Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

This super-easy weeknight meal is healthy, cheap and filling. Cabbage leaves are boiled until soft and pliable, stuffed with a simple lentil-walnut “ground beef” and rice filling (though there’s a paleo variation, a nut-free variation and an even cheaper variation listed below), rolled up and smothered in tomato sauce, then baked. I ate these all the time while training for the Colfax Marathon because I needed hella nutrients but didn’t have as much time to cook for myself.

Yield: About 8 Servings

  • 1 medium/large head green cabbage, rinsed
  • 1 jar tomato-basil pasta sauce (for this recipe I like Simple Truth, which is Kroger’s generic organic brand*)
  • Roughly 3 cups cooked brown rice (can be leftover)
  • 1 1/4 cup green or brown lentils (or you can use 3 cups leftover cooked lentils)
  • 1 bouillon cube or 2 tsp Better than Bouillon
  • Roughly 1.5 cups walnuts, soaked for at least 2 hours or overnight
  • 1.5 tsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp tamari, soy sauce or liquid aminos
  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (the Kroger generic brand is vegan**)
  • 3/4 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 3/4 tsp black pepper
  • Optional: cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes or hot sauce to taste

Note: If you don’t have one or a couple of the seasoning ingredients, it’s not the end of the world. Just season the filling with what you have until it’s nice and savory and you’re happy with it. If you want to use oregano and basil instead of cumin and coriander, it’s your world.

  1. In a small, covered pot, bring 2.5 cups of water to a boil with the lentils and bouillon. Lower heat to medium and cook, covered, until lentils are soft but not mushy (about 20 minutes.) Remove lentils from pot and allow to cool
  2. In a large pot on high heat, boil roughly two quarts of water (or enough to cover the cabbage) with a teaspoon of salt. Cut around the core of the cabbage. You don’t have to cut the core out, but cut around it so that you can easily detach the leaves once they’re soft
  3. Once the water is boiling, add the whole cabbage. As the outer leaves cook and soften, gently detach them so that the leaves underneath can cook too. Once each leaf is soft and pliable, remove it from the water and drain in a colander
  4. Drain and thoroughly rinse the walnuts, then pulse in a food processor until broken into small crumbles. Add the cooled lentils and pulse until crumbly as well
  5. Empty the lentils, walnuts and rice into a large mixing bowl and mix together with all of the seasoning ingredients (chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, coriander, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, pepper and optional hot sauce/red pepper.) Taste and adjust to your liking
  6. Preheat your oven to 350F. Spread a large cabbage leaf out on a cutting board and cut out a triangle of the thick, stem-like piece at the bottom so that it’s easier to roll up. Spoon about three spoonfuls of filling into the middle of the leaf and roll up like a burrito or summer roll, tucking in the sides. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Repeat with each cabbage leaf until your filling is used up
  7. Spread about half the tomato sauce onto the bottom of a 9×13 baking pan. Place each cabbage roll into the pan- it’s fine to get them really crowded. Once your cabbage rolls are all packed into the pan, spread the rest of the tomato sauce on top
  8. Bake uncovered for about 25 minutes or until the tops of the rolls are wrinkly

Paleo Version: 

Use cauliflower rice and substitute soaked sunflower seeds and/or pumpkin seeds for the lentils. Use coconut aminos instead of soy sauce

Nut-Free Version:

Substitute soaked sunflower seeds and/or pumpkin seeds for the walnuts

Cheaper Version:

Omit the walnuts and just use all lentils

 

 

 

*if you want to make your tomato sauce from scratch, knock yourself out

**I’m not in any way affiliated with or compensated by Kroger or any affiliated brand, I just recommend some of their products because they’re on the affordable end of the spectrum and fairly widespread across the US.

Cooking Vegan with a Peanut/Tree Nut Allergy

Cooking Vegan with a Peanut/Tree Nut Allergy

I’ve had a number of people ask recently about plant-based cooking without peanuts and tree nuts. I typically rely heavily on soaked walnuts, cashews and almonds as whole, versatile means of adding meatiness and creaminess to dishes- not to mention as healthy sources of of fat and protein- and I use peanut butter and almond milk like there’s no tomorrow. So secretly, I used to get really stumped and panicky when I couldn’t use those tools. It turns out, though, that there are a lot of options when it comes to accommodating for these allergies. 

Of course, if you’re only allergic to one or a couple kinds of nuts, feegl free to rely on the ones you can eat (including unconventional kinds like brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, etc.)  But if you can’t have any at all, here’s a handy guide to the alternatives, with lots of links to great vegan and nut-free recipes.

Dressings/Sauces/Creamy Elements

Coconut milk (from a can)/coconut cream/coconut meat*– Great for sauces, puddings, soups, curries and desserts. It does carry a slight coconutty flavor, but not to an overpowering degree.

Avocado–  Great for dressings, puddings and to blend with cilantro, salt and lime and drizzle over tacos. Google “vegan avocado dressing” for delicious ideas. Just note that that avocado has a very short shelf life, so anything you use it in will need to be consumed within a few days.

Unsweetened soy or coconut yogurt– A versatile and creamy base for dressings, sauces, curries and desserts. You can make it yourself out of just two ingredients with this method.

Hemp seeds (aka hemp hearts)– So healthy and so good for blending into pesto, dressings and sauces.

Nutritional Yeast– This stuff is an amazing source of vitamin B-12 and lends a wonderful cheesy flavor to sauces and dressings.

Olive Oil– While not the healthiest option on the list, oil can add creaminess to sauces and even ice cream (vegan chef superstar and cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz uses olive oil for her restaurants’ ice cream recipes.)

Tahini (sesame seed  paste)– Tahini is a little bitter but very creamy and otherwise fairly neutral-flavored. The bitterness can easily be cut with an acid like lemon juice and/or a little bit of sweetness, then combined with other flavors and ingredients. It’s great for thick, creamy sauces and dressings (and even baked goods!) Most affordably found at Trader Joe’s.

Sunbutter (like peanut butter but made from sunflower seeds)– This stuff is cheaper than almond butter and has a nice neutral flavor and creaminess that works very well in sauces (this one too) and baked goods.

Silken tofu– If your digestive system can get down with processed soy (no shame if that’s the case!), you can blend this into creamy sauces, dressings and baked goods (omit the almond extract on this last recipe obviously.) It works well as a binder and thickener. Just to make sure to use lots of seasonings and other ingredients to cover up its blandness.

Aquafaba (chickpea brine)– This is seriously just the liquid you strain from a can of chickpeas, and it’s shockingly great for puddings, mousses, meringues, dressings and sauces. It’s neutral-flavored and can add an element of thickness or an element of fluffiness when whipped.

Chao Cheese– This nut-free store-bought vegan cheese (most commonly found in slices) is convenient, and I always hear that it’s actually good.

Meaty Elements

Great for chili, tacos, stuffed veggies, burgers, pasta sauces, lasagna fillings, etc.

Soaked  raw sunflower seeds and/or soaked raw pumpkin seeds– these are pretty interchangeable except for the fact that you’ll need to soak the pumpkin seeds a little longer than the sunflower seeds. You can substitute either or both of these for just about any recipe that uses walnuts as a meaty element (typically in “ground beef” contexts.) Soak them for a few hours or overnight, rinse them, pulse them in a food processor, then season and use them however you like. Raw, paleo, protein-rich and hearty. Check out this sunflower seed cheese recipe!

Lentils– I typically use a combination of soaked walnuts and cooked green/brown lentils to grind up as a substitute for ground beef. However, it’s fine to either substitute the walnuts with sunflower or pumpkin seeds or just use lentils. Cook them up with some veggie broth, pulse them in the food processor once they’re cool, then season and use them however you like. Or make this fantastic, easy taco recipe.

Milks

Each of these has a different flavor and different ideal usage, so try out multiple if you can and see which work best for you

Coconut milk*– this comes in can form and carton form. The carton version is watered down and homogenized, making it better for things like pouring over cereal, adding into smoothies and drinking straight from the glass (or the carton, if you’re me at 3am.) Coconut milk in a can is thicker and creamier with all that good natural fat from the coconut cream (although there are ‘lite’ versions as well), so it’s best for curries, sauces and puddings.

Oat milk– Not easy to find in stores, but very easy and cheap to make at home. Here are some recipes.

Rice milk– Fairly thin and watery (though maybe the homemade versions aren’t?), but can be really nice for horchata, cereal and smoothies. Rice Dream is the popular commercial brand.

Soy milk– If your body doesn’t do well with processed soy this isn’t the option for you, but some people do just fine with it and love the flavor. It’s moderately thick and creamy despite not having a high fat content, so it’s especially good in coffee and espresso drinks. It’s also the most common non-dairy milk to find in stores.

Flax milk– Rich in omegas and also easy to make at home

Quinoa milk– Go figure, you can make a protein-rich non-dairy milk out of quinoa.

Hemp milk– This omega-3 powerhouse can actually be found in some stores, but you can make it at home too.

Sunflower milk– I didn’t even know this was a thing, but lo and behold, sunflower milk is packed with selenium, magnesium and vitamin E.

 

 

*Technically coconut is a tree nut, but it’s very rare that people with nut allergies are allergic to coconut as well

For more info, check out this article and/or comment with your questions!

 

Japchae: Korean Marinated Glass Noodles with Vegetables

Japchae: Korean Marinated Glass Noodles with Vegetables

I don’t want to talk about how summer is ending, but I do want to talk about how this is the perfect late summer meal.

japchae 3

Delicious when served hot, room temperature or cold, japchae is made with sweet potato glass noodles called dangmyun that you can find at your local Asian market (or online.) The noodles soak in a savory-sweet marinade before being joined by meaty, umami marinated mushrooms and individually-sauteed veggies. Although each component is simple to prepare, this has always been among my top two best-selling dishes. If you’ve never tried Korean food before, japchae is a phenomenal introduction.

Note: It looks like a lot more ingredients than it is because there are duplicates between the marinades.

japchae 2

Yield: 10 servings

  • 12 oz dangmyun (Korean sweet potato glass noodles)
  • 1 lb mushrooms (ideally shiitake, but crimini or oyster will work), thoroughly washed and thinly sliced (including stems)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 4 oz (about 2 packed cups) fresh spinach, washed
  • 1 yellow onion (optional), julienned
  • Olive oil, refined coconut oil or vegetable oil for sauteing

Spinach Marinade:

Noodle Marinade:

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce or tamari (coconut aminos if you’re paleo, but PSA it won’t be as good)
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp agave (maple syrup if you’re paleo)
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar (coconut sugar if you’re paleo)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

Mushroom Marinade:

  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari (coconut aminos if you’re paleo)
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp agave (maple syrup if you’re paleo)

To Garnish:

  • Sesame seeds
  1. Mix together mushroom marinade ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Add mushrooms, mix thoroughly and set aside
  2. In a large pot, bring about two quarts of water to a boil. Add noodles and stir occasionally until noodles are bouncy and al dente- don’t let them get completely soft and mushy
  3. Drain noodles and rinse in cold water. Using kitchen scissors, cut noodles to about 8 inches so that they’re not too long
  4. Transfer noodles to a large bowl. Mix noodle marinade ingredients and add in with the noodles, mixing gently until fully incorporated
  5. In your pot, bring about 5 cups of water to a boil. Add spinach and cook just for about 30 seconds or until soft and wilted. Quickly drain and cool with cold running water
  6. Squeeze out as much water as possible from the spinach, then thoroughly mix in the sesame oil, salt and garlic. I really recommend sauteing the garlic first, but it’s optional and not traditional
  7. Heat a skillet to medium heat, drizzle a little oil onto the pan and saute your carrots. Once they’re al dente but not too soft, remove and set aside. Then do the same for your bell peppers
  8. If adding onion, saute your onion on medium heat just like you did the carrots and bell peppers. You don’t have to use the method this time, you can just get the onions lightly golden-brown. Remove onions from pan and set aside
  9. With your skillet still on medium heat, drizzle about a teaspoon more oil onto the pan and then add your mushrooms. Stir frequently as the excess water evaporates to keep the sugars in the marinade from sticking to the pan and burning. Cook until the mushrooms have browned and have a meaty bite to them
  10. If desired, stir-fry your marinated noodles on the skillet for a minute or two, or leave uncooked
  11. Mix mushrooms, carrots, spinach, bell pepper and (optional) onion in with the noodles
  12. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve

japchae components

Shortcuts you can take that won’t ruin the dish:

  • Not including the onion- it’s not a dealbreaker for the flavor or texture
  • Not stir-frying the noodles at the end

Shortcuts that definitely will ruin the dish:

  • Sauteing all your veggies at the same time- with a lot of Korean dishes, especially this one, it is crucial to saute each vegetable individually so that each one gets just the right texture and flavor
  • Using trash garlic

japchae 1

Enjoy your japchae and take care of each other out there, friends

 

Pastelón de Platano Maduro: Dominican Lasagna

Pastelón de Platano Maduro: Dominican Lasagna

Usually when I think of casseroles, I think of things like tuna, mayonnaise, cream of mushroom/chicken/celery/Satan soup… I can’t say I’ve ever heard the word “casserole” and thought “yum.”

(I probably just offended the entire Midwest and everyone who has ever been to a church picnic- my apologies.)

But every once in a while I’m reminded that there really are delicious dishes out there that are technically casseroles: Palestinian maqloubeh, Ashkenazi kugel, and this beauty known as pastelón. This is essentially Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic’s upgrade of lasagna; with alternating layers of ripe plantain, creamy cashew cheese and a lentil-walnut “ground beef” filling sautéed with onions, garlic and tomato sauce, it’s the ultimate combination of sweet and savory.

pastelon 1

Important note: there are two ways you can prepare the plantains: boiled and mashed or cut into thin strips and pan-fried. The mashed version gets spread into the pan in layers and the pan-fried version gets layered into the pan like lasagna noodles. It’s up to your preference.

Pastelon (Puerto Rican Lasagna)
photo from http://thenoshery.com/pastelon-sweet-plaintain-lasagna/
Masa-para-juju
photo from http://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/juju-green-plantain-and-cheese-balls

Yield: 7-9 servings

For the filling:

  • 1.5 cup raw walnuts, soaked for at least 2 hours or overnight, drained
  • 1.5 cup uncooked green or brown lentils
  • 3 cups water+ bouillon (I highly recommend this stuff and this stuff, both of which you can both find in many grocery stores) or 3 cups veggie broth
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 2.5 cups tomato sauce (from a jar is fine)
  • 1/3 cup sliced black olives (optional)

For the cashew cheese*:

  • 2 cups raw cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours or overnight, drained
  • juice of one large lemon
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the plantains:

  • 6 ripe plantains
  • If pan-frying: Canola, soybean, vegetable or refined coconut oil
  • If mashing: 3 Tbsp vegan butter (Earth Balance, Miyoko’s, etc.) or olive oil
  • If mashing: 1 tsp salt for boiling
  • If mashing: Water for boiling

To garnish:

  • Chopped cilantro

 

  1. Cook your lentils. Throw the lentils into a covered pot on high heat with in 3 cups of broth or water with bouillon. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Set aside to cool
  2. If mashing your plantains: peel them, chop them into large chunks and place them into a large pot of boiling water with 1tsp salt. Allow them to boil until they’re very soft and mash-able. Drain, mash in a large bowl with butter and 1tsp salt platano 2
  3. If pan-frying your plantains: Heat a large skillet or a griddle to medium-high. Peel your plantains, slice them in half and then into long, thin strips. Coat your skillet/griddle with a thin layer of oil and fry until they just begin to brown. Flip and repeat on the other side, adding a little more oil if necessary
  4. Make your cashew cheese: blend cashews, salt, water, lemon juice and olive oil in a blender or with an immersion blender. If you have a Vitamix, you may not need to add all that water, but if you have a mediocre blender you may need more water in order to get a smooth consistency
  5. In a food processor, pulse your walnuts until broken up into crumbles. Add your lentils and pulse until broken into crumbles as well
  6. Make your filling: Saute your onions like so until they’re golden-brown, then add your garlic. Once your garlic just begins to turn golden, add your bell peppers and saute until soft. Add the lentils, walnuts, tomato sauce, raisins, olives (optional) and mix thoroughly
  7. Grease a 9×13 casserole dish and preheat your oven to 375 (350 if your oven runs hot and/or you’re at lower altitude)
  8. Layer everything: Spread or layer a third of your plantains on the bottom of your pan. Cover with a third of the filling mixture. Spread or layer another third of your plantains on top of the filling, followed by half of your cashew cheese and another layer of filling. Add your final layer of plantains and top with the rest of your cashew cheese. Bake until golden-brown on top
  9. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve

*If you want a shortcut, you can use a storebought vegan cheese like Miyoko’s, Treeline, Kite Hill or Chao. Just don’t use Daiya because it will ruin your food.

pastelon 3

The Dealbreaker Technique

The Dealbreaker Technique

I wasn’t sure how to make this post not sound like clickbait, because it really is the #1 biggest secret, dealbreaker and tool for success in my cooking. I’ve talked about this a little with the barbecue sauce, but it’s a technique deserves being explained in detail, particularly the way the salt is used.

At least 90% of my savory dishes start out the same way: onions go into the pan to get sauteed, followed by garlic. This is the foundation of nearly every savory flavor profile in my kitchen; the cooked onions and garlic give beautiful depth and create a base that hold the rest of the flavors together. This is nothing revolutionary- professional chefs and amateur home cooks saute garlic and onions all the time. But how you do it makes all the difference, and it’s something that even most professionals don’t do very well. 

Onions are great raw (with all that sharpness and crunch), and they’re great fully cooked (with all that savory-sweet depth and richness), but they’re pretty gross in the in-between stage. Believe it or not, onions contain natural sugars. And when your onions have just been cooked for a couple minutes and are in that limp-and-translucent stage (which is the stage many recipes tell you to cook them to), those natural sugars haven’t had a chance to caramelize and develop into that rich, savory, smooth depth.

Onions also contain a lot of water, and that water both inhibits the caramelization of the sugars and keeps your onions really unpleasantly mushy.

Most people (including professionals) don’t cook their onions long enough to develop the sugars or sweat out all the excess water, and that’s simply because of the time it takes. And I get it, nobody wants to spend more than a couple minutes on something as mundane as cooking onions and garlic. But while it does take much longer to do it right, it doesn’t necessarily add to your total cook time because you can use that idle time between stirs to prep the rest of your ingredients. 

Ingredients:

  • onions (preferably yellow)
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • garlic

Step 1: Prep your onions. How many depends on your dish and your batch size, and how you cut them depends on what you’re making as well. Generally, you’re going to want to dice your onions in most cases, but if they’re going into a sauce or something that will get blended up, you can rough chop or slice them (as shown in the pictures below)

Step 2: Heat a pan on medium heat. Don’t add oil to the pan, just let it heat up.

Step 3: Once your pan is hot, add your onions and your salt. Do not add oil. I generally sprinkle in about 1/2 tsp of salt for one onion, but this is flexible. Because I use salt in cooking the onions, I generally don’t add any more salt later on in the recipe unless it tastes like it needs it. Stir thoroughly so that the salt coats the onions; this will draw that excess water out of the onions, which is crucial.

 

IMG_20170712_160408_799
onions freshly dropped into the pan and coated in salt

Stir occasionally, allowing the water to sweat out and evaporate.

IMG_20170712_160411_471
starting to get to the “flaccid and transluscent” stage

Step 5: After the excess water has been sweated out and the onions are beginning to stick to the pan, stir in your oil (finally.) I generally add about a 3/4 teaspoon for one onion. You basically want to go as long as possible before adding the oil, because the oil coats the onions and forms a barrier that inhibits the water from sweating out.

IMG_20170712_160414_077
just before adding the oil

Stir occasionally as the onions continue to cook for a while

IMG_20170712_160417_228
about a minute after the oil was added

Keep stirring occasionally, keep letting them cook. If at any point you get a bunch of residue building up on your pan, you can de-glaze by moving the onions aside and pouring a little bit of water directly onto the residue. The water will release all those caramelized sugars from the pan and re-coat the onions with them, making them more delicious.

IMG_20170712_160419_628
still not done yet…

Step 6: Once they’re really deeply golden, you can either keep going and cook them until they’re a deep brown color or you can finally call it a day and add your minced garlic*. When your garlic goes in, make sure it cooks until it starts to turn golden-brown too. This won’t take nearly as long as your onions, but the half-cooked stage is gross for garlic too, so it’s important to make sure it’s also cooked fully.

IMG_20170712_160036_904
ya done.

 

 

*In terms of garlic, I highly highly highly recommend using the fresh stuff rather than the pre-minced stuff that comes in a jar with oil. (I call this “trash garlic” because it tastes like trash.) I know that mincing garlic is a pain, but there are a lot of other shortcuts that won’t ruin the flavor of your whole dish like trash garlic will. If you want to make it a little easier on yourself, you can usually get pre-peeled bulbs of fresh garlic in the store that taste fine. In my kitchen, I have a mini food processor that I got for cheap and use just for mincing garlic, ginger and jalapenos- it lives right next to my cutting board and saves me a ton of time.