20 January 2011

Vegetarian Sandwiches

The most popular American lunch food must be sandwiches, don't you agree? I ate something between 2 slices of bread every day in grade school and most likely you did too. For us vegetarians, the classic sandwich repertory is quite limited: peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and banana, cheese, egg salad, egg and cheese, and tomato sandwiches come to mind. Can you think of any other? I can't. But I've got several more sandwiches up my sleeve, and because I've been eating so many sandwiches lately, I feel now is the time to share some of my vast, secret lore.

First, Variations on the Classics:
  • Almond butter and jelly
  • peanut butter and thinly sliced apples
  • peanut butter and sliced grapes or raisins
  • pimento cheese
  • blue cheese, sliced fruit, and lettuce
  • curried egg/tofu salad
  • Niçoise egg salad with cooked, marinated green beans, chopped olives, and capers
  • tomato and fresh herbs
  • tomato and cucumber
Simple Nouveau Vegetarian:
  • hummus and (pre-made) stuffed grape leaves
  • chopped marinated artichoke, cheese, lettuce
  • fried pepper, avocado and sliced potato
  • pureed bean spread with lettuce and/or tomato
  • sandwich-sliced dill pickle, red onion, lettuce, tomato, and mustard
  • lentil-walnut-onion pate
  • avocado, fresh herbs, and mung bean sprouts (crunchy!)
  • cheddar cheese and sliced pickles
  • avocado and sauteed mushrooms
  • baked, marinated tofu drizzled with a peanut sauce, hot mustard, or pesto
  • scrambled eggs and thinly sliced carrots and cucumbers
  • leftover salad
  • leftover dinner (curry? thick pasta sauce?) plus lettuce!

And then there's my Mother's Best picnic sandwich, adapted for my vegetarian self. I grew up with this sandwich and when we go on a trip to the beach or a concert in the park, this is what I always make.

Picnic Submarine Sandwich

long, crusty Italian loaf/ loaves (French is too thin, but you don't want the bread too much wider)
two or three kinds of vegetarian meats
green olives stuffed with pimentoes
a yellow onion
mayo (or Vegenaise)
good-quality whole grain mustard
fresh lettuce
fresh tomato-on-the-vine
one or two kinds of sliced cheese, optional

  1. First you have to slice the loaf carefully. You cut it into about 6" lengths. Then you slice it lengthwise so it opens but the two halves remain firmly attached to each other.
  2. Next you carmelize the onion. Slice the onion into thin rounds, heat up a fry pan with a little oil, and when it's hot, add the onion and slowly cook it on medium-low heat until it's golden brown, kind of sticky and oozy and sweet. This will take about 30-45 minutes. You can speed it up if you cover the fry pan.
  3. You probably want to toast the bread so it will remain firm after it's packed. If you prefer your cold sandwiches with melted cheese, put the cheese on one half now while you slowly bake it at 300 degrees. It's done when the cheese bubbles and develops the good kind of brown spots.
  4. You absolutely have to bake the vegetarian meats as well. With the rare exception of some Tofurkey meats, they need to be slowly baked/ toasted to taste good and develop a pleasing texture. I like to bake mine on the bread, but you can also put it on a baking sheet or some foil.
  5. With a small sharp knife slice a bunch of green olives. Slice the tomato thinly. Wash the lettuce and tear it into pieces.
  6. Assemble the sandwich! Mayo and/or melted cheese goes on one side and mustard slathered on the other. Then you embed a layer of sliced olives into the mayo/melted cheese. You add lettuce to both sides to keep the sandwich from getting soggy. Now on one half you pile on a combination of various meats and unmelted cheeses. Finally add sliced tomato and carmelized onions.
  7. With the utmost care and delicacy, close the two halves! Pack it tightly. Maybe stick a toothpick in to hold it together.
  8. Eat it with big, toothy bites. Rawrmrawrumfchompchompchomp*gulp*aaahhhhhhh.
O Faithful Readers, what are your favorite Vegetarian Sandwiches?

A New Dawn

I have passed my 18 hour comprehensive exams! You can look forward to more goofy cooking from now on.

17 January 2011

Blue Cheese Gnocchi Salad

After Beethoven bludgeoned my brain with his massive Ninth Symphony and overwhelming Missa solemnis, I needed nourishment—for my body and tattered soul. Beethoven is famous for pushing the Classical genres (of symphony, string quartet, and keyboard sonata) to such a high level of artistic merit that many composers were completely terrified to follow him in the same forms. So Chopin turned to piano miniatures, Schumann to song cycles, and Liszt just transcribed what other people wrote.

Luckily Beethoven never cooked. So I have no shame in offering up my modest gnocchi salad for your eating pleasure. I made it up yesterday, don't ask me how, and it was so good after it descended into my belly that I rushed upstairs and wrote several more paragraphs about Beethoven's late style. How's that for effective?

This time I didn't make my own gnocchi; I bought a package of DeLallo's. DeLallo has become my go-to brand for quality Italian pasta products, especially their whole wheat pastas. Their gnocchi was nice and chewy, much more satisfying than my last, over-ethereal attempt.

Blue Cheese Gnocchi Salad

uncooked potato gnocchi, enough for 2 hongry to 4 less hungry people
1/4 onion, thinly sliced or chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced or chopped
a handful of crumbled blue cheese
several leaves of lettuce, washed and hand-torn

1. Fill a medium pot with water. Add the onion. Bring to a boil.
2. Add the carrots and celery. After 2 minutes of boiling, add the gnocchi. Stir.
3. When most of the gnocchi has floated to the top of the water, drain it all together.
4. Line each person's bowl with lettuce. Meanwhile, mix the gnocchi and cooked vegetables with blue cheese to taste.
5. Spoon the gnocchi mixture onto the lettuce. Serve hot.

16 January 2011

How Not to Make Miso Soup

Yesterday, while studying for my exams, I suddenly craved soup. I wanted it immediately. In my The Student Vegetarian Cookbook, which has many quick recipes with common ingredients, I found a miso soup recipe that the author promised would be ready in 6 minutes. Ha! Even in my soup-crazed state I knew that a 6-minute miso soup would taste mostly like salty thick water. But, I wondered to myself if a 15-minute miso soup could be passable.

The problem with this recipe is that it assumes that miso paste is just like a bouillon cube, but the two serve completely different functions. A bouillon cube makes a broth, a base for the soup, while miso turns broth into soup. Don't ask me the mechanics of this; I'm no Harold McGee.

So this recipe asked me to boil 2 Cups of water with 1/4 cup of carrot matchsticks and 1/4 Cup of sliced onion for 3 to 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and add cubed tofu and 1 Tablespoon "broth"-dissolved miso paste. And serve. Yeah, right. I may be a student, but I still have standards.

Although my parched innards urged me to cook this faster, I managed to restrain myself. While the water heated up, I tried to make a quick-and-dirty dashi by adding a little bit of rinsed kombu kelp and 1 dried shiitake mushroom. Then when the water boiled I added the carrots and onions and simmered for 5 minutes. I added the 1/4 Cup drained and cubed tofu, turned off the heat, let the soup sit for a minute, and removed the mushroom and kelp. I took some of the hot broth and mixed it with the miso in a little bowl until the miso had dissolved, then I poured the miso sludge into the soup and stirred.

I served this in proper miso soup bowls with chopsticks, hoping for the best, but it turned out As I Feared. The soup tasted pretty bland; without a good broth, it had no depth of flavor. Although the carrots tasted nice, the onion needed to cook more.

Next time what would I do? I would make my usual Miso Soup, even though it takes over an hour instead of 15 minutes (for 8 servings). Or I could try making the broth with bouillon!

12 January 2011

Hot Tip: Cara Cara Oranges

I just finished the first sixteen hours of my comprehensive exams, and I am beat.

But just to let you know I am still alive, here a Hot Tip.

Cara Cara oranges are in season, and they are a rare treat! Cara Caras look something like blood oranges and they are sold in markets from the West Coast to the East. Get your greedy little hands on them while you can.

My exams finish in a week; possibly I will start cooking again after that, if I survive. Until then, stay goofy!
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