Friday, January 25, 2013

Couscous Cakes

There are crab cakes and corn cakes, rice cakes and potato cakes, zucchini cakes and funnel cakes, hot cakes and chocolate cakes; but have you ever tried couscous cakes?

In this completely customizable, quick recipe, cooked couscous is mixed with a few favorite ingredients, an egg, some flour, then formed into patties and pan fried for a side dish that is fun and flavorful. If you like couscous as much as I do, then you’ll love trying it this way.

Starting with a delicious couscous mixture is of course the secret to making a delicious couscous cake. My add-ins include crunchy toasted almonds, sweet dried cranberries, feta cheese, and fragrant citrus and herbs. As with any recipe, feel free to get creative and use whatever you like, but I’m telling you mine is pretty good.

The egg and flour help to hold the couscous together so that the mixture can easily be formed into patties, but the patties are still fairly fragile and need to be handled carefully when being cooked. A fish spatula is just the right tool for the job; they are specifically designed to handle delicate foods (hence, fish), and will help to keep your patties intact.

The couscous cakes become crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside when fried, with a lightly toasted taste. They are a great way to add excitement to a light meal, and go especially well with chicken dishes.

Couscous Cakes
Yield: 10 cakes
- 1 cup water
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- ¾ cup couscous
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted
- ¼ cup chopped scallions
- ¼ chopped cilantro
- ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
- ½ cup orange juice
- Zest from 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 egg, beaten
1) In a small saucepan, bring the water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the couscous. Immediately remove from the heat and cover until all the water has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Transfer the couscous to a large bowl and fluff with a fork. Cool.
2) Add the cranberries, almonds, scallions, cilantro, feta cheese, orange juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper; mix well. Add the flour and egg; mix well. Form the mixture into small patties about 2” wide.
3) Heat the remaining olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Cook the couscous cakes until golden brown, then carefully flip (a fish spatula works best) and cook other side, about 2 minutes per side.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cooking Vegan

It’s January, and you know what that means. It’s time for all of us to start getting healthy. Time to start hitting the gym and eating better. Yep, it’s a new year, a new you! Up until next month when you forget all about your resolutions.

In the spirit of ambition, this month I’ll be featuring a few good-for-you recipes that will make sticking to your “get healthy” goals a little easier. I hope these simple, light and nutritious foods will help you to feel some glimmer of attaining wellness, even long after you’ve decided that you hate the gym and it smells. Starting with—for the first time ever—an entirely vegan dish!

Wondering what the difference is between a vegetarian, a lacto-ovo vegetarian, and a vegan? Read up on the various kinds of vegetarianism here.

Vegan Pumpkin Crepes with Vegan Maple Ice Cream and Maple Pecans 

Listen, burgers, charcuterie plates, and chunks of parmigiano reggianno cheese dipped in honey are a few of my favorite things. In the words of the wonderfully blunt Anthony Bourdain, “To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.” All in moderation of course. But I took on the challenge to cook something vegan anyway and was pleasantly surprised with the results.

I picked foods that, like me, are not very vegan: ice cream and crepes. A vegan breakfast/brunch/dessert made of items that usually consist mostly of heavy cream, milk, and eggs. I knew I could make them taste delicious without any of the dairy, though I’ll admit I was a little skeptical. Mostly I worried that the recipes would not physically come together without the products that typically help them to leaven, thicken, and set. It definitely took a bite of trial and error. 

The crepes are pumpkin flavor. Along with pumpkin puree, I used vanilla almond milk to take the place of what would be milk and heavy cream to make them, and used just a bit of baking soda to help the crepes set—no eggs necessary. Crepes are fun once you get into the rhythm of making them. Some tips to remember when making crepes: cook over medium-high heat, use a brush to lightly grease the bottom of a nonstick pan (with vegetable oil to be vegan), and have faith in your pan flipping skills! On top is a garnish of chopped maple-candied pecans. Try them on your crepes or in a salad.

Now let's talk about this vegan maple ice cream. Oh, this ice cream. It is so good! It’s made of just four ingredients, the main ones being full fat coconut milk and maple syrup. The light consistency is very refreshing and reminds me of a creamy Italian ice. Surprisingly, the coconut milk is not too overpowering; the maple flavor really comes through. It’s ice cream that you don’t have to feel guilty about eating (not that I personally ever feel guilty about ice cream).

Have I gone vegan? Not quite. But I have definitely been enlightened to a different way of eating.

Vegan Pumpkin Crepes with Maple Pecans
Yield: 10 crepes
- 1 cup pecans
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 ½ all-purpose flour
- 1 cup vanilla almond milk
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup pumpkin puree
- 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for pan
1) Add the pecans to a small sauté pan over medium-low heat and toast. Stir in the maple syrup and simmer until reduced to a thick consistency, about 1 minute. Cool on a parchment-lined sheet tray. Chop.
2) Whisk all remaining ingredients together in a medium bowl until well blended. Heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Lightly brush the pan with the vegetable oil. Pour or ladle the batter into the pan and swirl until the bottom of the pan is lightly and evenly coated. Cook the batter like a pancake, loosening the sides and bottom with a rubber spatula to prevent from sticking. When the bottom is lightly browned, flip the crepe in the pan to cook the other side.
3) Fold the crepe into quarters to serve, if desired. Top with Vegan Maple Ice Cream and maple pecans.

Vegan Maple Ice Cream
Yield: 1 pint
- 1, 13.5 ounce can full fat coconut milk
- 1 cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
1) Whisk all ingredients together in a medium bowl until well blended. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Add the mixture to an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. Freeze overnight.