Vegan Grits and Black Bean Cakes with Salsa Verde

Yield: 8 appetizer servings of 1 small cake per person, or 4 main dish servings of 1 large or 2 small cakes per person

At a restaurant recently, my friend Katherine ordered grit cakes over greens. The greens were exceptional, but I had to also have a tiny taste of one of the cakes as “research.” They were very creamy–loaded with cheese–with a crispy exterior, but not particularly flavorful. Still, that did it: I had a craving for vegan grit cakes and a mission to make them tastier.

Not long after, I read a recipe for mashed plantains and, suddenly, I knew that my next experiment would be grit and black bean cakes with mashed plantains. I made a mess out of the latter, turning them into tough little pieces of leather–dog chews–because I roasted them too high and too long. I’ll post my tasty redux soon. But, in the meantime, I wanted to post the cakes, as they are sensational. Pressing panko bread crumbs directly into the cakes–how did we function previously without these crispiest of crumbs?–gives them a beautifully crunchy crust without any other binder or batter.

Grits are often served with greens, so I wanted to create a twist; hence, the green salsa. It could scarcely be fresher, healthier or more perfectly married to the cakes. Both the cakes and the sauce took quite a bit of tinkering to get the flavor and balance just right, but I loved the result and trust you will too. They’re best served immediately after making, but would probably reheat well in the oven at 350 degrees for a few minutes. Heating them in the microwave renders them a little soft, but certainly still edible.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup peeled and diced onion (I used red onion)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
pinch salt
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup quick-cooking grits
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 can black beans, rinsed, drained and coarsely mashed with a potato masher (not a food processor)
1 cup panko bread crumbs placed into a shallow bowl
canola oil (1/4″ deep in a large cast iron skillet)
Salsa Verde (below)
Recommended Garnishes: chopped fresh tomato, a dollop of vegan sour cream and a sprig of fresh cilantro for each serving

In a medium saucepan over medium-high, heat oil to shimmering. Add onion and garlic and saute until very soft and starting to turn golden. Add water and bring to a gentle boil. Stir in grits and next 5 ingredients and simmer, stirring very frequently, for 5-7 minutes or until water is evaporated and grits no longer taste raw. Remove from heat and spoon into a bowl. Stir in mashed beans until well incorporated. Cool to room temperature or ever-so-slightly warmer. The cakes are especially easy to handle if you make the smaller version as described below, though I made the larger ones for the photo and they handled beautifully. (Note: I haven’t tried chilling the mixture. I’m not sure if the cakes would get warm enough in the center, but try it if you like and let me know how it works.) While mixture cools make Salsa Verde (below).

When ready to saute the cakes, heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Meanwhile, shape cakes using either one or two scant ice cream scoops of the grits and black bean mixture per cake. Shape each cake into a patty in your palm and then dredge in panko bread crumbs, carefully turning to coat both sides. Place into oil and cook 2-3 minutes per side. Remove cakes to a paper towel-lined plate or tray to absorb any excess oil. Keep warm in oven while you cook the remaining cakes. If cooking the cakes in batches, use a spatula to try to remove any bread crumbs from the oil in the skillet, as they are likely to burn if allowed to remain in the oil during the cooking of more than one batch. Serve warm with Salsa Verde and garnish as desired.

Salsa Verde:

3 large tomatillos halved, papery skin removed (slightly larger than a golf ball; if tomatillos aren’t available, use a medium green tomato)
.66 ounce package fresh cilantro, stems and all
3 ounces fresh baby spinach
Optional: a tiny bit of a hot green chili (seeds and membrane removed)
1 large shallot, peeled and halved (about the size of a golf ball)
2 large cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon vegetable bouillon or 1/2 of one extra-large cube
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (Ancho is particularly good)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
zest of one half of a lime
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Heat gently in a small saucepan over medium heat or in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl for a couple of minutes.

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Vegan Quinoa, Corn, Peach and Boiled Peanut Salad with Sweet Tea Dressing

Yield: 4-6 servings

Salads don’t get any more southern or more tasty than this one, not to mention beautiful and nutritious. Do yourself a favor and the salad justice by using only farm-fresh produce because the taste of the salad is largely dependent on that of the corn and peaches. If boiled peanuts sound odd in a salad, you’ll be so surprised. Their mouth feel is similar to beans, but their flavor is distinctive and delicious. I purchased mine at a farmer’s market, but they are sold in cans in the veggie sections of grocery stores. For a formal ‘south’ren touch, serve the salad in teacups like the one in the photo which I inherited from my late Nana. A sprig of mint or parsley completes the pretty picture.





For this recipe and some 170+ more,

I invite you to purchase my first cookbook:

The Blooming Platter:

A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes

Vegan Heritage Press

Spring 2011

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Vegan Cucumber-Dill Spread, Dip or Sauce

I wanted to share this photo of my Vegan Cucumber-Dill Spread, Dip or Sauce recipe as a Roma tomato topper–a cooling and refreshing summer appetizer or accompaniment to a savory soup. Doesn’t it look like a little boat? Served this way, the spread is even more healthful and colorful than on bread. You could alternatively serve the spread on cucumber slices for twice as much cucumber goodness. Just make sure that, whichever slice you choose, it is thick enough to support the topping when lifted from the plate. Find the recipe in the post below or at:

Note: the spread in the photo was actually made with silken, instead of regular, tofu. It is a little softer, but it is firm enough to hold its shape quite well.
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Vegan Cucumber-Dill Spread, Dip or Sauce

Yield: 2-3 cups spread, dip or sauce

Every good southern girl needs a tasty filling for tea sandwiches in her repertoire. This one was inspired by a favorite of my mother’s: cucumber-dill. The timing of this post was prompted by the gift of a home-grown cucumber from my friend and co-worker, Mylinda. Mom’s version was made with cream cheese and, while I could have simply substituted vegan cream cheese, it is expensive and has a fair amount of calories. So I experimented with regular firm tofu and the result was a sumptuous light spread, as delicious–and more healthful–on Roma tomato slices as it is on crustless bread. When prepared with silken firm tofu, it doubles as a dip or a sauce (delicious on vegan fish fillets or over fried green tomatoes). A few simple ingredients enhance the flavor so that you never even miss the cream cheese…what cream cheese?

1 cucumber, ends trimmed, grated, and left to drain for about an hour in a medium-fine strainer (I leave the skin on and the seeds in for added nutrition)
14 ounces regular firm tofu (or 12 ounces silken firm tofu)
2 garlic or roasted garlic cloves or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Amino Acids
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
pinch granulated sugar or raw sugar (optional, but I like it for balance)
2 generous tablespoons fresh dill (you don’t need to chop first; just break off a couple of pieces equivalent to about 1 tablespoon each
zest of 1/2 of a lemon

Place tofu, garlic, lemon juice, Amino Acids, salt, seasoned salt, pepper and optional sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until smooth and creamy. Scrape into a bowl and gently fold in dill, zest and cucumber until well-combined. It is a perhaps better if made a few hours ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container so that flavors can marry, but you may serve it immediately.

Note: the spread in the photo was actually made with silken, instead of regular, tofu. It is a little softer, but it holds its shape quite well.

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Vegan Egg Salad

Yield: approximately 2 cups

As a vegetarian, one of my all-time favorite old-fashioned sandwiches has to have been fluffy egg salad. Once I became a vegan, I figured they were a thing of the past. Happily, that turned out not to be the case. However, all tofu egg salad recipes are not created equal. I have made recipes and tasted purchased varieties that didn’t satisfy the craving. But this recent creation made the grade. Feel free to adjust proportions to suit your taste, but do keep in mind that, while it is an indispensable ingredient to an authentic taste, celery seed is a little bitter, so avoid over-doing it. Also, if you don’t eat sugar, you may leave it out. I found, though, that because boiled eggs are ever-so-slightly sweet–at least according to my best recollection–the sugar is a necessary addition if authenticity is your goal. Similarly, I use apple cider vinegar for its subtle sweet note but, by all means, use white vinegar if you have it on hand or even dill or sweet pickle juice.

14 ounces firm tofu, drained (not Silken–a test proved it to be unsatisfactory)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 stalks of celery, trimmed, sliced vertically into 4 strips and sliced thinly crosswise

3 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/2-1 teaspoon yellow mustard

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon celery seed

1/2 teaspoon celery salt

1 teaspoon dried dill weed or 1 tablespoon fresh minced dill

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar to taste

Mash tofu with salt in a medium-size bowl using a potato masher or a fork. Don’t worry about over-mashing, as the texture seems to improve with additional mashing. Fold in celery with a fork. Whisk together all remaining ingredients except additional salt, black pepper and sugar. Pour over tofu mixture and mash until dressing is completely incorporated. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and sugar if needed. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
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Vegan Macaroni-and-Cheese

Yield: 4 Servings

The key to delicious macaroni and cheese is in the sauce. Vegan cheese sauces come in many permutations. Jo Stepaniak’s The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook contains many scrumptious varieties, each with a slightly different flavor and texture profile. Some are essentially white sauces (made with soy milk and water plus flour or kuzu) to which the likes of nutritional yeast, miso, nuts and more are added to yield a rich cheesy flavor. Others get their body from pureed veggies or white beans. And I suppose, you could also melt grated vegan block cheese in a white sauce (that is, if you could get it to melt!). The one I’ve created, inspired by Stepaniak, combines veggies with firm silken tofu and other goodies for a luscious and robust sauce that is thick, creamy and golden. Plus it is packed with both protein and vitamins.

salt (enough to make the cooking water taste like the ocean)
8 ounces pasta (I used whole wheat rotini in the photograph)

1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 of a large red bell pepper, cut into large cubes
6 ounces firm Silken tofu, drained
1 cup cooked carrots
2 generous tablespoons cashews
4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon miso (dark or light)
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sweet or smoky Paprika
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons unsweetened soy milk or pasta water
salt and pepper to taste

Optional Topping:
1 tablespoon vegan butter or olive oil
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (or whatever crumbs you prefer)

Whatever strikes your fancy, from sauteed mushrooms to cooked green peas to diced sun-dried tomatoes. (In the photo, I served the peas on the side and as a garnish.)

In a large pot over medium-high heat, bring water and salt to a boil. Stir in pasta, reduce heat if necessary to simmer the pasta, and cover with a lid slightly ajar. Cook until al dente. Drain and combine with sauce (plus any optional inclusions) and top with crumbs if desired.

To make sauce, heat olive oil in a skillet. Add pepper hunks and saute until slightly browned in some places. While the peppers cook, make optional topping. I prefer to toast the crumbs on top of the stove and sprinkle over the dish so as not to dry out the macaroni and cheese. Simply heat the oil over medium-high in a skillet, stir in the bread crumbs, and continue stirring frequently until crumbs are golden brown.

Meanwhile, finish the sauce by combining peppers with remaining sauce ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until smooth and creamy.

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Blackeyed Pea Pilaf over Collards with Green Tomato Salsa and Roasted Pecans

Yield: app. 4 servings

You can take the girl out of the Deep South, but you can’t take the Deep South out of the girl. Partially inspired by my roots and partially inspired by what was in my pantry, this dish is a cleaned up, contemporary take on collards and Hoppin’ John with a nod to fried green tomatoes, though there is nothing breaded or fried about it. Liquid Smoke replaces the fat back in the greens which are also cooked with diced tomatoes for a boost of color, flavor and vitamins. The next layer provides protein and fiber in the form of a whole grain pilaf that begins with a packaged mix to which blackeyed peas are added. For a burst of crunchy and colorful freshness, a salsa of green tomato, orange bell pepper and red onion crowns the layers. And for good measure, a few roasted pecan pieces provide the perfect garnish. Despite the layers, this dish comes together surprisingly quickly.

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup finely chopped yellow, white or green onion
1 ¾ cup faux chicken stock (vegetable stock would work fine)
1 box Near East brand “Whole Grain Blends”—Roasted Pecan and Garlic flavor, including seasoning packet
1-15 ounce can vegan black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or 2 teaspoons dried

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces rinsed, dried and chopped fresh collards (I use the pre-chopped read-to-eat variety that comes in a plastic bag)
1-15 ounce can petite diced tomatoes in juice
salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
a few dashes of Liquid Smoke to taste (go easy so as not to overpower the other flavors)
2 tablespoons apple cider or white vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar or raw sugar

1 green tomato, cored and diced
½ of an orange bell pepper (red would be fine), cut in half cross-wise and then sliced into strips
¼ of a medium-large red onion, peeled and finely diced
1 scant tablespoon granulated white or raw sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider or white vinegar
salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce to taste

¼-1/3 cup pecan pieces, roasted at 450 degrees for 5-7 minutes (watch carefully) and lightly salted, if desired

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté, stirring frequently, for a few minutes or until softened. Stir in faux chicken stock and pilaf and cover loosely. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook 25-30 minutes, stirring only occasionally, until water is absorbed/evaporated. Remove pan from heat, stir in spice packet and let stand 3-5 minutes. Gently stir in blackeyed peas and parsley.

Meanwhile, in a large pot or wok, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat. Add collards and stir-fry for approximately 10 minutes, stirring quite frequently to prevent sticking. Stir in remaining ingredients and cook approximately 7-10 more minutes or until greens are tender. Sadly, when the greens are at their brightest and prettiest green, they are not tender enough to be palatable. They will be a darker green when cooked to the optimum degree of doneness.

While greens/tomatoes and pilaf cook, prepare salsa by combining all ingredients and tossing gently to combine. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately; otherwise, set aside.

To serve, spoon greens and tomatoes into the bottom of a serving dish. Heap the pilaf into a pleasing dome on top of the greens and spoon the salsa over the mound. Top with a sprinkling of roasted pecans. Alternatively, follow the same procedure in individual shallow bowls.

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Vegan Chicken Pot Pie Soup

Yield: 6 Servings

This soup was inspired by “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on the Food Network. While I find much of the food–not to mention the portion sizes–appalling, that show has nonetheless inspired some cleaned-up and veganized versions of diner food. Though fairly thick, this soup is still lighter than chicken pot pie because the thin crust is baked separately, broken up and served like croutons on top.

For this recipe and some 170+ more,
I invite you to purchase my first cookbook:

The Blooming Platter:
A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes

Vegan Heritage Press
Spring 2011

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Vegan Savory Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Yield: 4 Servings

This recipe was mentioned in a recent post as a perennial Thanksgiving favorite by my good friend since childhood, Donna Lynn. Even as kids, my sister and I never cared for those sweet potatoes smothered in pillows of marshmallow. So, we pounced on this recipe when we found it. Simple though they may be, the flavors of the ingredients, when combined, are more than the sum of their parts. While the original recipe contained dairy, I’ve veganized it here:

2 medium sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons soy sour cream (the original recipe called for 1/2 cup–nowadays that seems like too much of a good thing)
2 tablespoons vegan butter (I like Earth Balance)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or 2 teaspoons dried
2 green onions, sliced
Optional Garnish: 4 teaspoons sour cream and the green part of 1-2 green onions, finely sliced

Either bake the sweet potatoes, oiled and pierced, for 50 minutes in a preheated 400 degree oven or microwave them on “high” until just tender, about 6-10 minutes. Cut in half lengthwise, scoop out the pulp and, using a fork, mash with next 3 ingredients until free of lumps. Stir in parsley and green onions and spoon lightly back into potato shells. If potatoes have cooled down more than you like, return to oven or microwave just until heated through. Serve warm with optional garnishes divided among the four halves.

Source: This recipe has been a family favorite for so long that we no longer know from whence it came, so I’m going to credit my sister Ginny as she discovered it initially.

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