofu, sliced kalamata olives, and occasionally small pasta.  I skipped the pasta this time around because I felt like the menu was already quite noodle-heavy, so I served it on brown basmati instead.

The flavors of the various parts combine into a mouthful that is at once sweet (from the artichokes and tofu) and a bit savory (from the tomato-drenched beans and zucchini) with the satisfying crunch of zucchini combined with the smoothness of creamy cannellini beans.  There is nothing outstanding about this dish other than how perfectly its parts come together to make a whole.

Tonight's dinner, on the other hand, was quite outstanding, flavor-wise.  Tonight I made Singapore-Style Noodles with All That Other Stuff.  I nearly forgot how stirfries worked, which is amusing to me as they were all I did know how to do before I learned to cook.

I have gotten so used to chop-as-you-cook recipes that when I know I'm making a time-saver, I tend to automatically go to that.  You cannot pull of a successful stirfry this way.  No, fortunately, I remembered just in time that you really do need to prep all of the ingredients before you heat the oil.

This required 4 prep bowls, 2 knives, 2 measuring spoons, 2 measuring cups, and 1 whisk to accomplish, but I did pull it off and the result was terrific.  Love at first bite for Mister.

Me?  Well, it bit me.  Does it look tasty?  It totally is.  Does it look spicy?  It definitely is.  Furthermore, it's that sneaky spicy that doesn't hit you at first and then all of a sudden you're like "holy cow, my mouth is on fire!"  This should have been obvious as I was whisking nearly a tablespoon of curry powder and a teaspoon of harissa into the sauce, but it wasn't really.  I'm still stupidly brave about both of those ingredients and continue to forget how much harissa especially likes to kick me in the throat halfway through my meal.

It was absolutely worth it, though - I could only handle one bowl.  Mister had plenty of time to plow enthusiastically through two bowls while making mean jokes about dinner eating me.  He also had a good laugh as I tried to cool my burning tongue and lips by unwrapping the last Li'l Dreamer and pressing it to my tongue, which was sticking out through my lips.

Hey, ya know what?  I may have looked like a doofus, but it worked.  And it was delicious.

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