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Monday, December 5

Gapers Block

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I'm Chris Brunn, guest contributor to One Good Meal while Cinnamon is out, and resident vegan at Drive-Thru. I wanted to have fun making a nice dinner followed by a good breakfast. I get excited seeing good photos in cookbooks, and then ideas pop into my mind as easily as bubbles come from boiling water. I figured I'd better put them to some use and make a menu a few days in advance. I jettisoned making dinner, went out for quick falafel, and got to work.

Vegan lasagna from Soul Veg's cookbook was already part of the plan. I thought pan-seared polenta patties would be a good second item. I had a tube of pre-made polenta on hand, and Jamie's Italy book inspiring me with fried crispy polenta. I thought smashed chickpeas would be good to add for protein, plus rosemary and garlic for extra flavor. I wouldn't use the two liters of oil for deep-frying that Mr. Oliver calls for in his recipe, but I thought my cakes would still come out tasty. Now for a salad. Crispy greens came to mind, and turnip greens were in abundance at the market. If you're up for a touch of bitter, they're the leaves for you. Give them a quick mix in a hot pan to mellow them out a bit and soften them up — just until they've begun to wilt. Toss the greens in a bowl with capers for a little flavor punch, quartered cherry tomatoes for juiciness, sun-dried tomatoes for a good chew, and an orange dressing to bring it all together. Get the lasagna in first, then the salad, and then the polenta cakes so they'll all be ready around the same time.

Mimosas are brilliant for breakfast — non-alcoholic style this time so I wouldn't fall sleepy by noon. Martinelli's sparkling apple juice looked good in the juice aisle to stand in for the bubbles in champagne. I found 10-ounce bottles so as not to fill up on juice. For protein, I mixed tofu with Melissa's Soyrizo heavily seasoned meatless soy chorizo, which I'd carted back from Strack & Van Til on Elston. I served that up with heavily fake-buttered multigrain toast, leftover salad from dinner, homestyle potatoes and a fruit cup. It's not as much work as it sounds if you bake the potatoes a night or two ahead. Make extra and you'll have breakfast set for days. Get everything out before you start and don't be afraid to guess at amounts.


Pan-seared Polenta Cakes with Smashed Chickpeas
1 tube ready-made polenta
1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
1 handful rosemary leaves
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 jalapeño, chopped and seeds removed (optional)
Salt to taste
5 tablespoons oil for sautéing
1 cup mushrooms, diced

Mince the garlic. Take the skins off, chop them up very finely, sprinkle salt, and grind them into an oily paste by stepping the edge of your knife blade into them again and again.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan. When a bit of garlic sizzles, it's hot and ready. If the oil smokes, turn down the heat. Drop in the rosemary leaves, jalapeño and minced garlic and let them go until either the leaves get a bit crispy or the garlic begins to darken — whichever comes first (you don't want to burn the garlic). Remove and put aside to cool.

For the cakes, smash the chickpeas with a potato masher. Mix smashed chickpeas, sautéed garlic, jalapeño and rosemary into the polenta with your hands. Don't be afraid to really make a mess of your fingers. Squeeze handfuls so it comes out the side of your hand like a Play-Doh machine. As my sweetie said, that's play, stress relief and aromatherapy all in one. Mix in a bit of salt if the flavors aren't popping. Form into patties the size of a hamburger, about 1/4" thick.

Add another 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan you used for the garlic and rosemary and pan-sear the patties on medium heat. Put down as many patties as will fit without touching. When the bottoms look crispy or browned from the sides, flip and cook until the tops look the same. Meanwhile, in a small pan on medium, heat a tablespoon of oil and sauté the diced mushroom until tender. Serve the mushrooms atop each patty.
Serves 4

Make ahead: Stack uncooked patties between wax or parchment paper, put them in an airtight container, and keep for a few days in the fridge. Mix any leftover rosemary and garlic oil into the patties.

1 pound lasagna
1.5 cups plus 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1.75 cups oil (I used peanut)
1 cup water
3 cups unsweetened soymilk
1 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powers
2 tablespoons basil
1 pound seitan, finely chopped (optional)

I've slightly modified this recipe from Soul Veg's cookbook — eliminating the caraway seeds and "vege salt" because I didn't have any, adding my own touches, and limiting seitan to one pound from two. I've rewritten the text, too, with changes like "scramble crumbled gluten" to "sauté chopped seitan." The book's call for 20 minutes at 350° F didn't cut it, so I've bumped the time up.

Boil the lasagna per package instructions until al dente, then carefully drain without breaking over cold water, and lay the lasagna strips out on wax or parchment paper to keep them from sticking as you work. Sauté chopped seitan with 1 tablespoon basil, 2 tablespoons oil and salt. For the sauce, mix tomato paste, water, 1 tablespoon basil, 2 tablespoons oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast. Bring it all to simmer in a saucepot and then put it aside.

For the cheese, blend soymilk, 1.5 cup nutritional yeast, paprika, garlic powder and enough salt to taste. As it's blending, carefully open the top of the food processor and slowly add 1.5 cups of oil. If your food processor can't take it all, work a couple batches.

Oil a baking pan about 9x12 inches. Layer cooked lasagna with seitan, cheese and sauce in that order until there's no more. Sprinkle the seitan and dot the sauce so you don't run out — but get a good amount of cheese in each layer. Save enough sauce to make a thin top layer. Bake at 350° F for 40 minutes covered with foil, and then 15 minutes uncovered — or until piping hot inside. Double up on the red sauce and take it easy on the cheese for a lighter version.
Serves 8

Make ahead: Completely cool baked lasagna and cover with plastic wrap in the fridge. To serve, put slices in an oven or toaster oven, turn it to 450° F and heat until the top darkens, 10 to 15 minutes.

Salad of Crispy Turnip Greens
1/4 bunch turnip greens, ripped into pieces
4 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed to get some salt off
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 handful sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 crisp apple, skinned and cubed
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablepoon olive oil

Put turnip greens in a hot pan just long enough for them to wilt. It will mellow and soften them up a bit. Mix orange juice and olive oil in a large bowl, toss everything in and toss to coat.
Serves 2


Mimosa, non-alcohol style
1 10-ounce bottle Martinelli's sparkling apple juice
1/4 cup orange juice, preferably freshly squeezed

Fill two glasses three-quarters full with apple juice, and then top off with the OJ to finish.
Serves 2

Creamy Tofu Scramble with Chorizo
1 pound firm or extra-firm tofu, preferably locally made (like Mu Tofu in Chicago)
1 12-ounce tube meatless soy chorizo
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tablespoons peanut oil

Heat up a pan with oil. Crumble the tofu into a colander and let its excess water drain out a bit. When the oil is hot, add tofu and soy chorizo.
Serves 4

Homestyle Potatoes
2 baked potato
1 red onion
2 tablespoons peanut oil for sautéing

I like to cook the potatoes a day or two before. Pierce them with a fork and put them on a pan in a preheated over at 350° F for 75 minutes, or until a fork goes all the way in without hesitation. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Red onion looks great against crispy potatoes. It also helps carry the fresh-cooked potato smell down the hallway. Quarter the onion length-wise from the root, and then slice perpendicularly. You'll get nice short strips that'll be the perfect size to stick out just a bit. Chop the potatoes down their middle into thirds, then across the height and width so you end up with cubes. Leave the skin on for extra nutrition. Heat oil on medium and sauté the potatoes and onion until crispy, stirring occasionally.
Serves 2

Seasonal Fruit Cup
1/2 pear, diced
1/2 orange, peeled and diced
1 banana, sliced
About 1 cup vanilla soy cultures (soy yogurt)

Mix everything in a bowl. Serve in your favorite glasses with a spoon. If your pear isn't quite ripe and you didn't have time to paper bag it for a few days, put it in the oven or toaster oven, turn up the heat to 350° F and leave it for 20 minutes to tender it up.
Serves 2

Food Coma

Originally for breakfast I had thought of making patties of shredded tempeh that I'd tried a weekend before: soy sauce, lemon or orange juice, sesame oil, cayenne, chili powder and peanut oil. They're quite hearty, nutty — and, if you pan-fry them just right, golden and crispy. Soy chorizo came along and fixed that plan. I'd never tried such vegan sausage fun before — I'd only dreamed of it — and I couldn't say no now. When I mixed in tofu, I didn't even need to break out the usual creamy scramble recipe of tahini, lemon juice, water, soy sauce and sesame oil. I would have loved to complement the tofu scramble with leftover capers, pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes from dinner, but the chorizo had plenty of intense flavor all by itself. Afterwards, soy cultures in the fruit cup massaged my chorizo mouth like curds following hot Indian meals. Martinelli's sparkling apple juice worked brilliantly instead of champagne — and without the hard bite of the cheap bubbly I've used before. That may be my new go-to morning indulgence when coffee is not on the menu.

For dinner, the turnip greens were perfectly uplifting from a heavy lasagna — due in part to the refreshment of added citrus and their bitter kick that's similar to that of mustard greens. After eating leftover lasagna for three days following, I think that recipe needs some lightening up — perhaps with broccoli and spinach within the layers, and a lot more red sauce instead of some of the cheese. If you try that, let me know. My head may be too full up on thoughts of fake cheese-filled pasta — and my freezer with leftovers — to embrace lasagna again in any form for months.

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Illinois Master Gardener / December 24, 2007 6:36 AM

Your writing is a wonderful inspiration to all those people who just heat up (like me) their meals and also to those who want to continue to explore new horizons in their already well established culinary skills.


About the Author(s)

Chris Brunn is a guest columnist for One Good Meal and and resident vegan at Drive-Thru. Cinnamon Cooper returns next week.

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