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My kids always know when I have neglected to make a meal plan for the week (and subsequently neglected to make my usual categorized, alphabetized and cross-indexed shopping list – or go shopping at all), because that’s the day that we have some sort of Exciting! Creative! Lentil dish. Note to new parents and/or new vegans (or hopefully new vegan parents) – always keep your pantry stocked with lentils. You have no idea how many times they will save your ass; especially if you start your kids eating them from a young age and you end up with a couple of total weirdo youngsters who actually gobble them up in all their various incarnations, with gusto. My kids are crazy for lentil soup, lentil stew, lentil pot pie, lentil dahl, lentil balls, lentil salad…you name it. They just love lentils. So trust me on this one. Buy lentils. When it looks like you might be running low, buy more. They are inexpensive, protein-rich, and cook faster than beans with no soaking required. That’s my pro tip for tonight.

At 5pm tonight I had to finally acknowledge that the whining had begun and I hadn’t the faintest idea what I was going to do to quell it. I did what I always do in that situation, Pinky – tried to make something out of lentils. I am very lucky that a dear friend of mine recently sent me a fresh jar of Arabian Baharat spice mix, from my favourite spice-mixin’ company Monsoon Coast. If you aren’t so lucky as to have a friend like that, or access to your own Arabian baharat spice mix that has been pre-mixed and sold commercially, I suggest you try making your own and keep it on hand. In my opinion, there is nothing better when you’re stumped on what to make out of your lentils. Here’s a selection of good looking recipes for grinding up your own. I’m not that industrious (read: mostly lazy) so they’re offered untested, but do let me know how it goes.

Before I was entirely clear on what I was doing I put about 2 cups of brown lentils in a pot, and filled it up with water til they were covered with it by about 2 inches. I set it on to boil. I then set about hunting down some easily cooked grain like rice or couscous. No such luck. All I had in the cupboard was flour and cornmeal. I had a vague recollection of making some delicious and tender cornmeal dumplings a while back, that I’d let simmer away in a giant vat of French-style tomato, herb and lentil soup. I figured I could do the same kind of thing but cook the dumplings in some boiling, salted water, and mix them into the lentils near the end of cooking.

I mixed equal parts cornmeal and flour, added some baking powder, salt, cumin (another great flavour for lentils) and smoked paprika. I then whisked in some soy milk and water to make a fairly thick batter. With the water at a high boil, I dropped scant teaspoons of this mixture into it, working quickly. Then I turned the heat down to medium-low, covered the pot, and let them boil merrily away in there for about 15 minutes. Don’t cook your dumplings any longer than that as they’ll go from firm-yet-tender to a disintegrating mass of mush in fairly short order. And while I’m on the subject don’t overcook your lentils, either – they should be al dente when you remove them from the heat and drain them. Nobody likes a mushy lentil and since I’d decided at this point to make a kind of spiced stir-fry out of them and the dumplings I wanted them to retain their shape and stay slightly toothsome.

The beauty of this kind of cooking is you just work with what you’ve got. I could have put any number of vegetables into this dish, had I actually planned for it and go shopping to accomodate it. As it was, all I had in my fridge tonight was a handful of carrots, the last few stalks of a bunch of celery, some apples that needed to be cooked to be considered edible. I also had a couple of onions and a few bulbs of garlic. Because I like to have more than one homogenous green lump of mush on my plate at a meal I decided I’d roast the carrots, whole; and but the rest of what was lingering (some might say MA-lingering) in the fridge into the Arabian-style lentil-and-dumpling fry-up. I chopped everything up kinda chunky. I heated a humungo skillet over medium and added some oil. I tossed all the veg and apples in and sauteed them all around until they got kinda tender and aromatic. Then I heaped a few generous tablespoons of the Arabian baharat into the pan, along with some sea salt, and stirred it all together. Then I added in the drained lentils, strained dumplings and very carefully mixed it all around until the seasoned veg & fruit were all incorporated. Add in a little lemon zest and juice, and voila….dinner.

Baharat-Spiced Lentils with Cumin-Cornmeal Dumplings, Roasted Carrots, a blob of soy yogurt & a lemon wedge cuz we's fancy.

Yeah, so. This meal isn’t winning me any awards from Gourmet Foodz Unlimited but both my kids had second helpings, and frankly, those are usually the highest accolades I can hope to achieve since deciding to breed. Plus, you know. Kids voluntarily eating lentils and vegetables. Honestly? That’s gotta be worth a plaque or certificate or something.

Oh – were you wondering how to roast a carrot? Preheat oven to 425F. Peel (or don’t) all the carrots (of similar thicknesses) you think you can eat. Put them on a roasting sheet. Drizzle them with oil. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Roast for 25 – 35 minutes or until they look kinda like that picture. Nom. Feel the vitamin A seep into your eyeballs. Be happy.

Clockwise from the top: Cheezy Tofu Scramble, Banana-Berry Smoothie, Sauteed Spinach, Garlic & Mushrooms, Veggie Sausage Patties, Roasted Rosemary Nugget Taters

I’ll let the photo speak for itself, but I do just wanna say – I make the best goddamned scrambled tofu on Earth. Yes I do.

 

Sorry about missing some posts this weekend. I did actually take pics and stuff – I just didn’t have a chance to sit down and write entries. This is Saturday’s entry (so, Vegan Mofo entry number 5 for me). We had dinner plans with some friends to consume vast quantities of idli and dosa at our favourite (pure vegetarian & vegan-friendly) Indian restaurant, but I knew from past experience that there wouldn’t be anything on the dessert menu for us vegans, so I decided to bake up a tray of one of my fave desserts,so that we’d have something to nom on during our post-meal Rock Band 2 extravaganza. It’s actually amazing that we had any room for anything in our bellies after that meal – I ate so much idli 65, gobi manchurian and palak dosa I thought I was gonna burst! But we made room. We almost always do.

Towering Sweetness

Revani is the Greek name for a semolina-based dessert that is actually found in many other cultures. In Arabia it is called basbousa or hareesa, and in Egypt, ma’mounia. There are as many variations on the flavours you can use in this dense, sweet cake, but they all have one thing in common – they are made with semolina and soaked in a syrup for a few hours before serving. They are also all amazingly delicious. There’s something about that texture that semolina provides – grainy but soft, almost like finely ground nuts. And of course soaking any dense cake in a flavoured syrup, while it’s still hot, makes for a delicious, meltingly sweet treat unmatched by any other dessert.

My vegan version of revani isn’t as fluffy or light as a non-vegan version. That’s because traditional revani relies a great deal on the use of beaten eggs as the main leavening agent. You can’t really replicate that with vegan egg substitutions or chemical leaveners, but honestly, the vegan version stands on it’s own as a beautiful, delicately flavoured sweet to be enjoyed with a strong cup of tea, coffee or chai. And while revani is technically a dessert that comes from the Middle East, the use of semolina and the technique of soaking the finished cake in a rose-scented syrup is reminiscent of several of my old favourite East Indian desserts, like halavah and gulab jamun.*

One tip: be careful when baking this cake as it is fairly easy to overbake (as I did, slightly) and to end up with a more crumbly than dense texture. It’ll still taste great, but the texture will be off. Not a big deal unless you happen to be a total perfectionist. Ahem. Regardless, my guests all loved this dessert and the recipe was requested. Here you go, Anita!

Apricot & Almond Revani with Rose-Scented Syrup

Try alternating the types of tried fruit & nuts and syrup flavourings. Suggestions: Mango & Coconut with Vanilla Syrup; Candied Lemon & Pistachio with Pomegranate; Red Current & Toasted Sesame with Ginger

Syrup:

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

2 tbsp rose water (or try orange blossom water)

Cake:

1 cup vegan butter substitute

1 cup sugar

1 cup semolina (aka Cream of Wheat cereal – uncooked)

1 cup all purpose, unbleached flour

2 tbsp baking powder

1 tbsp ground cardamom

1 tsp sea salt

1 cup apricot juice (or apple juice, in a pinch)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup toasted almonds, coarsely ground

1 cup finely chopped dried apricots

First, prepare the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occassionally, then remove from heat. Stir in the rose water and let cool to room temperature before pouring over the cake. (If you pour hot syrup on a hot cake you’ll end up with a hot mess.)

To make the cake, first beat the vegan “butter” with the sugar until it’s fluffy and smooth. Add the apricot juice and vanilla and beat until completely incorporated. Add the flour, baking powder, cardamom and sea salt and mix until just combined. Spread evenly into a 9 x 13″ baking dish and bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until the edges just begin to turn golden. Remove from the oven and immediately drizzle the cooled syrup over the entire cake. Let rest until at room temperature, then cut into squares or diamonds. Store covered in the fridge, but serve at room temperature for best flavour and texture.

*By the way, if anyone has successfully veganized my beloved gulab jamun, please let me know. I’ve tried it a couple of times, replacing the powdered milk with powdered soy milk and powdered coconut cream and I’ve never been able to get the texture quite right. You’d be my vegan hero!

 

O-bla-di O-bla-da, Life Goes On

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