Vegan Golden Grape Tomato Tart with Spinach Pesto and Spicy Romesco Sauce

Yield: 4 4-inch tarts (you will have enough pesto to make 8 and lots of Romesco sauce for drizzling over any number of dishes that would benefit from a creamy kick)

A lunch that ended up in the woods beside our house is the inauspicious beginning of this recipe that may just be an all-time favorite.

After a nice long hike at First Landing State Park (previously and more picturesquely named Seashore State Park) with my close friend Mary Beth Nixon, I stopped for an Indian buffet to-go from a fairly new restaurant near her house.  Neither the restaurant, nor the styro-box, emitted that intoxicating aroma characteristic of Indian restaurants.  Turns out, there was a good reason.  It was the blandest Indian food I have ever eaten.  Correction, it was the only bland Indian food I have ever eaten.  So I nibbled a little at it on the way home, but on the way up our long driveway, I stopped and tossed all but the container and spoon into my unofficial compost pile in the woods.

Pretty hungry after no breakfast, dog walks, and our hour-long park hike, I wracked my brain for what I could make from the ingredients I had on hand.  Yesterday, I had picked up golden grape tomatoes and bell peppers, among other produce, at a local farmer’s market.  Noting that I had half of a red pepper leftover from a dish I’d made for lunch yesterday, I remembered the outstanding Romesco sauce that had been served over chickpeas at the 1 Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant, Ubuntu, where we had celebrated my birthday (for the final time this year!) last Saturday night in Napa.   I didn’t have almonds, but I had walnuts and they would have to do.

We had also been served the fruitiest, “meatiest” olives in a captivating fennel pesto.  So, while I didn’t have fennel, I did have some fresh baby spinach that I knew would make a lovely pesto.  With my go-to press-in dough baked to make the crust, I could then nestle the grape tomatoes onto a creamy layer of spinach pesto and drizzle the Romesco over the top for beautiful color contrasts and bursts of exciting flavors.

Voila!  Golden Grape Tomato Tarts were born.

Spicy Romesco Sauce:

1/2 of a large red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded

1 extra-large tomato, cored and quartered

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup walnuts (or the nut of your choice; almonds are traditional, but use what you have and feel free to mix and match)

1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

2-3 large cloves garlic, fairly thickly sliced

2-4 small red dried chilies, ends removed, split, seeds removed, and torn into about 3 pieces

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or 1 tablespoon red wine + 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place oven rack in top position and preheat oven to broil.  Line a baking sheet with Silpat or foil and place bell pepper and tomatoes, cut side down, in center of sheet.  Broil for 5  minutes or until the pepper’s skin is charred.  Remove the pepper and broil the tomatoes 5 minutes longer or until their skin is charred.  When cool enough to handle, remove and discard skin.  Meanwhile, heat oil over medium-high in a large cast iron skillet.  Add nuts, bread crumbs, and garlic, and saute, stirring almost constantly, until ingredients begin to turn golden, about 1-2 minutes.  Then add chilies and cook 1-2 minutes more until the color of the chilies brighten and the nuts, bread crumbs and garlic are golden.  Watch carefully to prevent scorching.  Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, including the bell pepper, tomato, all of the contents of the skillet, including the oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Process until almost smooth.  Scrape into an airtight container and set aside.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator.


1 1/2 whole wheat flour (I love spelt, but any kind will do, even white whole wheat or a combination)

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons natural sugar (may omit, but I like the slight sweetness with the sweet tomatoes and spiciness of the Romesco sauce)

2 tablespoons soy milk

1/2 cup canola oil (sounds like a lot, but it is needed; just eat low- or no-fat meals for the rest of the day)

Preheat oven to 400.  Place 4 4-inch tart shells with removable bottoms on a baking sheet (I line my sheet with Silpat).  Then place dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour in wet ingredients.  Stir together with a fork just until completely combined and mixture holds together.  Divide into fourths and press each evenly into the bottom and sides of each tart pan.  The bottom of a drinking glass can help with this task.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the crusts are barely starting to brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 3 minutes.  Leave oven on.  While crusts bake, make Spinach Pesto.

Spinach Pesto:

4 cups lightly packed fresh baby spinach

1/4 cup shelled pistachios (or the nut of your choice)

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place spinach, nuts, and nutritional yeast in the bowl of a food processor and process until a paste begins to form, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  With the motor running, drizzle in olive oil, balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, and a pinch of both salt and pepper.  Continue processing until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper if needed.  Scrape into an airtight container and set aside until needed.  Refrigerate any leftovers.

72 golden grape tomatoes or about 1 pint (red would be fine, but not as nice of a color contrast with the Romesco sauce)

Garnish: fresh basil sprigs

After crusts have baked and cooled for about 3 minutes, spread each with 1 generous tablespoon of Pesto Sauce.  Arrange 18 tomatoes–or whatever will fit nicely in one layer–on top of the pesto.  Drizzle each with 1 generous tablespoon of the Romesco Sauce.  Return the tarts to the oven and bake an additional 15 minutes or until the crusts are nicely browned and the Romesco Sauce looks slightly set.  Remove the baking sheet from the oven and carefully remove the tart pans to a wire rack until cool enough to handle.  Remove the tart bottoms from the side rings, leaving the tarts sitting on their removable bottoms.   Serve warm garnished with sprigs of basil.  You may heat and pass additional Romesco Sauce if desired.

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Vegan Red Lentil-Pistachio Spread Will Bloom on Your Platter

On the Saturday night before Easter, my husband and I enjoyed a Middle Eastern dinner at the new Azar’s at Hilltop in VA Beach.  I savored my lamb-less Lenten, I mean, Lentil Soup, redolent of cardamom, with a wine I had never sampled before, but certainly will again: Ksara Vineyard’s Blanc-de-Blancs  from Lebanon.  A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Chardonnay, this wine is its own breed: fruity, nutty and…hmm…is “spicy” the right world?  It tastes delectably “different.”  Try it!
From The Blooming Platter Cookbook

And I happened to think that it would be lovely with my Red Lentil-Pistachio Spread, one of the Starters in  The Blooming Platter Cookbook: A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes.  Have you bought your copy yet so that you can get cookin’ on this and some 175 other delectable recipes (if I do say so myself)?  The book is available on-line at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble or, locally, at Prince Books, Norfolk’s favorite bookstore.

Remember, you can also enter for three chance to win a copy through the new blog created by my publisher, Vegan Heritage Press.  Don’t delay, though, as that contest ends tonight at midnight.

You can also head over to VegWeb’s blog, register, and enter for still another separate chance to win a copy.  That give-away ends May 3.

Good luck!

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Vegan Tunisian Tostatos with Vegan Lemon-Chili Cream

Yield: 4 servings

I love playful twists on fusion cuisine, especially when the result is a fun to eat, like  a tostato.  In this case, I combine my love of Mexican and Southwestern food with the seemingly more exotic flavors of Tunisia.

The finished dish is beautiful, healthful and a little surprising.  But it works, probably because cumin and coriander are spices common to both cuisines.  Plus, the lentils function similarly to pinto or black beans on a tostato:  a creamy-chewy counterpoint to the crisp tortilla.  By itself, the lentil mixture is mouth-watering, but it is transformed into something extraordinary when crowned with a drizzle of the silky Lemon-Chile Cream.

These are irresistible bejeweled with ruby-red pomegranate seeds and crunchy green pistachios, encircled with fresh chopped cilantro, and crowned with a plump dried apricot.

Vegan Lemon-Chili Cream

1/4 cup vegan sour cream

juice of 1/2 of a lemon

dried chili flakes to taste

pinch of sea salt to taste

In a small cup or bowl, whisk together all ingredients.  Set aside.

Vegan Tunisian Tostatos

canola oil

4-6 to 8-inch whole wheat tortillas

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium, yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 large garlic cloves, sliced

1 large red bell pepper, stem, membrane and seeds removed, cut in half crosswise and then into 1/4-inch strips

sea salt to taste

12 dried apricots, chopped

8 sundried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped

3 tablespoons hummus

1 tablespoon tahini

2-4 tablespoons water

juice of 1/2 of a lemon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

2 1/2 cups steamed lentils (should be firm enough to hold their shape)

Garnish: 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro, 4 dried apricots, pomegranate seeds, chopped pistachios

Preheat the oven to warm.  Line a baking sheet with paper towels.  In a large cast iron skillet, heat a thin layer of oil to shimmering over medium-high heat. Fry tortillas, one at a time, for a minute or two on each side or until lightly browned and crisp, adding more oil as necessary.  Remove each on to the prepared baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven.

To make the lentil mixture: whisk together hummus, tahini, water, lemon juice and all spices until well combined.  Set aside.  Heat olive oil to shimmering in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion, garlic, bell pepper, and a pinch of salt, and saute, stirring almost continuously, for 3 minutes.  Add the apricots and sundried tomatoes and saute, still stirring, for 2 more minutes.  Add hummus mixture, cilantro and lentils, and cook, stirring continuously, until well combined and heated though.

To serve, place each tortilla on a serving plate, mound with 1/4 of the lentil mixture, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro around the perimeter, spoon 1/4 of the Lemon-Chili Cream over the lentil mixture, and garnish with a dried apricot, a few pomegranate seeds and some chopped pistachios.

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Vegan Creamy Spiked Spinach, Mushroom and Tempeh Marinara

Yield: 4-6 servings

I can’t think of a time when we’ve visited my husband’s family in Philadelphia that his mother or big sister, Tina, didn’t make Creamed Chipped Beef for breakfast on the Sunday morning of our departure (fondly  known by some as S*** on a Shingle).  I’ve never partaken of it, of course, usually choosing something like a bagel, soymilk and juice instead.

But a couple of weekends ago, I decided to create a vitamin- and protein-packed dish of a similar texture–if not flavor–to enjoy over the communal toast or hashed brown potatoes.  Joe’s family is incredibly solicitous when it comes to my diet, so there was tempeh aplenty, courtesy of Joe’s little sister, Terri Ann, and homemade marinara sauce or “gravy” with no meat or cheese, courtesy of Tina.  Since both had gone to some trouble, I wanted to be sure that their efforts weren’t wasted.

The recipe that follows is what resulted and it is delicious for a hardy brunch or dinner.  I like it served over grilled ciabatta or something similar, though you could certainly serve it over pasta or polenta.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

pinch sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 large cloves garlic, minced

8 ounces tempeh, any flavor

2 tablespoons steak or grill seasoning (I used steak seasoning with a lot of cardamom seeds and ground it in my spice grinder)

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 teaspoon dried oregano

8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick

12 ounces lite beer or non-alcoholic beer (see note below)

1 cup homemade or prepared marinara sauce

1 tablespoon Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

1 teaspoon brown rice syrup or agave nectar

8 cups lightly packed baby spinach (no need to stem or chop)

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons soy creamer

2 tablespoons whole wheat flour

Heat oil to shimmering in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion, and saute, stirring, for one minute.  Season with salt and pepper, and add garlic and continue to saute, stirring, for 2 more minutes.   Crumble tempeh into the pan and sprinkle with steak or grill seasoning, basil, marjoram, and oregano.  Continue sauteeing for about 5 minutes or until tempeh just barely starts to brown.  Add the mushrooms and saute, stirring frequently, until they release their moisture and it begins to evaporate, about 3 minutes.  Add the beer and cook, stirring occasionally for about 3 minutes.  Add the marinara sauce, Liquid Aminos, and brown rice syrup, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 more minutes.  Stir in spinach just until uniformly wilted, but still bright green.  Stir in 1/4 cup soy creamer and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through.  Whisk together flour and remaining 2 tablespoons of soy creamer to make a paste, and stir into the tempeh mixture.  Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently, just to make sure that the flour no longer tastes raw.  Serve hot over grilled ciabatta, pasta or polenta.

Note:  According to Ali Tadayon in “Beware the Beer: Is Yours Vegan,” found in the Vegan Mainstream e-newsletter, not all beer is vegan, as it may include albium (derived from animal blood), isinglass (derived from the swim bladders of fish), gelatin, charcoal, pepsin, lactose, and even insects.  She recommends the following vegan-approved beers: Amstel, Corona, Heineken, New Belgium Brewery, Pabst Brewing, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and Tecate over these non-vegan ones:  Castle Rock Brewery, Guinness, Newcastle Brown Ale, and Red Stripe.

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Vegan Chorizo, White Beans and Spinach Valencian

Yield: 4-6 servings

My good friend and dance teacher, Brent Dunn, has been gradually learning the “Vegan-ese Waltz.”  Recently, he turned me on to Trader Joe’s vegan chorizo.  ¡Delicioso!  It’s rich red spicy goodness doesn’t cry out for much to become a meal.  But I was obsessed with combining it with the flavor of orange, having been at a party Friday night hosted by my friend who went to college in Spain and was regaling us with a tale of a trip to Valencia.  Here’s my spicy Valencian ode (almost as spicy as the story she told!):

1 tablespoon hazelnut or walnut oil (olive oil or canola oil would work fine)

1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

pinch kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 large cloves, garlic, minced

1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch slices and then cut in half

12 ounces vegan chorizo, casing removed

1 teaspoon smoked paprika (be sure it’s smoked)

1-15.5 ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup vegetable stock

1-15 ounce can petite diced tomatoes

4 cups lightly packed fresh baby spinach

1/2 cup cream sherry (contains no cream; refers to a slight sweetness)

Zest of one medium-large naval orange

1/4 cup minced parsley or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons plain soy creamer

1/2 to 3/4 cup sliced black olives (choose a meaty variety; brine-cured preferred)

Optional accompaniment: sliced bread, brushed with hazelnut oil (or olive oil) and grilled

Optional garnish: finely chopped hazelnuts

Heat oil to shimmering in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion, and saute, stirring, for one minute.  Season with salt and pepper, and add garlic and continue to saute, stirring, for 2 more minutes.   Add bell pepper, and continue sauteeing for about 3 minutes.  Crumble chorizo into the pan and sprinkle with paprika.  Continue sauteeing for about 2 minutes or until heated through.  Add the beans and do the same.  Add stock, tomatoes and sherry and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.  Stir in spinach just until uniformly wilted, but still bright green.  Stir in zest, parsley and soy creamer and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through.  Remove from heat, stir in olives, garnish if desired, and serve hot.

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Vegan Tofu en Papillote

Yield: 8 servings

This has become one of my newest go-to recipes for dinner guests, though I made it today for lunch. It’s beautiful, light, healthful and a little special because of being baked en papillote or in parchment paper. I found the recipe online (see “Source” below), but it called for grouper. I simply substitute tofu, cut the onion in half before slicing, substitute yellow or orange bell pepper for the green and use a little less olive oil but, otherwise, I leave it as is. It’s perfect accompanied by a simple salad such as my Vegan Shitake-Cucumber-Herb Salad or my Vegan Israeli Cous-Cous Summer Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette.

2-12 ounce boxes firm or extra-firm tofu (not Silken), placed on a cutting board with a plate and weight on top to press out excess moisture, and then sliced lengthwise into 4 equal pieces
8 rectangles parchment paper about three times as wide as a piece of the tofu
optional: 16-4 inch lengths of kitchen twine
2 pints grape tomatoes (roasted in a dab of olive oil at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes, just until they barely start to shrivel)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, peeled, halved and sliced
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, sliced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine or sherry (the sherry is my addition and it’s a nice alternative)
1-2 unpeeled zucchini, halved lengthwise and then sliced into 1/4-1/3″ pieces
coarse sea or kosher salt to taste
freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh basil chiffonade (stack leaves, roll tightly and slice very thinly into ribbons) or approximately 1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano (Greek if you can find it)
a little extra-virgin olive oil

In large cast iron skillet over medium-high, heat olive oil to shimmering. Add onions and peppers and sauté, reducing heat if necessary, for about 6 minutes or until tender. Add tomatoes, garlic, and wine or sherry and simmer for another minute. Stir in zucchini, season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Working with one piece parchment and tofu at a time, set the tofu in the center of one of the rectangles of parchment paper. Season with salt and pepper. Top with 1/8 of vegetable mixture and sauce, and sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon fresh basil (or 1/8 of the dried) and a pinch of dried oregano. Bring the top and bottom edges up and over the tofu, slightly overlapping. Hold with one hand while you secure the ends with the other to prevent any sauce from escaping. Either twist and then tie each end with the twine or fold each end up toward the center a couple of times, crease, fold under one or two times, and crease again. (I never have twine and always use the folding method I devised, which works great, especially with one hand!) Place each parcel of tofu on a large baking sheet and place on the middle rack of your preheated oven for 25-30 minutes. (The lesser time is enough for the tofu and zucchini.) Carefully transfer one packet to each plate and nudge open at the center. Drizzle with olive oil if you like and serve.

Source: Kalofagas–Greek Food & Beyond by Peter Minakis

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Vegan Pasta Caponata

My Caponata is lovely tossed with pasta. Simply cook your pasta in well-salted water (I used angel hair, as that’s what I had on hand), drain, transfer to a serving bowl and toss with as much golden savory caponata as your heart desires. Spoon a little more on top if you’d like, sprinkle with a bit of optional nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan and garnish with a fresh basil sprig. My caponata includes pine nuts, but a few more nuts on top could never be a bad thing.

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Vegan Eggplant, Green Olive and Caper Caponata

Yield: approximately 5-6 cups

Scrumptious as an appetizer on pita triangles, the leftovers will either be used to stuff a tomato or pepper, tossed with pasta or spooned over grilled tofu for a satisfying full meal.

I found this recipe at the site listed below under “Source” and adapted it a bit. I omitted the mushrooms because one of our dinner guests doesn’t care for them; I used yellow instead of green pepper because it sits better with my husband; I reduced the amount of olive oil per the author’s recommendation; I used all green olives instead of part ripe as I didn’t have any; I substituted ketchup (sorry!) for tomato paste because, again, I didn’t have any; and I substituted red wine for red wine vinegar because, that’s right, I didn’t have any on hand.

The result was savory, beautifully golden in color, and lusciously balanced in flavors. I think I’ll make it my way every time. Here is my version:

1 medium eggplant, unpeeled and finely chopped
1 large onion, medium-fine dice
1/3 cup medium-fine diced yellow bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup pitted green olives, finely chopped
1/4 cup drained capers
3 tablespoons pine nuts
6 ounces or 3/4 cup ketchup (or tomato paste)
1/3 cup water2 tablespoons red wine (or red wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons natural sugar
1 teaspoon coarse sea or kosher salt
1/ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Accompaniment: heated or grilled whole wheat pita triangles, toasts or crackers

In a large heavy saucepan, combine first five ingredients. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, stir well, and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Eggplant should be cooked, but not overly soft. Refrigerate until serving time. (May be frozen.) Serve at room temperature with heated or grilled whole wheat pita triangles, toasts or crackers.

Source: Adapted from who shared the recipe from Noteworthy, the cookbook of the Ravinia Festival in Chicago.
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Vegan Israeli Cous-Cous Summer Salad with Vegan Champagne Vinaigrette

Yield: approximately 6 servings

There is something about the pleasantly chewy whole-wheat cous-cous, the juicy-crunchy cucumber and red onion, and the fragrant basil bathed in a decadent, but light, citrusy dressing that makes one bite feel like you have just done something very nice for yourself.


1 cup Israeli whole wheat cous-cous (you could substitute regular cous-cous and or the non-whole wheat Israeli variety), prepared according to package directions
1/2 of a medium red onion, peeled and finely diced
1 cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and finely diced (I leave the skin on for color and nutrition)
1 tablespoon fresh basil chiffonade (stack leaves, roll tightly, and slice into very thin ribbons)
zest of one orange
juice of one lemon
Coarse sea or kosher salt to taste
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Vegan Champagne Vinegar Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Optional garnish: sprig of fresh basil and/or a fresh orange segment

In a medium bowl, gently toss all ingredients together. Drizzle dressing over, toss gently again, chill and serve over an optional bed of baby greens or watercress with an optional basil sprig garnish. If desired, you can reserve a tiny bit of dressing (or make extra) to toss with the greens.

Vegan Champagne Vinegar Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon champagne vinaigrette (it’s expensive, but worth the extra cost for an occasional splurge)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse sea or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl or cup.

Optional baby greens or watercress

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