Stupidly Simple & Delish Grilled Eggplant Zataar with Tahini Slaw (vegan/plant-based)

Tonight’s dinner alfresco was inspired by what was in our fridge, and what I was craving, namely something cold and something grilled… summer is here with a vengeance in Eastern Virginia.

There is really not much of a recipe. I just grilled planks of eggplant on my indoor grill pan with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkled with a little sea salt and zataar.

For the slaw on top, I used a ratio of 1 to 1 to 2 tahini, brine, and olive oil. You could use any vinegar or vinegary-type brine, but I used some leftover escabeche brine.

I simply tossed the dressing with some slaw mix, mounded it on top of the eggplant, garnished with some sliced cucumber and cherry tomatoes, and sprinkled with Everything Bagel spice blend.

Dinner is served!

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Carrot-Cabbage Pakora–Simply Satisfying (vegan & plant-based)

Yield: 1 serving as a meal, 2 as apps (easily multiplies)

Craving pakora after seeing them promoted on a social media website of a favorite restaurant, I decided to make my own with ingredients I had on hand. These go together in a flash and taste like you labored for hours.

While you make the pakora batter, heat scant 1/2 inch vegetable oil in large skillet over medium to medium high heat u til shimmering g on the surface.

1/4 cup shredded cabbage (any color)

1/4 cupshredded carrot

1/4 cup very thinly sliced yellow onion

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup water

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

Accompaniments: chutneys like cilantro, mango, mint

Garnish: sliced green onion

In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients, except accompaniments and garnish with a fork. Create 4 mounds in skillet using 1/4 of batter for each. Gently press tops with a spatula and cook a couple of minutes or until golden brown. Adjust heat if cooking too slow or fast. Gently flip and brown on reverse. Remove to paper towels to drain and serve immediately with accompaniments and garnish.

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Best, Lightest Cauliflower Gnocchi (vegan & plant-based)

Yield: 2 servings

I think I have perfected the lightest, tastiest, and most lovely textured gnocchi with only 1/4 cup flour and 1 tablespoon cornstarch. All the rest is pureed cauli and spices.

Gnocchi Dough:

8 ounces riced, cooked cauliflower, pureed in food processor, and chilled until cold (I steam in bag in microwave), about 3/4 cup

1/4 cup flour

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon onion powder

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Optional: 1 tablespoon olive oil

Bring a medium saucepan filled with salted water to a simmer. Meanwhile, blend all ingredients together with a fork in medium bowl. On cutting board, roll one-fourth of dough at a time into a rope, 3/4-inch in diameter. Slice into 1-inch pieces for a total of 12 to 14. Add to simmering water and cook until gnocchi float. While gnocchi cook, heat olive oil or nonstick spray in skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon to skillet and cook a couple of minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Serve as desired, 6 to 7 per person. I like to place the gnocchi over a bed of lightly sauteed baby spinach with dabs of fruit chutney, foraged blackberries, pistachios or pine nuts, and a few grates of vegan mozzarella, or with sauteed fresh green peas, diced shallot, sliced garlic, white wine, and lemon zest.

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Sichuan-Inspired Noodles in Hot Chili Oil with Spinach

Yield: 1 to 2 Servings

This lightening quick, nutritious, delicious, and colorful meal is satisfying on every level. Plus, if you care about such things, the entire enormous bowl is only 300 calories.

Simply heat together 2 handfuls fresh baby greens and an 8 ounce package shirataki noodles. Drain, place in a large bowl, and toss with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon soy sauce, just shy of 2 tablespoons hot chilli oil, fried chilies in oil, or hot chili crisp–available on the International Isle at the grocery store–and an optional dash crushed Sichuan peppercorns to tastw. Heap into a bowl and garnish with a smidge of the hot chili oil or crisp and a few roasted and lightly salted peanuts.

Dinner is served!

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Sichuan Slaw over Stoneground Cheez Grits (vegan & plant-based)

A delicious deck dinner with our dear friend and Aint B to our dogs, Bonnie Mattiko, signals the cusp of summer:

Sichuan Slaw over Stoneground Cheez Grits

I sometimes like a slaw-salad mix that is part shredded cabbage/carrot and part mixed baby greens. The dressing was mayo, artisanal habenero pickle juice (though any sweet or dill juice would be tasty), and hot chili crisp to taste. I purchase the crisp in the Asian foods aisle at Kroger. It is piquant, but not too spicy.

If anyone cares about such things, I found a no- cal mayo that allows me all the delicious dressing I want. Called Walton Farms, I purchase it at Harris Teeter and, while I don’t care for it on its own, I really like it jazzed up with assertive flavors such as this.

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Sichuan Vegetables in Hot Chili Oil with Garlic, Ginger, Scallions, & Peanuts (vegan & plant-based )

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

I am obsessed with the flavors of a dish called Tofu Braised in Hot Chili Oil at a local restaurant called Judy’s Sichuan. But, I could do without the deep frying of the tofu and the additional oil, as mesmerizing as it is. I have attempted a stir-fried veggie version or two in the past that were unspectacular fails.

But, recently, fellow foodie and friend, Juan Gelpi, introduced me to Sichuan peppercorns. Eureka! The missing flavor. So I started brainstorming and alighted on a non-traditional roasted prep which I love because it is hands-free cleaner, and neater.

I hope you love my tofu-less and non-braised version of Tofu Braised in Hot Chili Oil.

Sichuan Vegetables in Hot Chili Oil with Garlic, Ginger, Scallions, & Peanuts (vegan & plant-based )

Yield: 6 to 8

2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
6 to 8 cups cauliflower, broccoli, or a combination of florets
1 red bell pepper or 1/2 red and 1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons ground Sichuan peppercorns (I purchase at Asian grocery)
2 tablespoons Chinese hot chili oil or fried chili crisp (I purchase at Kroger on International aisle)
2 to 3 inches fresh garlic, peeled and thinly sliced on diagonal
4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced on diagonal
2 scallions, thinly sliced on diagonal
1/2 cup lightly roasted and salted peanuts

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pour oils into large roasting pan. Add vegetables, toss in oil, sprinkle with salt and Sichuan peppercorns. Roast for 20 minutes, stirring after 10. Remove pan from oven. Increase heat to 450 degrees. Stir remaining ingredients into vegetables, scraping up caramelized bits. Return to oven for 10 minutes, stirring after 5. Crack oven door, turn off heat, and allow to cool to warm. Serve immediately.

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Thai Coconut Cauliflower Curry–Quick & Lite (vegan and plant-based)

Yield: 4 servings

Hot Chili Oil is my new obsession. I made this curry as light–and tasty–as possible so I can spoon more of the peanuts in hot chili oil on top.

The dish is a sweet-spicy-salty celebration, both creamy and crunchy.

16 ounces bagged cauliflower hash (Kroger) or riced cauliflower
1-20 ounce can pineapple tidbits in juice (not syrup; do not drain)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into small chunks
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into small chunks
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1-15.5 ounce can lite coconut milk (or regular for more flavor and fat)
2 tablespoons vegan fish sauce or more to taste (sold as vegetarian in Asian markets)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Thai red chili paste (e.g. Taste of Thai brand)
Sea salt to taste
Garnish: lightly roasted and salted peanuts heated with a generous amount of Hot Chili Oil to taste + fresh cilantro
Accompaniment: cucumber and onion salad (slice and combine vegetables with rice wine vinegar, sugar/granulated stevia blend/agave and sea salt to taste; I recommend red onion if available)

In a Dutch oven or large soup pot, combine all ingredients except garnishrs and accompaniment. Heat over medium-high until simmering. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so, stirring frequently, until vegetables are cooked through. Serve garnished with cilantro and peanuts in hot chili oil accompanied by cucumber and onion salad alongside.

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Loaded Baked Onion–only 300 calories! (vegan & plant-based)

Yield: 1 main dish serving, but may also be served as a rich side dish (easily multiplies)

Similar to a loaded baked potato, only with far more juicy flavor, this loaded baked onion is liable to become a staple in your household.

I have never been a breakfast eater–Just give me a chai tea with non-dairy milk and I am good to go–so while I walked each of our dogs for their mile, from 10 until 11, I was contemplating what I might enjoy for an early-ish lunch.

I haven’t been to the grocery store in a bit, so I was also mentally scanning the pantry and fridge as I walked. I wanted something that tasted decadent but was actually quite wholesome. For some reason, I lighted upon a baked onion. My luscious version turned out to be only 300 calories and ready in a snap because I actually cooked it in the microwave and then finished it under the broiler.

It is as addicting as homemade caramelized onion dip, but without the fairly empty calories of potato chips. Win-win!

1 medium yellow onion, peeled, and one quarter inch cut horizontally off top and bottom

Vegetable oil spray

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 small clove garlic minced (about 1/2 teaspoon)

2 tablespoons shredded vegan cheese (I used mozzarella)

1 tablespoon vegan butter (I use a light version that is only 35 calories per tablespoon)

1 tablespoon vegan sour cream

Garnishes: A few pieces sliced green onion, minced parsley, three or so smoked almonds, and a pinch smoked paprika

Spray a gratin dish with vegetable spray, place onion inside, lightly spritz onion with soray, and sprinkle with a hint of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook uncovered in microwave on high setting for 10 minutes. Remove and gently cut an x into top of onion with a serrated or sharp knife, about half way or 3/4 of the way down, being careful not to burn yourself. Preheat broiler. Spoon minced garlic down inside onion and top with shredded cheese. Spritz again with vegetable oil spray and broil two or three minutes or just until top is bubbly and brown. Remove from broiler and top with butter, sour cream, parsley, green onion slices, smoked almonds, and smoked paprika. Serve immediately.

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Indian Spinach and Chickpeas (vegan & plant-based)

Yield: 2 large servings or 3 to 4 with sides

Pantry and fridge staples and about 20 minutes are all you need to put together this creamy, fragrant, addicting, and super healthy dish that is sure to become a “staple.”

1/2 cup water

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 medium onion, cut into large dice

1 large garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1 teaspoon ground cardamon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1-15.5 ounce can diced tomatoes

1 small can diced mild green chilies

2 large handfuls fresh baby spinach (about 4 lightly packed cups)

1-15.5 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons vegan half-and-half (e.g. Silk or Ripple brand)

Optional garnish: lightly roasted and salted cashews

Optional accompaniment: cooked basmati rice

In a large cast iron skillet, bring salted water to a simmer. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and spices, and saute, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender. Add tomatoes and chilies, and heat through. Add spinach and cook, stirring, until spinach is wilted. Add chickpeas and half-and-half, and simmer for 10 minutes or so until flavors are melded. Serve alone or with basmati rice.

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