Vegan and Gluten-Free Miso Soup with Tofu and Wakame

When I think of Japanese food, I think of a carnivorous feast full of sashimi, nigiri, and sushi rolls; chicken or pork tonkatsu; chicken, beef, or salmon teriyaki; porky udons; and much, much more.  Everything but vegan.  Six months ago, I would have snubbed at the idea of a vegan Japanese meal.  I would have thought, “such a sad waste of calories” at that time.

Interestingly, since I’ve made the decision to eat less meat, and more veggies, my palate has become more open-minded to vegan and vegetarian fare.  I seek out vegan or vegetarian restaurants when I’m traveling.  We recently visited the East Bay and headed to the Gourmet Ghetto (aka, Berkeley) for some vegan/vegetarian Japanese food at Cha-Ya.  I have to admit, I was still a little hesitant about vegan Japanese food because I had some doubts that it was going to be as good as your traditional Japanese meal.  We ordered miso soup; sunomono; udon with vegetable tempura; and pickled burdock and pickled melon sushi rolls, and a seaweed salad sushi roll.

The dinner was ridiculously amazing and filling!  I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and how much I look forward to going back.  What stood out the most was the simple but savory miso soup that oozed with umami.  Oh.  My.  Word.  It was just delightful.  I like a good miso soup, and I order it just about every time we dine at a Japanese restaurant.  Most places are either too salty or too stingy with the tofu and wakame.  I can honestly say that Cha-Ya offers some of the best miso soup.

I left Cha-Ya feeling inspired to cook up some vegan Japanese food at home.  I started with a vegan miso soup.  It turned out pretty good… it’s definitely a close second to Cha-Ya’s :)

Miso Soup with Tofu and Wakame

6 cups vegan dashi (6 cups of water + 12 inch piece of kombu soaked overnight)
3-4 tablespoons gluten-free red miso paste
1-2 tablespoon gluten-free white miso paste
1 block firm tofu (fresh if possible), drained and cubed
2 tablespoons wakame, soaked in water for 5 minutes, drained and roughly chopped
1/4 cup green onion, chopped

When ready to make the soup, bring the vegan dashi up to a simmer (not a full boil), then take out the kombu. Bring to a full boil, and then add the wakame and simmer for one minute.

Place a small strainer over the broth. Add the miso [a little bit at a time to your preference, since miso varies in saltiness] by dissolving and pushing through the strainer. [The strainer helps to avoid a lumpy miso soup. Lastly, do not boil the miso or else you risk ruining the miso flavor.] Add the tofu and green onion.

Serve immediately.

Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad

Have you ever noticed how much your taste changes as you get older?  I used to loathe cilantro, parsley, and carrots when I was younger.  Loathe is a pretty strong, and that’s exactly how I felt about those *things*.  The taste of cilantro used to make me gag.  The thought of carrots would send me running into the other room.  My Mom used to relate to me by telling me stories of how much she hated cilantro, too, when she was younger.  But she’d follow the story with telling me how my taste would change as I matured, but I didn’t believe a word that came out of her mouth!

I ate my words.  My Mom was completely right… “Mothers know best,” right?  I love cilantro now.  My affinity for it changed when I had my first tasting of Tom Kha Gai at my first Thai dining experience.  It was love at first bite.  However, it hasn’t been that easy for acquiring the tastes of parsley or carrots.  I don’t recall when exactly I started to come around enjoying carrots, but it definitely has been in the recent years.  I hate raw carrots, but I don’t mind stewed or roasted carrots.

Enjoying flat-leaf parsley has been a tougher challenge for me.  Flat-leaf parsley has such an overwhelming flavor to begin with.  I initially needed other stronger flavors to mask the taste of parsley, like basil pesto.  This has since changed as we’ve been eating and cooking more  Mediterranean foods that call for flat-leaf parsley.  We recently dined at one of our favorite local Mediterranean restaurants and sampled their vegetarian Meze plate, which included tabbouleh.  OMG, how could I have been missing this all these years?!  I’ve become addicted.  So much so that I made a LARGE batch a few days ago.  We’ve had quinoa tabbouleh several days in a row for lunch AND dinner :)

Quinoa Tabouleh Salad

2 1/2 large bunches flat leaf parsley, stems removed, finely chopped
3 roma tomatoes, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dices
3″ inches small English cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch dices
1/2 small white onion, finely diced
1/4 cup quinoa, cooked
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste

In a large bowl, combine everything except for the lemon juice, oil, and salt.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt, to taste.

Toss the salad with the lemon vinaigrette.

Serve with falafels, hummus, pocket bread, and anything else you’d like.

Makes 4 servings.

Arugula Salad with Roasted Cauliflower, Golden Raisins, Parmesan, and Toasted Pine Nuts with a Lemon Vinaigrette

This is our first weekend home in over a month, and while it’s good to be in the comfort of our own home; I was feeling somewhat nostalgic of our trip we took to the Russian River.  It was the perfect weekend get-a-way, kind of trip, that wasn’t too far, but just far enough to relax, eat, and drink plenty.  We kayaked eight miles down the Russian River, enjoying the company of one another and the scenery around us.  We visited… oh who are we kidding, wine-tasted at some of the most beautiful vineyards/wineries around Sonoma county.

We also dined at some amazing restaurants, too.  The one restaurant that we constantly reminisce about is Boon Eat + Drink in Guerneville, CA.  It was such a sweet restaurant right off the one main street.  The food was simple and seasonal; creative, but not over-the-top.  It was, well, perfect.  The one dish that still stands out to me the most was the arugula salad with roasted cauliflower, golden raisins, and toasted pine nuts tossed with this spicy, lemon dressing.  It was just so fresh and crisp.  The flavors of each ingredient complimented one another so well.  It was brilliant.

 I’ve been meaning to recreate this dish, and what not a better day than today while we reminisce of our trip.  And I must say, my creation is pretty spot on, if not better.  I’m just sayin’ :)

Arugula Salad with Roasted Cauliflower, Golden Raisins, Parmesan, and Toasted Pine Nuts with a Lemon Vinaigrette

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
4 bunches baby arugula
2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/8 crushed red chili pepper flakes
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss cauliflower with olive oil, salt and pepper, to taste. Place onto a large baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss together the arugula with the lemon dressing, toasted pine nuts, and golden raisins. Plate the salad, and garnish with shaved parmesan.

Makes 4 servings.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Beets Salad with a Lemon-Truffle Vinaigrette

We had a small tasting of a similar dish at a backyard wedding we recently attended.  The original was made with red and yellow beets, and butternut squash with a lemony vinaigrette with a hint of truffle oil.  The salad was very tasty, but a little mushy from the butternut squash.   So while I was consuming my large plate of food [It was, in fact, a very large plate of food... my eyes were bigger than my stomach.  But what's new?], a light bulb came on… roasted sweet potatoes.  It would be the perfect substitution flavor- and texture-wise.  And so what did I do two days after the wedding?  Well, I recreated this dish, of course, and it was perfect.

Inspiration.  It such a lovely thing.

What inspires you in the kitchen?

Roasted Sweet Potato and Beets Salad with a Lemon-Truffle Vinaigrette

4 large beets
3 large sweet potatoes, skinned and diced into 1 inch cubes
1 small shallot, finely diced
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon truffle oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chives, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Wrap each beet tightly in foil. [I usually like to double wrap mine in foil.] Drizzle the sweet potatoes with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the sweet potatoes in a singe layer on the baking sheet. Place the foil-wrapped beets on the same baking sheet. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until tender, but slightly crispy in the outside. Stir the sweet potatoes once or twice during roasting. [Watch the sweet potatoes closely, because they can go from perfectly roasted to imperfectly burnt.] Roast the beets for about an hour (or once you can poke a knife all the way through).

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the shallots, lemon, olive oil, and truffle oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

Remove the sweet potatoes firstly from oven, followed by the beets when they have cooked through, and allow to cool just enough to be easily handled. Once cooled, peel “skin” off the beets. [They'll come off easily with just your hands... no need for a paring knife.] Slice beets into 1 inch cubes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the beets, sweet potatoes, and vinaigrette. Gently toss to combine all the ingredients. Divide onto small plates, sprinkle with chives, and drizzle with a little truffle oil, and enjoy!

Makes 4 to 6 small salad servings.

Oven-Fried Truffle and Parmesan Potato Chips

Alright, so I have another new favorite obsession.  What’s new, right?  My obsessions don’t seem to last very long.  Out with the old, in with the new!  These truffle and parmesan potato chips are incredibly addicting.  And the smell of the truffle oil!  OMG, it’s intoxicating!  Our house was filled with the fragrant aroma of truffles!  These potato chips are hard to resist, so make a large batch!  Nosh on these bad boys by themselves, with a beer, alongside a sandwich or burger, or whatever you fancy.  Me?  Well, I like mine with a cold bottle of beer, but will eat them all sorts of ways.  I’m not picky :)

What’s your favorite way of devouring potato chips?

Oven-Fried Truffle and Parmesan Potato Chips (adapted slightly from The Family Kitchen)

3 medium to large baking potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white truffle oil
3-4 pinches of sea salt
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Using an 18×13 jelly roll pan, brush on two tablespoons of olive oil until fully coated. Place pan in the oven and heat for 10 minutes.

While the pan is heating in the oven, place the potato slices into a large mixing bowl, and toss with truffle oil and salt. Set aside.

Carefully line the potato slices on the hot baking sheet. Place pan into the hot oven and bake for about 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes. Flip the potato chips with a pair of tongs and bake them for another 5 minutes. The chips will darken a little as they bake, but just don’t let them burn. If the potato chips still aren’t crispy, flip those potato chips over and bake for another few minutes. [Do not walk away from these chips, as they can easily go from almost crispy, to burnt.]

Remove the pan from the oven, and transfer the chips to a payer of paper towels. Sprinkle with grated parmesan, and allow them to cool. The excess oil will be absorbed by the towels. The potato chips will also crisp up slightly as they cool.  Once cooled, store in an air tight container for a few days.

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