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.

Baba Ghanoush

We just finished a 30 day pescatarian diet with no dairy, carbohydrates, or sugar.  Oh.  My.  Word.  That was an incredibly hard challenge.  It was harder than our 30 day vegan challenge!  The no dairy thing wasn’t the issue.  It was the no carbohydrates or sugar that I had a hard time with.  We used fruit as a way to satiate our cravings for an after-dinner dessert, but that only lasted for a little while.  By the end of the second week, I was jonesing for bread and butter, frozen yogurt, cookies, and chocolate.  And do you know what was the worst tease?  My work place had a Strawberry Day event with all things strawberry desserts, and a few going away parties with the best cake from my favorite bakery, and I couldn’t have a lick of it.  Ugh.  I think I was drooling as I watched my coworkers eat cake, pies, tortes, strawberry punch, and cookies.  Such a tease.  Sigh.  The diet was worth it, I guess :)

To celebrate our first day of eating carbohydrates, I decided on a Middle Eastern and Greek meal centered around a filthy amount of pita bread.  Yes.  I said it.  I am a glutton for pita bread.  Okay.  So, honestly, we only ate one pita bread for the vegan seitan gyro sandwich, alongside a few wedges of pita dipped in some baba ghanoush.  But nonetheless, I still heart carbohydrates.

Baba Ghanoush

3 medium globe eggplants, cut lengthwise (about 2 pounds)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to your liking
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Brush cut side of eggplants with extra virgin olive oil. Place eggplants cut-side down on baking sheet and roast until until very tender, about 40 minutes.

Scoop the eggplant flesh into a large bowl, and discard skin. Mash the eggplant with a fork until it is smooth, but still has some texture. Stir in the olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, paprika, cayenne, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with pita, pita chips, vegetables, or however you fancy baby ghanoush :)

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.

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.

Are you sitting down for this??… Grilled barbecue potato “chips” with creamy chive dip!

Remember when I said my new favorite guilty pleasure was the grilled salt and vinegar potato chips?  Well, those were so last week.  Outta style, outta mind.  My newest favorite guilty pleasure is the grilled barbecue potato “chips” that I made tonight.  After we consumed a large bowl of the grilled salt and vinegar potato “chips” last week, my partner suggested doing a barbecue-flavored one.  It was a brilliant idea.  So here is my latest and greatest creation…

Warning: these are highly addictive!

Grilled barbecue potato “chips” with creamy chive dip

1 pound yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
2 cups water
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon bacon salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/8 teaspoon ground mustard
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
4 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

Bring potatoes to a boil in a medium saucepan (water should cover potatoes; add more water if necessary). Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer potatoes until just fork tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well, and gently toss with oil.

Combine the greek yogurt, chives, lemon juice, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

Preheat grill to medium-high. Grill potatoes in a single layer until browned on both sides and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Dust with barbecue-flavored seasoning before serving, and toss to coat.

Serve grilled barbecue potato “chips” with the prepared creamy chive dip, or on its own.

Makes 4 servings.

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