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Ratatouille and Other Summer Pleasures

Roasted Ratatouille with Basil Pistou from Vegan Without Borders by Robin Robertson

So far this summer has been punctuated by heat, humidity, and lots of rain.  I’d gripe about the weather if it weren’t for the lovely produce that has been popping up all over because of it.  Just this week a dear friend gifted me with loads of veggies, including this study in green:

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The zucchini, peppers, and (ripe) tomatoes went into my favorite summer vegetable dish — ratatouille (shown above, photo by Sara Remington).  The recipe is at the end of this post — it’s from my book, Vegan Without Borders.

Our friend also brought us these zucchini blossoms, which I cooked up almost as soon as I got them — (and which we inhaled before I could snap a photo.) Here they are before cooking….

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In between all the fresh produce, we’ve been happily nibbling on some of the delicious cheeses from Miyoko’s Kitchen, including Fresh Loire Valley in a Fig Leaf — almost too pretty to eat.  I served the Aged English Smoked Farmhouse to my friend who brought over the veggies — it was so good with the black seedless grapes that I served with them.  While I do enjoy making my own cheese on occasion, it’s such a treat to dig into all the amazing varieties that Miyoko has come up with.  I highly recommend them to any former (or current) cheese lovers.

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Now, here’s that recipe I promised for the ratatouille.  It may seem to hot to be roasting vegetables, but roasting them really intensifies their flavors in this dish which is further enhanced by the addition of basil pistou. It’s great served with a warm crusty baguette.

Roasted Ratatouille with Basil Pistou

This recipe is from Vegan Without Borders (c) 2014 by Robin Robertson, published by Andrews McMeel Publishing.

1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
3 to 5 cloves garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons Basil Pistou (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil a large baking dish or roasting pan.
In a large bowl combine the onion, eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, tomatoes, and garlic. Sprinkle on the thyme, marjoram, and oregano and season generously with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle on the oil and toss to combine. Spread the vegetable mixture into a large baking pan. Roast until the vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes, turning once or twice to cook evenly. To serve, transfer to a serving bowl, add the pistou and parsley and toss to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed. Serve hot.
Serves 4 to 6

Basil Pistou
Pistou is the French version of basil pesto. Made without cheese or pine nuts, pistou can be used in the same ways as pesto: as a pasta sauce, in salad dressings or soups, or to flavor vegetable dishes, as it does in the Roasted Ratatouille (page 000). Best of all, it freezes well, so portion it into 1- or 2 2-tablespoon amounts and freeze for later use.

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
4 cloves garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
A few grinds of freshly ground black pepper

In a food processor, combine the basil leaves, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Process until thoroughly blended, scraping down the sides as needed. Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate until needed.
Makes about 2/3 cup pistou


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Before much more time passes, I want to share more pix from my recent food-and-fun-filled birthday weekend extravaganza.

After enjoying dinner at Vedge in Philadelphia on my birthday evening, the next day we all went to lunch at V Street — the casual sister restaurant of Vedge.

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While most of us at the table couldn’t resist the BBQ SEITAN TACOS served with hearts of palm slaw on flour tortillas (shown at top), one person couldn’t resist the siren song of the KOREAN FRIED TEMPEH REUBEN with sriracha thousand island and radish kimchee — and you can see why:


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Too full for dessert, we got a couple of these beauties to share.  It’s called AIS KACANG and is a refreshing ice cream sundae made with corn custard ice cream, blackberry granita, adzuki, basil, and pineapple.  So good!


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Not long after lunch, we drove back to DC in the pouring rain, stopping for a great Burmese dinner at Mandalay in Silver Spring, MD.  (the pics turned out too dark to share….)

The next morning was a long-anticipated sojourn to Equinox, where Chef Todd Gray serves a vegan brunch on Sundays.

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Here’s the brunch menu:

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This is a shot of the buffet line, which begins with the best gazpacho I’ve ever had:

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Here’s the chef at the tofu scramble station where he makes each scramble to order:

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That afternoon, it was back home to Virginia with great memories of the best birthday weekend ever!


How to Be Great at Doing Good


In a brief detour from my usual vegan food posts, I want to tell you about a very informative book I’ve read recently called How To be Great at Doing Good.  Written by Nick Cooney, Director of Education at Mercy For Animals and founder of The Humane League, this book can be a helpful tool in making decisions about charitable donations.

Nick agreed to answer some questions about his book, so without further ado, here’s my Q&A with Nick Cooney:

Q: What is it you want us to know about “How To Be Great At Doing Good” and how does that apply to vegan eating?

A: While there are a lot of reasons to eat vegan meals – including because they’re simply delicious – a lot of people do so in order to protect animals, boost their health, or preserve the environment. In other words, we have some noble reasons for cutting out animal products. And for that reason, many of us like to spread the word about vegan eating to our friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers.

But anytime we have a charitable cause or better way of doing things that we’re trying to promote – be it vegan eating or anything else – there are good and bad ways of going about it. This book is about how to find the good ways of supporting the vegan cause, or any cause.


Q: This seems like a book that would be useful for people who donate to charity – is that one of your audiences?

A: Absolutely. One of the main goals of the book is to help people accomplish more good with each dollar they should donate to charity (or each hour of their time they spend volunteering). We all want a healthier, more compassionate world. When we’re trying to decide which organizations to donate to, or which programs to get involved with, making careful decisions can mean all the difference in the world in terms of whether or not we succeed in creating that better world we want to see.


Q: What’s one thing that people would be shocked to learn about the charity world and how their donations are being spent?

A: There are a very small number of “scam charities” – charities that spend nearly every penny on fundraising and management expenses, and do very little to make the world a better place. Obviously that’s not a good thing. But the bigger problem in the charity world is that there are tons of non-profits that spend most of their money on programs – and so on the surface it seems like they are good organizations worth supporting – when in fact they are almost just as wasteful as the scam charities. These are charities running inefficient programs, programs that spend a lot of money to do only a small amount of good. 


Q: For readers who like to support vegan advocacy groups or animal protection causes, how can they find out which charities will do the most good with their money?

A: It can be hard to find out! There’s a great website called Animal Charity Evaluators that reviews hundreds of animal protection charities and makes recommendations to donors about which groups are most worth supporting. They really do their homework – pouring through financial returns and program reports, interviewing executives and staffers and different non-profits, and so on. I definitely encourage people who want to support vegan advocacy efforts or animal protection efforts to check out that site. And I’m proud to note that both Mercy For Animals and The Humane League (two groups I’m personally affiliated with) are on ACE’s list of top recommended charities.


Q: For readers who want to hear more, where can they go to check out the book?

A: You can learn more, read a free chapter, and order a signed copy of the book at http://www.NickCooney.com. It’s also available as an e-book and audio book for those who prefer digital formats. I’d love for your readers to check out the site and the book, so that they can learn how to become more effective advocates for the causes they care deeply about!



A Very Vedge Birthday


I’ve been wanting to make a pilgrimage to Vedge, the stellar vegan restaurant in Philadelphia, so my birthday last week was a perfect excuse to make the trip.  Joined by good friends, it was the best birthday dinner ever. The five of us decided to order something from each of the three menu sections and share them, thus allowing for us all to taste many more dishes than we normally would have.  Everything was fantastic and thanks to my friend Elissa, who took photos of every course, I can share pics of some of the highlights.

My favorite appetizer was this the Stuffed Avocado with pickled cauliflower, romesco, “fried rice” and black salt:


As a seitan fanatic, it should come as no surprise that my favorite items from the Hot Kitchen section was the Grilled Seitan served with smoked potato salad, pickled celery, and grilled corn peperonata:


Coming in as a close second, though, was the Spicy Grilled Tofu with gochujang, edamame, roasted miso, and yuba crackling:


We also sampled several vegetable sides from “The Dirt List.” They were all great, but the Fingerling Fries with creamy Worcestershire garnered the most “oo-oohs” and “aa-aahs”:



Dessert was beyond amazing, especially the Saffron Cheesecake served with basil gel, rhubarb ice cream, and black olive pistachio crumble.  OMG. Kudos to pastry chef/co-owner Kate Jacoby, for her dazzling desserts.


Topping off a perfect evening with great friends and great food was an opportunity to chat with the Rich Landau, the talented chef/co-owner of Vedge.

Before leaving Philadelphia for DC the next day, we had lunch at Rich’s other restaurant, V Street.  But I’ll save that for another post!  If you find yourself in Philadelphia, be sure to visit Vedge and V Street for some of the best vegan food being served anywhere.





Cucumber and White Bean Ceviche


The hot humid weather is back in full force and so is my desire for quick and easy meal solutions.  One of my favorite salads from Vegan Without Borders is this Cucumber and White Bean Ceviche (photo by Sara Remington).

Traditionally made with raw fish or scallops, I like to make this lime-marinated salad from Peru with cucumbers and white beans for a nice contrast of refreshingly crisp and creamy.  The salad is great on its own, but I’ve been thinking that it can be even better as a main dish, so here’s what I’m going to do…

For dinner tonight, I plan to toss this zesty salad with some cooked leftover rotini pasta and top it with diced avocado.  (I have a feeling it’s going to taste delicious!)
Cucumber and White Bean Ceviche

This recipe is from Vegan Without Borders (c) Robin Robertson, 2014, published by Andrews McMeel Publishing.

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 scallions, minced
2 teaspoons chopped capers
1 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans or 1 (15.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 English cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoons minced cilantro or parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
5 cherry or grape tomatoes, thinly sliced or quartered
In a bowl, combine the lime juice, oil, salt, and scallions. Stir to combine. Add the capers and beans and toss gently to coat. Refrigerate, covered, for 1 hour.
Fan the cucumber slices in a circle in the center of a large platter or individual salad plates. Spoon the bean mixture on top of the cucumber slices. Garnish with tomato, sprinkle with cilantro, and top with a few grinds of black pepper.

Serves 4

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I was honored when asked to write a piece for The Vegan, the magazine of The Vegan Society in the UK.  Now that I have my hands on an actual copy of the spring issue of the magazine, I’m excited all over again!

In the feature, I write about the international nature of vegan cooking and share three of my favorite recipes from Vegan Without Borders.

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The recipes I shared were for Farinata; Bibimbap, and Papri Chaat (photos by Sara Remington).In case you don’t get The Vegan magazine (or in case you don’t have Vegan Without Borders), at the end of this post, I’ll share my farinata recipe.

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Papri Chaat from Vegan Without Borders. Photo by Sara Remington.


Farinata with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Olives
When I travelled to Italy, I felt truly at home, not just because of my heritage but also because of how easy it is to eat vegan, especially with dishes such as this farinata. Made with chickpea flour, farinata is actually more of a savory pancake than a bread. It’s easy to make this Ligurian specialty that can be served as an appetizer or as part of the main meal. Farinata is often prepared without embellishment, but I sometimes add a fresh herb such as rosemary, sage, or basil, and chopped olives and sun-dried tomatoes, as in this recipe. (This recipe is from Vegan Without Borders by Robin Robertson © 2014, Andrews McMeel Publishing.)

1 cup water
1 cup chickpea flour
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons minced kalamata olives
3 tablespoons minced sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons torn basil leaves

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the water and chickpea flour until smooth. Add the oil, salt, a few grinds of pepper, olives, and tomatoes, and basil and mix until well blended. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Oil a 12-inch pizza pan and heat in the oven until hot. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and add the batter, spreading evenly. Bake until the top is firm and the edges are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cut into thin wedges and serve immediately.
Serves 6