Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Florence - here I come

One of the perks of living in Europe is that Tuscany is just around the corner. Well, not exactly, but close enough for a weekend trip. Thursday is a holiday and we took Friday off and booked a get-away weekend in Florence. I can hardly wait for tomorrow morning. Ever since my first school trip to Italy I have been a fan of this country. Well, the school trip then was more about drinking and who goes with whom, but still, the country's charm got me.

Then last winter my then-boyfriend "kidnapped" me and took me on a surprise trip to Rome where he proposed to me. Hmmmm, romantic - and one more reason to love Italy.

And now Florence. They say it has the most cultural treasures of all of Italy. I've googled a bit and read that they also have nice rich vegetable stews such as pappa pomodoro and ribollita. And as I've noticed last year in Rome, in Italy pizzas are not necessarily drowned in cheese. It was totally normal ordering pizza without cheese in restaurants, every street vendor had some. And all those yummy grilled antipasti veggies... Coming from Germany, Italy is vegan heaven.

And the weather is supposed to be really nice for the weekend - I'm excited as a six year old on Christmas Eve :-)

To end with a recipe I'll present you with one of my favorite soups: green split pea soup. Easy as pea pie :-) To get me into this Italy mood we had it with fresh oregano and some extra virgin olive oil drizzled over it.

1/2 cup split green peas
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small piece of ginger, minced
1 carrot, grated
bouillon cubes
3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large leek, sliced
handful of dried tomatoes, sliced
the best extra virgin olive oil you can afford
some fresh oregano

Place the peas in a large pot together with the onion, the garlic, the ginger and carrot, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil and cook until tender - 30 min to 1 hour (or longer, depending on the water in your area) Soaking the peas for a couple of hours before cooking will considerably speed things up. Do not add any salt to the water or the peas will take forever.

Once the peas are tender add bouillon cubes to taste (depending on how much water you've used), the potatoes, the dried tomatoes and the leek. Cook until the potatoes are tender - 10-20 minutes. By now the peas should have totally disintegrated, making for a nice, rich, creamy, hearty, stew-like consistency. Serve with fresh oregano and some olive oil drizzled over it. For complete protein serve with a slice of toasted sour-dough bread (or regular bread, we had it with sour-dough - the usual bread in Germany).

Without the olive oil this is a naturally fat-free dish.

And with this I'm off to Florence :-)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mochi Tsuki - Making Mochi

After my last post some people asked about making mochi yourself. Around New Years, many Japanese make mochi at home and enjoy this in a party-like atmosphere, much like at a barbeque. Mochi making is usually done in winter when the new rice is just in. Mochi are a very warming, strengthening food. After all, one large mochi is the equivalent of one bowl of rice. It is a light yet high-cal food, good for staying warm in the un-inunsulated Japanese houses in winter and a good light food for sick people.

Mochi can be eaten stuffed with anko, a paste from adzuki beans. Or they are dusted with roasted soy flour, which gives them a great nutty flavor, and then dipped in a mixture of soysauce, water, and sugar. This was my favorite way to eat them. Or you can roast them, or really dry them and then roast them in the oven, they will pop and triple in size. Lastly, you can add them to soups, zoni is a traditinoal New Year's soup.

I remember a mochi-making party: It was a beautiful day in early January, sunny and almost warm, and we were all outside at work having a mochi tsuki party. Unfortunately I hadn't brought my camera to work that day. But could I ever make mochi again myself? Watch the video:

You will understand that I prefer resorting to shop-bought mochi now or doing without :-)

I couldn't resist pasting another video, mochi making during Sakura Matsuri - the cherry blossom festival. Pretty cool, here the rice is pounded to the rhythm of taiko drums. Ooooooh, makes me homesick for Japan (even though the video was apprently shot in San Fancisco) :-)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ichigo Mochi - Strawberry Ricecakes

Ichigo mochi (or, more properly called ichigo daifuku) were my favorite treat when I was living in Japan. Even though... thinking about it I guess my favorite treat were daigaku imo - fried candied sweet potatoes, caramelized with sugar and a splash of soy sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. But anyway, ichigo mochi were my favorite spring treat. Mochi, small dumplings made of pounded sticky rice and filled with anko, a paste of sweet red adzuki beans, are a year-round favorite treat in Japan, even though mochi are most popular in winter around new year's. In January, I started seeing mochi stuffed with strawberries from Okinawa (which is so far south that strawberries start ripening there when the rest of Japan ist still cold and wintery).

I purchased my very first ichigo mochi and fell in love with it. The tender consistency of the mochi, the anko's subtle sweetness and the fragrance, aroma, sweetness, and juicyness of the strawberry was better than anything I had ever had before. I spend tons of yen on ichigo mochi in spring.

Back in Germany I had no way of getting mochi. Until the other day, that is. I was in Berlin and on my way back in the train station I came across a sushi place that offered mochi. Oh joy! I grabbed a pack and when I was home I stuffed it with strawberries and dug in. Very un-ladylike and very un-Japanese. If you've ever had these gems you will understand :-)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Vegan Fajitas

What can one say about fajitas? Not much. Everybody loves them, so without further ado I'll present you with the recipe. Quick, simple, and very satisfying. The fried tofu stripes convince even die-hard steak lovers.

Vegan Fajitas

2 large onions
1 yellow and 1 red bell pepper
avocado (or guacamole, I prefer the whole fruit)
1 small can of red kidney beans
1 pack firm tofu
soft tortillas

Spray a non-stick skillet with olive oil, heat over medium, add the onions. Fry for a minute or so, add three tablespoons of water, cover. Stirr frequently. If the oniosn start sticking to the pan, add more water. Cook until tender and caramelized. The trick is to have the heat relatively low so the onions don't crisp up but really caramelize, which will take thm around 20 minutes.

Cut the bell peppers into stripes and cook as described above for the onions.

Heat the beans with some water in a small sauce pan. Mash with a fork, add more water if needed. Season with garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, and hot stuff if desired (tabasco, chili...)

Cut the tofu into stripes. Heat 2 tblsp olive oil in a non-stick skillet over high heat. Add the tofu stripes and fry on both sides until they are golden brown and a nice crunhy crust has formed. Add more oil if needed. Add a very generous splash of soy sauce and immediately pull the skillet away from the heat. Shake the skillet so the tofu stripes are covered evenly with the soy sauce. The soy sauce will instantaneously start boiling and spluttering, covering the tofu stripes in a tasty, salty sauce.

Arrange everything nicely on a plate. Build your fajitas and enjoy :-)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Easter Bread

Originally this was supposed to be an Easter bread. But then I didn't find time to bake during the Easter holidays, nor the week after that. We went to see our parents on Easter and it actually snowed on Easter Sunday!!! And last week I was busy with essays and project work for business school. I finally got around to making my favorite bread yesterday, so I just labelled it spring bread. It turned out like it wanted to make up for everything that has gone wrong lately: perfectly soft inside, perfect soft crust, and the aroma of almonds and raisins that have plumped up in Jamaica rum.

Easter Bread
makes a huge loaf, half the recipe if desired

1 cube fresh active yeast (40g, ca. 1.5 oz)
3 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c WW flour
1/4 c sugar
1/2 cup vegan margerine, melted, tepid
1 1/2 c non-diary milk, tepid
1/2 cup almonds, chopped
1/2 cup raisins plumped up in 1/2 cup rum, rinsed with water to get rid of excess rum on surface

Warm approx 1/2 cup of the milk until handwarm. Sift the flour into a large bowl, and make a "puddle" in the middle. Pour the warm milk into this puddle and add a tblsp sugar and the yeast, breaking it into small chunks. Now stir in very little of the flour surrounding the puddle until it forms a soft dough with the yeast and the milk.

Dust some flour over it and let rest in a warm place until the starter dough starts bubbling and rising. Depending on how warm it is in your kitchen this will take anywhere from 10-30 minutes. I'm using A LOT of yeast for this bread because I enjoy the intensive yeast taste in baked goods. You can also make this bread with half the yeast or even less.

Melt the margerine and let cool again to tepid, warm the remaining milk to tepid, and add the liquids together with the remaining ingredients to the bowl. Knead until everything comes together in a soft dough. I am still using the mixer/kneader I inherited from my grandma. Must be from the sixties or something like that.

If after 10 minutes of kneading it is still too sticky knead in some extra flour. You don't want to use too much, though, the softer the dough now the better the results later. Let rest in a warm place until the dough has risen to twice its volume. Preheat the oven to 350F/160°C.

Punch down. Divide the dough into three parts and form thick strands with each. Braid the strands on a piece of parchment paper or a floured surface. Give it a nice wash with some soymilk. I just poured very little into my hand and tried to distribute it nicely on the surface without making a huge mess (I did make a huge mess though, but the results totally justify it :-)).

Transfer the lot onto a baking sheed and into your oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, enjoying the sweet aroma that will fill your kitchen. Total baking time will depend on your oven and on how big your loaf is. Mine was HUGE, smaller loaves might be done quicker.

Let cool and either break off chunks and dip into coffee/tea or slice it nicely and enjoy with margerine and homemade jam. Hmmmm, Easter has just begun for me :-)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Some whining, some anatomy, and some Veganomicon

There are times when eating only fulfills the purpose of transporting me from the state of "hungry" to the state of "not hungry". Now is one of these times... Things have been a little sub-perfect here lately.

As I've mentioned before I'm doing my MBA this year. And I don't know why it has to be this year, but of all years this is the year when all goes wrong. So we had planned that I do my MBA. We had wanted to get married anyway so we scheduled it for August 2007 before business school started in September. Everything could have been perfect except that I ran and feel down some stairs and broke my food two weeks before our wedding (Note to self: never never never run down stairs again). Talk about horror. So we cancelled the wedding, and I started business school on crutches. Wonderful.

After the plaster came down and I slowly learned walking again, walking wasn't a pleasure at first. I resorted to my trusted friend - my bike. Nine weeks after I fell down those stairs I was riding my bike at high speed when I got caught in tram tracks on the street and the dream of flying came true for me - I was catapulted 20 feet across the street and landed on my wrist (should have remembered that judo class... never never never fall on your wrist).

The pain was intense but I didn't give it much thought - after all this had been one hard fall and my hand was supposed to hurt. But then I woke up at night and wanted to cry my wrist hurt so much. We went to the emergency room where I was treated by a doctor who didn't care about what I told him where it hurt but who told me where it was supposed to hurt according to the X-ray. Well, try arguing with a doctor!

After some weeks of further fruitless treatment at that clinic I went to a different doctor. It took me a few weeks to get that appointment, and the new doctor immediately referred me to a hand surgeon. Another 8 weeks waiting time for an appointment, which I finally had last week.

Let me tell you, it feels so good to finally be taken seriously. Only, things don't look too good for my wrist. Luckily there are definitely no bones broken but apparently two very important ligaments are ruptured. I have a surgery scheduled for May 8, and will have my arm in plaster for at least 6 weeks.

Um, have I mentioned it is my right wrist? That's where business school comes into play again. Great. The one year I take out a huge loan to pay heaps of tuition I screw up my wrist and can't write for half the time - no notes, no written exams... Wonderful. I've started talking to my professors and the ones I've talked to so far were really helpful and will find ways to assess me without written exams.

Still, this diagnosis has somewhat depressed me. It felt good to finally have a diagnosis and not be told over and over again that I only imagine the pain and that I should stop whining. On the other hand - the doctors are not certain the surgery will be successful. They say if things don't turn out the way they want them to turn out, they may have to shorten my ulna bone to take away some pressure from the torn ligaments. Hey, sure, I'd love to have them cut open my arm and chisel and saw away at my bones... This would mean weeks and weeks pf plaster again, just when I wanted to start looking for a nice job with my new and shiny MBA degree. Oh perfect!

So that's why things have been a bit silent at this blog lately. Please bear with me, there will be happier posts about happy food again. For one, a supermarket nearby has started carrying vegan ice cream. Pure bliss :-).

And, to end on a happier note: I have very successfully tried Veganomicons "Acorn squash, pear, and adzuki soup with sautéed shiitake mushrooms". If you haven't tried this soup yet you don't know what you are missing. On a scale from one to ten, this was a clear eleven. Yum!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Butternut Bounty Contest - the Round-Up

Let me start by apologizing for making you wait for so long for this round-up. Since you are probably not interested in hearing all my excuses about stress and work and so on let's get straight down to the purpose of this post:

When I first asked people for their favorite way to prepare butternut squash the majority advised me to just roast it. Apparently the simple things in live are sometimes the best! But then I did get some real recipes and therefore I am excited to present to you a proper round-up of this very first Bounty Contest:

"Butternut Squash. Who doesn't love this veg? It is dynamite in flavour and its versatility is much appreciated by this little vegan", writes VeganCowGirl and submitted two recipes that make me drool when I read them:

Sweet Squash Puff Packets: squash, apples, and sweet potatoes wrapped in puff pastry and baked until golden and flakey. I must admit that I find the combination of squash with apples intriguing and puff pastry is absolutely irressistible anyways. VeganCowGirl writes she had never worked with puff pastry before, so it was an exercise in discovery-cooking. Judging from the photos it was a successful experiment!

Next up are her Squash Sushi. Sushi, well, of course. Vinegared rice, tasty crunchy nori and tender squash - that must be one divine combo. I love sushi and was glad to discover that vegans can still enjoy it, with veggies. I had never thought of making it with butternut so this is a great idea.

Jennifer of Veg*n Cooking and other Random Musings sent me an email with her favorite ways to prepare butternut: "I tend to go a different way with things than most people. My favorite way to have butternut squash is in Mexican food." She submitted a recipe for "Spicy anasazi bean and quinoa stuffed roasted acorn squash". Quinoa is one of my recent favorite discoveries and the spices she uses do sound enticing.

The second recipe she suggested was "Vegan veggie enchiladas". Another great idea, and so simple when I think about it. Enchiladas rock! I must try them with butternut squash. Do contact Jennifer and request the recipes - they sound amazingly delicious!

And lastely Stonie of Dr. Stonielove's Bewildered Beast provided proof that, yes, it is possible to make squash gnocchi that do not fall apart when cooking. She submitted a mouthwatering recipe for Butternut squash gnocchi - with chili pepper for extra pizzazz - and an even more mouthwatering photo. Man, Stonie, you are a genius - photo and cooking-wise.

So, a total of five recipes that make me want to start cooking right away. Five recipes, each different and creative, each sounds delicious. I should not have labelled this a contest because now I have to single one out and proclaim it the winner. Believe me, this is hard and all of you are my winners.

So (drum-roll) after some deliberation with the co-host (my husband) we decided that the crown in this Bounty Contest goes to (more drum-roll) VeganCowGirl for the Sweet Squash Puff Packets. I had promised you a surprise prize but I didn't specify one before since I wanted to tailor it a bit to the winner. Since Vegan Cow Girl lives practically around the corner (Belgium) I decided that my favorite vegan fair-trade, 70%-cocoa chocolate is going to survive the trip across the border. Congratulations to VeganCowGirl and thank you to all of you for participating and making the bounty on our table even more delicious thanks to your great recipes.

Edit: O blush, o shame... There was another entry I just discovered, in the comments section of the original post. Vinelady of Cooking Aboard submitted this amazing, mouthwatering Thai Squash Soup, a soup she cooked aboard a sailboat! A beautiful dish with my favorite Thai flavors: coconut milk, curry paste, and lemon grass. I love Thai food so this competition might have taken a totally different direction had I not missed this great entry. Go and check out this great soup. I deeply apologize to Vinelady for not including her. I feel so bad I'm giving out another prize which Vinelady totally deserves: more of my favorite vegan, organic, fair-trade, 70%-cocoa chocolate. Congrats!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rhubarb Fool

As promised, I'll let you in on the secret of yesterday's dessert. When I came across some forced rhubarb the other day I started craving rhubarb fool. Hmmm, the thought of tangy rhubarb with Soyatoo and something crunchy...

3/4 pounds forced rhubarb
4 tblsp brown sugar

Wash the rhubarb and slice it. Cover with water, add the sugar and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook until tender (approx. 10 minutes). Do not stir. Easy as pie :-) Serves four.

Serve in a nice glass topped with loads and loads of Soyatoo. To turn it into a real rhubarb fool, gently fold the rhubarb pieces into the Soyatoo, but then you need to serve it ASAP, because the Soyatoo melts fast.

So I had rhubarb, Soyatoo, but still needed something crunchy. And sure enough, Susan had a recipe for spicy crunchy biscotti. I went for the gluten-containing version of her recipe, and it turned out delicious. The biscotti's spiciness perfectly complemented the tanginess of the rhubarb and the creaminess of the Soyatoo. My father in law requested seconds and thirds - of the biscotti.

Unfortunately, the Soyatoo melted so fast in the heat of the lamp it was all melted before I got a chance to photograph it with some biscotti on the side. So, if you are still looking for a dessert for Easter Sunday consider this, it was the star of our meal.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Butternut Bounty Contest

This is just a reminder that I'm curious about your favorite way to prepare butternut. Post a fingerlickin' mouthwatering good recipe on your blog (or use one you've posted before), link here, and send me the link to aprilday AT web DOT de. Or just send me an email, as some have done already. Remember, there will be a small surprise present for the recipe me and my husband like best :-)

We've had my hubby's parents over for an early Easter get-together, and yes, I cooked, but with three hungry people waiting I didn't have time to take pictures of the food we had. I managed to get a shot of the dessert, though, so stay tuned.

So, happy Easter and happy cooking :-)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Yes, we can!

Yes, vegans can indulge. Sure, most of the time most of us try to keep it as healthy as possible. But whenever we want to, we can eat cookies, and ice cream, and chocolate, and even the worst, greasiest, most artificial fast-food at times. Here is proof of our latest indulgence: french fries and faux gyro with ketchup. Since I got last-minute pangs of conscience I made some green peas and edamame to go with it. (Please excuse the blurry, weird photo - I was ravenous).

Apparently vegans can never stop thinking about how to make their food a little more healthy. So, this meal included beans. And, thinking of it, those were organic fries with nothing added when I bought them, not even salt. At least there is nothing I can say in defence of the faux gyro. Except for that it tasted great, actually the texture and taste were so "real" it was creepy.

I once made a fries + burger dinner for my parents: french fries and a soyburger - pan-fried tofu glazed with soy sauce and put on a bun with everything you could wish for on a hamburger. They were speechless. They never thought vegan food could be this good/evil/tasty/fast-food-like. But as I was saying: Yes, we can!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Swiss Chard in Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce

No, this dish is not the prettiest of all. It's not all neat and shiny, no, it's smothered all over, smothered in peanut butter sauce. But don't let appearances fool you. Hmmm, the goodness of tender Swiss chard enveloped in the peanuts' creaminess, here and there a nutty, crunchy splinter, and then a hint of chili heat... Together with your favorite pasta this is comfort food in its purest form.

Try it and you will love it :-)

Swiss Chard in Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce
serves two

1 thumbsize piece ginger, peeled & minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups Swiss chard, sliced
2 cups very light vegetable broth
3-4 tblsp crunchy peanut butter (get one without hydrogenated oils)
a generous dash cumin
a dash cayenne pepper (or as much as you like)
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
2 tblsp shoyu

+ your favorite pasta for two, cooked al dente

Heat a large skillet. Lightly spray it with olive oil, and add the garlic and the ginger, cover with a lid. Cook for a minute, make sure it doesn't burn.

Add the Swiss chard, together with the rest of the ingredients and cook until the chard is as tender as you like it - I like mine with A LOT of crunch left.

Add over your favorite steaming hot pasta and dig in :-)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Very First Bounty Contest

Ladies and Gentlemen, the time has come for the very first bounty contest. I'm looking for your favorite butternut squash recipe. And this is how it all began:

Growing up I do not remember pumpkins being sold in supermarkets. There were people who grew them in their backyards, but I only knew them as sweet&sour pumpkin pickles and I must say I did not crave them ever.

When I lived in Japan I got introduced to kabocha, and a gentle love affair started to unfold. Once back in Germany, I noticed that pumpkins were making their appearance on farmers markets. I started trying halloween pumpkin (uh, not my favorite) and acorn squash (wow, can't believe I missed that for the first 30 years of my live). And then last week I got a beautiful butternut squash. And now I'm at a loss as to what to do with this beauty.

I've tried a couple of pumpkin recipes so far. Some were a big hit with me and my hubby. And some... I've tried making pumpkin gnocchi with acorn, and failed miserably. Failed with flour, with potatoes, and with semolina. Acorn probably contains too much water. But roasted acorn - hmmmm. I wouldn't want to live without it. All in all more successes than failures and in the process I've turned into a pumpkin lover.

Now with this new baby I thought it is time for some inspiration. I've never had or cooked butternut squash so I need some help here. So send me your favorite pumpkin recipes, old or new, that have appeared on your blogs or that you post for this occasion. It does not need to be a butternut recipe, any type of pumpkin is fine as long as it will work with butternut, too. The recipe me and my hubby like best will be the winner, and there will be a little surprise prize :-).

Send me your recipes by Easter Sunday, March 23 midnight your time, to aprilday AT web DOT de, with Re: butternut (so I can tell your mails from spam). Now it's your turn, I'm looking forward to your creativity ;-)

PS: Yes I am aware of the fact that the season when everybody is crazy about pumpkins is over already. But doing unseasonal things sometimes is much more fun. So, fill me in on your butternut secrets already :-)

Edit: I'm afraid my directions were a tad bit confusing, so here a clarification: The recipes you submit do not need to be new, however, they need to be posted on your blog, so I have somewhere to link to (Still thanks, chocovegan. The simplest things are sometimes the best :-)).

Additionally, in case of something you've featured before it would be great if you could just briefly repost your recipe and link to this post, if that doesn't mean too much trouble, just to give it the look and feel of a contest :-)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

E for Excellent and Nice Matters Awards

Recently I've been awarded the "Nice Matters Award" by Vaishali of Holy Cow! and the "E for Excellent" by Veggie of So what do vegetarians eat anyway?. Girls, I am speechless! I feel so honored because I only started blogging a little over two months ago and it feels good to be recognized in the blogging world already. Thank you girls, you made my day :-). And now it's my turn:

Amanda of Walking the Vegan Line definitely deserves a Nice Matters Award for her numerous nice activities to spread the message of veganism in Texas, "the land of barbeques and rodeo". Not the easiest place, it seems.

Second, I admire Chocolatecoveredvegan for giving up time to volunteer in an animal shelter to walk dogs. There's a well-deserved Nice Matters Award.

Third up is Vegan Dad who does a wonderful job of making a nutritious, healthy, and yummy vegan dinner every single night for his boys. Now, what is nicer than really taking a lot of time to make sure your kids grow up on a healthy diet when fast food is so easily available and socially accepted. Amazing job, vegan dad!

The E for Excellent is a little bit harder. I'm still relatively new to blogging and most of the blogs I know have received the E already. However, one of my favorite blogs which happens to be a non-food blog (albeit with a vegan sister blog), is What do I know. The author introduces herself as "an American living in Britain, a beautiful island in the North Atlantic. I often write about my adventures on the island, which is populated by friendly, dog-loving natives." I love her blog for its witty, pointed writing and good measure of irony so it's a clear E for KathyF.

The blog I probably adore most is Lucullian Delights. However, this blog is of a quality that I hardly dare award it anything cause that makes me feel like an ugly duckling assessing the beauty of a swan. Lucullian Delights features excellent, creative recipes, most of them veggie-based, and stunning, stunning photos. The most excellent blog I know!

So, congrats to all who recently have received one or the other award through me or somebody else. All your blogs are excellent and all of you inspire me so much with your cooking styles and your photos. And lastly, thank you again to Vaishali and Veggie who considered me for the awards.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Five a day

One of my resolutions for this year had been to eat more veggies. It is so easy to start living on bread, pasta with cream sauces, sandwiches... Especially during the week when I have two of my three meals away from home and have to make do with what I can find, and that's usually bread, rice, bland lettuce and bananas.

So at least for the weekends I want to make veggies a priority and boy, me and my husband seem to do a great job. When I came home from grocery shopping Friday evening my husband asked me if we were expecting guests. I had bought a ton of fruits and veggies. But only 48 hours later, we had managed to chow down on all of the following:

1 pound green beans
1 pound potatoes
1 pound bell peppers
1 pound savoy cabbage
1 pound lambs lettuce
1 pound spinach
1/2 pound zucchini
1/2 pound brown portobellos
1/2 pound cherry tomatoes
1 eggplant
1/2 cauliflower
1 avocado
1 beautiful nameless lettuce

1 pound oranges
2 pounds strawberries
1 pound apples

That's 8 pounds of veggies and 4 pounds of fruits, or 2 pounds of veggies and 1 pound of fruits per person per day. Maybe there are raw-foodists who easily top this but for us this is a lot. Hehe, I guess this weekend we came close to changing the interpretation of the slogan "five a day".

We turned this into: roasted veggies, savoy cabbage with quinoa, braised eggplant, spaghetti with creamy spinach sauce, and vegan pizza topped with a lot of veggies.

More veggies and fruits? Mission accomplished, at least for the past weekend.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Oatmeal with almonds and raspberries

Oatmeal is another food I didn't grow up with. I first got to know it when I went to high school in the US, sadly only out of a box with way too much sugar and artifial flavors that overpowered any other aroma. Yikes. Then during my time at university I spend some time in Scotland, the motherland of all oatmeals and porages. At least this is what they say there. It makes sense, though. The Scottish climate is kind of harsh, too cold for wheat and rye, and potatoes have been around in Europe only for the past 200 years or so. People had to eat something before then and in Scotland this happened to be oats and kale.

In Scotland I also learned the "proper" Scottish way of preparing porage, as they call oatmeal there: steelcut oats cooked in water with a pinch of salt, and served with a little cream or sour milk. I thought this must be gross, but then a Scot made it for me and I actually liked it. He told me that "in the old days" Scots would cook a huge pot of oatmeal in the morning, let it cool, cut it into chunks and take it with them for lunch.

Since going vegan, this is the way I usually make my oatmeal now (minus the cream, of course). But sometimes, I have this craving for a rich, creamy oatmeal, sweet and satisfying. And then I get out my soymilk and my quick cooking oats. This morning I also added almonds for added nutrients and frozen raspberries for fruitiness. I cooked the almonds with the oats to soften them a bit and added the frozen raspberries to the hot porage just before serving. The heat thawed them in no time and this way they didn't discolor the whole dish, even though pink oatmeal would probably have been pretty as well.

Lastly, I didn't add any sugar. I'm trying to avoid sugar as much as I'm trying to avoid fat - mostly but not religiously. I used "Alpro plus Calcium", it already contains as much raw cane sugar as cows milk contains lactose - sweet enough for me.

And this beautiful bowl? My husband gave it to me for my birthday last year. It is handpainted Meissen china, and to the right of the cherrie blossoms (how very Japanese) you can see the painters interpretation of my name in Japanese kana characters. See, best husband in the world :-)

1 cup soymilk
5 tblsp quick cooking oats
a few almonds
1 handful of fozen raspberries

Bring the soymilk together with the almonds to a boil. Stir in the oats, lower the heat and simmer until the oats are tender. Stir frequently. Add the frozen raspberries just before serving.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Cranberry-blood orange jelly

I love February. Not because of the weather - definitely not. But February is blood orange season. In Germany, all oranges must be imported (pre-climate change climate provided... this winter would totally have been warm enough for orange trees to prosper), and more often than not their quality doesn't live up to my standards. But come February and all this changes. Blood oranges are always juicy, aromatic, tangy, and fragrant. I devour them by the pound.

Then the other day I found a leftover bag of cranberries in my freezer, and an idea started to form in my head. I'm the biggest fan of bitter orange marmelade, something you can only homemake with proper bitter Seville oranges - not marketed here. But how about a blood orange-cranberry jelly? Yes, gotta try that.

The verdict? Itsh hard to shpeak wish my moush full of bagel wish jelly... O my goodnesh, thish ish gooooooooood :-)

I used the frozen cranberries and juiced what seemed like 6 pounds of blood oranges. I brought the cranberries together with the orange juice to a boil, let it gently simmer for a while, covered with a lid to avoid boiling it down. I then strained it, pressing the pomace to squeeze out as much liquid as possible, and then measured 1 liter (4 cups) of liquid. I let it cool (important), then mixed this with 25 g of pectin, brought it to a boil again, stirring very frequently, added 300g sugar (1 cup), brought it back to a rolling boil and let it boil for approx. 3 min, stirring constantly.

so totals of:
cranberry juice + blood orange juice + juice of 1/2 lime, together a total of 1 liter (4 cups)
300g sugar (1 cup)
15g pectin (1/2 ounce) (use according to instructions on package!)
I'm giving the totals in metric values since they are a bit more precise.

I filled the hot hot hot jelly into scalded glasses with a twist-off lid. It is important to work quickly here, the jelly must be filled while it is still piping hot. Caution: the glasses get VERY hot. Use a clean towel to handle them, do not touch the rims with the towl. Since the glasses are too hot to hold while filling them, I always place them on a deep plate and then hold the plate.

I closed the lid tightly, and placed the glasses upside down. The remaining air in the glasses contracts as the jelly cools and produces a vacuum, thus tightly sealing the glasses. If I did it again I'd probably use less sugar, though, since the oranges were pretty sweet already. However, since the sugar acts as preserving agent I didn't want to cut it back too much. Still, if you use this ratio, your jam will still only have an added sugar content of 23% and a fruit content of 77%. Compare this to shop-bought jelly.

The key is to work as sterile as possible. Do not lick the spoon you are stirring with, do not touch the inside of the glasses or lids after scalding, do not wipe the glass rims with a cloth you used before for washing dishes or the like. Take a new cloth! Try to keep things surgically clean and the preserve will keep forever in a cool pantry - provided you don't eat it first. I've been making jams and jellies all my live and I've never had a batch go bad.

Homemade jelly is much much softer than store-bought brands (use mor pectin for firmer results). It is also much much yummier. Also, it usually is much much fruitier as well, preserving this typical pizzaz and tanginess missing in most store-bought brands. Plus, on one Sunday afternoon you can make a year's supply of jelly and jam of the fruit that's in season. So start peeling already :-)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Easy Marble Loaf Cake

I have always wanted a silicone baking pan but was always too price conscious to actually buy one. Then the other day my husband surprised me with the cutest little silicone mini bundt pan and loaf tin. Hehe, he was probably just speculating on his favorite cake, marble loaf cake.

I count myself lucky that the cake he likes best is seemingly such an easy thing. But then, after going vegan it took me forever to find a recipe that always worked. After some fiddeling and tweaking, this is the one I'm always using now with only a handful of ingredients, and it's never failed me.

Easy Marble Loaf Cake

2 cups cake flour (300g)
1/2 cup sugar (150g)
1 heaping tblsp baking powder (20g)
pinch of salt

1/2 cup vegan margerine, melted and cooled (150g)
1 1/3 cup soymilk (300ml)

2 tblsp Dutch-proces cocoa
4 tblsp. soy milk

Combine the dry ingredients. Mix in the soy milk and melted, cooled margerine, and briefly mix till combined. Spoon half of the batter into a well greased loaf pan or ungreased silicone loaf pan.

Mix the cocoa into the remaining batter and add approx. 4 tblsp. soymilk to achieve the same consistency the white batter has. Add over the white batter. Now take a fork and lightly swirl it through the batters to create a marble pattern.

Bake in a loaf pan for 60 minutes at 350°F. For my silicone mini-pan, I halved the recipe, and baked it for 40 minutes. Let cool compeltely before slicing it, though. Tough, I know... Feel free to jazz it up with vanilla, cinnamon, or ginger, or throwing in dried fruits, chocolate chips, nuts, granola....

Marble cakes also turn out especially beautiful in bundt pans!

Baking in silicone pans was a novelty for me. For one thing you don't need to grease it. Also the sides of the loaf remained very soft which I really liked. However, I found the silicone increased the baking time considerably, probably due to lower heat conduction. So, in addition to baking time varying with stoves, it also varies according to how big your loaf is, and what form you use. Seriously, what's the point in indicating baking times... I've indicated my normal baking time for a normal metal loaf pan, but be sure to check your cake for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center of the cake to avoid underbaking or overbaking it.

Standard note on sugar: I realize that there are cultural taste differences. I like my desserts not overly sweet, both for health and taste reasons. Therefore, the amount of sugar I use may not satisfy your palate. Feel free to use more sugar, I've found this does not affect the baking properties / baking time at all.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Real. Fast. Food.

A couple of weeks ago, Joanna from Joanna's Food gave away cookbooks she no longer needed - understandable with her collection of 100+ cookbooks. I was the lucky girl to get Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food.

I love reading cookbooks just like some people enjoy reading travel books. Maybe it's this feeling you were almost there, almost feeling the warm sand underneath your feet and the gentle breeze caressing your skin. This is what I feel when I read cookbooks. I can almost taste the smoky tenderness of grilled eggplant and the sweet tartness of plump sunripe summer tomatoes. I can almost feel the intricate flavors of a Thai spice mix gamboling on my tounge and the unearthly earthy aroma of dark chocolate melting in my mouth.

I don't follow cookbooks. In fact, I hardly ever follow any recipe, not even my own. Yet sometimes I stare at my pantry, open the fridge and inspect its contents, stare at my pantry again and can't decide what to make for dinner. That's where cookbooks come into play. Cookbooks are what I draw my inspitation from. And, vegan or not, one of the cooks who has inspired me most is Englishman Nigel Slater.

So, what to expect from a cookbook with the term "fast food" in its title? Curious I started leafing through the book and was in for a surprise. Fast food, yes, but not in the sense it is used these days. For starters, it has a bottle of olive oil, blue mussels, and a corkscrew on its cover, three things not ordinarily associated with fast food (read: coke, burger, fries). Nigel presents an amazing collection of real food ready to eat in less than 30 minutes. And he means real food.

The thing that thrilled me most, personally, is the fact that out of the 300 or so pages with recipes, about 120 pages are dedicated to vegetables, pasta, potatoes, and beans, and are either veg*n as is or can be easily veganized. Plus, they are what I call creative, either in their combination of ingredients, or the way they are prepared. And sometimes they are just plain simple and easy. Want a taste?

Hot brown lentils with mint
Grilled aubergine with chickpea puree and harissa
Bubble and squeak (cabbage mixed with mashed potatoes, then fried)
Wholewheat pasta with sausages, mustard and caramelised onions

Or take this: "Serve with a crisp salad, perhaps beanshot, pepper, and banana, tossed with lots of lemon juice." Wow. Talk about creativity. Beanshots, pepper, and banana. Nigel is a genius. I could go on and on and on. Suffice it to say that now I have enough "wanna trys" to last me through the rest of the year. Or more.

And then, the other day, Nigel's book helped me see the obvios. I was at home studying, facing a much dreaded exam the following day. It was lunch time and I was fighting hard to resist the temptation of taking an extended break from torturing myself with monotonous material by escaping to my kitchen and cooking to my hearts delight. No, no, I needed to stay focused. Still I was hungry, so I resorted to Nigel for advice. And the book showed me what I could have seen myself but failed to do so: an avocado sandwich. Duh! Of course I didn't follow the recipe completely, gotta preserve some creativity. Yet without Nigel's book, who knows, I might have ended up doing some real cooking. Instead I had Real Fast Food.

Thank you, Joanna.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nice Matters

Vaishali over at Holy Cow , a great vegan blog I highly recommend for its awesome Indian recipes, has awarded me with the "Nice Matters Award". I'm thrilled and excited, and very touched. And pretty spechless. I'll get to pass it on to some bloggers myself now. Will have to think about this a day or two, so for now just let me say, Vaishali, I am deeply touched by this award. Thank you so much. You received it first and you thoroughly deserve it for your great blog and simply for being sooooo nice.

Life is crazy these days. As I've mentioned before, I'm doing business school this year, and I'm up to my eyeballs in exams, classes even on Saturdays, projects, papers, reading, studying, and on top of that commuting a couple of hours each day. So there hasn't been much cooking going on lately, and if so, I was too tired/hungry/impatient to wait these two minutes it would take to photograph the plate before polishing it off. So forgive me and keep checking in nonetheless, I promise I'll post on the weekend again.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The best husband in the world

I have the best husband in the world. No, seriously. The best. Not only is he a loving, caring, intelligent companion, he is also a talented cook. Today, after another six-day-week of business school, he made lunch for me. The other day we had bought some rice in the fair trade store - but not just any rice: purple rice from Laos. It was white basmati rice mixed with dark grains of a variety that according to the package would turn purple when cooked. We gave it a shot, and really, when we opened the rice cooker after it was done it was a bright amazing purple. Lovely :-)

To go with this bright purple rice he made green edamame, grilled zucchini, and a mustard sauce that he turned yellow and fragrant with a spice mix he brought back from Kenia. This was one delicious and colorful cooked lunch. And to make it even more perfect, today was the warmest day we've had this year so far. It must have been something like 70°F. The normal temperature this time of the year would be closer to 0°F. It was sunny and warm so we had lunch on our balcony. Seriously, in moments like these I'm a big fan of global warming...

When I first met my husband I had just turned vegan - and he was on the continuous quest for the perfect steak. "I'll never become a vegetarian, let alone vegan", he told me. Not too long after this incident he said good by to meat, too, and replaced his quest for the perfect steak with the quest for the perfect slice of fried eggplant (which is just as demanding, I'm telling you). On top of this he cooks the most delicious vegan dishes for me. See, I have the best husband in the world.

For more purple foods check out my Purple Potatoe Salad.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chickpea Soba Soup with a Secret Ingredient

Last night as dinner time was approaching I was leafing through V-con and the Chickpea-Noodle Soup caught my eye. Unfortunately, I didn't have half of the ingredients and was too tired/lazy/cranky to go shopping again. But I had set my mind on this and was craving it, it had to be a chickpea-noodle soup. Luckily, I happened to have a can of chickpeas and a pack of Japanese soba on hand.

I didn't measure what I put in the soup. I used instant vegetable stock, zucchini (courgettes), chickpeas, soba noodles, a secret ingredient (more of that later), and handful of arugula (rocket). I love throwing arugula into soups. It adds color, crunch, vitamins, iron... and taste :-) I brought the broth with the chickpeas to a boil and added the soba and the sliced zucchini at the same time, and cooked it for five minutes until the soba were tender. The zucchini were still al dente, so if you like your veggies softer you might want to throw in the zucchini first.

I didn't have the miso the V-con recipe called for. So far I have not been able to find fish-free miso here. Once I was in an Asian supermarket and was looking at the misos. I checked the German list of ingredients - all fine- and had the pack of miso in my shopping cart already when I noticed the Japanese inscription on the front of the pack. I turned the pack around again and checked the Japanese list of ingredients. After living in Japan as a vegan, the one thing I can decipher is animal ingredients on labels. There was fish in the miso!

I am still shocked and cannot believe the slack labelling. Food laws stipulate that all possible allergens must clearly be indicated - and fish is one of them. Plus, it WAS clearly indicated in Japanese, but of the 10 or so ingredients in Japanese, only 3 were translated... My trust in labeling of imported food is now a bit shaken...

Anyway, I'm digressing. So no miso. But a mixture I came up with a couple of months ago and which truly takes brothy soups to another level is a 1:1:1 mix of tahini, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar. With lots of "umami" it makes soups nice'n'creamy. So, this is my secret soup ingredient, and both me and my husband love it.

Now drool over the picture and/or get a copy of V-con as I'm sure that V-con's soup is even tastier.

For more brothy soups check out Japanese Nabe.
For more creamed vegetable soups check out Broccoli-Cauliflower Yin-Yang Soup.

Fat-free depends on the use of fat-free ingredients.
Gluten-free depends on the use of gluten-free ingredients.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Purple Potato Salad

The other day I stumbled across some purple potatoes in the deli section. Their color intrigued me and so I managed to ignore their outrageous price and bought some. I cooked them in their jackets because I was afraid their precious color could fade plus their surfaces were really uneven which would have made it hard to peel them. Then I proceeded with my family's potato-salad recipe, adding a dash of wasabi for extra pizazz.

Their color was a big hit at our dinner table tonight, and so was their taste. I served these with an unbelievably good soup (more of that later) and a kick-ass vegan sandwich: I baked a crusty focaccia and put on some ground horseradish, generous amount of hummus, sundried tomatoes, sliced black olives, avocado slices, broiled tofu, loads of arugula (rocket), cucumbers and ketchup. I'm telling you, my husband really loves me now :-) (I mean, he does anyway, but no man can resist good food :-))

Purple potato salad
Serves two as a side

1/2 pound purple potatoes
1 red onion, diced
1 cup strong vegetable broth (instant)
1-2 tblspoon mustard
1-2 tblspoon balsamic vinegar (depending on how vinegary your mustard is)
a dash of wasabi

1/2 juicy, aromatic apple
2 tblspoon sliced pickled cucumbers

Cook the potatoes in their jackets. Drain, and peel the hot potatoes. Bring the broth to a boil, add the onion and cook for a few minutes. Stir in 1 tblsp mustard and vinegar, taste and add more if you want. The dressing should be quite vinegary and salty.

Slice the potatoes into 1/2 - 1 inch slices, dice the apple, slice the cucumbers. Add everything to the hot dressing and turn off the heat. Let sit for approx. 1/2 hour, stirring every once in a while. The potatoes will start absorbing the dressing and the starch of the potatoes will mix with the liquid resulting in a creamy potato salad - with no fat added. Serve at least at room temperature, preferably a little warm.

For more side salads check out Arugula with white beans, cherry tomatoes, and red onions.

Fat-free depends on the use of fat-free ingredients.
Gluten-free depends on the use of gluten-free ingredients.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Susan's Sichuan Tofu

Last night we had FatFreeVegan Susan's Sichuan Tofu with Garlic Sauce. Wow. I'm still speechless. This is arguably the best meal I've ever cooked without that-which-must-not-be-named. I made brown rice and some roasted broccoli to go with it. I didn't have sherry or Shao Hsing wine but I still had a bottle of organic high-quality sake I brought back from Japan that I had been waiting to use. It worked beautifully.

Soon my husband was scraping the empty skillet, giving me this "this-is-good-and-I want-more-of-it" look. Next time I'll double the recipe. Thanks, Susan, for this wonderful recipe.

Spinach-Squash Lasagna

This months topic for Heart of the Matter, hosted by the Accidental Scientist, is Stews and Casseroles. Heart of the Matter is all about heart-healthy food that is delicious without putting your health at risk. Hm, last months topic was soups. I didn't want to make anything that would resemble last months theme, so I went for a spinach-squash lasagna, since lasagna could arguably pass as a casserole.

This lasagna is almost fat-free and 100% cholesterol-free, something your ordinary lasagne is probably not. Still it is chock-full of flavors and veggies: caramelized squash, tender spinach and heart-healthy garlic. This one is a keeper.

Spinach-Squash Lasagna

2 1/2 cups vegan broth
2 1/2 cups soymilk
2 tblsp flour dissolved in some cold water
nutmeg, freshly ground pepper, minced garlic, lemon juice
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes + some more for sprinkling

1 1/2 cup squash/pumpkin cubes, roasted with garlic and sea salt
1 cup spinach (I used frozen thawed)

dry lasagne sheets

Cut the squash/pumpkin into approx 1/3" cubes, toss with some olive oil, season with sea salt and garlic and roast until tender. Defrost the spinach (or wash, cook, and drain fresh spinach).

Bring the broth and soymilk to a boil. Season with nutmeg, pepper and a spritz of lemon juice. Stirr in the dissolved flour and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Then start by pouring a thin layer of "bechamel" in your lasagna form to prevent the sheets from sticking to the bottom. Cover the bottom with lasagna sheets but leave room for them to expand (they will). Top with the roasted squash and a generous amount of sauce. Add another layer of lasagna sheets, top with the spinach and again sauce. If you still have veggies left and room in your form, then just repeat. Make sure you use plenty of sauce because the pasta will soak it up and you want a nice and moist lasagna. The amount of sauce you need will vary with the size of your lasagna form, you may need more or less. Make sure you have one cup sauce left over.

Stirr the nutritional yeast flakes into the remaining 1 cup of sauce, pour on top of the lasagne. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast and into the oven it goes. The yeast flakes on top give it this nice crunch that is usually achieved with cheese that has baked for a long time. Bake for approx. 45 minutes until the pasta is tender and the top is nicely browned and crunchy.

This was the first time I've attempted to make a non-tomato-based lasagna and I was really surprised at how rich and creamy it tasted. The starch of the pasta makes for very creamy results even though this is almost fat-free. Serve with a BIG salad, lambs lettuce is in season plus it tastes divine.

Serves two.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Spaghetti with Caramelized Veggies in Creamy Red Wine Sauce

Susan over at the FatFree Vegan Kitchen is again hosting Vegetable Love. This is an event where she collects fat-free, vegetable-centered, healthy, sexy recipes for Valentine's day. So, what is the most sensual thing to eat with candlelight, a glass of good red wine, and subtle music? Think Lady and the Tramp.... It's spaghetti. Seriously. Comfort food that a simple sauce can transform into an aphrodisiac and which will still retain its simple, sensual appeal. And if that sauce is veggie-based it meets all the other requirements above. So here I give you the recipe for our all-time favorite pasta. Sweet caramelized onions, earthy mushrooms, and tender courgetts with perfect al-dente spaghetti enveloped in creamy, aromatic, red wine sauce. (Picture of Lady and the Tramp: Disney).

Spaghetti with caramelized veggies in creamy red wine sauce

Serves two plus leftovers

2 cloves garlic, minced
3 red onions, halved and then thinly sliced
4 courgettes
8 oz brown portobellos, sliced
8 oz shiitake, sliced

3/4 cup soymilk (see note)
3/4 cup red wine
3/4 cup vegan stock (instant)
salt, freshly ground pepper, fresh thyme

Lovingly set the table with flowers and candles and put on romantic music.

Cut the courgettes in half lenghtwise, then shave them with a potato peeler into thin slices.

Ligthly spray a non-stick skillet with olive oil. Gently fry the garlic for a minute over medium heat. Add the onion slices and cover with a lid. The onions will now start cooking in their own juice. Stirr frequently, adding 2 tblsp of water if the onions start browning too much or sticking to the pan. After about 20 minutes the onions should be tender and caramelized.

Turn the heat to high and add the mushrooms. Cook for a few minutes on high until the mushrooms start exuding their juices. Add the courgette slices together with the soymilk, red wine and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, cover again and cook for two minutes. Uncover and stirr. The steam should have softened the courgette slices, they are so thin that they will cook in no time. Cook for one or two more minutes of needed. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and sprinkle with fresh thyme. Add more liquid if needed.

Pour over your steaming hot spaghetti and serve to the one you love. Slurp on the same strand of spaghetti. Kiss.


Mmmmmmh, can you smell it? Mmmmmmh... :-)

For more yummy pasta recipes check out Spaghetti with arugula, garlic, and grape tomatoes

Note: If you are not concerned about fat-free, use soy-creamer.

Fat-free depends on the use of fat-free ingredients.
Gluten-free depends on the use of gluten-free ingredients.

Photo Blog

I've started to like taking pictures and I'm taking more and more non food-related photos. I didn't want to cram them into my food blog so I've started a photo blog. Nothing to do with vegan food, just the joy of capturing beautiful moments as best as I can. Check it out: Learning to See.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Japanese Nabe

This is the story of a very traditional Japanese dish and what I made of it. First of all, I took out all that crawled before. And second, I cannot find half the original ingredients over here in Germany, so I had to make some adjustments. Even so, nabe is one of my all-time favorite soups. It is quick, easy, warming, and in its vegan version almost fat-free.

Nabe is a traditional winter dish. It is cooked at the table in a wide flat pot. The ingredients are nicely arranged in the pot, the longest cooking go in first, the most tender last. Then everybody takes out some of the food, and new ingredients are placed in the broth. This goes on until everybody is full. Now you have a deeply aromatic broth left. Enter the rice. On festive occasions in Japan, rice is usually served last. Maybe it is because this is the weekday staple, and on special days people want to fill up on something else. The cooked rice (some Japanese also use soba) is placed in the rich, fragrant broth, left there to soak up the liquids, and then enjoyed at the close of the meal.

I remember cold cold winter Sundays in Japan when I was out all day. When I got home I only wanted to do one thing: curl up on my heating carpet and slurp hot nabe soup until my bones were thawed again. Also my Japanese friends frequently invited me for nabe nights - evenings full of laughter and playing cards - and eating lots and lots of nabe.

Back here in Germany, I don't have a nabe pot, so I make it on the stove like a soup. I love how the flavors play together. The pumpkin and cabbage lend it some sweetness, chrysanthemum leaves have a delightful bitterness in them, lotus root adds some crunch, and the mushrooms and tofu are heavenly tender.

Above are two pics I took in Japan of my beloved pot and what it looked like in the soup bowl. Below the instructions for my westernized veganized Nabe. I give you the original ingredients first, and in parentheses the possible substitutes if you have trouble finding things.

Japanese Nabe
Serves two

vegan nabe broth (or vegetarian yeast-based stock or vegetable stock)
vegan Japanese sesame dressing to taste (or 1:1:1 tahini + balsamic vinegar + soy sauce)
1-2 cups Japaneses mushrooms (shiitake, king trumpet mushrooms (eryngii), enoki)
1/2 cup fresh lotus root (or water chestnuts)
5 oz firm tofu
1/2 small kabocha pumpkin
1 small Chinese cabbage
1 cup bean sprouts
a good handfull of chrysanthemum leaves (or arugula (rocket))
1 oz rice noodles (original: Japanese rice or soba)

Cook the rice noodles (or Japanese soba or Japanese rice) according to instructions on the pack.

Place the stock and some of the sesame dressing to taste together with the tofu, the pumpkin, the mushrooms and the fresh lotus root in a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer until the veggies are tender. Add the Chinese cabbage and the sprouts and simmer for a few more minutes. You do not want the cabbage to overcook. Taste and adjust spices. Add the arugula (or better: chrysanthemum leaves) and the rice noodles and serve, the heat of the soup will wilt the arugula to perfection.

For more easy but impressive soups check out the white and green Broccoli-Cauliflower Yin-Yang soup.

I'm making my veganized Japanese Nabe my contribution to "No croutons required" which is hosted by Lisa from Lisa's Kitchen and Holler from Tinned Tomatoes - this month centers around vegetable soups.

Fat-free depends on the use of fat-free ingredients.
Gluten-free depends on the use of gluten-free ingredients.