Turkey: Mediterranean Vegetable Stew

Posted by on Sep 15, 2014 in Recipes | 1 comment

Turkey: Mediterranean Vegetable Stew

Good morning! Today as our VeganMoFo around the world culinary tour continues, we travel to Turkey.

There is some debate about whether Turkey is part of Asia or part of Europe, and as Turks would note, it straddles both. In Istanbul there is actually an Asian side and a European side. Today it is our entry point into Europe, where we’ll explore the cuisine of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Turkish Flag

Turkish Flag

What can I say about Turkey? I think it was the first country I visited where I felt the weight of history.

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

On my first trip to there I went Antalya. One evening went to see a symphony orchestra perform in at the Aspendos Amphitheatre, just outside of the city, which is thousands of years old and the best-preserve amphitheatre of antiquity. It was stunningly beautiful, sounded amazing, and it hit me that people had been enjoying music and theater in that space for an astoundingly long time.

Symphony orchestra at the Aspendos Ampitheatre

Symphony orchestra at the Aspendos Ampitheatre

It was also in Antalya that I discovered I had developed an allergy to peaches. My first couple of days there I ate a delightfully fuzzy and beautifully sweet peach every morning, followed about half an hour later by really annoying itchiness. It took me a while to piece together the fact that the itchiness was in fact hives and the cause was those damned, gorgeous peaches. It breaks my heart to this day that I can’t eat them, or other the other fruit and nuts I subsequently developed allergies to.

At the port in Antalya

At the port in Antalya

Antalya is a lovely little city: gorgeous coastlines, rugged cliffs overlooking, amazingly deep, blue seas.

Cliffs of Antalya

Cliffs of Antalya

Water falling into the Mediterranean

Water falling into the Mediterranean

I enjoyed every minute of it and found it incredibly relaxing and affirming. But I was lucky to be there off-season, and so I imagine it’s not quite so peaceful when it is over run by tourists.

On the coast of Antalya

Old fort on the coast of Antalya

On the streets of Antalya's Medina

On the streets of Antalya’s Medina

I adore Istanbul. It feels magical to fly into the city and see the silhouettes of mosques dotting the skyline, particularly at dawn or dusk.

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

When I’m there I feel like I am walking around in a museum.

On the streets of Istanbul

On the streets of Istanbul

The blue mosque, which dominates the skyline in the Asian part of the city, is absolutely stunning. 

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

Both the architecture and wall-to-ceiling decorations are gorgeous. It feels like a treasure, and it is.

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

Ceiling of the Blue Mosque

Ceiling of the Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

The Hagia Sofia, which sits across from the Blue Mosque, is an amazing mix of Moorish architecture with Catholic art.

The Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

It is really beautiful.

Inside the Hagia Sofia

Inside Hagia Sofia

Inside Hagia Sofia

Inside Hagia Sofia

Another must-see is the Basilica Cistern, part of a beautiful, almost haunting, underground water system. Some of the columns have been decorated, a couple with the head of Medusa.

Medusa in the Basilica Cistern

Medusa in the Basilica Cistern

Medusa

Medusa

I love to just walk and walk and walk in that city. It feels like around every corner there is something new to marvel at.

Beautiful

Beautiful

Oh, and the food! Hummus, stuffed grape leaves, the endless array of salads with fresh and cooked vegetables! What joy! I can never get enough of the eggplant or the beans or the nuts. And do I need to opine about the joys of Turkish delight (most of which is vegan)? I think not.

Turkish Coffee (this almost makes me miss drinking it...)

Turkish Coffee (this almost makes me miss drinking it…)

Today I’m bringing you a recipe for a Turkish stew that I enjoyed again and again in Istanbul. It was always served in a sizzling cast-iron pot overloaded with vegetables and white beans, with a rich tomato-based sauce.

Mediterranean vegetable stew

Mediterranean vegetable stew

I have tried again and again to recreate it from memory and I’m not quite sure that my version is quite as good, but it’s pretty close. The best thing about it is that you can use pretty much any vegetables you have on hand. 

Mediterranean Vegetable Stew
Serves 4
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Total Time
40 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 small or 1 medium eggplant, chopped into bite-size pieces
  2. 3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  3. 2 large tomatoes
  4. 1 sunburst squash, chopped into bite-size pieces
  5. ½ - 1 zucchini
  6. ½ onion, diced
  7. 1 carrot, roughly sliced
  8. 1 small head of broccoli or romanesco cauliflower, chopped into bite-size pieces
  9. 10-12 brussel sprouts, halved
  10. 1 bell pepper (I used yellow)
  11. 1 can of cannellini beans, drained and well rinsed
  12. 2 cups kale, chopped (I used Tuscan kale)
  13. 2 bay leaves
  14. 1 tbsp thyme, chopped
  15. ½ tbsp sage leaves, chopped
  16. 3 tbsps tomato paste
  17. Grapeseed oil
  18. Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Place your eggplant in a medium bowl with ¼ teaspoon of salt and mix to make sure the salt evenly covers the eggplant. Set aside for at least 20 minutes while you prepare your other vegetables to draw out some of the bitterness.
  2. Set your oven to broil.
  3. In a cast-iron pan, dutch oven, or other oven-proof pan, place a little grapeseed oil and heat on medium-high.
  4. When hot add the eggplant and sauté until it just starts to brown. Add onion, garlic, tomato, bay leaves, thyme and sage and continue to cook until the tomato begins to breakdown to form a sauce.
  5. Add brussel sprouts, carrots and broccoli, and cook for another couple of minutes.
  6. Finally, add the squash and bell pepper and cook for another minute.
  7. Stir in beans and tomato paste.
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Carefully place in the oven, uncovered, and let broil for about ten minutes until it is sizzling.
  10. Remove from oven and fish out bay leaves.
  11. Stir in kale and serve.
Vegan Sweet and Simple http://vegansweetandsimple.com/
 When you take it out of the oven the vegetables should be nice and cooked, but firm, with a bite too them. You really don’t want to overcook this!

Yum!

Yum!

Beautiful no?

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VeganMoFo Round Up: Half way around the world!

Posted by on Sep 14, 2014 in Everything Else | 2 comments

Wow, we are half way through VeganMoFo and what a journey it has been! My theme is around the world in 20 recipes (though it may end up being more!). Throughout the month I’m taking you on a whirlwind trip around the world, sharing thoughts from my travels and vegan, gluten-free recipes that have been inspired them.  Today I’m recapping our adventures so far!

Spicy Sichuan Eggplant 1

China: Spicy Sichuan Eggplant

We spent the first week of VeganMofo in Asia. We kicked off our journey in China, where we visited Chengdu, its surrounds, and the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. I shared a recipe for a spicy sichuan eggplant in garlic sauce with beyond meat beef crumbles and kale. 

Nepal: Sel Roti

Nepal: Sel Roti

The next stop on our tour was Nepal. Such a magical country and amazing cuisine. Sel roti, our recipe from Nepal, is like a Nepalese donut that is a decadent, but delicious treat. 

India: Curried Okra and Chickpeas

India: Curried Okra and Chickpeas

Our third stop was India! Oh how I love that crazy, complex country. I shared pictures from my travels in Mumbai, Goa, Delhi, Agra and Hyderabad and a delicious and incredibly quick and easy recipe for curried okra and chickpeas. 

Crispy Tempeh in Sweet Soy Sauce & Nut-Free Gado Gado

Crispy Tempeh in Sweet Soy Sauce & Nut-Free Gado Gado

Then we headed further south to Indonesia, where we all took a collective gasp at the gorgeousness of Bali.  I shared a recipe for an unusual crispy tempeh in sweet soy sauce, along with a nut-free gado gado.  The crispy tempeh, which is dried before frying, is really something special. A yummy, nutty treat! 

Japan Matcha White Chocolate Tarts 1

Japan: Matcha Green Tea and White Chocolate Mini Tarts

On Friday, we went back north to Japan. I shared my love of green tea and to celebrate it a very special recipe for a raw matcha green tea and white chocolate tart. This is one heavenly treat. 

Korea: Kimchi, rice Cakes sautéed with greens & gochujang sauce

South Korea: Kimchi, rice Cakes sautéed with greens & gochujang sauce

Then we veered west to South Korea and I pulled out all the stops, sharing three recipes for spicy, gluten-free gochujang sauce, kimchi and rice cakes sautéed with greens. 

For the second week of VeganMoFo we headed to Africa and worked our way up from south to north. 

South Africa: Bunny Chow

South Africa: Bunny Chow

South Africa is one of my favorite countries in the world. The recipe I shared was for Bunny Chow, the ultimate street food: curried beans and sweet potatoes in a hollowed out loaf of bread.  This is the definition of comfort food. So so good. 

Mozambique: Bananas com creme de coco

Mozambique: Bananas com creme de coco

In Mozambique, I provided a raw and vegan take on a traditional dessert, swapping out condensed milk for nice, thick raw coconut cream. 

Zambia: Nshima, ifisashi & tomato gravy

Zambia: Nshima, ifisashi & tomato gravy

Many traditional foods in Zambia are actually vegan, like the somewhat tweaked versions of the classics I shared: nshima (a thick white cornmeal poltenta), ifisashi (greens in nut sauce), and tomato gravy. 

Kenya: Coupe Mount Kenya!

Kenya: Coupe Mount Kenya!

I shared memories from my safari in Kenya and a recipe for a Coupe Mount Kenya, which is essentially mango ice cream with a boozy pineapple sauce. Delicious!

Ghana: Red red and kelewele

Ghana: Red red and kelewele

In Ghana I recapped a moment when I ordered something I thought was vegan and got a distinctly fishy dish in return. So I brought you a definitely vegan version of Ghana’s famous red red and added some greens to it, along with a recipe for kelewele, or spiced, fried plantains. 

Morocco: Raw tagine with cashew-jicama couscous

Morocco: Raw tagine with cashew-jicama couscous

Finally, in Morocco I shared my friend Joana’s beautiful pictures of our travels there and a recipe for a raw tagine with a cashew-jicama couscous.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey with me so far. Tomorrow, we head to Europe! 

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Morocco: Raw Tagine with Cashew-Jicama Couscous

Posted by on Sep 13, 2014 in Recipes | 2 comments

Morocco: Raw Tagine with Cashew-Jicama Couscous

Today we make our last stop in Africa on our VeganMoFo world tour! Morocco, on the continent’s north west, has a bit of a romantic mystique about it. Perhaps it is because of the movie Casablanca, or perhaps it is because life seems to go on there as it has for centuries. The lively medinas, with their affront of smells, colors and textures; the rituals associated with drinking fresh mint tea; the preparation and sharing of incredibly delicious food are all the same as they have always been. And these things at least, really shouldn’t change. 

The photos I’m sharing today were taken by my dear friend Joana, who I traveled with in Morocco.  I quite brilliantly forgot to bring my camera along for the ride…  

The perfect fresh mint tea

The perfect fresh mint tea

We started our visit in Casablanca, Morocco’s lively capital city. The city is a mix of the modern and the ancient.  Gorgeous moorish structures stand out among more functional modern buildings.  It’s home to the continent’s largest mosque, which also houses the world’s tallest minaret. It may also be among the world’s most picturesque, perched right on the shores of the ocean. The absolute vastness of the courtyard that surrounded it and the buildings themselves made me feel incredibly small.  It was huge and it was beautiful! Only muslims can actually enter the mosque, so I didn’t go inside, but I’m told it is stunning.  The beach right next to it is lovely. I spent a good amount of time walking along its shores, taking in the ocean air, listening to the rhythm of the waves breaking against the shore and enjoying every moment of it. I spent lots of evenings eating delicious food with friends, watching some stunning belly dancing, and of course some time in the markets (which quite frankly, weren’t the most exciting of my travels) and had a lovely time.  But, if you go to Morocco and all you see is Casablanca, you’ll be missing out, because the real magic of this country lies elsewhere. 

Morocco Patterns

A wall at the Medersa in Marrakech

The highlight of my trip was the couple of days I spent in Marrakech with my dear friend Joana.  

Student's room at the Medersa

Student’s room at the Medersa

We took the train there from Casablanca and stayed in a beautiful riad. 

A wall in Marrakech

A wall in Marrakech

On the streets of the medina

On the streets of the medina

We spent our time there exploring the winding streets, peeking in nooks and crannies, visiting museums, discovering gorgeous architecture and art, and shopping for stunning jewelry and trinkets.  

Marrakech Museum

Marrakech Museum

Exploring the medina

Exploring the medina

Of course, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to go to the hamam, even though it was a million degrees outside. We relaxed in the sauna, then had our skin all but scrubbed off us, followed by a relaxing massage.  A couple of hours of pure bliss! 

Dining at Djemaa el Fna

Dining at Djemaa el Fna

Of course, if you go to Marrakech you must spend an evening in Djemma el Fna, the city’s central square, which comes alive at dusk with street performers and stall after stall selling incredibly fresh, delicious food.  It was a sensory delight! 

A real tagine...

A real tagine…

I had absolutely no trouble eating great vegan food in Morocco (although I wasn’t gluten free then…). Yummy bread, amazing salads, flavorful tangines and couscous. It’s pretty much a vegan paradise. 

A much younger me enjoying my food.

A much younger me enjoying my food (although not sure why I look so pensive).

There are a million and one traditional Moroccan recipes I could have brought you today, but to keep things interesting I decided to create something a little different. I’ve been trying to incorporate more and more raw foods into my diet (though I haven’t been doing so well this month with Vegan MoFo). So when I was thinking about what recipe to share for Morocco I immediately became intrigued by the idea of bringing you a raw tagine, complete with raw couscous.

Raw tagine and cashew-jicama couscous

Raw tagine and cashew-jicama couscous

And it is as every bit as delicious, if not more so, as more traditional cooked Moroccan stews. 

Yum!

Yum!

With an array of fresh vegetables, sweet raisins and a flavorful and aromatic sauce, what’s not to love about it?

Raw Moroccan Tagine
Serves 2
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Total Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr
Vegetables
  1. 3 small carrots
  2. ½ red pepper
  3. 1 sunburst squash
  4. ½ medium zucchini
  5. 1 cup broccoli
  6. 1 small sweet potato
  7. ½ tsp salt
  8. 3 tomatoes
  9. ¼ cup raisins
  10. 6 mint leaves, chopped
Sauce
  1. ½ cup sundried tomatoes (dry, not packed in oil)
  2. 1½ cups of warm water
  3. 1 shallot
  4. 2 dates
  5. 2 tbsps olive oil
  6. 1 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar (or 2 tsps balsamic vinegar with 1 tsp of maple syrup)
  7. 1 tbsp umeboshi plum vinegar (or rice vinegar)
  8. ¼ tsp ground ginger
  9. ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  10. ¼ tsp cinnamon
  11. 1/8 tsp allspice
  12. 1/8 tsp coriander seeds or a heaping 1/8 tsp of ground coriander
  13. 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  14. 1/8 tsp turmeric
  15. 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  16. pinch black pepper
  17. 1 section of a star anise pod
  18. 1 clove
  19. 1 tsp cumin
  20. ½ tsp crushed red pepper
  21. salt, to taste
Instructions
  1. Cut carrots, red pepper, squash, zucchini, broccoli and sweet potato into small bite-sized chunks.
  2. Place in a large bowl with a tsp of salt and mix the salt through the vegetables.
  3. Put another bowl on top of the vegetables, with something heavy inside, and let the veggies sit for at least half an hour, or longer, to soften. The longer you let them sit, the softer they will get.
  4. After they have reached your desired level of softness, drain the salty water from the bottom of the bowl.
  5. If the vegetables taste too salty to you, you can rinse them under cold water for a minute or so, to wash the salt away.
Sauce
  1. Place sundried tomatoes in warm water for 10-15 minutes, until they soften.
  2. Roughly chop shallot and dates.
  3. Add sundried tomatoes along with 1 cup of the soaking water to a blender.
  4. Add chopped shallot, dates, olive oil, aged balsamic, umeboshi plum vinegar, and spices to the blender (if you have a high-speed blender, like a vitamix, you can add the star anise, clove and coriander seeds whole, otherwise you may want to grind them in a spice grinder before hand).
  5. Blend on high until smooth.
  6. Add more of the tomato soaking water if necessary to get a thick, smooth sauce.
Putting it together
  1. Place pressed vegetables in a large bowl.
  2. Chop your fresh tomatoes and add them to the bowl, along with the raisins and mint leaves.
  3. Add 1/2 cup of the sauce and stir to combine.
Notes
  1. You'll have more sauce than you need for the vegetables, which means that if you're making this for more than two, you'll be able to double or triple the veggies and not need to make more sauce. The sauce can also be used as a sandwich topping for stir fries, or any number of things. It's delicious, you'll love it.
Vegan Sweet and Simple http://vegansweetandsimple.com/
The couscous is surprising, delicious and just a tiny bit sweet. I could have eaten it all, by itself. But together with the tagine, it’s spectacular. 

Cashew-Jicama Couscous
Serves 2
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Total Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. ¼ cup raw cashew pieces
  2. 1 cup jicama, peeled and chopped
  3. Salt, to taste
Instructions
  1. In a food processor with the s blade, process cashew pieces until it forms a fine meal (but not powder, be careful not to over process!)
  2. Set cashews aside in a medium bowl.
  3. Add jicama to the food processor and process until the jicama has been chopped into small couscous-sized pieces.
  4. Scoop jicama into a nut milk bag, or cheesecloth, and squeeze to remove the jicama juice. You want the jicama to be pretty dry.
  5. Add the jicama to the cashew meal and stir to combine.
  6. Season with salt, to taste.
Notes
  1. I suppose you could also add 1/4 tsp of turmeric to get a color more true to the original and some anti-inflammatory benefits too!
Vegan Sweet and Simple http://vegansweetandsimple.com/
I don't think I can express in words really how tasty this is

I don’t think I can express in words really how tasty this is

And the leftovers get even better with time.  We had some the next day on a wrap, along with some beyond meat, kale and avo. 

Leftovers! Mmmmm!

Leftovers! Mmmmm!

The best thing about it? It takes less time to put together than a real tagine! I really hope you enjoy it!

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Ghana: Red Red and Kelewele

Posted by on Sep 12, 2014 in Recipes | 0 comments

Ghana: Red Red and Kelewele

Today on our VeganMoFo world tour we head to West Africa to meander for a while in Ghana. I have only spent a few days in Accra, Ghana’s vibrant capital city, and unfortunately, I got to see very little of it and took almost no photos. But for some reason I decided to choose Ghana over Senegal or Nigeria, because I feel really drawn to it.

Ghana is a bit of an anomaly in West Africa. It is a stable and peaceful democracy with quite strong institutions. For example, it has a taxation system that actually collects revenues, and was one of the first countries in the region to put in place programs to provide universal health insurance coverage (although its reach is not quite universal, yet and much needs to be done to strengthen its health system and workforce). While it has benefited from pretty strong economic growth, over the past few years that has begun to stagnate threatening to forestall some of the progress that Ghana has made.

While I was there I did get to go on some great site visits to learn about the country’s efforts to prevent and treat HIV. The highlight was spending time in a maternity hospital that had really great programs to support women living with HIV give birth to healthy, HIV-free kids and help them stay that way through the completion of breastfeeding.

Nurses at maternity center in Accra

Nurses and midwives at a maternity center in Accra

The midwives and nurses that drove that work were inspiring and woman after woman I spoke to there told me how important, critical and life-changing it was knowing that they had these support mechanisms behind them to keep both them and their children healthy.  

The rest of the time I spent being shuttled between my hotel and a hotel on the beach for meetings that were incredibly fraught, long and intense and gave me very little down time. The meetings extended far beyond their scheduled times and I had to run leave before they actually ended. I changed in a bathroom at the airport and boarded my flight back to NY just as news of its outcomes began trickling out. That said, I did get to spend one or two evenings dining with colleagues on the beach.

The first night I was excited to try Ghana’s infamous red red, a stew made with beans and served with fried plantains. It is traditionally vegan, although as I learned, chicken, fish or beef bouillon are often used. I was incredibly disappointed when it arrived and tasted distinctly fishy. I put it aside and ate french fries and a salad instead. Since most of my meals were catered I didn’t have a huge amount of control over what I ate. I remember eating a lot of rice and potatoes, which is a shame, because like many places on the continent vegan food is a core part of the cuisine. 

So today, I’m bringing you a definitely vegan version of red red. I’m told that what makes this dish is its use of red palm oil. Without it, it wouldn’t be red red. Luckily, Nutiva makes an organic red palm oil that is harvested sustainably in Ecuador without destruction to the environment, habitats, or communities and I had a jar of it sitting in my cupboard. It is similar to coconut oil in that it solidifies at room temperature. It has a distinct orange-red color that carries over to the food. I’m sure however that you could use a refined or aroma free coconut oil instead and it would be great.

Red red and kelewele

Red red and kelewele

Red red is normally made with black-eyed peas. And although I could have sworn I had a can of those in my cupboard as well, it seems I didn’t. Instead of running to the store, I decided to use great northern beans instead. I’ve lightened this recipe up; traditionally upwards of a quarter-cup of red palm oil is used. And because I can’t help myself, I added some kale!

Red Red
Serves 2
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Total Time
30 min
Total Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 tbsps red palm oil
  2. 1 onion, diced
  3. 2 large juicy tomatoes, chopped
  4. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 1 habanero or scotch bonnet chili pepper (you want a very hot chili)
  6. 2 tbsps ginger, grated
  7. 2 tbsps tomato paste
  8. 1 can of black-eyed peas or other firm, white beans
  9. 2 cups kale, chopped
  10. Salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat.
  2. When hot add onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes, garlic and chili pepper and sauté until the tomatoes start to break down to make a sauce.
  4. At this point, you can either transfer the ingredients carefully to a large pestle and mortar and grind them together to make a sauce, or blender, or do what I did and use immersion blender to make it creamy and smooth.
  5. Continue to heat the sauce and add ginger, tomato paste, beans and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.
  7. Turn off the heat, stir through the chopped kale, and serve.
Vegan Sweet and Simple http://vegansweetandsimple.com/
Red red is traditionally served with kelewele, just-ripened fried plantains.  My plantains were a little on the green side, but I actually think that worked really well.  

Kelewele
Serves 2
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Ingredients
  1. 1 large plantain, sliced into ¼ inch discs
  2. ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  3. ½ tsp ginger, grated
  4. Salt and pepper to taste
  5. ¼ cup red palm or other vegetable oil, for frying
Instructions
  1. Add oil to a large pan and heat.
  2. Toss together the plantains, spices and salt and pepper until plantains are well-coated.
  3. Carefully place plantains, individually, in hot oil. They should not overlap or touch, but float in the oil.
  4. Fry for 3-5 minutes, until nicely browned.
  5. Using tongs carefully turn over and fry the other side until also brown.
  6. When cooked, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil.
  7. Season with a little additional salt and pepper, if desired, and serve.
Vegan Sweet and Simple http://vegansweetandsimple.com/
Now, the plantains that are served with red red are usually not spiced to act as a counterpoint to the hotness of the beans. But I decided to go ahead anyway and spice the plantains the way that Ghanaians do when they eat it as a snack (yum!).  Why not right? You could do either, but regardless, the combination of spicy beans with crispy plantains is really spectacular! 

Filling, spicy, hearty and delicious!

Filling, spicy, hearty and delicious!

So now that we’ve covered Southern, East and West Africa, tomorrow we’ll head further north! 

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Kenya: Coupe Mount Kenya

Posted by on Sep 11, 2014 in Recipes | 4 comments

Kenya: Coupe Mount Kenya

We’re going to see lions, only in Kenya!
We’re going to Kenya, we’ve got lions!
We’re going to see tigers, only in Kenya!
Got lions and tigers only in Kenya!

Forget Norway!

If you haven’t seen the Weebls song, you must. My partner and I were obsessed with it for a time and watched it probably three times a day for weeks. And even though it’s factually wrong (there are of course no tigers in Africa), it was just too catchy and cute to not love. In the lead up to my first trip to Kenya I couldn’t get it out of my head!

I’m so excited to share some of my most loved and cherished memories from Kenya, as our VeganMoFo world tour continues. 

Nairobi

Nairobi

Kenya is a country that is buzzing with life and intense energy and one of my favorite places to visit. There is an openness to ideas and innovation in Kenya that is lacking in many of its neighbors. It is a major tech center on the continent and a leader in using technology to drive change. 

Colorful city street

Colorful city street

Like every country on this planet, Kenya is a country rife with contradictions. There is a very well educated elite and middle class who are doing some of the most innovative thinking and work globally, living side by side with millions who lack essential services. On the one hand, it has strong laws and institutions, on the other tribalism remains an undercurrent of Kenyan politics and drives conflict. It has a strong constitution, developed after the 2008 election that enshrines a deep commitment to human rights and strong institutions, including its Constitutional Commission and Court. But its current President is being indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in fomenting ethnic violence and is leading a backlash against human rights and mechanisms established to ensure accountability globally.

Dawn

The quietness of dawn

Kenya is a hotbed of creativity. The arts and crafts are among the best in the continent. The Maasai market in Nairobi is a great place to go to pick up brightly colored baskets, beautiful soapstone dishes, jewelry and any number of other goods and a fun way to spend a morning. Just be ready to bargain, and bargain hard, to get a good price.

Nests!

Nests!

Of course, one of the most amazing thing about Kenya is its gorgeous lands, seas and animals.

Zebras!

Zebras!

Impala!

Impala!

The days I spent on safari in Tsavo East and West national parks were among the most exhilarating three days of my life.

Lions!

Lions!

Secretary Bird

Secretary Bird

There is nothing at all that can compare to seeing elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, rhinos, and hippos in their natural environment.

Warthogs!

Warthogs!

Dik-dik! The smallest antelope ever!

Dik-dik! The smallest antelope ever!

It’s breathtaking.

Hippo!

Hippo!

Hippos!

Hippos!

Monkeys!

Baboons!

And so it is heartbreaking and makes me so incredibly angry to hear about and see the toll that poaching is having on these majestic, beautiful, amazing animals.

Giraffes!

Giraffes!

Vulture Guineafowl!

Vulture Guineafowl!

Yes, birds do sit on them!

Yes, birds do hang out on giraffes’ necks!

When we first got to Tsavo National Park we were beside ourselves with anticipation and excitement.

Cheetah!

Leopard!

Ostriches!

Ostriches!

When the first elephant came into view I could barely contain my sense of awe and wonder and childlike giddiness.

Elephants!

Elephants!

Saddle-billed stork

Saddle-billed stork

As we learned the names of different animals we would call them and point them out with glee when we saw them. In fact, I think we did that the entire time!

Cape Buffalo!

Cape Buffalo!

Birds

Birds

I love elephants.

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

No, that doesn’t quite describe it. I passionately adore them and have done so from the time I was four years old.

Love!

Love!

I used to say I wanted an elephant farm when I grew up (I know better now of course), and I would spend hours drawing pictures of elephants in my dad’s journal.

Walking to a water hole

Walking to a water hole

I had a little stuffed elephant that my uncle gave me that I truly loved.

:)

:)

So I was in my element watching the elephants.

Fields of elephants!

Fields of elephants!

I could have been content to do nothing but sit and watch them interact, talk to each other, bathe and dust themselves in the red dirt. Seriously: pure bliss.

Sheltering

Smaller mountain elephants in East Tsavo

I spent my 31st birthday on the coast in Mombasa.

Mombasa

Mombasa

The beaches there are beautiful, the colors so vibrant. That evening we went out on a celebratory cruise, ate delicious Swahili food, and danced on the waves. They even made me a vegan cake, something I thought I’d never, ever have in Kenya. It was sublime.

The colors are amazing!

The colors are amazing!

Now, the food! Like much of the continent meat plays a big role, but there are lots of traditionally vegan dishes. Kenya has a large Indian population and that has had a big influence on the cuisine: delicious pulao, curries and samosas have become staples. Coconut milk and peanuts are commonly used ingredients, along with tomatoes and onions. One of my favorite dishes from the country is an incredibly simple but yummy dish featuring kidney beans in coconut milk. Yum.

Playing soccer on the beach, hanging out with a camel. Like you do…

Playing soccer on the beach, hanging out with a camel. Like you do…

But today I’m bringing you my vegan version of a somewhat kitschy dessert that highlights the majesty of Kenya’s fruit: Coupe Mount Kenya. It’s the kind of thing I imagine that they served at fancy resorts in the fifties. But damn, it is really good. So if that was its origin, it’s a testament to its yumminess that it has become a well known and loved Kenyan dessert. 

Coupe Mount Kenya!

Coupe Mount Kenya!

Coupe Mount Kenya
Serves 2
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Total Time
3 hr
Total Time
3 hr
Mango Ice Cream
  1. 1½ cups mango, fresh or frozen
  2. ½ cup coconut milk (full fat, canned)
  3. 2-3 tbsps of coconut palm sugar or maple syrup (to taste)
  4. 2 packets of stevia (optional)
  5. Zest of 1 lime
  6. Pinch of Salt
Pineapple Sauce
  1. ½ cup pineapple juice (I made mine by blending a cup of fresh pineapple with a little water)
  2. 1 tbsp rum (optional)
  3. 1 tbsp maple syrup or coconut palm sugar
  4. 1 packet of stevia
  5. 1 cup fresh pineapple cubes
Mango Ice Cream
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy.
  2. Transfer to a freezer-safe bowl and freeze until firm.
  3. After an hour you may want to give it a bit of a stir to break up any ice crystals that may form and enhance its creaminess.
Pineapple Sauce
  1. Place pineapple juice, rum and sweeteners in a pot and heat on the stove until it forms a thick syrup.
  2. Pour over the pineapple cubes.
  3. Place in the fridge and allow the pineapple to marinate for a couple of hours.
Putting it together
  1. Place a scoop or two of mango ice cream in the bottom of a sundae dish.
  2. Pour pineapple on top.
  3. Serve!
Vegan Sweet and Simple http://vegansweetandsimple.com/
I use stevia in this dish, but it is optional. Stevia works best when combined with other sweeteners, rather than on its own, because it enhances the flavor of sweetness.  It means that you can use less coconut palm sugar or maple syrup. It works wonders in smoothies and other dishes containing fruit because it picks up and builds on their natural sweetness. 

Absolute yumminess!

Absolute yumminess!

Before we move on, I’ll leave you with this moment of zen…

Me and my friend Rachel, just taking the gorgeousness in

Me and my friend Rachel, just taking the gorgeousness in

Oh Kenya! 

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Zambia: Ifisashi, Nshima and Tomato Gravy

Posted by on Sep 10, 2014 in Recipes | 4 comments

Zambia: Ifisashi, Nshima and Tomato Gravy

Today on our Vegan MoFo culinary world tour we move to Zambia. Zambia is a landlocked country in the middle of southern Africa, bordered by Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

I’ve traveled to Lusaka several times to work with organizations that work on women’s human rights and with people living with HIV, sex workers and the LGBT community.

Never smile at a crocodile

Never smile at a crocodile

Over the years I travelled to Lusaka the city changed enormously. The rapid construction of shopping malls and shiny new buildings was perhaps indicative of the change in Zambia’s status from a low income to lower-middle income country. The economic growth was driven largely by Zambia’s copper mining industry. And with it came a growing educated and skilled middle class.

But the benefits of development are illusive for many and deep and grinding experiences of poverty mark the daily lives of much of the population.

This just makes me smile...

This just makes me smile…

On my first visit there I met some amazing women living with HIV who were working to ensure that others living with HIV in their very poor community had support mechanisms, were taking their medicines (even if it meant that they had to walk an hour to get them), and that their kids got some basic education and at least one good meal a day. 

A school in a Lusaka slum

At school

Despite the challenges, many good things are happening in the country and for me one of the most exciting is the government’s prioritization of girls and their rights. Zambia is one country that is really leading the charge in ending child marriage and other harmful practices and making sure that girls are in school and have access to health services. They recognize that without educated and empowered girls and women, the progress they have seen will come to a grinding halt. And it’s so much needed. Although there are an increasing number of women in leadership positions, discrimination against girls is still rampant, and sexual violence is all too common (which, as we know, is not unique to Zambia). One of my most abiding memories of Lusaka is spending time with girls who had experienced sexual violence, usually at the hands of family members, in a safe house run by the YWCA. The girls were there only temporarily while they waited for their perpetrators to be prosecuted, so they could return home. They were the lucky ones; the girls who had managed to escape. 

Unlike many countries in the region, there was never really a struggle for independence in Zambia, which has both its benefits and its drawbacks. On the positive side, it has resulted in a fairly stable democracy. But it has also meant a relatively weak civil society and mechanisms for government accountability, because the need to fight for basic rights and fundamental freedoms never really was part of their experience. 

My dear friend Lila, eating pap and gravy

My dear friend Lila, eating pap and gravy

Now to the food! For vegans, eating well in Zambia is surprisingly easy. Some of their staple and most-loved dishes are vegan, delicious and incredibly wholesome, like the ones I’m sharing with you today. There is also an increasingly good dining scene, with some surprisingly great fresh, organic food restaurants, as well as great Indian and Italian places, all with pretty good vegan options.

Nshima, Ifisashi and tomato gravy

Nshima, Ifisashi and tomato gravy

I’ve modified the recipes I’m sharing today very little from their traditional roots, because they really don’t need it. Nshima, or pap as it is known in South Africa, is essentially a very thick polenta made with white cornmeal, water and perhaps a little salt. It’s commonly served with stews and gravies, many of which are already vegan. Onions, tomatoes and garlic are really the stars of Zambian food and are the three basic ingredients for many a dish. And because the fruit and vegetables in Lusaka are mostly grown locally, they are incredibly delicious.

The humble stars of Zambian cuisine

The humble stars of Zambian cuisine

For me, Zambian food has all of the hallmarks of comfort food! Ifisashi is often made with pumpkin leaves or other hardy greens. I use Tuscan kale, which worked beautifully. The key ingredient is peanuts, but since I’ve learned I am allergic to them, I use brazil nuts. This gives this meal a rich, distinctive and somewhat different flavor. 

Ifisashi
Serves 2
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Total Time
20 min
Total Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 onion, diced
  2. 1 medium or 2 small tomatoes, diced
  3. 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  4. ½ cup brazil nuts
  5. 3 cups Tuscan kale or other hardy greens, chopped
  6. 1-2 cups of water
  7. Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Add 1½ cups of water to a pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Grind brazil nuts in a food processor or coffee grinder until they form a fine powder.
  3. Add onion, tomatoes and garlic to the water and let boil until soft.
  4. Add ground brazil nuts and let the sauce thicken a little.
  5. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  6. Add kale and additional water if needed.
  7. Cook until kale has softened and serve.
Vegan Sweet and Simple http://vegansweetandsimple.com/
I couldn’t go without sharing a recipe for tomato gravy. At the very least, if there was nothing else I could eat, there was almost always this. The process of grating the tomatoes into a pulp results in an incredibly bright flavor. More chopped tomatoes are added to give it texture, along with onion and garlic. It’s simple, but it is insanely good.

Tomato Gravy
Serves 2
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Total Time
15 min
Total Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 7 small or 3 large tomatoes
  2. ½ onion
  3. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  4. salt and pepper
  5. 1 tsp unscented coconut oil
Instructions
  1. Using a large grater, grate 5 of the 7 tomatoes into a fine pulp.
  2. Add coconut oil to a pan and heat on medium heat.
  3. Add onion and sauté until soft.
  4. Add garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds or so, until fragrant.
  5. Add tomato pulp and let mixture come to a boil.
  6. Meanwhile roughly chop remaining tomato and add to the dish.
  7. Let simmer until the skin of the chopped tomato softens and the tomato begins to break down.
  8. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Vegan Sweet and Simple http://vegansweetandsimple.com/
And finally nshima. I’ve developed a huge fondness for nshima and I hope you will too.  On its own it is not too exciting, but its the perfect complement to ifisashi and tomato gravy. 

Nshima
Serves 2
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Ingredients
  1. 1¼ cups of water
  2. ½ cup white corn meal (I used masa)
  3. Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Add 1¼ cups of water to a pot along with the corn meal and heat on medium heat.
  2. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and continue to stir until the mixture is very thick.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve immediately.
Vegan Sweet and Simple http://vegansweetandsimple.com/
Yes, good, wholesome food.

Yes, good, wholesome food

It may not look too pretty, but it is really, really good! I hope you give it a try. 

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Mozambique: Bananas com Creme de Coco

Posted by on Sep 9, 2014 in Recipes | 2 comments

Mozambique: Bananas com Creme de Coco

Today on our VeganMoFo world tour we head north west to Mozambique.

I’m not sure why, but I could only find a couple of not so good pictures from my first trip to Mozambique, even though I’m sure I took more then and the last time I visited. Either it’s all in my head, which is a possibility, because the images in my mind of Maputo are so vivid, or I’ve somehow lost them. And for some reason I have no pictures of its stunningly beautiful coastline, which I spent a huge amount of time looking at. Either way, this makes for a much less inspired and inspiring post.

Maputo is one of those African capitals that feels anything but. It still has not fully recovered from its 17 year long civil war and the poverty is extreme. Unlike some places where it felt like I was in a different city every time I visited because of the rapid development and construction, Maputo always seemed exactly the same. Life continues apace, steadily and slowly.

Maputo

Maputo

Maputo is endowed with palm-lined beaches with crystal clear waters. The fresh smell of the ocean envelopes much of the city. Its streets are lined with acacia trees and it really is lovely.

Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Conceica

Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Conceica

But the city itself is not very inspiring. Some beautiful old buildings and Maputo’s imposing Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Coceica stand out, among mostly functional buildings lining streets named for communists and revolutionaries. 

The country is home to some the most beautiful art and crafts in the region: very distinctive woodwork, gorgeous paintings full of bright colors, and intricate silver jewelry. And I made sure I supported the local economy! 

The cuisine is very seafood heavy, which I suppose is to be expected. And Mozambique is known for its distinctive peri peri hot sauce, which is delicious. Apart from that I can’t say that I have vivid memories of anything I ate. Except the fruit. The fruit is insanely good. The intense flavor of the pineapple, mango, bananas, avocados is unlike anything you would ever have the luxury of tasting in New York… oh my!

Today I’m bringing you a recipe for a simple, but satisfying Mozambican dessert that is usually baked and laden in condensed milk. The original is actually called bananas come leite condensado. The day I decided I was making a vegan version of it, it was insanely hot and there was no way I was turning on the oven. So I decided to put my own mark on it, make it raw and of course, rename it!

Bananas com creme de coco

Bananas com creme de coco

Bananas Com Creme de Coco
Serves 2
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup young coconut meat
  2. 1 tbsp maple syrup or coconut palm sugar (you can add more to taste)
  3. 1 tsp coconut oil
  4. ¼ tsp vanilla extract or ¼ vanilla bean
  5. Tiny pinch salt
  6. 1/3 cup of coconut water, or as needed to blend
  7. 1 large banana
  8. Zest of 1/2 lemon and 1 tsp lemon juice (or more to taste)
  9. ¼ tsp cinnamon
  10. Large coconut flakes
Instructions
  1. Place young coconut meat, sweetener, coconut oil, vanilla and salt in a blender with a couple of tbsps of coconut water.
  2. Blend until smooth, adding more coconut water as needed, to get a very thick cream. Taste and adjust sweetness level to your liking.
  3. Cut banana into ¼ inch discs and place in a small mixing bowl along with cinnamon, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir to make sure banana is evenly coated in both cinnamon and lemon.
  4. In two sundae cups, put a layer of the coconut cream on the bottom.
  5. Layer the banana on top of the cream.
  6. Top with another layer of coconut cream and sprinkle large-flaked coconut on top.
Vegan Sweet and Simple http://vegansweetandsimple.com/
Now, there are a number of things you could do with this recipe. Instead of making a raw coconut cream from young thai coconuts, you could make a cream from canned coconut milk. Simply place a can of full fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight. Take it out, turn it upside down, open it and you should have a nice thick layer of frosty cream.  Carefully scoop the cream out out and add a dash of vanilla, salt and sweetener to your taste and whip it all together and you’re done!

You could also bake this, as in the original, and use a nice, thick, sweetened coconut milk. If you do, I recommend you use canned coconut milk, instead of raw coconut cream. Place in a 350 degree Fahrenheit or 180 degree Celsius oven until hot and the coconut on top just begins to brown.

Savor every bite!

Savor every bite!

I hope you enjoy it!

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