Vegan Eggplant & Zucchini Gratin

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Oh how I love me a good tater. However, since I’ve been on my new diet, the humble potato and I just haven’t been spending a whole lot of time together. Don’t get me wrong, I still love ’em and allow myself one every now and then, but I just can’t eat them day in and day out like I used to. #SadFace

When I’m craving a potato-based dish but really can’t do it with potatoes, I start to get creative -that’s how this recipe was born. A couple weeks ago I randomly started thinking about gratin potatoes and how much I had hated them as a kid. That led into me realizing that I actually hadn’t had them since I was a kid and that perhaps I should give them a try with my now fully grown palate. After convincing myself that this needed to happen, I then worked out which other veggies I could substitute in place of the potatoes. I ended up using eggplant and zucchini and do you know what happened when I ate some of my eggplant and zucchini gratin? I struggled to figure out why I didn’t like that shit as a kid because it’s really good -even without my most beloved vegetable in it.

It all gets started with the making of a Mornay sauce -that’s just the technical name for a roux-based sauce that has cheese (in this case vegan “cheese) added to it. Vegan “butter” gets melted down over low-med. heat and then flour gets added. Once the “butter” and flour start to look a little foamy, unsweetened almond milk is added and the mixture is brought to a boil. After a few minutes, the heat gets turned down and the seasonings go in. Then comes the “cheese” -Daiya “Mozzarella” shreds this time. You’ll whisk until smooth then set your Mornay sauce aside until we’re ready for it.

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Okay, time to prep the eggplant and zucchini! Each gets washed and then, using the 3.5mm blade on a mandoline slicer, each gets cut up into slices. Just a quick word of advice about this step: I like to cut the stem ends off of the eggplant and the zucchini and then cut each veg in half before I put them on the mandoline. This works out much better because then I’m working with more manageable chunks and not big long wibbly-wobbly pieces.

After you’ve sliced the eggplant, take a knife and cut the circles into 3 even wedge-shaped sections so that the eggplant slices are closer to the size of the zucchini slices.

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Finally, it’s time to assemble our gratin. Generously “butter” a medium sized, circular or oval, shallow baking dish (mine was an oval roughly 10 inches by 8 inches). Alternating the eggplant and zucchini, lay the pieces in the dish so that they’re at about a 60-degree angle from the bottom of the baking dish. (For those of you who are angle challenged, all this means is don’t be layin’ the pieces flat in the dish but don’t have them sticking straight up and down either.) You’ll be working the pieces around the edge of the dish and then creating concentric circles inward until you reach the center where you’ll just fill the middle however is best for your dish.

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Next, pour the Mornay sauce over the vegetable slices being sure to make your way around the dish as you’re pouring rather than dumping it all into the center. Grab a spoon or a spatula and push the sauce around, where needed, so that the vegetable slices are nearly completely covered with the sauce. Wrap the dish tightly with foil then pop it into a preheated oven for 50 minutes.

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After 50 minutes, remove the dish from the oven and, using tongs or an oven mitt, remove the foil from the dish. Generously sprinkle the top of the gratin with some vegan shaker-style “Parmesan” and then put it back in the oven, uncovered, and broil until gloriously golden brown.

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When done, let the gratin sit for about 15 minutes before you serve it.

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Vegan Eggplant & Zucchini Gratin

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 80 minutes
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Credit: Compassion is the Secret Ingredient, http://www.citsiblog.com

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegan “butter” + more for greasing dish
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 2-3 garlic cloves + 1/2 teaspoon salt, mashed together to create a paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 cup Daiya “Mozzarella” shreds
  • 3-4 medium zucchini
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1/2-3/4 cup vegan shaker-style “Parmesan”

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a medium sized, circular or oval, shallow baking dish by greasing it generously with “butter.” In a medium sized saucepan over low-med. heat, melt 2 tablespoons “butter.” Once melted, add in flour and stir to combine. When the mixture starts to look foamy and light brown, add in almond milk and increase the heat to bring it all to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. After 3 minutes, reduce the heat to low and add in the garlic cloves you mashed into a paste with salt. Also add in the dried thyme, paprika, sugar, white pepper, nutmeg, and celery seed. Stir to combine. Next, dump in the “Mozzarella” and whisk until smooth. Turn off the heat and let the sauce rest for a moment until we’re ready for it.
  3. Using the 3.5mm blade on a mandoline slicer, cut the eggplant and the zucchini into slices. (Just a quick word of advice about this step: I like to cut the stem ends off of the eggplant and the zucchini and then cut each veg in half before I put them on the mandoline. This works out much better because then I’m working with more manageable chunks and not big long wibbly-wobbly pieces.) After you’ve sliced the eggplant, take a knife and cut the circles into 3 even wedge-shaped sections so that the eggplant slices are closer to the size of the zucchini slices.
  4. Alternating the eggplant and zucchini, lay the pieces into your prepared dish so that they’re at about a 60-degree angle from the bottom of the dish. (For those of you who are angle challenged, all this means is don’t be layin’ the pieces flat in the dish but don’t have them sticking straight up and down either.) Work the pieces around the edge of the dish and then repeat to create concentric circles inward until you reach the center where you’ll just fill the middle however is best for your dish. (For my dish, I just did a straight line in the the center.)
  5. Pour the sauce you made earlier over the vegetable slices being sure to make your way around the dish as you’re pouring rather than dumping it all into the center. Grab a spoon or a spatula and push the sauce around, where needed, so that the vegetable slices are nearly completely covered with the sauce. Wrap the dish tightly with foil then bake it for 50 minutes.
  6. After 50 minutes, remove the dish from the oven and, using tongs or an oven mitt, carefully remove the foil from the dish. Generously sprinkle the top of the gratin with vegan shaker-style “Parmesan” then put it back in the oven, uncovered, and broil until golden brown -about 2 or 3 minutes. When done, allow gratin to rest for about 15 minutes before serving. Gratin will keep in an airtight container in fridge for up to 3 days.

Vegan Quick & Easy Creamy Tomato Soup

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There are a lot of people in this world who only think of soup as being for the fall and winter, and I totally get that. There is nothing better than being all cozied up on the couch with a chill in the air and a big ol’ bowl of comforting soup in your hands. However, I’m not one of these people who saves soup making just for the colder months. I love soup even in the depths of summer and there’s one soup in particular that I’ve been craving as of late and that’s tomato soup.

When it comes to tomato soup there are a few different ways to make it but my favorite way is creamy. Creamy tomato soup is the best for 3 reasons: 1) it’s generally a little less acidic, 2) it has more flavor and a better texture, and 3) it’s prettier -because who the fuck doesn’t want their food to be pretty? #AmIRight

Now, my creamy tomato soup has an additional reason why you should love it and that is that it’s super quick and easy to make. It all gets started with you dumping a big can of San Marzano tomatoes, along with a few other things, into a medium or large pot over medium-high heat. Why San Marzano’s in particular? San Marzano tomatoes are less seedy and less acidic than other tomato varieties. Plus they sound fancy… should that be something you’re concerned with, I mean.

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You’re going to bring the tomato mixture to a boil then, once boiling, continue to boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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After 5 minutes, you’ll add in the rest of the ingredients including the 3 things that make this tomato soup creamy -“mozzarella” shreds, “sour cream,” and almond milk. Give the whole thing a good stir, pop the cover on, and then reduce the heat to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally just as you did before.

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The final step before serving requires an immersion blender (also called a hand blender or stick blender). Carefully, because we’re dealing with hot liquids here, pulse the immersion blender throughout the soup, especially over tomato or garlic clumps, until everything is smooth.

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Once all smoothed out, serve alone or with crusty bread, a grilled cheese (made vegan, of course), or topped with a little more “mozzarella” or some croutons. Also try this soup cold from the fridge -it’s quite refreshing that way.

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Vegan Quick & Easy Creamy Tomato Soup

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Time: 30 minutes
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Credit: Compassion is the Secret Ingredient, http://www.citsiblog.com

Ingredients

  • 1 (28-ounce) can of San Marzano peeled, whole tomatoes with basil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cup Daiya “Mozzarella” shreds
  • 1/2 cup vegan “sour cream”
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon vegan “butter”
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

Directions

  1. In a medium or large pot over medium-high heat, combine tomatoes with tomato paste, olive oil, salt, sugar, black pepper, thyme, and onion powder. Bring to boil then, when boiling, continue to boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add in the remaining ingredients, give the whole thing a good stir, then place a cover on the pot and reduce the heat to simmer for 20 minutes, again, stirring occasionally.
  3. After 20 minutes and with the heat turned off, use an immersion blender to smooth out the soup. Carefully pulse the immersion blender throughout the soup, especially over tomato or garlic clumps, until smooth then serve. Soup will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 days.

 

Vegan “Cheesy” Black Bean Tofu Scramble

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I’M BACK!!!

(Cue the hysterical screaming!)

I have had quite the little break. If you recall, this whole time away thing started because my doctor put me on a really strict diet for weight loss in an attempt to get my chronic illnesses (mostly female-related issues) under control. Well, as it turned out, that really strict diet was basically controlled starvation and, just so we’re clear, my doctor told me upfront that it would be a challenging diet for a vegan to follow but asked me to give it a try -and try I did. I gave it almost 2 weeks of honest effort but, at that point, I just couldn’t keep up with it any longer so I made an appointment with a vegan nutritionist to remedy the diet to better suit a vegan. Ever since then, I’ve been able to maintain my diet, without starving, and have lost nearly 10 lbs., 4 inches off my hips, and 5 inches off my waistline! And now I’m back in the hot seat and ready to share some new recipes with y’all!

This weeks recipe is a classic vegan breakfast (tofu scramble) made “cheesy.” And black bean-y. (But mostly “cheesy.”) You can find basic tofu scramble recipes all over teh interwebs, and loads of recipes which jazz up said basic recipe too, but I hadn’t come across any like this so I think I’m actually filling 2 voids with this recipe -the 1st void being your empty stomach. #YoureWelcome

It all starts with the star of the show: tofu (although some might argue that the “cheese” is the true star but play along with me here). When it comes to making almost anything with tofu, you must drain and press out as much water from the tofu as you can. Why? Because if you don’t then whatever flavors you’re adding to your tofu won’t really get into the tofu. When people tell me that they didn’t enjoy tofu, I ask if they drained it and pressed out the water before they used it. Their answer 9 times out of 10 is, “No… is that something you’re supposed to do?” Yes, people, this is something that you’re supposed to do if you want your food to come out tasty and also not watery.

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Once you’ve drained and pressed your tofu, it’s time to get cookin’. In a pan over low-med. heat, with a little oil in it to help prevent sticking, you’re going to combine your tofu with the seasonings and the vegetable broth. Stirring occasionally, cook for 10 minutes.

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After 10 minutes has passed, it’s time to add it the black beans (a whole can of ’em) and a little onion. Give that a good stir to combine then continue to cook the mixture for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If your tofu is sticking a little feel free to add a little more oil to the pan.

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Now would be a good time to prep the spinach which will be added in a moment. All you need to do is wash it and then tear the pieces into smaller pieces making sure to toss any bothersome stems. I used baby spinach because that’s what was in my fridge but if you have… grownup? Adult? Big spinach? Whatever. You can use that. Or kale would work too. And fresh either way -frozen just can’t compare in this particular dish.

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When your timer dings, it’s spinach time. Add those little pieces of green goodness right on in there and then get excited because it’s time to get your “cheese” on!

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Top the spinach off with about a generous cup of your favorite vegan “cheddar cheese” shreds along with a splash of water. Pop a lid on your pan and cook for just 5 minutes more or until spinach is wilted and the “cheese” is gooey.

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Serve with a side of fresh fruit, potatoes, or toast, or stuff the mixture into a burrito with a little hot sauce or salsa for breakfast to-go! Either way, enjoy the “cheesy” goodness!

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Vegan 'Cheesy' Black Bean Tofu Scramble

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 minutes
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Credit: Compassion is the Secret Ingredient, http://www.citsiblog.com

Ingredients

  • 2-3 tablespoons oil + more if needed to prevent sticking as tofu cooks
  • 1 (14 ounce) package of firm tofu, drained and pressed to remove excess water
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 (15 ounce) can of low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 of an onion, finely diced
  • 1-2 cups of fresh spinach, torn into smaller pieces and stems removed
  • 1 generous cup of your favorite vegan “cheddar cheese” shreds
  • water

Directions

  1. In a pan over low-med. heat combine oil, drained and pressed tofu, vegetable broth, nutritional yeast, salt, black pepper, paprika, turmeric, cumin, and garlic powder together. Stir and then cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
  2. After 10 minutes, add in the drained and rinsed black beans and the finely diced onion. Stir to combine then cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a little more oil as needed should your tofu be sticking.
  3. Prep spinach if you haven’t done so already then add it and the “cheese” to the mixture along with just a splash of water. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until spinach is wilted and “cheese” is gooey. Stir before serving. Will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up 4 days.

Vegan Mac-N-“Cheese”

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I grew up, like most children of the 90s, eating that blue box macaroni and cheese sold by a dinosaur -you know the one I’m talking about. I loved that shit but it was indeed shit. Thankfully, I realized this (albeit it took me a little while) and I began to seek out better, tastier, more “grown-up” versions of this comfort food classic. Then, at some point along the way, I got it into my head to start making my very own mac-n-cheese from scratch and, after that, my love for noddley-cheesey goodness knew no bounds. Naturally then, when I went vegan, vegan mac-n-cheese was at the top of my list of foods to try and try I did. I tried the mac-n-cheese at a local vegan restaurant, I tried some frozen varieties, and I even tried the vegan version of the blue box kind but I found that nothing could compare to the homemade stuff that I was enjoying before I went vegan.

Just as I was starting to question if I’d ever find a vegan mac-n-cheese as good as the non-vegan ones, a thought popped into my head: Why am I not trying to make it from scratch? I mean, I had been making it from scratch before I went vegan but then, for some odd reason, when I went vegan I simply wrote off making it from scratch altogether. (Hence my efforts to find one that I liked at a restaurant or grocery store.) I thought about it some more and realized that there was no reason why it couldn’t be done so I decided to give it a go. And now here I am, sharing with all of y’all my recipe for what I’m deeming the best mac-n-cheese I’ve ever had. Why is it the best? Because it is everything a great mac-n-cheese should be. It’s thick, rich, creamy, gooey, cheesy, and flavorful. It’s also super quick (as in just 15 minutes quick) and insanely easy to make despite it being made in a very old-school, traditional way by first making a roux and then transforming said roux into a béchamel sauce. But we’ll get into all of that in a minute.

First, let’s talk pasta. While “mac” (as in macaroni) is in the title of this dish, we’re going to be using cavatappi or cellentani pasta. I find these noodles to be more substantial and easier to eat than traditional macaroni pasta. I also find that they hold more of the “cheese” sauce than traditional macaroni pasta -and who wouldn’t want their noodles to do that?!

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I cook my pasta in accordance with the instructions on the pasta packaging but I make sure to add a little oil and a whole lot of salt to my pasta water. The oil is added to help the pasta not stick together and the salt is added so that the pasta gets a little flavor cooked into it. While the pasta is cooking you can go ahead and make the “cheese” sauce.

For the “cheese” part of my mac-n-“cheese” we are going to first make a roux (a mixture of butter and flour used to thicken gravies and sauces). I toss some vegan butter into my dutch oven and let that melt down. When it’s fully melted I then toss in an equal amount of flour and stir to combine. That mixture gets cooked for a minute or two until it is foamy and very light brown in color.

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Next, some unsweetened almond milk gets added and the heat gets turned up. The addition of almond milk is what transforms our roux into a béchamel sauce (a white sauce base that is one of the “mother sauces”). We want to boil our sauce base for a few minutes to help it thicken slightly. You’ll want to stir fairly frequently while the mixture is boiling to ensure that the roux is incorporating nicely.

Once the mixture has thickened a little it’s time to reduce the heat and add the “cheese,” or rather the “cheeses,” since we’re using two different kinds. The first kind that you’ll be adding is Daiya’s cheddar-style sheds which will give us that classic “cheese” flavor that we’re looking for. The other kind being added is Follow Your Heart’s parmesan-style shreds which will help to elevate the flavor profile a little.

Now, I feel like I should just take a moment here to say something to you haters of vegan “cheese” out there. Please, please, please trust me and don’t run from this recipe just yet. I served this recipe to not 1 but 4 non-vegan people who are vegan “cheese” haters (2 were self-proclaimed Daiya haters) and, I kid you not, each one of them said how amazing this mac-n-cheese was. Give it a try using the “cheeses” I recommend and I’m sure you too will be a convert.

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After the “cheeses” are all melted in, in goes the seasonings. We’re adding nutritional yeast (aka nooch) to help boost the cheesy goodness (cause it tastes like cheese in case you didn’t know), and we are also adding salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika.

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Toss those in and then give the whole mixture a good stir.

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The final step is to add in your cooked and drained pasta. Gently fold the pasta into the sauce to help the two become best friends and that’s it -it’s ready to serve!

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Vegan Mac-N-'Cheese'

  • Servings: 6-9
  • Time: 15 minutes
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Credit: Compassion is the Secret Ingredient, http://www.citsiblog.com

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of cavatappi or cellentani pasta
  • Oil and salt for pasta water
  • 3 tablespoon vegan butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 1/4 cup Daiya cheddar-style shreds (about half the bag)
  • 3/4 cup Follow Your Heart parmesan-style shreds (about half the tub)
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika

Directions

  1. In a pasta pot, or other large pot, start pasta cooking in accordance with the instructions on the pasta’s packaging for al dente pasta. Be sure to add a little oil to the pasta water (1-2 tablespoons) to help prevent the pasta from sticking together as it cooks and also add a decent amount of salt (2-4 tablespoons) to infuse the pasta with a little flavor as it cooks.
  2. While pasta is cooking make the “cheese” sauce. In a dutch oven, or other large pot, melt vegan butter over medium heat. Once melted, add flour and stir to combine. Continue stirring until mixture is foamy and very light brown in color -about 2 minutes. Add almond milk and turn the heat up to bring to boil. Boil, while stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes to thicken sauce base a little. After 2-3 minutes, reduce heat to low and add in the two “cheeses.” Stir until they have fully melted into the sauce base -about 1 minute. Add the nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, and paprika and stir to combine. Continue to cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until pasta is done and ready to be added to the sauce.
  3. When the pasta is done cooking, drain it and then add it to the sauce. Gently fold the pasta into the sauce to coat each noodle then serve. Mac-N-“Cheese” will keep fresh in an airtight container in fridge for 3-4 days.