Sunday, November 11, 2012

Comfort Food

When people learn that Matt and I don’t eat meat or dairy, many ask, “What do you eat?” I think the misconception by some is that our dinner plates are filled with broccoli! While we certainly get our share of greens, the way in which I prepare our meals is far more interesting, flavorful and sexy!

Prior to adopting a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle, I never enjoyed cooking. I saw it as a chore. Since making the switch, I absolutely love it -- I actually find joy in it. In fact, I recently took a series of classes at the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan to enhance my cooking skills.

Not wanting either of us to ever miss meat and dairy (i.e., the Western Diet) motivates me to stay creative in the kitchen. The end result is always delicious and healthful meals that make our diet today better than the one we left behind.

So how do we “veganize” traditional comfort food?

Comfort food is flavorful and easily eaten. It often carries with it nostalgic or sentimental appeal. It’s a treat! One comfort food that takes me back to my childhood days is grilled cheese. I remember well the many afternoons my mom called me in for lunch and I was greeted by the smell of that hot, melted cheese resting between two glorious white pieces of Wonder Bread! Ah, to be young again ...

Today I brought the “vegan” version to our house … as a treat. I write “treat” because “vegan” cheese is processed, so it isn't something I incorporate into our meals very often. How often is “not very often?” Aside from a pinch here and there, about once every 3 months (so it really is a treat!) I also made a “creamy,” rich tomato soup as an accompaniment. Together this dinner is absolutely amazing!

Here are the recipes for both (for dairy eaters, use regular cheddar).

Grilled Cheese for Grown-Ups

4 slices of Ezekiel Bread
2 teaspoons of vegan butter (We use Earth Balance)
Dijon mustard
Red onion jam (see below for recipe) or ¼ sweet Vidalia onion, sliced thin
1 plum tomato (thinly sliced)
Shredded vegan cheddar cheese (Follow Your Heart or Daiya are two solid brands)
Baby spinach or arugula

Lay out the 4 bread slices and spread 2 of them with ¼ teaspoon each of butter.

Spread the other two slices with Dijon mustard and add the onion jam or Vidalia onion. Place 3 slices of tomato on top of the onion. Place the sliced vegan cheddar on top of the tomatoes and spinach or arugula over the cheese. Place the buttered bread slices, butter side up, on top.

Preheat a large nonstick pan with a lid over medium heat. Add the remaining butter to the pan and swirl it around until melted. Place the sandwiches, butter side up, in the pan and cover.

Cook for about 4 minutes, flipping after 2 minutes, until golden brown on both sides.

Red Onion Jam

1 teaspoon canola oil
2 large red onions, very thinly sliced
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons agave nectar

Heat oil over high heat in large nonstick pan.  Add oil and wait for it to shimmer. Add onions, salt, pepper and rosemary. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently to caramelize the onions evenly. Stir in the balsamic and agave. Remove from heat. Set aside for jam to cool.

Tomato Soup

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
4 large vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 large yellow potato, peeled and quartered
6 cups of vegetable broth
10 fresh basil leaves

Heat a medium saucepan over high heat. Add olive oil and wait until it shimmers. Add chopped onion and cook, stirring with wooden spoon, until the onions are slightly browned (about 8 minutes).

Stir in the chopped tomatoes and crushed garlic, cooking for about 5 minutes. Add the potato and broth and simmer until the potato is soft (about 10 minutes).

Carefully place the soup in your Vitamix or blender, add the chopped basil and puree until the soup is smooth. Return to pot and season with salt and pepper, if needed.

*Recipes from Vegan Cooking for Carnivores by Roberto Martinez

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