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Sausage Sandwich and Potato Salad Redux

I’ve been waxing nostalgic lately, and with the cookout season officially underway, I recalled how my dad used to love to fire up the grill when I was a kid. Grilling, along with the occasional pancake supper, were the only times Dad would do the cooking. Instead of the usual hamburgers or hotdogs, however, my Italian father preferred to grill spicy sausage and peppers which were served in warm crusty rolls, often accompanied by my mother’s potato salad.

Fast forward a zillion years to my vegan versions of these family favorites. The potato salad is an easy do-over, since I just needed to swap out Vegenaise for the mayo and omit the hard-cooked eggs that my mother habitually added to her potato salad (double helping of cholesterol, anyone?). At the last minute, I diced a ripe avocado that I needed to use up and added it to the salad, and I’m glad I did. The avocado was a nice counterpoint to the pimiento-stuffed green olives that are requisite in my Close to Mom’s Potato Salad (below) adapted from Vegan Planet.

For the sausage, I used a recipe from one of my upcoming cookbooks (sorry, I can’t share that recipe just yet) in which I come close to the seasonings in my family’s sausage recipe. To cook the sausage, I used a variation of the steaming method I learned when I used to make seafood sausages as an omni restaurant chef — we’d shape the delicate seafood mixture into logs and wrap them in plastic wrap and aluminum foil before steaming. For the vegan sausage I just use the aluminum foil.

Many years ago I saw a similar method used for making seitan sausage in an old cookbook and it does work fine, although I thought the resulting texture could have been firmer. My own take on that method (which I think produces a better texture) is a steam/bake combination where I shape the sausage or seitan into patties or logs and wrap them in foil, then place the “packages” in a baking dish. I then add water to the baking dish about halfway up the sides, cover the entire baking dish tightly with foil, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour (depending on how thick the seitan or sausage is). After baking, I remove them from the pan and let them cool. Then they’re ready to sauté (or grill) to give them a nice browned color on the outside. (I’ll post the actual recipe soon.)

To approximate the great Italian rolls my family used to enjoy, I defrosted some frozen pizza dough, divided it into quarters that I shaped into logs and baked for about 15 minutes. After cooling for a minute, I sliced them open, added the sausage and peppers, and served up a taste from my childhood — vegan-style. It’s definitely not a low-cal, low-carb, or low-fat meal, but, hey, at least it’s cholesterol-free and a delicious indulgence for a cookout.

Close to Mom’s Potato Salad
Adapted from Vegan Planet. I used small red-skinned potatoes and left the skin on. To this recipe, I also added a diced avocado, making it a little less close to Mom’s version!

1 1/2 pounds small waxy potatoes
1 celery rib, minced
2 tablespoons grated onion, or to taste (optional)
1/3 cup sliced pimiento-stuffed green olives
1/3 to 1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise (I used Vegenaise)
1 to 2 tablespoons soy milk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Paprika, for garnish

1. Boil the potatoes in a pot of salted boiling water, until tender but still firm. Drain and allow to cool, then cut them into bite-size chunks, and place them in a large bowl. Add the celery, onion (if using), and olives and set aside.
2. In a small bowl, combine the vegan mayonnaise, soy milk mustard, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and add to the potato mixture, stirring gently to combine. Sprinkle with paprika. Serve right away or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Ultimate Veggie Burgers Revisited

Back in 2002 when I developed the recipe for Ultimate Veggie Burgers in Vegan Planet, my goal was to make a firm-textured patty that looked more like a burger than a veggie. What I came up with was a combination of cooked lentils, ground walnuts, and (most importantly, for the texture) wheat gluten flour. Judging by the volume of positive e-mails I’ve received about it over the years, I’d say the recipe was a success.

What I like most about the basic recipe is that it can be modified in a number of ways. Sometimes I leave out the ground flaxseed mixture and they turn out fine. Sometimes I add garlic. Other times I saute the onion (rather than leaving it raw). When I don’t have cooked lentils on hand, I just mash up whatever beans are handy, although the resulting burgers are lighter in color, but still delicious. I’ve even left out the walnuts, opting instead for a little more each of the lentils and wheat gluten.

The recipe is very flexible and fun to experiment with. You can also trade in burger rolls for brown gravy and serve them as cutlets. If you’ve somehow missed out on this old standard from Vegan Planet, you might want to given it a try. And if you come up with your own variation, I’d love to hear about it.

Ultimate Veggie Burgers
Serve on burger rolls with all the trimmings or top with brown gravy. (Adapted from Vegan Planet.)

1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup walnut pieces

3/4 cup cooked brown lentils, well drained
1/4 cup grated onion
1/2 cup wheat gluten flour (or more, if needed))
1/2 teaspoon browning sauce (such as Gravy Master or Kitchen Bouquet)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil for frying

1. In a blender combine the flax seeds and soy sauce, blending until viscous. Set aside.
2. In a food processor, pulse the walnuts to coarsely chop. Add the lentils, onion, wheat gluten flour, browning sauce, flax mixture, and salt and pepper to taste. Process until well combined, but with some texture remaining.
3. Shape the mixture into 4 patties, adding a little more wheat gluten flour if the mixture is too wet. Place the burgers on a plate and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
4. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the burgers and cook until browned on both sides, turning once, about 4 minutes per side.

Serves 4

Oprah’s Vegan Challenge

I’m so happy to see that Oprah is going vegan—for 21 days, at least — in what she’s calling a “21-day cleanse as a way to jump-start an inner makeover.” In this plan, she has eliminated animal products from her diet and has invited her fans to join her. How cool is that?

Helping her to do this (by cooking amazing vegan meals for her) is my good friend, vegan chef extraordinaire, Tal Ronnen (in photo). Way to go, Tal! (See his bio on Oprah’s blog.)

Best of all, it actually seems like Oprah “gets” the reason why many of us are vegan. In her blog, she writes: “How can you say you’re trying to spiritually evolve, without even a thought about what happens to the animals whose lives are sacrificed in the name of gluttony?”

I also think it’s great that Erik Marcus at is pitching in to help those who are taking Oprah’s vegan challenge and are new to veganism. During the next three weeks, his VegTalk podcast is going to offer daily guidance and support to new vegans. On the May 21st podcast, Erik recommends his three favorite cookbooks for new vegans and I’m honored to report that two of them were my own Quick-Fix Vegetarian and Vegan Planet, along with that other bastion of vegan recipes, Veganomicon.

Here’s hoping that Oprah’s 21-day vegan challenge is a catalyst for getting more and more people to go vegan and the beginning of a new era for veganism and all that it represents. What do you think?

Craving Couscous Cake

I discovered a great post and photo of my Pumpkin Couscous Cake from Vegan Planet on To Live and Eat in LA — a blog that I very much enjoy reading. All the talk about couscous cakes reminded me of how much I like making (and eating) them!
I started making couscous cakes many years ago when I was cooking without flour or sugar. This cake couldn’t be easier to make – it’s basically just couscous and fruit juice. Really. I discovered that, by simply cooking couscous in fruit juice instead of water, it took on a mildly sweet flavor that was both delicious and satisfying. Over the years, I’ve made this cake using apple juice, white grape juice, and pineapple juice. You can also add bits of fruit, nuts, and even melted chocolate to the couscous mixture. When you press the couscous evenly into a springform pan and chill it in the fridge, it comes out looking almost like a cheesecake, although it tastes more like bread pudding. You can garnish the cake with fresh sliced fruit or a pureed fruit topping (or nuts or chocolate, depending on the flavor combination). You can find a recipe for Pineapple Apricot Couscous Cake from Quick Fix-Vegetarian, in my January 16 post.

The first photo shows another variation using mangos (recipe below) — at the last minute I sprinkled some brown sugar on top and ran it under the broiler to caramelize a bit. It was so good! Next time I may use coconut milk and a little palm sugar instead of the mango juice and millet instead of couscous. It’s fun to experiment.

The second photo shows a slice of Couscous Breakfast Cake with Pear and Dried Plum Compote from Vegan Planet. The recipe for this one follows the mango version. A slice of this cake is great for breakfast or brunch. If you like dense bread puddings that aren’t too sweet, you’ll love couscous cakes.

Mango Couscous Cake
This is the easiest version of couscous cake there is, with a minimum of ingredients and a minimum of fuss. To dress it up, you could spread a thin layer of mango puree under the sliced mango and add some finely minced candied lime peel or crystallized ginger to the couscous mixture. It’s also great topped with a sweet cashew-coconut cream sauce or vegan whipped cream.

2 cups mango juice
1 1/2 cups couscous
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 fresh ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and chopped

Bring the mango juice to a boil in a saucepan. Add the couscous, sugar, and ginger and simmer for 1 minute. Turn off the heat, cover, and set aside for 5 minutes or until the juice is absorbed.
Press the mixture evenly into a lightly oiled 8-inch springform pan (or individual springform pans). Cover loosely and refrigerate for at least an hour to firm up before serving.
Serves 6

Couscous Breakfast Cake with Pear and Dried Plum Compote
Couscous cake is great for breakfast or brunch because it can be made the day before. Made with fruit juice, the cake is dense and moist without being too sweet – a great way to start the day. For a sweeter cake, add a little maple syrup or natural sugar. This recipe is adapted from Vegan Planet.

2 1/2 cups apple juice or pear juice
Pinch salt
2 cups couscous
Pear and Dried Plum Compote (recipe follows)

1. Place the juice and salt in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the couscous. Turn off the heat, cover, and set aside for 10 minutes.
2. Lightly oil an 8-inch spring form pan and spoon the couscous into it, spreading it evenly. Use the back of a spoon or a spatula to press the couscous firmly into the pan. Cover the cake and refrigerate it several hours or overnight to make it easier to slice. To serve, cut into wedges and spoon some of the compote on top.
Serves 6

Pear and Dried Plum Compote
1 ripe pear, peeled, cored, and sliced
4 ounces dried pitted plums (prunes)
2 ounces mixed dried fruit
1/4 cup sugar or maple syrup
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Zest and juice of 1/2 orange
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups water
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the pear slices, dried plums, dried mixed fruit, sugar, lemon juice and zest, orange juice and zest, cinnamon stick, allspice, and nutmeg. Stir in the water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the pear slices are soft and the dried fruit plumps up, about 15 minutes.
2. Set aside to cool then transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for several hours or until ready to use. Remove the cinnamon stick before serving. When ready to serve, return to room temperature for best flavor.
Serves 6

A Spontaneous Shepherd’s Pie

Usually, the combination of cold weather and leftover mashed potatoes inspire me to make a Shepherd’s Pie. Yesterday I had one – the cold weather – but not the other. What I did have was a small piece of seitan and some leftover green beans, and that was enough to get me started. For the potato topping, I microwaved 3 medium-sized potatoes until soft, leaving the skin on. While the potatoes were in the microwave, I chopped some onion and cut a carrot into small dice and sautéed them until soft. I then I chopped the seitan and placed it in the bottom of a baking dish along with the leftover green beans, which I already cut into bite-sized pieces. I added some frozen corn kernels and frozen peas and set it aside to make the sauce. By the time the sauce was made the potatoes were cooked.

After coarsely mashing the potatoes with a bit of soy milk, margarine, and salt and pepper, I mixed the sauce into the vegetables and seitan. Then I spooned the mashed potatoes on top and smoothed it out evenly. After sprinkling the snowy top with paprika, I baked it in a preheated 375-degree F. oven for 30 minutes. It was so good that it was hard not to eat the entire casserole between the two of us. We finished up the leftovers for lunch today and enjoyed it all over again.

Here’s the basic recipe that I used, but if you don’t have seitan, you can use chopped cooked tempeh, chopped veggie burgers or frozen crumbles, or simply add a cup and a half of cooked chickpeas.

Simple Shepherd’s Pie
This recipe is an adaptation of Ultimate Shepherd’s Pie in Vegan Planet. Since the sauce can be made while the veggies are cooking and the potatoes are in the microwave, it can be assembled in a very short amount of time.

3 red-skinned or Yukon Gold potatoes, well scrubbed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped seitan
1 cup cooked green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces (optional)
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon minced fresh marjoram or 1/2 teaspoon dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon Earth Balance margarine
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Microwave the potatoes until tender.
2. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot. Cover and cook until tender. Set aside.
3. Spread the seitan, green beans (if using), peas, and corn in the bottom of a shallow baking dish. Add the reserved onion and carrot and set aside.
4. Heat the vegetable stock in the same saucepan you used to cook the onion and carrot and bring to a boil. Stir in the tamari, thyme, marjoram, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and simmer, stirring, to thicken slightly.
5. Pour the sauce over the filling mixture and set aside.
6. When the potatoes are soft, mash them in a bowl with the soy milk, margarine, and salt and pepper, to taste. Spread the mashed potatoes on top of the casserole and sprinkle with paprika. Bake until hot and bubbly and the top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Serves 4

Thai One On

It’s no secret to people who know me that Thai food is my favorite. I cook Thai at home, but I enjoy eating in Thai restaurants even more. When we moved to the country last spring, we left my favorite restaurants behind. The nearest Thai restaurant is nearly an hour away, so at least we’re saving money.

When we need to venture out to a metropolitan center like downtown Harrisonburg, VA for say, office supplies, we always work it around a Thai lunch. On Tuesday, we took the car to a dealership there for service. While my husband fumed over the $350 charge to put in a sensor the size of a cashew (just after the warranty ran out), I took solace in knowing that a great Thai lunch was waiting for us at the Taste of Thai restaurant. And what a lunch it was.

I never met a peanut sauce I didn’t like, but the Praram Curry with Fried Tofu was transporting. Beyond wonderful. Since the rich, multi-dimensional flavor is still tattooed on my brain, my new obsession is to duplicate it. In my lifelong search for the perfect peanut sauce, I’ve developed no fewer than a dozen variations over the years, and examples can be found in Vegan Planet, Vegan Fire and Spice, and many of my other books. However, my quest ended when I tasted this sauce. It was creamy, silky, and peanutty, sure, but it also wafted subtle echos of curry and all the flavor dimensions that word represents. Has anyone else found their perfect peanut sauce? If you have, I’d love to hear from you.