Choose Your Own Adventure: Baked Apples with Leeks, Chestnuts and [Vegan or Not Vegan] Sausage

In a fit of domestic rage induced by two large chicken carcasses taking up the majority of my refrigerator, I decided to (in one weekday night) a) make homemade chicken stock, b) roast two pounds of fresh chestnuts and c) create two versions of a restaurant-quality dinner for my boyfriend and I — one vegan, one not vegan — from thin air.  Don’t ask me why.

Luckily, chicken stock is generally content to entertain itself.  Only a few simple chops and a toss in my brand new 12-quart stockpot and she was ready to go until just before bedtime.  The chestnuts, on the other hand, force you to put some skin in the game.  I saw my fingertips pass before my eyes quite a few times as I attempted to score the sides of these stubbornly encased little beauties.  But all-in-all the prep work was simple:

After thoroughly singeing both thumbs, I finally had enough chestnuts to embark on this ill-conceived culinary adventure: Baked Apples with Leeks, Chestnuts, and Sausage (half vegan half not vegan).

With no clear plan in sight but a vision in place, I assembled the ingredients that either a) I wanted to use up (for instance the leftover vegan “meatballs” from my Ash-e Anar experiment several days before) or b) I thought were necessary components (whiskey for deglazing and milk for moisture):

From there it was on the fly.  I prepared the two different fillings at once side by side — one non-vegan for my boyfriend with rice and no sultanas (lovely plump golden raisins that he hates and I adore), and one vegan with no rice and sultanas for me.

An hour of chaotic improvisation later, I was lucky enough to have these surprisingly gorgeous suckers emerge from the oven.  Hers:

And his:

To top it all off, two hours after dinner I had an enormous vat of delicious homemade chicken stock ready for a quick strain and a night cooling outside on the deck.  Despite a few moments of uncertainty and chaos, it was most definitely a successful Monday night.

Baked Apples with Leeks, Chestnuts, and Sausage

(with your choice of vegan or non-vegan filling)

HER VEGAN FILLING

  1. Heat nonstick spray and saute 1/4 of an onion diced until translucent.  Add 1-2 clove garlic minced.
  2. Add 1 small leek (white and light green parts only), washed thoroughly and chopped. Continue to saute until soft (adding more nonstick spray as necessary).
  3. Push leeks to the side of your pan and add about 1/3 cup worth of vegan sausage substitute, breaking into small pieces as it browns.
  4. Once sausage is thoroughly browned and you have a nice fond (the layer of bits that get crusted to the bottom of the pan when you saute things) going, add a dash of whiskey to deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape off all those good bits.
  5. Throw in a handful of sultanas, a handful of roughly chopped chestnuts, and a tbs or two of chopped flesh from your hollowed apples, and 1/4 cup soy milk.
  6. Continue to heat as you season with thyme, parsley, salt and pepper.  Remove from heat when sauce begins to thicken.

HIS NON-VEGAN FILLING

  1. Melt 1 tbs butter in a saute pan.  Add 1/4 of an onion diced and saute until translucent.  Add 1-2 clove garlic minced.
  2. Add 1 small leek (white and light green parts only), washed thoroughly and chopped. Continue to saute until soft.
  3. Push leeks to the side of your pan and add about 1/3 cup worth of sausage (pork, lamb, chicken, maple — or the vegan substitute if your non-vegan counterpart is up for it — whatever you’ve got), breaking into small pieces as it browns.
  4. Once sausage is thoroughly browned and you have a nice fond (the layer of bits that get crusted to the bottom of the pan when you saute things) going, add a dash of whiskey to deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape off all those good bits.
  5. Throw in a handful of roughly chopped chestnuts and a tbs or two of chopped flesh from your hollowed apples (and sultanas if you like :)), a handful of cooked rice, and 1/4 cup whole milk or cream.
  6. Continue to heat as you season with thyme, parsley, salt and pepper.  Remove from heat when sauce begins to thicken.

ASSEMBLE THE APPLES

  1. Preheat stove to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice off top of each apple (I used gala, because that’s what the corner store had) and scrape out the center with a small spoon or melon baller, leaving about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of flesh.
  3. Fill each apple with stuffing, and place in a baking dish.  Add a small amount of water or apple juice/cider (I had no apple juice so I placed the remaining bits of core from the hollowed apples in the bottom of the dish with enough water to cover the bottom).
  4. Bake for 20-30 minutes until apple is slightly tender to the touch.
  5. Serve with chopped parsley and some grated cheese for the non-vegan (I used a beautiful special-release cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland, Maxx 365 – the aged older brother of Scharfe Maxx, a classic creamy, meaty, and tangy treat — but any non-salty cheese will do, such as gruyere or comte).

Enjoy!

Improvising with Inspiration: Ash-e Anar or Persian Pomegranate Soup

Sometimes when your largely raw diet catches up with you right in the middle of the worst week ever, you just need to do something crazy in the kitchen.

So that’s what I did last week.

I’ve long been intrigued by the cuisine of the Middle East.  It’s one of the most foreign styles of cuisine to me personally and incorporates some unique flavor profiles that I could never cook up on my own.  One particularly alluring dish had long been calling my name, and it features the one ingredient, pomegranate seeds, that I intended to use up in my stress-busting kitchen rampage.  That is, Ash-e Anar, or Pomegranate (anar) Soup (ash), a traditional Persian dish featuring sweet and sour flavors mingling amidst a rich depth of complex aromatics.

I had read up on the history and tradition of the dish, primarily via the wonderful ethnic food blogs Habeas Brulee and Tigers & Strawberries (which I would highly recommend reading before trying to understand my botch of the dish below), and unfortunately while the soup did promised to highlight the intended star of the night, it also called for several ingredients that I never have around the house.  But that was part of the fun.  Improvising with inspiration, I’ll call it.

With inspiration in heart, I set off to improvise with what I had on hand.  Of course meaning it would be a health-conscious vegan version of the dish, but, you know.  Funny enough, though, the soup turned out absolutely delicious, if not “accurate,” and it was certainly unlike anything else I’ve ever prepared at home.  So read on for a chronicle of this stress-busting, not to mention heart-healing (ever read about the health benefits of pomegranate and/or turmeric?!), Persian culinary adventure:

The Ash-e Anar Experiment

Serves 2

SOUP

  • Non-stick spray
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 1 medium beet, small cubes
  • Lotsa (1 tbs?) turmeric
  • Some paprika (2 tsp) and a dash of cayenne (in an attempt to replicate the flavor/color of Aleppo Pepper)
  • Contents of 1 cardamom pod
  • Several dashes of fennel seed
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 cups stock (I used beef – shh don’t tell the real vegans) or water
  • Squeeze of agave nectar
  • About 1/2 cup pomegranate juice (made from pulverizing about 3/4 cup seeds in food processor and straining)
  • Large handful of chopped red chard
  • Chopped cilantro and parsley to taste
  • Cooked white rice (optional)

“MEAT” BALLS

  • 3/4 tube of sausage-flavored Gimme Lean
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, scallions and chives (the last living scallions and chives from my garden) to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

TO SERVE

  • Clove of crushed garlic sauteed with turmeric until golden
  • Pomegranate seeds
  1. Saute onion in large soup pot until soft and golden brown.  Add garlic cloves and saute until fragrant.  Add lentils and continue to saute until they take on some color (a few minutes max).
  2. Add 2-3 cups stock or water (NOTE: you may have to add water/stock later as the soup thickens.  Do as looks right to you at the time).  As you bring to a boil, add turmeric, paprika, cayenne, cardamom, fennel seeds, S&P, and cinnamon stick.  As you reduce from boil to nice simmer, add beet.  Let simmer.
  3. Prepare “meat” balls!  With whatever meat or meat substitute you have on hand, prepare balls by mushing together with chopped herbs and garlic.  Make them about the size of a chestnut or walnut.
  4. NOTE: When finished with “meat” balls, I popped them right into the simmering soup.  In retrospect I should have browned them first, then popped into soup, as the vegan sausage does not cook through properly when simmered like lamb (which is traditionally used).
  5. Once “meat” balls are added to soup (whether browned first or not, your choice!), continue to simmer for another 20 minutes or so.  Most important thing here is that the lentils and the “meat” balls cook through, so play it by ear/taste/touch!
  6. When you’re getting close and your lentils are soft, add a nice squeeze of agave nectar (or honey or sugar or whatever), the pomegranate juice, the chopped chard (or kale or spinach or whatever), and the chopped herbs (really almost any herbs will do).
  7. Simmer until chard wilts and fish out cinnamon stick.  If you would like to have rice in your soup, you can add at this time.  I had no rice, but mixed about 3/4 cup into my boyfriend’s portion.
  8. Serve with a golden-yellow garlic clove and pomegranate seeds.  Voila!  Vegan “Fauxash-e Anar!”  Yum!!

Goodbye New Mexico, Hello Raw Beet Soup

Hello again, blog.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been away for a while.  It’s true.  I left you.

For this (green chili cheeseburger at Perea’s):

And this (chile rellenos and enchiladas at Padilla’s):

And this (green chili stew at Maria’s):

And a WHOLE lot of this (IPAs at La Cumbre Brewing):

But I’m back now.

Needless to say, New Mexico was quite a marathon.  ABQ eats are certainly friendly going down, but they’re not so friendly afterwards.  After 14 straight days of drinking and irregular eating habits, it’s time to normalize.  Back to a world where people don’t consider melted cheese a food group and tortillas a vegetable.

Luckily today I came across this little bugger to the right from Harvard (a non-bureaucratic smart person attempt at the food pyramid known as the Healthy Eating Plate) to remind me that even through there’s still a whole basket full of Christmas candy and a dump trucks worth of nuts n’ bolts at home, it’s time to start actually using my brain when it comes to what I’m putting in my body.

To kick things off strong, I started with a meal that could cleanse the bowels of a two ton rhino — Raw Beet Soup with Sauerkraut Shitake Seitan Hash:

Raw Beet Soup with Sauerkraut Shitake Seitan Hash

Serves 2

FOR SOUP:

  • 2 whole red beets, unpeeled
  • 1 carrot, unpeeled
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1/4 white or yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • juice of 1/2 lemon (with seeds)
  • vegetable stock/broth as needed
  • dill (fresh, preferably, or dried) to taste
  • fennel seeds to taste
  • agave nectar (or honey) to taste
  • dash apple cider vinegar
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • VITAMIX, BLENDTEC, OR OTHER HIGHPOWER BLENDER ESSENTIAL!

FOR HASH:

  • lacto-fermented sauerkraut (good, simple recipe here – my recipe will follow, sometime)
  • handful of mushrooms
  • seitan (omit for gluten free version)
  1. To make soup, put everything in the blender and BLEND. Seriously. That’s it.  But blend for long time.  Like 4 minutes. Adjust seasonings/add stock/broth as needed to achieve desired texture.
  2. To make hash, chop all ingredients thinly and mix.
  3. Pile hash, pour soup, serve with water-thinned greek yogurt (if not vegan), cashew cream (if vegan), or nothing (if lazy).
  4. CLEANSE AWAY!