cheap veggie gourmet

A blog detailing ways to enjoy a gourmet vegetarian diet on the cheap. Check out recipes, food stories, tips and techniques.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Pilaf -- One dish wonder

As I've mentioned before, one of the best ways to learn to cook is to learn methods instead of recipes. This applies to vegetarian cooking as much as any other kind.

One quick, easy, and highly changeable dish is pilaf. You can use a variety of grains, vegetables, and protein ingredients to round out your meal.

It's very simple. Start by adding a couple of tablespoons of oil or butter to a pan and heating over medium heat. You may also want to add garlic, onions, spices, or savory vegetables like peppers or mushrooms at the same time. Once the oil is warm, add about a cup or your grain of choice. Most days, for me, this is orzo pasta, but I'll also use jasmine rice, quinoa, or millet. Lightly toast the grain. Now, add two cups liquid -- water, wine or broth are good choices. Stir well, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower to medium low heat and cover.

When about half the liquid is absorbed, add pre-cooked veggies, seasoned tofu, or meat replacement of your choice.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Freeze it!

I submitted this as an article somewhere, but it was rejected. *sniff*

However, I figured you all would appreciate it more, so I am posting here instead:

It's sickening to discover that that bag of peppers you bought has quietly disintegrated into mush, or that the remainder of a can of tomato paste is now sporting a jaunty brown fur coat. Food waste can also be a huge drain on your food budget, too. According to a recent University of Arizona study, the average household throws away 15 percent of the food it purchases. That can add up to several hundred dollars a year.

You don't have to be a master leftover strategist to plug this leak in your food budget. All it takes is a couple extra minutes attention and your freezer. Although a standalone freezer is nice for long-term storage, your refrigerator's freezer can be a powerful tool to help you save money by cutting down on waste.

The answer is to freeze foodstuffs that you can't use before they go bad. There are many foods you can save with very little work. Freezing small amounts is a particularly valuable strategy for people who live alone, and often can't finish even smaller packages while they are still fresh.

For instance, when you only need a dab of tomato paste, or one or two anchovies for a recipe, freeze the rest for later use. You can do this by freezing recipe-sized dabs on a cookie sheet, then placing the frozen blocks in a freezer bag when they are solid. Fresh herbs can be preserved much the same way: spread and freeze chopped herbs, then bag. Scoop out just what you need for recipes, and always have fresh-tasting herbs on-hand.

Do you enjoy a slice of lemon or lime in your drink, but tend not to use the whole fruit before it goes bad? Keep a bag of citrus slices in your freezer. Freezing has no affect on the taste, and allows you to add flavorful bits to a glass of iced tea or soda, or your alcoholic beverage of choice.

Be careful how you freeze, however.

Most vegetables will get woody or mushy if they are put in the freezer without par-cooking first. My favorite way to deal with aromatic vegetables like onions, peppers, celery or mushrooms is to saute in a bit of oil, then freeze in small zippered bags.

I often use this technique to rescue mushrooms that are about to go bad, or the last half of an onion or bell pepper. This is also a good way to take advantage of sales on less than perfect produce, even if it's something you can't use right away. In the end, it's a time-saver, too. For your next meal, all the chopping and sauteing is done, and all you have to do is thaw the vegeatbles in the pan.

Freezing those little bits that would otherwise go to waste is a quick and easy way to save time, money and the environment, all while enhancing your meals.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


Just popping in here to make a quick post about a successful food experiment: egg rolls!

Egg roll skins are pretty cheap, and you can fill them with all sorts of cheap stuff, too. Ours contained:

shredded cabbage
slivered garlic
slivered ginger
sugar snap peas (not cheap, really, but I only put one or two in each roll)
julienned tofu

I arranged the filling on the egg roll skin, then drizzled a combination of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil over it. I rolled it up according to the directions on the package, with the exception of using my sauce to seal it instead of beaten egg.

Fry for a couple of minutes a side in an inch or so of peanut oil. Damn tasty.

A dessert egg roll was equally successful. We filled the skins with thinly sliced granny smiths and sprinkled them with sugar before sealing with water. After frying, I sprinkled a bit more sugar on. Yum.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


I went out to lunch with two friends, Monte and Shannyn, today at an asian restaurant. This place is so damn good... I got a green curry, with jasmine rice, so very good.

The had a bunch of shakes on the drink menu, including durian. Neither had heard of it before, so I explained a little... it's large and spiny, and has a sort of... controversial taste and smell.

I've still never had fresh durian, but I had had it in icecream once. The first bite was very odd tasting. The second, more fruity. There was definitely a musky note; not unpleasant, but definitely not expected, either.

People either love it or hate it. It's just one of those things.

We hit Hoa Lan, one of my favorite Asian markets, afterwards. I bought sesame oil, some wasabe peas, basmati rice, fresh tofu, agar, other stuff. We checked out produce, and found a few fresh durian there. And, in the little icecream case, there were a bunch of different asian popcicles, including mung bean, red bean, jack fruit... and, durian.

Thinking that it'd be much like the icecream I tried, I talked Monte into buying a durian popcicle.

He was a little hesitant at first, saying that maybe today wasn't the day. I asked why, and he said, "Well, you said... it's just one of those things."

Always one to push for an andventure, I asked him why trying it today would be different from any other day.

Ceding to that logic, Monte went ahead and bought the durian popcicle.

Man, Monte... I am so sorry.

We got into the car, and he took an experimental lick. He screwed his face up, then gamely tried another.

Thinking that Monte just didn't like it, I asked for a taste. Foregoing the quick lick, I took a good-sized bite.

Good. God.

There are no words to describe the horror of that taste. I have never put something so foul in my mouth in my life. And I'm a girl with a pretty checkered past.

I couldn't eat it. I had to spit it out the window. Compelled to engage in the "try this, this is gross!" phenomenon of human behavior, Shannyn took a lick.

"Why would someone eat this?" she said. "It's this big thing, it's covered with spines... that shit is definitely telling you keep out."

"These must be the popcicles parents give to kids when they've been bad," Monte said.

Safe in the knowledge that we'd all found it inedible, I told Monte that I'd read that some people consider it similar to the taste of a woman's nether regions.

When we were able to stop laughing, Shannyn said, "if you taste like that, there's something seriously wrong with your health."

What does it really taste like? The closest any of us could come was that they taste like dirty diapers smell.


I may still someday eat durian. I mean, there's got to be something to it, if it inspires adoration like this.

But, no more popcicles for me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Southern Fried

Finally back! I'm just about settled into the new house and really enjoying it here.

I went help cook for St. Pete's Food Not Bombs picnic Friday night. While I was there, I got to talking with a real foodie. He fed me the best biscuits and gravy I'd ever had, vegetarian or no. He was also kind enough to lend me the book the recipe came from, Heart of the Home by Ann Jackson. It's a book of vegetarian, dairy free southern meals.

I tried my first recipe from it last night, "Fried Chicken Tofu." I've made a few changes to her recipe, starting with the name, and moving onto some of the details, such as pressing the tofu before cooking, and frying in about a half inch of canola oil, rather than a light coating of olive oil. Mine is:

Chicken Fried Tofu

Slice a pound of firm tofu into four equal pieces. Press for about an hour to remove excess liquid. Heat cooking oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. I like my No. 10 Griswold for this. Dredge the tofu in a mixture of nutritional yeast and sesame seeds. Drop in the frying pan and sprinkle lightly with soy sauce. Fry for about 15 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.

I served it with mashed potatoes and

my favorite cheap and easy coleslaw:

Shred a couple of cups of cabbage and a carrot or two. Sprinkle with a couple teaspoons of sugar. Add a couple of tablespoons of plain yogurt and a little bit of cider vinegar. Grind black pepper over all and stir.

In the unlikely event of leftovers, I suggest:


Cut leftover tofu into strips, and place on a slice of rye. Grate sharp cheese over the top & toast a bit. Spoon on some coleslaw, and top with another slice of rye slathered with some good deli-style mustard.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Pantry Meals

I'm moving in about ten days. This has called for me to one, spend less money, since I've had to drop a significant amount of cahs on deposits and the like; and two, pare down my pantry stores so I'm not schlepping forty cans of tomatoes across town. Thankfully, these are highly compatible objectives.

One of the best meals to come out of this has been my favorite veggie chili yet:

one can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
two cans diced tomatoes
two to four cloves garlic, minced
half an onion, minced
good handful TVP (not tofu crumbles... that stuff is too expensive and just tastes wrong, somehow)
dollop of jarred salsa (since I hardly ever buy fresh peppers)
chopped jalapeno pepper (if desired)
green taco sauce (the kind with tomatillos, unless you happen to have some fresh)
handful of frozen corn
one carrot, chopped into 1/4" dice
olive oil
crushed red pepper (if desired)
cumin, to taste
fresh ground black pepper
fresh parsley

Sautee the onion, garlic and spices in olive oil until fragrant and transparent. Add the remaining ingredients, except the corn and fresh parsley. Cook over medium heat until it's nice and thick. Add parsley and corn. Cook until corn is cooked through.

Damn good over rice, with a bit of shredded cheese and sour cream on top.


Anyone else remember that ridiculous Cabbage Soup Diet from the 1990s? You'd a ton of grapefruit one day, rice another... all supplemented by as much cabbage soup as you could stomach. The diet was pretty quacky, but the soup was good. I never pursued the diet, but I make the soup every so often. I made a real clean-out-the-pantry version the other night:

  • two cans diced tomatoes
  • one can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • one lonely, neglected sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • chopped shoots from the same sweet potato*
  • a couple of cups of cabbage, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • two green onions
  • handful of alphabet pasta
  • water
  • 1/2 cup very bad merlot; turns out that the $2.99 bottles available at SaveALot really are that bad (I bought it after having my interest piqued by hearing tales from Californian friends about the virtues of Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck)
  • pepper to taste
  • dash of soy sauce
  • a few drops of liquid smoke

A sort of half-assed minestrone, but very tasty. I think as long as you have a good tasting broth and the beans and cabbage as the basis, you'll have a pretty satisfying meal.

*NOTE: Sweet potato shoots and leaves are edible, and quite tasty. White potato shoots, on the other hand, are poisonous. The vegetables are from different families: sweet potatoes related to morning glories, while white potatoes are in the nightshade family. All parts of the plant except the tubers are toxic.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Quick Tip

Everyone, even people who don't garden, should compost. When trash goes to a landfill, it sits in a sealed tank where nothing significantly decays. Archeologists excavate them because everything inside is in such good condition.

So, we all need to do what we can for waste reduction.

I'm kind of a lazy person, though, so having that bucket of vegetable scraps on my counter would be a problem. I simply cannot be counted on to take it out the back & dig it into the heap every day.

When I was down in Miami, I learned a simple trick from the folks at Nokimo house, where I stayed: keep the veggie scraps in a bag in the freezer. That way, when you fall behind on the chores, it's not quite so disastrous.