Zoodles and Crispy Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce


Zucchini noodles (zoodles) were one of the first things I planned to make when I got my spiralizer a couple years ago. And then I proceeded to spiralize potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets many times for a number of recipes, but not zucchini. As much as I wanted to replace my pasta with zucchini noodles, I just couldn’t—it was a cooked zucchini texture thing.

Even with the suggestion of doing half pasta and half zoodles, I still resisted. It wasn’t until I came across a few recipes where you—wait for it—leave the zucchini raw, that I saw the zoodle light. They wouldn’t be mushy, they wouldn’t be soggy. It would be an al dente experience and I was on board!

Making just a few tweaks to this Pinch of Yum recipe, we’ve got a new summer favorite that’s quick enough to pull together on a weeknight and there are always leftovers for brown-bagging the next day. When packing your leftovers, keep the sauce separate and mix it in just before eating, otherwise the zoodles will absorb the sauce and you’ll lose the creamy sauciness that makes for a truly special dish. Enjoy!

Zoodles and Crispy Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce


Adapted from this Pinch of Yum recipe

One 15 oz. block of extra-firm tofu (I like Trader Joe’s organic)

1 tablespoon peanut oil

3-4 medium zucchini, ends trimmed (a combination of green and yellow zucchini looks especially nice)

Sliced scallions, for garnish

Sesame seeds, for garnish (I like the look of black sesame seeds, but white are just fine)

Spicy peanut sauce:
½ cup smooth peanut butter, preferably natural (or make your own, recipe here)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (then add water to measure 1/3 cup)

1/3 cup tamari (wheat free) or soy sauce, reduced sodium if you have it

¼ cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons Asian chili paste such as sambal oelek

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced

1 heaping teaspoon of fresh grated ginger root

To remove excess moisture from the tofu, place the tofu block between a couple layers of paper towels and set on a cutting board. Top with another cutting board and weigh it down with a large can of tomatoes or a couple cookbooks. Let sit for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile spiralize your zucchini and set it aside.

To make the spicy peanut sauce, place all sauce ingredients in a jar and shake until well combined.

Cut pressed tofu into bite-sized pieces. Heat peanut oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add tofu to pan and cook one side of tofu pieces until golden, about 3-4 minutes. Turn pieces and cook another 3-4 minutes.

Add ½ cup of the spicy peanut sauce to the tofu and let simmer for a few minutes. Using a spatula, turn tofu pieces, scraping sauce and any brown saucy bits from the bottom of the pan. Repeat the simmer, turning, and scraping a couple more times until tofu is crispy brown.

To serve, place zucchini noodles in individual bowls and top each with a ¼ cup of spicy peanut sauce, stirring to coat the zoodles. Top with some tofu pieces, sliced scallions, and sesame seeds. Makes 4-6 servings.

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Penne in Herbed Yogurt Sauce

Penne in Herbed Yogurt Sauce
With us having prime growing weather lately, my patio herbs are going nuts and needed a good trim, so dinner featuring fresh herbs was a no-brainer. Tangy Greek yogurt and whole wheat pasta seemed like good vehicles for an herby dish and what’s not made better by buttery garlic and onions?

This meal comes together quickly so is perfect for a week night. Add a glass of chilled rosé and any stress from your work day will melt away while you recharge with a fresh and light supper, ideally al fresco. Enjoy!
Basil and Mint

Lemon Thyme

Fresh Herbs

Penne in Herbed Yogurt Sauce

Inspired by this Food.com recipe

10 oz. penne pasta, preferably whole wheat (I love Trader Joe’s organic)

2 tablespoons butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, divided

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, cut in small dice

¼ teaspoon salt (plus more salt for the pasta water)

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

¾ cup Greek yogurt at room temperature (I used 2%)

½ cup chopped fresh herbs, such as mint, basil and lemon thyme (parsley and regular thyme would work too)

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large pot of generously salted water to boiling. Cook pasta in boiling water according to package directions. Drain and return to pot.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon butter or margarine and the olive oil in a cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add onion and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions begin to brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 3-4 additional minutes. Remove from heat and add remaining tablespoon of butter or margarine and stir into onion-garlic mixture until it melts.

Toss drained pasta with yogurt. Add onion-garlic mixture and pepper to taste. Mix well. Stir in fresh herbs. Transfer to a serving platter. Makes about 4 servings.

 

Buffalo Cauliflower with Cool Ranch Dipping Sauce

Buffalo Cauliflower with Cool Ranch Dipping Sauce
Even though Buffalo wings had become bar food standards before I turned vegetarian, I’ve never had them. The smells of blue cheese dressing (I can’t stand blue cheese) and Buffalo sauce combined turned me off completely, as did chicken wings in general.

Then 25 years or so after I’d written off Buffalo anything entirely, a recipe for veggie balls in Buffalo sauce, served with ranch dressing instead of the dreaded blue cheese, popped up in my newsfeed. The recipe’s Buffalo sauce had a high butter to hot sauce ratio and I ended up not liking the butter overload and upset stomach that resulted.

Resolved to avoid Buffalo sauce for the rest of my life, I reluctantly decided to try it again after reading rave reviews of the Buffalo “wings” at a newly opened vegan restaurant in St. Paul. Having a few days left of our recent vacation, Pete and I enjoyed a weekday lunch date at J. Selby’s, which as far as I know, is the only vegan St. Paul restaurant. Based on those reviews, we started with the Buffalo “wings,” which were made from cauliflower. So delicious, and we both had to exercise restraint in order to not finish the entire order before our entrées arrived. With vegan meaning no “real” butter, there was neither a butter overload nor an upset stomach—yay!!

"Cheddar" Cauliflower

Battered Cauliflower

At home in my fridge’s crisper was a head of orange, also called cheddar, cauliflower and thoughts of making my own version began to percolate (the color doesn’t change the taste–it’s the same as white cauliflower). After looking at several recipes, I adapted one from the Frank’s RedHot Sauce website, mainly because their hot sauce was supposedly the secret ingredient in the first ever Buffalo Wings to come out of Buffalo, New York.

Baked Cauliflower

This recipe called for less butter than the ill-fated one referred to earlier, and to make it vegan like J. Selby’s, I replaced that butter with a combo of vegan margarine and non-hydrogenated shortening.

White or brown rice flour could be substituted in place of the wheat flour for a gluten-free option. I include a recipe for ranch dipping sauce, but if you want traditional blue cheese, go for it (while I stifle a gag).

Of course, these crispy, spicy, cauliflowery nuggets will make an awesome appetizer at your next party, but they also will stand in just fine in place of dinner while you absent mindedly eat the entire batch you made to test the recipe on a Tuesday night after work. Don’t ask me how I know. Enjoy!

Crispy Buffalo Cauliflower

 

Buffalo Cauliflower with Cool Ranch Dipping Sauce

Adapted from this Frank’s RedHot Sauce recipe

½ cup whole wheat pastry flour (substitute brown rice flour for gluten-free)

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour (substitute rice flour for gluten—free)

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup water

1 medium head white or orange (also called cheddar) cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets

½ cup Frank’s RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce

2 tablespoons vegan butter, such as Earth Balance, melted

1 tablespoon non-hydrogenated shortening, such as Spectrum Organic, melted

Cool Ranch Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly oil a large baking sheet or line it with parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt. Whisk in water and continuing whisking until very smooth. Dump in your cauliflower florets and stir until evenly coated.

Using tongs, move cauliflower pieces to prepared baking sheet, shaking off excess batter into the bowl as you do so (I had some batter left over). Make sure florets are evenly spread out on baking sheet, in a single layer. Bake for 20 minutes, until coating is golden, rotating baking sheet at about the 10-minute mark for even browning.

Meanwhile, mix Frank’s RedHot Sauce together with the melted butter and shortening.

Remove florets from the oven and drizzle with sauce mixture and toss with a spatula to evenly coat. Return to the oven for about 10 more minutes, until cauliflower begins to crisp.

Remove cauliflower to a platter and serve with ranch or blue cheese dressing. Makes about 6 appetizer servings.

Cool Ranch Dipping Sauce

1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt, regular or vegan

1/3 cup mayonnaise (I use vegan Earth Balance Mindful Mayo)

¼ cup milk of choice (skim, almond, soy, etc.)

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ cup chopped fresh herbs (I used a combination of chives, garlic chives, and parsley)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Whisk yogurt, mayo, milk, lemon juice, and mustard together in a small bowl. Stir in herbs, salt, and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.

Crispy Tofu with Spicy Sweet Garlic Sauce


I’ve had tofu so bad I wouldn’t serve it to my worst enemy and I’ve had tofu so good I wanted it all to myself and wouldn’t even share with my best friend. This recipe is the “so good you won’t want to share” kind.

The secret ingredient that makes this tofu crispy like deep fried without deep frying it is the arrowroot powder/starch/flour (all the same, just different names). It ever so slightly coats each piece of tofu and enables the pieces to crisp up and taste like you’re eating something much less good for you. The spicy sweet garlicy sauce takes things over the top.

Arrowroot isn’t difficult to find—small bottles can be found with the spices at regular grocery store and larger bags can be found in the natural foods section of well-stocked grocery stores, at natural foods stores, and online. I like Bob’s Red Mill brand. You could use corn starch if you can’t get arrowroot, but corn starch is much more processed and most likely contains genetically modified corn (boo, hiss!).

The recipe is from a cookbook I purchased after seeing the author on one of the local Saturday morning news shows. Vegan chef Tess Challis was in town to present at the Twin Cities Veg Fest, which I wanted to attend, but just couldn’t fit it into my jam-packed weekend.

One of her cookbooks is called Food Love and I looked it up online to potentially order and ended up ordering the e-version, which was only $10; I got it immediately and no trees were harmed in the process. There are a number of recipes I’d like to try and this was the first. Based on how good this was, I’m excited to make more. Enjoy!

Crispy Tofu with Spicy Sweet Garlic Sauce

Slightly adapted from a Food Love by Tess Challis recipe
1 pound extra firm tofu, organic and non-gmo, sprouted if you can find it

2 tablespoons tamari (darker, richer and less salty than soy sauce, and wheat-free)

1 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder

2 tablespoons arrowroot powder/starch/flour (less processed and non-gmo compared to cornstarch)

1-2 tablespoons grapeseed or coconut oil (I used grapeseed for a more neutral flavor)

Sauce:
¼ cup sriracha sauce

¼ cup raw agave (honey [not vegan] or maple syrup would work as well)

2 tablespoons water

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

Sliced green onions, for garnish

Cut block of tofu into quarters, and each quarter into two slices. Lay slices flat on two layers of paper towel. Cover with two more layers of paper towel and lay a cutting board on top. Set something heavy, like a cast iron pan or a big can of tomatoes on top and let sit 30 minutes; this will remove moisture from the tofu.

While tofu is pressing, mix sriracha, agave, water and minced garlic in a small bowl. Set aside.

Cut each tofu slice into quarters and place into a large zip lock bag. Mix tamari and granulated garlic in a small dish. Put arrowroot in another small dish. Pour tamari mixture over tofu, seal bag, and toss to coat. Sprinkle arrowroot starch/flour, in several batches, over tofu, and shake bag after each batch.

Heat a 10 inch cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon grapeseed or coconut oil. When oil is hot, lay about half the tofu pieces in the pan, cook for 3 minutes, turn, and cook 3 minutes more. Remove tofu to a paper towel lined plate.

Add another tablespoon oil, if necessary, to pan and when hot, add remaining tofu and cook the same as the first batch.

Serve with garlic sriracha sauce and green onions as garnish. Makes about 4 servings.

Lemon Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells

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Whenever I see a photo or recipe for stuffed pasta shells, I think of my late Great Aunt Betty. Betty was my grandma’s youngest sister and lived in the far-off land of Los Angeles with her husband and kids. We took a family road-trip to visit them the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, along the way camping in the mountains of Wyoming, a hotel night in Las Vegas, and on the return trip home, driving through California’s wine country and a stop in San Francisco, a city that stole my young heart.

In LA, we stayed with Aunt Betty and Uncle Tom and they and my cousins took us unsophisticated Midwesterners sightseeing to the worldly locales of Knott’s Berry Farm, Magic Mountain, Tijuana, Universal Studios, and beautiful sandy California beaches. But the best memories from that trip aren’t the roller coasters, bargaining at Mexican market stands, movie sets, or the Pacific Ocean. Me being me, aside from getting to spend time with extended family, the best memories are of the food Aunt Betty made. Specifically her stuffed pasta shells and Napoleons. This 14-year-old was uber impressed with both and we got the recipes so Mom could make them back home. The wonderful flavors are forever imbedded in my mind.

Recently  I saw a recipe for stuffed pasta shells on Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks, and thought back to Aunt Betty and her recipe. It wasn’t vegetarian, so maybe Heidi’s version could take its place? Yes, indeed!
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I’ve been cooking with whole wheat pasta almost exclusively for years, but have yet to find a source for whole wheat or whole grain jumbo pasta shells, even after searching ginormous supermarkets, my co-op, and online. Ultimately I opted for a package of unique (non-whole wheat) lumache giganti found in the Italian section at said ginormous supermarket. In retrospect, regular jumbo shells would have been better vehicles for stuffing, but I love the way these “snail” shells cook to a perfect al dente that held its toothsome bite even after baking.

To Heidi’s quick and simple tomato sauce I added some dried herbs for a little more depth and also sautéed some onion and spinach to include in the filling. Both Pete and I had to really hold ourselves back from eating till our bellies burst. A stuffed shells recipe that even outdoes Great Aunt Betty’s. Next time I might tackle Napoleons! Enjoy!
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Lemon Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks Stuffed Shells

 

Zest of one lemon, divided

Sauce:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the pan

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more if you like lots of heat

1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

4 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 28-ounce and 1 14-ounce can crushed red tomatoes (San Marzano, if you can find them)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried marjoram

Filling:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ large yellow onion, chopped

3-4 big handfuls fresh spinach, chopped

1 15 or 16 ounce container good quality ricotta cheese

1 egg, beaten

1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1 cup grated mozzarella

Additional:
About 25-30 jumbo dried pasta shells or lumache giganti (if you can find them)

½ cup freshly grated parmesan

A couple tablespoons sliced scallions, green part only

Lightly oil a 13 x 9-inch baking pan and sprinkle half the lemon zest over the bottom of the pan. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the sauce, combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and garlic in a cold saucepan. Stir while you heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook only about 45 seconds or so until everything is fragrant – you don’t want the garlic to brown. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano and marjoram and heat to a gentle simmer, just a minute or two. Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Set aside to cool.

For the filling, in a medium sauté pan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped spinach and cook several more minutes until spinach is wilted and soft. Set aside to cool a bit.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the egg, then add the ricotta and salt and mix to combine. Stir in the mozzarella and remaining lemon zest, followed by the onion-spinach mixture. Set aside.

Cook the shells according to package instructions the boiling, salted water until barely al dente. If you overcook, the shells will tear as you attempt to fill them. Drain and let cool long enough to handle.

Spread 1/3 of sauce across the bottom of the prepared pan. Fill each shell with ricotta mixture, and arrange in a single layer in the pan. Ladle the remaining sauce over the shells, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with the parmesan, and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes or until the shells are cooked through. Sprinkle with sliced scallions. Serve hot.

Green Sauce

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Green Sauce

Today there was a meeting at work where lunch was served. It was from a place called Brasa, and while the bulk of the meal wasn’t vegetarian, even I could tell this was quality food. It looked like spiced roasted pork and pulled chicken, along with a killer slaw and several varieties of pickled veggies, all for people to pile on fresh buns with a couple sauces, one barbeque and the other just called “green sauce.”

That green sauce looked mighty intriguing and I thought it might be a good match for the pasty (or pastie) I had brought for lunch (I’ll save the pasty story/recipe for another blog post, but it’s my healthier and vegetarian version of the tradition Cornish savory hand pie filled with meat & vegetables). Whoa, was I right! Green sauce made a delicious lunch mega-delicious!

Could I buy it? Could I make it? I must have more! I Googled “Brasa Signature Green Sauce” (the official name of this elixir). I found references to the restaurant only, no recipe, but I did find out that green sauce is really a thing, and there were a number of recipes out there. Based on an attempt to copy the taste, and a desire to make my version a little less caloric, I settled on the following recipe. It’s pretty darn close and every bit as good. It will take anything you sauce or dip or dress with it to mega-delicious status. And don’t be put off by the quantity of cilantro—I’m normally not a big cilantro lover, but it MAKES this sauce. Enjoy!

Pasty and Green Sauce

Pasty with Green Sauce

By the way, in my Googling, I found out Brasa Premium Rotisserie (the full name of the restaurant/caterer) gets outstanding reviews and actually has a separate vegetarian menu. I see a date night with Pete at Brasa very soon!

Green Sauce

Adapted from the green sauce in this recipe from Once Upon a Chef

1 medium jalapeño pepper, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

½ cup mayonnaise (I used the amazing vegan Mindful Mayo made by Earth Balance)

¼ cup Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

A scant ½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. With machine running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and process until it is fully incorporated. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until ready to use. It tastes best if given some time for the flavors to mingle.

Serve on everything and anything!