Dragon Noodle Salad

The salads chapter of Isa Does It has been neglected, but I’ve become bored with lunches of late and went back to Chapter 2 for some ideas to get me through the summer slump.  As I am writing this review of my 20th Isa Does It recipe of 2014 I realize there is something I’ve neglected to mention about this spectacular cookbook, Isa!  This is a cookbook that is actually entertaining to read, not to mention beautifully designed.  Isa’s style of writing is unique and conversational; you can check out her style on her Post Punk Kitchen blog.

The Salads Chapter of Isa Does It has an intro that declares don’t roll your eyes at salad and let’s make this the salad-for-dinner decade!  I’ve already proclaimed my love of Briny Caesar Dressing, but rarely have salad as dinner unless it’s a hearty burrito bowl.  That said, the Dragon Noodle Salad is a satisfying salad that doesn’t leave you wanting anything except maybe more salad.

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It’s also a simple dish with limited need to chop or prep.  The recipe calls for rice noodles with cucumbers and radishes in a peanut dressing served over a bed of greens.  I added some peppers because the Thai flavors seemed to beg for them; I also added chopped peanuts and scallions for garnish.  The peanut butter is the immediate flavor of the dressing, but garlic, rice vinegar, sesame oil and sriracha provide balance as you continue to eat the dish.  I found it not overly spicy (I love a good spicy dish), and added more sriracha to leftovers.  I also topped with spiralized zucchini because it’s summer and there are local zucchini to be eaten (and it’s pretty).

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This was a great dish to break the summer slump.  I had some issues with the noodles sticking together in the leftovers but I may have overcooked them.  There is a similar recipe on Isa’s blog; Zucchini Noodles with Peanut Sauce (seems to sub ginger for garlic – I say just use both!).

Isa Does It Recipes: 20

Whole Food Plant Based Creamy Chipotle Dressing & Sauce

Today’s post has two dressing recipes and three meal ideas, woo-hoo!  I thought of splitting it up but nah.  This post is a good example of how I cook.  I like to cook mainly on the weekend and either reheat my dishes, or at least have the more time consuming components ready for repurposing.

As the 4th of July holiday weekend was coming to a close I didn’t really feel like facing the reality of meal planning for a work week; That said, I also didn’t want to have to deal with underwhelming lunches and crickets at the thought of dinner (chirping, not to eat).  I decided to make a Mexican Chopped Salad that was quite satisfying, and a hit when I’d brought it along to a family function.

IMG_6375The salad is based on a recipe I’d discovered on Pinterest.  I tend to go rogue when it comes to salad components.  This time I used red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, red onion, grilled corn, black beans, and cilantro tossed in the dressing.  I’ve played with the original dressing recipe a bit and think I finally got it where I want it.  The modifications I’ve made were to omit the oil, and make it less sweet and more tangy.

For the Chopped Salad:
zest and juice of 2 limes
2 tablespoons of juice from jarred pickled jalapeño slices
1 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

 

This is a light, refreshing summer salad.  To turn my salad into a dinner, I made brown rice (adding salt, and the zest and juice of one lime at the start of the cooking process) to accompany the salad.  Add to a tortilla with some fresh avocado, green onion, and pickled jalapeños and this makes a great burrito.

As good as this was, I found myself craving something more indulgent and thought a creamy chipotle dressing would do the trick.  I took some inspiration from the Briny Caesar Dressing recipe in Isa Does It and thought what if I follow the same basic principle of a cashew base but swap the caesar dressing’s lemon, garlic and capers with lime, chipotles in adobo and pickled jalapeño…Just like that awesome was born.

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Creamy Chipotle Dressing

1/2 cup  raw cashews, soaked for at least two hours
2 cloves garlic
zest and juice of one lime
1/4 cup picked jalapeños with some pickling liquid
2 chipotle peppers
2 tablespoons adobo sauce
1 teaspoon cumin
3/4 cup water
dash of salt

Drain the cashews and place all ingredients in a blender or food processor.  Puree until smooth, approximately 3-5 minutes scraping the side of the bowl as needed.

IMG_6380To put together my salad I chopped some romaine lettuce, and tossed it with fresh squeezed lime juice and ground pepper.  I layered on some of the leftover rice from my burritos and topped with the Mexican chopped salad.  Add avocado, green onion, and pickled jalapeños; dress with a few drizzles of the chipotle dressing and finish off with a crushed tortilla chip or two.  The simple salad is amped up to a delicious burrito bowl.

IMG_6384The dressing was better than I could have hoped with the smokiness of the chipotles with some tang from the lime and pickled jalapeños.  It also has a great texture with no added oil.  As soon as I tasted the chipotle dressing I immediately thought chipotle pasta.  Once upon a time I loved the Cheesecake Factory Chipotle Chicken Pasta; a whole food plant based version hadn’t occurred to me until I had this dressing.  It’s a simple reinvention of leftovers.

Chipotle Pasta

Cook 4 oz of whole wheat penne until just under done.  Reserve 1/3 cup of cooking liquid before draining the pasta, and set the pasta aside.  Return the pot to the stove and add 2 cups of the Mexican chopped salad and the reserved cooking liquid.  I cooked on medium-high heat for about 2-3 minutes just to warm through.  Add 1 cup of the creamy chipotle dressing and stir.  Heat another minute or so before adding the pasta back to the pot, and stir to coat the pasta in the sauce and mix all ingredients.  Continue to heat until the pasta is fully done and the sauce thickens a bit, another minute or so.  I topped with fresh basil and sliced green onion.  This makes two generous servings.

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I really enjoyed this dish.  You still get the spice of the chipotle without overpowering the tang of the pickled jalapeño and lime. The vegetables add texture and sweetness, while the fresh basil brightens the dish with freshness.

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There you have it!  With the one big batch of Mexican Chopped Salad I was able to have dinner salads, burritos, and chipotle pasta without too much thought or effort after work.

 

Carrot Cake Pancakes

The 4th of July holiday weekend is sadly coming to a close, but it was a beautiful, relaxing long weekend and I’ll enjoy the last few hours of it for sure.  Carrot Cake may not be the image you conjure when thinking 4th of July, but I’d been eyeing this Isa Does It recipe for Carrot Cake Pancakes for quite some time and finally managed to treat myself to a special breakfast for the holiday.  This recipe is more involved than I typically partake before coffee, and breakfast for dinner is more of a fall/winter craving for me so I’ve just drooled over the pretty picture since acquiring the cookbook.  Really, it’s not involved at all.  Beyond your typical pancake recipe all you have to do is grate carrots…I should probably not admit that I have a food processor to do this extra step for me.  Nor should I acknowledge that I grated the carrots the night before so the only machine I had to work in the morning was the coffee pot.

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But I digress.  Pancakes are remarkably easy to make dairy-free with limited fuss and without sacrificing flavor or texture.  This recipe is a pretty basic pancake batter made special by the addition of the grated carrot, a little extra sweetness from maple syrup, and a bit of spice from cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice.  They cook up nicely and simply (which is good for my disoriented morning self).

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I added pecans to the batter for a textural element and loved the addition.  This is a substantial breakfast; the pancakes are a bit dense, almost reminiscent of a quick bread, and sweet.  The sweetness is balanced by the warm spices, which do leave you thinking fondly of carrot cake.  I think I will prefer these as a fall dinner personally, but they’ll definitely be made again.

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Isa Does It Recipes: 19

 

Grilled Vegetables Over Creamy Polenta

Not every meal or week has a lot of prep or thought put into it.  Some weeks, it’s a quick stop to the grocery for a random assortment of vegetables and I figure it out later.  When I first became plant based this wasn’t a good idea; I needed to sit down and plan out my meals if I wanted to be successful and avoid unhealthy old habits.  Over time, it’s become much easier to quickly throw something together that is healthy, fast and delicious.

This weekend it was a quick stop to the produce aisle – zucchini, squash, bell pepper, red onion, portobello, and eggplant.  I only marinate the portobello (my usual soy, garlic, ginger) and leave the rest just as they are.  Grill up the bounty.   Quick cooking polenta is hiding under all the veggies.  It cooks in less than five minutes; I tossed in a grilled jalapeño to add some interest.  Dinner is served.

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Sunday Dinner: Whole Food Plant Based Stuffed Shells

This recipe started out as a thought and a wonder.  Last weekend was quite busy with family affairs and come Sunday night I hadn’t prepped any food, or done my grocery shopping for that matter.  I had some cauliflower and a few potatoes and frozen peas so decided it would be a homemade Indian Buffet kind of week.  A quick stop for some eggplant and tomatoes and I was all set to add a favorite, Baingan Bharta, to the mix.  Baingan Bharta is a simple yet flavorful Indian dish that uses roasted (or grilled) eggplant layered with flavors from onions, tomato, jalapeño, spices.  By mid-week I was still thoroughly enjoying leftovers and happened upon a stuffed shells recipe on Pinterest.  Hmmm…what if instead of Indian spices I add Italian herbs and use an eggplant mixture to replace the cheeses of stuffed shells.  I couldn’t wait to try it and am glad I did!  This recipe turned out wonderfully.  I would consider it a Sunday Dinner as it is more involved than I would venture after work but there are certainly steps where you could stop and continue another day.

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Ingredients:

2 eggplant
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and small diced
1 lb fresh tomatoes, diced
oz of baby bella mushrooms
1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon fennel
fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup of fresh basil

Tomato Sauce
Faux Parmesan (recipe here)
Jumbo Shells

  1. Grill or Roast the eggplant.  I chose to grill the eggplant.  Pierce the eggplant a few times with a knife and grill over medium/high heat for about 20-30 minutes, turning every 5 minutes or so.  I grilled it on foil.  The skin will char and the eggplant will collapse a bit when it is done.  Set the eggplant aside until it is cool enough to handle.  Peel the skin off and dice it a bit so it’s easier to incorporate into the filling.
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  2. Cook the shells according to the package instructions, drain, and set aside.  This recipe makes about 5 servings, which was not quite a full box of shells.
  3. Preheat a large pot over medium-high heat, add the onion and sauté about 10 minutes; add water a few tablespoons at a time as needed to keep from sticking to the pan.
  4. Add the garlic and jalapeño and cook for another minute or two.
  5. Add the mushrooms
  6. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, and herbs.  Cook another 5 minutes until the mushrooms soften.
  7. Add the grilled eggplant and olives.  Mix well and allow to simmer another 2-3 minutes.
  8. I used an immersion blender to make a thick, creamy mixture that would be easy to stuff the shells.
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  9. Layer a 9 x 11 pan (I used an 8 x 8 and it was not big enough so ended up with two; 9 x 11 would be better) with a bit of tomato sauce.  Stuff the shells with the prepared filling.  Top with more tomato sauce and faux parmesan.
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  10. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.
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I should disclose that I have never been a lover of cheese in my life.  So, I cannot compare this dish to a traditional stuffed shells dish as I’ve never had the “real” thing.  I did thoroughly enjoy this version though and imagine the creaminess of the eggplant mixture would be reminiscent in texture to a cheese stuffing.  The spice of the jalapeño is very subtle but you do get the warmth at the end of each bite.  The olives, fennel and garlic are all prominent but balanced.  Of course, I had to serve with roasted broccoli as it’s become an addiction at this point.

Roasted (Grilled) Vegetable Romesco Sandwiches

Olive-Lentil Burgers weren’t the only thing I made last week.  I was looking for a simple lunch to last the work-week and decided to grill a batch of veggies for sandwiches and salads.  While flipping through the handheld section of Isa Does It for a burger to try I saw the Roasted Vegetable Romesco Sandwiches.  The recipe called for zucchini and cauliflower roasted in the oven, but I chose to grill rather than roast and picked an assortment of zucchini, squash, eggplant, asparagus, red onion and bell peppers.

IMG_6164My grill is on the small side so I work in batches.

IMG_6165The veggies only take about four minutes per side so you can prepare quite a large quantity of food fairly quickly.

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I prepared the romesco spread between grill runs.  Romesco is a nut and roasted red pepper based sauce.  In this version toasted sliced almonds, garlic and roasted red peppers are processed with paprika.  The spread, along with a hefty handful of fresh basil, amped up the flavor of my grilled vegetable sandwich.

IMG_6168It also paired wonderfully with my Olive-Lentil Burgers!

Isa Does It Recipes: 18

 

Olive Lentil Burgers

Things slow down a bit food-wise in the summertime as my cravings sway from casseroles and soups to simple salads and grilled veggies.  Burgers and sandwiches are also go-to summertime fare.  Rather than stick to my same old veggie burger I thought I’d peruse the Isa Does It Handheld section and try something new…enter Olive-Lentil Burgers.  Since transitioning to a primarily whole-foods plant based low-fat diet I find myself craving natural fats more than I ever did as an omnivore; kalamata olives and avocado have become a staple of my diet.  I always enjoyed olives and guac (not together but hmmm) but they are craved, eaten and enjoyed on a regular basis these days.  So, olive-lentil burgers were calling me.

The base of these babies is, as the name suggests, kalamata olives and green lentils.  Cremini mushrooms, onion and bread crumbs pull it all together, while liquid smoke and herbs add a punch of flavor.  These were an easy sell to try (what was I waiting for).  I have already made the Falafel Burgers and the Bistro Beet Burger from Isa Does It with great success.  These live up to their cookbook-mates.  They are simple to prepare…cooked lentils, cooked mushrooms (bad blogger forgot to get a pretty pick of mushrooms and onions in progress), a toss in the food processor, and a stir of the chopped olives.  Why did I ever buy veggie burgers?!

The mixture appears crumbly.

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However, they form burgers easily and stay together well.

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These are baked in the oven and cook nicely.

IMG_6163These burgers are awesome.  The kalamata olive is the predominant flavor (which I love) and they are visually and texturally appealing.  I topped with grilled onion, fresh tomato, romaine lettuce, banana peppers and romesco spread (stay tuned;).

IMG_6170I would rank these better than the beet burger, though my love of olives may leave me slightly biased.  The falafel burger stands alone as it’s more falafel than burger and will remain a go-to lunch to top my salads.

Isa Does It Recipes: 17