Tempeh BLT

This recipe is inspired by Frida’s in St. Louis, where I first tried tempeh bacon earlier this month. (Totally great!)

I never really had BLTs as an omnivore, so I just see this as an interesting way to enjoy tempeh, rather than a way to recreate a favorite meal.

There’s not much of a recipe here, since I was starting with pre-marinated tempeh bacon, rather than making my own from plain tempeh. I used Lightlife Smoky Tempeh Strips.

Image

They’re pre-cut into thin slices, roughly similar to how bacon is sliced.

The “recipe”: Pan fry it in some oil until it seems done to you. I could fit the whole package (enough for two sandwiches) in a large pan at once.

Then assemble a sandwich: lightly toasted bread, sliced tomato, lettuce, and vegan mayo (I used Nayonaise).

Image

Served with roasted brussels sprouts.

Basic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

So simple it barely qualifies as a recipe, but roasted brussels sprouts are one of my favorite things to make.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs brussels sprouts
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 pinches salt (whatever kind you prefer; course grained salt is better)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut the ends off the brussels sprouts, and cut them in half, or in thirds if they’re big. Don’t worry about leafy bits coming off; keep them with the chopped sprouts.

Put the chipped brussels sprouts in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle in 3 tbsp olive oil and a few pinches of salt. Mix them about until the oil is distributed fairly evenly. Pour the oiled brussels sprouts on a baking sheet (preferably with edges) and spread them as evenly as possible.

Roast them in the oven for 30 – 40 minutes total. About halfway through, flip the brussels sprouts over.

They’ll have a crispiness to them when they first come out of the oven (almost like kale chips), and they’re best eaten soon afterward. Enjoy!

Cheese review: Punk Rawk Labs Cashew Cheese & Treeline Scallion Cashew Cheese

On a trip to Seattle this week I stopped by Vegan Haven, a market operated by Pigs Peace Sanctuary. San Francisco doesn’t have a vegan market (yet?), which makes it hard to get weird vegan stuff *, such as the handful of cultured vegan cheeses that have come out in the last year or so. I’d heard a lot about these cheeses, but had only tried the ones that I’ve made myself.

Cultured vegan cheese

Cultured vegan cheese is made by fermenting vegan foods (usually nuts, although sometimes soy) using a similar process used to make dairy cheese. This differs from the type of imitation cheese typically found at grocery stores (eg. Daiya) in that a real culturing process was used to give it a cheese-like taste, rather than synthetic flavoring or texturing. Cultured vegan cheese typically has few ingredients (the plain cheese below lists ingredients as: “organic cashews, water, culture, sea salt”), and does not typically attempt to imitate the texture of dairy cheese.

Vegan Haven had cultured cheeses available from two companies: Punk Rawk Labs and Treeline.

Treeline & Punk Rawk Labs Cheese

Both cheeses before opening

Punk Rawk Labs is a Minneapolis raw food company that makes cashew and macadamia nut cheeses in three flavors: plain, herb and smoked. I tried the plain cashew cheese, since this was closest to what I’ve tried to make.

Treeline is based in the Hudson River Valley in upstate NY. They make two soft cheeses: scallion and herb-garlic, and two hard cheeses: classic and cracked pepper. I’d have preferred a plain flavor, but only the scallion and herb-garlic flavors were available, so I tried the scallion cheese.

Punk Rawk Labs

Punk Rawk Labs Cashew Cheese 2

Punk Rawk Labs Plain Cashew Cheese

First, I tried the Punk Rawk Labs cheese. It had a moist texture, hard enough that you could cut wedges out more or less intact, but soft enough to be spread on a cracker. I found the cheese to have a pleasant sharpness, and a saltiness that I think would be comparable to cheddar. I really enjoyed this cheese, and finished it in the two days we had left in Seattle.

Treeline

Treeline Scallion Cheese

Treeline Scallion Soft French-Style Nut Cheese

The Treeline cheese had a similar consistency, although was slightly drier. The taste seemed to be dominated by scallions, which made it hard to taste anything else. I never had much scallion dairy cheese, so I don’t have a good baseline for comparison. The cheese tasted less salty and less sharp than the Punk Rawk Labs cheese.

Discussion

I liked the Punk Rawk Labs cheese a lot, and found myself craving it over the next few days. I preferred it to the Treeline cheese, partly because I prefer plain cheese over scallion flavored cheese, but I also liked the moist, sharp and salty qualities of the Punk Rawk Labs cheese. I’d love to try other Treeline flavors in the future, although I don’t foresee getting the scallion flavor again.

The plain Punk Rawk Labs cheese was also a useful point of comparison for my own attempts at cultured cashew cheese based on recipes from Miyoko Schinner’s Artisan Vegan Cheese. The Punk Rawk Labs cheese seemed sharper and saltier than those that I’ve made. It tasted a lot like how my cheeses smelled when fermenting, which is really all I want in a vegan cheese. (My attempts tend to taste much more mild than they smell, unfortunately.)

I’m curious if they salt the cheese after it is cultured, since it’s rather salty and salt is said to inhibit bacterial growth. Punk Rawk Labs describes their process as culturing cashew milk and then removing moisture from the cheese, whereas the Artisan Vegan Cheese recipes involve culturing a cashew puree (a hummus-like consistency). I’m curious if this explains the difference in sharpness.

Overall, I was very happy with my first taste of commercial cultured vegan cheeses, and I’m inspired to try making them again.

* While looking up these companies for this post, I’ve learned that both Punk Rawk Labs and Treeline cheeses are available in SF at Rainbow Grocery, a great vegetarian food coop with a great selection of vegan paraphernalia (non-dairy milks, vegan supplements, etc).

This week in veganism

It’s been a big week. Some highlights:

  • I tried tempeh bacon for the first time at Frida’s Vegetarian Deli while visiting St. Louis, MO.
    Frida’s tempeh BLT was amazing! We went back and had the same thing the next day.
  • I had my first vegan boba tea at Boba Guys in the Mission in SF.
  • I had the first soy yogurt that I really liked. (The fruit flavored Silk yogurt, the only soy yogurt you can get anywhere.) It’s definitely sweet, but it’s pretty good.
  • I ordered (but have not yet tried) Phoney Baloney’s Coconut Bacon from Vegan Essentials.

However today I’m excited about this: a new vegan food truck is stationed a block from my house!

Hella Vegan Eats (also on Facebook), which does catering and hosts vegan pop-up brunches in the area, has a new food truck, stationed in Dolores Park for the weekend.

Image

We tried almost everything: the Scallion Pancake Tacos (our favorite!!), Lusty Lovers Tacos (also good!), the Donut Burger (see below), and a chocolate cupcake.

Here’s the donut burger, in all it’s umbrellaed glory:

[Donut burger photo]

What happened to all the soy yogurt?

Update: See Soy Yogurt Crisis: 2015 Edition.

You’re not crazy, there’s no soy yogurt anywhere. (Ok, almost none, in the US.)

I was entirely unaware of this until I needed some for baking a few weeks ago.

No problem, I’ve found soy yogurt in grocery stores nearby whenever I’ve needed it. First store — no soy yogurt. Second store — same. At a third store, I asked a clerk for help, certain I must have missed it. After some searching, he hands me almond yogurt. “Look — it says soy free.” I explain that I’m looking for the opposite — “full of soy”.

Finally I went to a fourth store, where I’m certain I’ve bought soy yogurt in the past. Still nothing. The clerk there told me that there’s a national shortage — “You can’t get it anywhere. There was only one factory in the US, and it’s been shut down.”

I bought some almond yogurt and used that instead, but I was curious how this could have happened.

Here’s what I’ve found out:

WholeSoy & Co explains that the facility that makes and packages their yogurt (a “co-packer” in industry terms) abruptly shut down, giving them only three days notice. They had been in the process of switching to another co-packer, and shipped some yogurt from the new facility, but ran into some problems, and the new facility may not be able to keep up with demand once it’s operational anyway.

They are now working on building their own facility, and hope to be back in production in the fall.

I can’t confirm what I was told — that all soy yogurt in the US was made by one facility.

It seems that Silk only currently manufactures soy yogurts with fruit, which are unsuitable for baking. It’s not clear to me if the supply chain for those products has been affected.

I’ve found at least one other vegan yogurt that has a very similar story to WholeSoy. Amande, an almond yogurt brand, explains that their producer informed them in April that they were shutting down, again with just 3 days notice. It seems likely that this was the same facility that WholeSoy was using.

There also seem to be very few soy yogurt producers, as many brands have recently discontinued their soy yogurt products.

Wildwood discontinued its soy yogurts between December 2012 and March 2013. No supply chain issues are cited in emails from the company.

So Delicious no longer lists soy yogurt on its products page, so these also seem to be discontinued.

Trader Joe’s brand soy yogurt has allegedly been affected by the shortage. I can’t confirm that their soy yogurt is a rebranding of WholeSoy yogurt, however the nutrition data for “Trader Joe’s Organic Vanilla Soy Yogurt” is identical to that of WholeSoy’s vanilla flavor. The plain flavor is not described as being organic, which I would think rules out WholeSoy as a producer.

It seems to be coincidence that the factory closure follows a period of consolidation of the soy yogurt market, where many brands of soy yogurt were discontinued, and mainstream non-dairy yogurt brands abandoned soy in favor of almond and coconut yogurt, leaving us without a soy yogurt supplier for the time being.

Strange times in the world of soy yogurt. For more, see the following links:

Tempeh manis

Tempeh manis is a somewhat sweet preparation of tempeh (fermented soybeans), and is one of my favorite dishes from a trip to Indonesia a year ago. I’d been looking for a good tempeh manis recipe, until an Indonesian coworker pointed my girlfriend and I at the recipe on The Little Teochew.

The recipe is essentially the following:

  • Fry 16oz of tempeh, and set it aside.
    I pan fry, rather than submerging the tempeh in oil.
  • Then pan fry a few shallots sliced thinly, garlic, and a sliced red chili in oil.
    I didn’t have shallots this time, so I used half an onion. I also seeded the chili. It wasn’t spicy at all, so maybe unseeded would be fine.
  • Add 1/2 cup water and 1.5 tbsp sugar to the pan, and cook until it starts to caramelize.
    The amount of water doesn’t really matter, since it’ll cook off until the right amount of water is left. I tried to dissolve the sugar in the water before adding it.
  • Add the tempeh back in, and drizzle 1 tbsp kecap manis (see below) evenly throughout.
    You’ll want to add the tempeh before the sauce gets too thick, otherwise it won’t spread onto the tempeh very evenly. If it’s too thick, just add some water, and try again.
Tempeh manis

Tempeh manis, with red rice and roasted asparagus.

There was one hard to find ingredient in there: kecap manis (alternatively, “kicap manis”, or “Indonesian Sweet Soy Sauce”). The nearest Asian grocery store to me, Duc Loi in SF’s Mission district, didn’t have it, despite an aisle of sauces from various Asian cuisines. I tried a few places in the Richmond, until striking gold at New May Wah, which has a large Indonesian section, including an entire row of kecap manis sauces.

The turning point: every bottle pictured is kicap manis.

The turning point: every bottle pictured is kecap manis.

Kicap manis closeup

I’m not entirely clear on what this stuff is. The ingredients are listed as: “Soybean, sugar, salt, NA benzoate preservatives and selected spices”. I’d describe the taste as being similar to molasses with a hint of soy sauce. It’s pretty tasty though, and gives the tempeh a nice color.

I’m also told that some people see the use of kecap manis as cheating, so assumedly there is a longhand version of this recipe that produces something similar without using kecap manis. For now I’m pretty content to stick with this version.

This dish is on the sweet side for a main, and is often served as an appetizer in Indonesia. We use it as a protein from time to time, but if you’re sensitive to sweet foods you may want to go easy on the sugar, or have smaller portions as a snack.

Update: The Great Dorset Vegetable Experiment has a recipe for making Kicap Manis! Fascinating. If we continue to make this, we’ll have to try that sometime. Although for the time being I have a ton of the store-bought stuff.

Artisan Vegan Cheese (part 1): Rejuvelac

Rejuvelac

I’ve been fascinated by Miyoko Schinner’s book, Artisan Vegan Cheese, since I came across it looking into this year’s Oakland Veg Week. (Her cheese making workshop sold out long before I was looking, but I was intrigued.)

The idea behind Artisan Vegan Cheese is to ferment various vegan foods, in a similar way to how milk products are fermented to produce cheese. This builds on cultured cashew cheese, which is popular in the raw food community, made by culturing pureed cashews with a probiotic.

An easy probiotic to make at home is rejuvelac. It’s used for many of the recipes in Artisan Vegan Cheese, including the basic cashew cheese. You’ll note that it’s one of the starting nodes in the Vegan Cheese Dependency Graph, a visualization of which recipes in the book depend on which others (only covering the recipes I was most interested in):

Vegan cheese dependency graph

Making rejuvelac is really easy. You sprout a grain, add water, wait a few days while it ferments, and strain the grain away. I’ve only made rejuvelac from quinoa, which is said to be the easiest grain to sprout. The grain must be a whole grain capable of sprouting, so avoid grains that are already sprouted. Many people have trouble with grains like rice, which are often irradiated, which prevents sprouting.

The following instructions are for quinoa. Other grains will take longer to sprout, but are similar. (See Sprout People for a recipe for making rejuvelac from rye.)

First, rinse and drain the quinoa, then soak it for 8 to 12 hours in plenty of water.

Then remove most of the water, leaving the quinoa moist, but not covered in water. Some recipes call for leaving the grains nearly dry. Cover the jars with something breathable, such as cheesecloth secured with rubber bands. A few times a day (for me, typically once in the morning and once in the evening), rinse the quinoa with water, then drain them. Do this until they sprout. In some cases this takes a few days, sometimes just 12 hours.

Note that quinoa has a ring shaped germ that starts to separate almost immediately once the quinoa is soaked. Don’t mistake these for sprouts! Feel free to sprout the quinoa for another day or two if you’re not sure if it has really sprouted.

Here’s my first batch near the end of the sprouting stage:

Sprouting quinoa

(This was my first batch. I’ve learned since to use a little less water in the sprouting stage, so that the grains are moist, but not submerged. I also used Miyoko’s full recipe, which I’ve halved every time I’ve made it since.)

Once you have sprouted quinoa, soak it in water, and leave it to ferment.

Sprouted quinoa soaking

Leave the soaked sprouts at room temperature for a day or so (I’ve left it for a few days), somewhere without too much sunlight. I use the top of my fridge, since heat from the compressor makes that a warm spot, and the apartment is otherwise pretty cool.

When the rejuvelac is ready, the water will be cloudy and slightly carbonated, and it will have a pleasant smell. It’s usually described as having a slight lemony taste.

Rejuvelac in fermenting jars

Rejuvelac closeup

Strain away the quinoa, and the liquid is your rejuvelac!

Final rejuvelac

Use it as a probiotic drink, or to make cashew cheese, or other fermented food!

Note:

People who are advised to avoid unpasteurized cheese due to bacterial infection concerns (eg. pregnant women, infants) should probably also avoid fermented foods like rejuvelac and unpasteurized vegan cheese, for the same reason. If in doubt, ask your doctor.

Troubleshooting:

On forums discussing rejuvelac, a common question is “should the rejuvelac smell like stinky feet / rotten balls / death covered in poop?” The answer is: no!

If this happens, you’ve certainly cultured something, but probably not the targeted “good” bacteria. The potential health consequences of consuming it are unknown.

Rejuvelac takes very little work (even if it takes time and patience), so just try again with another batch. Be sure to use clean dishes for fermentation, and if you have persistent problems, try using purified or filtered water.

Ginger molasses cookies

“Sparkled ginger cookies” from Vegan with a Vengeance (by Isa Chandra Moskowitz of Post Punk Kitchen fame) is my favorite cookie recipe so far. It doesn’t require any special ingredients, so we can pretty much make it whenever. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to make it when traveling to visit family.

You can find the recipe online in this blog post.

I’ve made this recipe twice — once as written, and once with additional liquid, resulting in a softer cookie (2/3 cup canola oil, 1/3 cup molasses, 1/3 cup soy milk). Both were delicious, although the latter was substantially messier dough to handle.

I recommend baking the recipe in two batches, on two cookie sheets. The first time around, I tried to be a hero and bake them all on one sheet, and sort of wound up with one giant cookie. It was still tasty!

Plate of cookies

Since this recipe is by a PPK host, I’ll end by mentioning the Post Punk Kitchen Forum. This is a great resource for sharing tips and asking questions related to vegan food, or just learning what is out there — restaurants, cookbooks, supermarket products, etc.

Introduction

I’m a software engineer, living in San Francisco. I recently went vegan after a few years of vegetarianism. I’m learning to cook, since I started out only able to cook stir-fry and roast vegetables.

I’ve been reading several food blogs, and figured I’d create one to share my experiences and photos of food I’ve made, or just food I’ve enjoyed elsewhere.

I have no particular culinary skill, so anything I’ve pulled off, I’m pretty confident you can too.