Vegan Hrudka Experiment #1

While some of you were contemplating the Paschal mysteries this week, I have been contemplating the Paschal cheese.  My mother’s family is Slovak and every Easter Sunday we breakfast on a sumptuous cold meal of bread (pascha), hardboiled eggs dyed red with onion skins, butter molded into a lamb, ham and kolbassy, horseradish mixed with pickled beets, and something called hrudka, a delectable eggy cheese-like substance.

If you follow this blog or know me well, you may have noticed that the only thing on the menu I can eat is the horseradish.  Not much of a breakfast, is it?  In past years, we’ve added Tofurkey kolbassy to the basket for my brother and me, and once we even came up with a seitan-based faux ham.  I’m away from home this year, so I decided to come up with some of my own alternatives.  I easily found this recipe for vegan challah from Alicia Silverstone’s book, The Kind Life.  Since our pascha bread is very similar (if not exactly the same) to Jewish challah bread, I figured that would do.  She replaces the egg with a sweet potato!  Clever girl.  I’m not an experienced bread baker, so if it’s not delicious it’s probably my fault and not Ms. Silverstone’s.

Replacing hardboiled eggs is nearly impossible (I’m open to ideas!), but I do love hrudka, the Easter cheese.  This is a strange Slovak tradition that likely stems from the fact that eggs and dairy were once prohibited during the Lenten fast.  Thus, there were an awful lot of eggs to use up by the time Easter rolled around.  In fact, according to my employer (who is Czech but fluent in Slovak as well), the word hrudka itself means nothing more than “lump.” Now, taking an egg-based dish and making it eggless is no mean feat.  To illustrate the challenge I am face with, here’s the original recipe from my great-grandmother

1 qt milk

1 dozen eggs

2 T sugar

2 t salt

dash nutmeg

Whisk together and then simmer over low heat, stirring frequently until large curds form. Place in cheese cloth and squeeze our excess whey.  Weight for several hours.  Refrigerate.

I initially thought it would be easiest to try my hand at making tofu, since the methodology is similar.  My attempt failed.  I only ended up with about half a cup of curds from a half gallon of soymilk!  Useless for cheese-making, but the resulting mush was good as faux sour cream on some tacos.  I have no one to ask what went wrong, so I scratched that idea off the list.  My dear old mom had the idea to crumble some tofu with sugar and nutmeg, then press it back together in a cheese cloth.

So that’s what I did.  I also read up on other Eastern European Easter cheeses, the ones that start with farmer’s cheese and add raisins and nuts, figuring that cottage cheese is as much like tofu as scrambled eggs are. Most of those recipes use a few eggs for binding and additional heavy cream. Taking their lead, I combined a few different kinds of tofu: silken, firm, and extra firm.  I crumbled them together by hand, adding turmeric for color (I tried saffron, but it wasn’t strong enough).  I also put in some coconut oil for richness as well as additional binding. Once I added the nutmeg, salt, and sugar, I tasted it.  And I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste just like Mommy’s hrudka!

I also separated part of the mixture and added raisins, currants, and nuts with grated orange peel to attempt the Ukrainian style cheese an old friend’s mother served me for Orthodox Easter many years ago.

So here’s what went into my non-traditional Slovak hrudka:

1 lb extra firm tofu

1 lb firm tofu

1 12 oz package silken tofu

2 T sugar

2 t salt

1 T coconut oil (room temp)

heavy sprinkling of nutmeg

enough turmeric to make it yellow

I drained and then smushed all the tofus together by hand in a big bowl with the salt.  I removed about half the mixture to another bowl for my other “cheese.”  Then I added the sugar, nutmeg and turmeric and mixed until it was the right color.  Finally I added the  oil and blended it in with spoon so as not to get all greasy.

Place the cheese in a strainer lined with cheese cloth over a bowl or in the sink.  Place a plate on top of it and weight it down with something heavy – a big can, a jar of water, a sack of sugar, etc.  Refrigerate the weighted cheese over night.  In the morning, remove the weight, untie the cheese cloth, and pour off the liquid from the bowl.  It should be firm enough to handle, so you can wrap it up in plastic until you’re ready to eat it.

Admittedly, this is much softer than the original egg-based hrudka.  It’s still delicious.  The Ukrainian-style “cheese” is more like the original, and is also very yummy.  Next Easter, I’m going to try using only extra-firm tofu for the hrudka.  Stay tuned!

Does your family have any Easter traditions?  Have you made any changes to make them healthier or more convenient?  I’d especially love to hear from any readers who also have roots in Eastern Europe!

Irish Colcannon Casserole

I just made this delightful casserole for a friend and myself. I made a few minor substitutions, but what a bargain it was to cook up! An entire 5lb bag of potatoes (used 2lb) cost me about $2, a head of cabbage (used 1/4 head) $2, head of broccoli used instead of kale was $1.75, and Trader Joe’s tempeh $2. So I made the whole thing for about $7-$8, and I’m sure to get at least 3 more meals out of it. Highly recommended!

The Vegan Cookbook Aficionado

Happy St. Patricks day! Is everyone spending the day lying on the couch suffering from major hangovers? I’ve never been much of a St. Patrick’s day celebrator (green beer is just wrong on so many levels), or a bar hopper much less, so I’ve been spending the day bumming around the house probably like most people today, just minus the headache and nauseous ;). For today’s brunch, it only makes sense that I would make something Irishy, so I took a few traditional foods and stuffed them into a tasty casserole.

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This isn’t quite as breakfasty as a lot of the other things I’ve made, but who says you can’t have a super savory casserole for breakfast? Breakfast can be whatever I want it to be, whether it be a stack of pancakes or a pizza and yeah, eating pizza for breakfast might seem weird but  it can also…

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The Green Pancake Challenge

Earlier this week, one of my friends invited me over for St. Patrick’s Day pancakes.  I immediately offered to make them because…well, she knows why.  Then she challenged me to make them green – WITHOUT artificial coloring!  Not being one to turn down a challenge, I got to work.

I immediately thought of savory pancakes, like zucchini or potato with spinach, but that seemed like cheating.  We wanted a pancake to eat with maple syrup, that just happened to be green.  Then it occurred to me that if I can make a green smoothie sweet and delicious in spite of its spinach content, why not a pancake with spinach and banana?

My first batch started with my regular pancake recipe as a base, which includes a banana and a flax egg, simply with the addition of half a cup of frozen thawed spinach, squeezed as dry as I could make it and blenderized with the milk.  They were tasty, but tasted very strongly of banana and were much too moist and dense, as well as so thick that they couldn’t be cooked through.  (I’ll save that batch for when everyone’s really wasted.)  I did think that with a few minor modifications  they’d make great muffins.  Since my heat was out this morning yet again, I made the changes and baked some fabulous bright green muffins.

Mixing up my green batter.

Mixing up my green batter.

While the muffins were in the oven warming my apartment, I got back to work on the pancakes.  I added more milk and halved the banana, while also upping the sugar content to make up for the lost sweetness of half a banana.  I’m not totally convinced they really needed more sugar, but I included it here, since I haven’t tried making them with less.  After cooking the first two, I could tell they still weren’t perfect, so in a burst of inspiration, I threw in a handful of oatmeal.  Pancake perfection!  Moist but not soggy, not too dense or too airy, and bright green inside.  The Green Pancake Challenge is won.  Plus, you get two recipes in a single entry!  Happy St Pat’s, and happy eating.

Ingredients for Green Pancakes:

1 c white flour

3/4 c whole wheat flour

1/2 c rolled oats

2 T sugar

3 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

a dash each of cardamom, nutmeg, and allspice

2 c plant milk (I used almond)

1/2 very ripe banana

1/2 c frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed as dry as you can

2 T maple syrup

2 T canola oil

1 tsp vanilla

1.  Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

2.  Blend wet ingredients until smooth in a blender.

3.  Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined.  There can be some small lumps; it’s important not to overmix!

4.  Fry them in a non-stick skillet over medium heat like any other pancake, and serve with maple syrup.

Shamrock cake!

Shamrock cake!

Ingredients for Green Muffins:

3/4 c white flour

3/4 c whole wheat flour

1/2 c rolled oats

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 c sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp each ginger and cardamom

2 T ground flax

1/2 c frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed as dry as possible

1 1/2 c plant milk (I used almond)

1 very ripe banana

1 tsp vanilla

Optional but highly recommended: 1/2 c mini semisweet chocolate chips

1.  Preheat oven to 375F and lightly oil a muffin tin for 12 muffins.

2.  Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

3.  Blend wet ingredients until smooth in a blender.

4.  Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined.  Fold in chocolate chips.

5.  Spoon the batter into the muffin tins and bake for about 25 mins, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

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Split Pea Soup

It’s March, the weather is cold (then warm!  then cold again!), and St. Patty’s Day is around the corner.  Time to eat green things!  Kale, spinach, peas, and green beer (gag!).  Split pea soup is one of my favorite comfort foods.  It’s easy to make, very inexpensive, and super nutritious.  Plus, the variations are endless.  You can give it an Indian flair by using yellow peas and curry, or add different vegetables to stretch it out.  Swap the potatoes for barley or rice!  Add a dash of balsamic vinegar when serving for a bit of zest.  Deep down, though, I really prefer the most basic of recipes, which is what I’m sharing with you today.  Enjoy.

Ingredients:

1 lb split peas (green for St Pat! but yellow ones are nice too)

1 bay leaf

2 large onions

3 stalks celery

4 medium carrots

garlic, anywhere from 2 cloves to a whole head

4 medium potatoes.

Herbs: I like 1T each of dill, sage, and thyme, with some fresh parsley added at the end, and a healthy dose of black pepper

Optional: a big blob of miso paste, or salt to taste

1.  Bring the peas and bay leaf to boil in a large pot with enough water to cover.  Simmer while you prep the other veggies (or take a shower, or make phone calls, or whatever).  They should cook 30-60 mins.  You may need to add more water at any point if the pot gets too dry or the peas start to stick.

2.  Dice the onions, carrots, celery, and potatoes.  Size is up to you; I used my food processor to slice them into neat little disks because I’m lazy.  You could also grate the carrots, or chop everything roughly and puree the soup when it’s done.  Just a matter of preference.

3.  Once the peas have softened up quite a bit, you can add the veggies and herbs. Simmer until all the vegetables and peas are soft and flavors are blended.  Add miso or salt to taste (miso will take a few minute to dissolve).  If you’re planing to puree the soup, just sure to remember to take out the bay leaf!  Actually, take the bay leaf out either way.  I once told my kiddos that if you get the bay leaf in your bowl, it’s good luck.  I made that up to cover up the fact that I always forget to remove it.  Just don’t eat it.

Bon apetit!  Next task:  Green pancakes, without artificial coloring!  Wish me luck (of the Irish, that is)!

Pumpkin Pie Breakfast Bar Experiment

I know it’s the wrong time of year, since it’s almost Spring, but I had a giant can in the cabinet leftover from pumpkin muffin making season.  And anyway, I can think of at least one person (you know who you are) who would argue that it’s always the right time of year for pumpkin.  So last week I felt like baking a pie, and pumpkin seemed the logical choice based on the contents of my pantry.  Then I had leftover pumpkin puree, and I needed a filling breakfast to eat on the train while on my way to a babysitting job at the ungodly hour of 7am.  Thus I created the shockingly delicious and filling Pumpkin Oatmeal Breakfast Bowl, involving raw rolled oats, pumpkin, soy yogurt, raisins, cinnamon and nuts all placed in a plastic container the night before and stirred together into a cold orange slurry while riding the G train.

Someone recently suggested more snacky things on the blog (sorry Ray, I failed to come up with a chip alternative), so I took my remaining cup of pumpkin puree and got to work on a breakfast cookie.  It’s not quite perfect, but I like it and I am excited that there’s a lot of room for fun variations.  You may prefer something a little sweeter.  If so, I suggest adding a few tablespoons of maple syrup or honey in step 3.  A more natural route to sweetness might be to grind a few dates with the nuts, but you’ll have to try it and let me know how that turns out.  Also keep in mind that the browner the banana, the sweeter it will be.

Ingredients:

1/2 c nuts of your choice (I used walnuts)

2 c rolled oats

1/4 c ground flax seed

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp each: nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger

1 c pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix! the only ingredient should be pumpkin)

1 large ripe banana

1/2 c plant milk (I used almond)

1/2 c raisins

1 c rolled oats

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9″x13″ pan, including up the sides.  You could try a smaller pan for thicker bars, but I can’t guarantee the results.

2. In a food processor fitted with the S blade, pulse the nuts until they are slightly chopped.  Add 2 cups oats, flax, soda, and spices and pulse until just combined, but not so much that the oats and nuts get powdery.

3.  Add the pumpkin, banana, and milk.  Pulse until well-combined.

4.  Add the raisins and remaining cup of oats.  Pulse a few times, then finish mixing by hand.  The batter will be quite thick by now.

5.  Spread the batter evenly in the pan.  Bake for 25 minutes, until lightly browned and pulling away from the edge of the pan.  Turn it half way through the cooking time for even baking.

6.  Let it cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then cut into squares and carefully remove them from the pan to cool on a wire rack.

So what kind of variations could we make?  I’m thinking of a peanut butter and banana bar next, with either blueberries or chocolate chips.  Who else has ideas?

My Big Fat Vegan Breakfast

This isn’t a recipe.  It’s more like, “what I ate this morning,” and I’ll warn you, I don’t eat normal breakfast foods very often.  Sure, I love a good bowl of oatmeal as much as the next person, but I ate it every day for so many years that I actually have oatmeal burnout.  Cold cereal is also delicious, but it doesn’t last long in this busy New Yorker’s belly.  I like to think outside the cereal box!  Here’s what I ate this morning before trekking off to the Brooklyn Museum (followed by a job interview, followed by work, followed by another long walk.)

I started with a whole grapefruit and a cup of Lady Grey tea.

After my shower, I scarfed a mango with some unsweetened soy yogurt and a spoonful of ground flax (omegalicious?).  I wouldn’t normally bother with something like soy yogurt since it’s not especially tasty, but I’ve been on antibiotics, so I need to repopulate my gut with some good bacteria.

After that, I microwaved some frozen kale and leftover lentils, threw in the juice of half a lemon, some avocado, and a dash of Slap Ya Mama.  I added a side of beet salad, topped with sunflower seeds.

Friday, I am ready for you!