Archive for the ‘vegetarian’ Category

Azar’s Market and Cafe

The Maza Appetizer from Azar's.

The Maza Appetizer from Azar’s.

As a line cook, I would often receive a request for a substitution, i.e. potato salad instead of fries. Not a big deal, really; happens all of the time in restaurants all around the world. Sometimes these requests were made for dietary reasons, other times to avoid allergy issues. It was all good, although one time I had to ask the server to double check the request when the ticket stated 1 quesadilla, 86 (remove) the cheese. Since the root of the word was queso, Spanish for cheese, I wanted to make sure the guest understood they would be receiving a grilled tortilla stuffed with a few sauteed vegetables. They did so that’s what they got.

In the food service business, it all about food and service. To survive, you have to serve great food and offer even better service. Makes me wonder why Burger King has just dropped it’s slogan Have It Your Way. I guess you can’t have it your way anymore?

Regardless of BK’s reasoning, the point is this: successful restaurants have to have a great concept, a menu to satisfy everyone from Atkins-style carnivores to vegan/gluten free Eat to Live folks, and  flawless execution in both the kitchen and the front house. No secret to many of you, but finding a place that hits the mark in all categories is becoming more difficult these days.

Azar’s Market & Cafe (subtitled Natural Foods and Mediterranean Specialties) is just such a place.  Recently, we had an awesome dinner at the Virginia Beach restaurant, located in the Hilltop area. I had always been a fan of the Norfolk cafe of the same name and found the sister restaurant to be equally as nice, with attentive service that was not over-intrusive and excellent food plated in a most appealing fashion. And for a Saturday early-evening, the place was not too crowded making the ambiance perfect for conversation.

While I usually order the can’t-miss felafel, this particular evening I decided to be adventurous and order something new (for me.) Taking advice from the server, I chose the Maza appetizer. The menu will tell you the Maza serves 2 – 4 people, but the dish is used as an entree quite often. I gave it a try. Here’s what was presented:

Hummus – made from chickpeas, of course, and seasoned with tahini, not too much lemon, and a bit of garlic. The best in the city, IMHO.

Baba Ghanouj (pronounced bah bah gah-noosh) – think hummus made from roasted eggplant instead of chickpeas.

4 Stuffed Grape Leaves – available either cold or warmed, these are stuffed with rice, vegetables and chickpeas.

Tabouli – a light salad of chopped parsley, mint, tomato, and onion, tossed with some Bulgar wheat, lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt.

Lebane Tzatziki – a dab of dip made from strained yogurt (Greek yogurt before it was cool to be Greek yogurt,) garlic, a touch of mint and olive oil.

The plate was garnished with olives (watch out for those pesky little pits) and bite-sized slices of pickle and tomato.

All this was served with a basket of light, soft but not too chewy grilled flatbread.

The verdict?

I wasn’t a fan of the baba ghanouj. I am sure it was made correctly, and Azar’s version is probably among the best around. I’m just not a baba ghanouj kind of guy.

Everything else was a hit to my taste buds. When the server came to remove our dinner plates, she saw I had only tried the B.G. and commented that next time I could always ask for a substitute. More hummus, more grape leaves, whatever I wanted. This substitution policy was not a one-off deal made in an attempt to garner a higher propina (tip, sorry – thinking in Spanish for a moment) but the normal restaurant policy.

Great food and even better service, remember? This is what it looks like.

And for you vegans out there? This means you can order the Maza and sub more hummus for the Lebane Tzatziki dip.

For carnivores, split the Maza since it’s really a large appetizer plate, and order one of the grilled kebab plates.

Azar’s has great food and even better service – for everyone.

And no matter what you order for lunch or dinner – you have to get the pistachio baklava for dessert. I think it’s a law. If it’s not, it should be.

Happy eating!

 

 

 

Zucchini Planks

Zucchini Planks any Pirate would Love!

Zucchini Planks any Pirate would Love!

A quick and easy lunch, or even a light dinner, zucchini planks taste great – and they probably aren’t half bad for you, either!

Here’s what you need:

(creates four planks with toppings)

2 medium zucchini

1 shallot, finely chopped (green onion will work, as well)

1 clove of garlic, minced

black pepper, freshly ground, to taste

2 Tablespoons of olive oil

1 cup of fresh mozzarella, cubed to the size of dice

1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in halves

Here’s what you do:

Slice the zucchini lengthwise, creating two planks per zucchini, each about a half inch thick. Take the remaining zucchini and spoon out the pulp. Using a chef’s knife, finely chop the pulp, then place in a bowl.  Set the planks aside for the moment.

Add to the finely chopped zucchini: the chopped shallot, minced garlic, black pepper, and olive oil. Mix well and let sit while you cube up the mozzarella cheese.

After preparing the cheese and the grape tomatoes, add both to the bowl of marinating zucchini. Turn a few times with a wooden spoon. No need to bruise the tomato. Just kidding. But you don’t need to be mean about it. Just  gently mix. There you go!

Now, place the zucchini planks on a microwave safe plate and micro-bake them for 30 seconds to a minute. The exact time will depend on the power of your microwave. If they are steaming, they are done. Smoke?  Start over. With new zucchini.

Using a fork (because steaming zucchini planks are hot) place two planks on each plate. Then, spoon the mozzarella/tomato mixture over the planks.

Try them! You get the warm, soft and delicate taste of fresh zucchini – and the robust flavor and creamy texture of the mozzarella cheese accompanied by all of its friends.

Pairs well with a light red table wine. And cookies.

 

Black Bean Corn Salsa-nated Lentils and Peppers

Black Bean Corn Salsa-nated Lentils and Viggies

Black Bean Corn Salsa-nated Lentils and Peppers (with stir fried vegetables)

After you cook several “big” dishes, such as Mango Lentil Dal, or Artichoke Lentil Loaf, you may come to realize you still have uncooked lentils left over. Looking in the soak pot, I found we had “a lot” of lentils left. If the zombie apocalypse started today, and all access to the grocery store had been cut off by the horde of brain-eating walking dead, we would be fine with the one bag of dried lentils. It never seems to run out. But since the Eastern Shore, for the moment at least, is devoid of zombies, it would be poor form to leave said lentils to slowly die a horrible death inside the refrigerator.

What to do. Hmmm.

Why not take those lentils and add some left over bell peppers and a snit or two from the jar of Amy’s Black Bean & Corn Salsa? You know, the jar that always seems to be in the door of the refrigerator? Could end up with a tasty meal, me thinks.

Turned out to be a great idea! I also stir fried some fresh cut vegetables to give the meal a little more bulk and color. Here’s the easy lentil recipe:

Ingredients

1 cup uncooked lentils (uncooked but soaked overnight, then drained)

Water – enough to cover the lentils once they are in a sauce pan

1 each – red, green and yellow bell pepper. cored and seeded, then rough chopped

1 snit of Amy’s black bean corn salsa (no ‘snit’ mark on your measuring cup? 6 Tablespoons is about the same amount)

1 Tablespoon cumin

Directions

Put the uncooked lentils in a medium sauce pan.

Add water, enough to cover the lentils by a half inch or so.

Add the chopped bell peppers, salsa, and cumin.

Stir gently, then cover.

Heat over medium high until the liquid starts to boil.

Once boiling, reduce heat to medium. You want a simmer only.

Uncover and stir occasionally.

The goal is to allow the liquid to soak into the lentils and to create a “salsa reduction.” In other words, as the liquid cooks down, the salsa and cumin flavor will be brought out for the better. Once you stir the lentils and don’t see any more liquid at the bottom of the sauce pan, you are done!

Remove from heat and cover until the rest of your dinner is done cooking.

(I stir fried veggies while the lentils were cooking. There are a plethora of options for you. Go with your favorite!)

This lentil recipe makes 3 good sized main servings or 4 side servings.

Enjoy!

 

Mango Lentil Dal

Mango Lentil Dal

Mango Lentil Dal

Tried a new recipe tonight for Mango Lentil Dal. This turned out very well. The only change I might consider for the next time is to sub curry for the turmeric. But that’s only because I love curry. And I might add a little coconut milk. And some slice pineapple chunks. But other than that – this recipe is great!

No, really. It is very good. I was just thinking out loud.

Giving credit where credit is due, this recipe comes from the tome Eat to Live Cookbook, by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. It’s on page 172. Naturally, due to copyright issues I cannot legally (or ethically should I) post the actual recipe. It’s a great book. You should buy a copy. You don’t have to go on his diet / health plan, just try the recipes. We have yet to find one that wasn’t great tasting.

What I can do is give you a list of ingredients:

Lentils

Water (to cook the cup of lentils in, of course)

Turmeric

Chopped onion

Minced garlic

Fresh grated ginger

Ground coriander

Ground cumin

Cracked black pepper

A couple of ripe mangoes (learn how to peel and cut a mango here)

Chopped fresh spinach

and last but not least:

Chopped fresh cilantro.

I suppose you could try to cook this yourself, without the book, and just using quantities “to taste.” However, I highly recommend buying the book.

And no, I receive no remuneration (of any kind) from Dr. Fuhrman or anyone else for that matter. I could only hope…

Live the exotic life for a day – try Mango Lentil Dal!

 

 

 

Dr. Lucy and the Cookies

Gluten Free Vegan Ginger Snaps

Gluten Free Vegan Ginger Snaps

Have food allergies? Need to be gluten free? [Gasp] Vegan, even?

A tough road to live on, but it can be done. That said, there is one problem remaining:

Where are the cookies, right?

Of course. Who doesn’t like cookies? Everyone like cookies. Those in the UK even have a different word for them: biscuits. And I’m sure the Brits love their biscuits just as much as we love to snarf down our cookies here on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Since changing my eating habits last month, I’ve lost over 20 pounds and three inches off my waist line. But nary a dessert has made it onto my plate. Alas, no cookies for this guy.

Until a few days ago.

That’s when I came across Lucy’s Cookies.”  The cookie’s namesake, Norfolk Virginia medical doctor turned cookie entrepreneur Dr. Lucy Gibney and (I presume) her daughter were at my place of business the other day, handing out samples. When I introduced myself as a gluten free/vegan person they let me know that all of their products would work for me. Wow!  All means more than one – and I don’t even have to check the label. Although I did for fun. You should, too.

The package spells it out for you: all natural; non-GMO; no peanuts, tree nuts, milk, or eggs; gluten free; zero cholesterol; and zero trans fat. But what about taste?

I have had the chocolate chip cookies, the chocolate cookies, and the ginger snap cookies so far. And the have all been great. The ginger snaps even have a tiny bit of Tabasco in them to bring out a nifty bite at the end of the crunch. Who knew? Good choice, ladies.

Full of flavor, a great crunch, wonderful aftertaste. These cookies have it all. And with 3 – 4 cookies per package, you get enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, but not too many calories – in case you are counting them.

Check the website; order some cookies! And, they are available in over 7,000 stores and specialty shops through the US and Canada. You are probably near a package right now and don’t even know it!

* Legal disclaimer: I have not received any remuneration (of any kind) from Dr. Lucy or her cookie company. The review above is based simply on my desire to have cookies that meet my dietary restriction and Lucy’s Cookies satisfying that want.

** If, by chance, Dr. Lucy would like to send me some cookies for a more comprehensive evaluation, I would be more than happy to entertain the idea.

DrLucys dot com – check it out, people. Good health and nutrition doesn’t have to be bland!

Here's the package!

Here’s the package!

No time to be a vegetarian?

Dinner Salad with Pumpkin Seeds

Dinner Salad with Pumpkin Seeds

Spare time is one of those things we never seem to have in abundance. We always have somewhere to go, people to meet, planes to catch. The pile of work never seems to get smaller and the phone never seems to stop ringing. Maybe that’s why we have grown to love our fast food restaurants. Drive up, speak into a microphone on a pole, pay a few dollars and then have your “meal” handed to you as you keep on driving.

“I know,” you say, “fruits and vegetables are more nutritious. The school nurses have been telling me that since I started school as a little tyke.”

“But I just don’t have the time to prepare all of that healthy stuff.”  That’s what many of us say, at least.

I used to say the same thing. However, today we spent about 30 minutes in the grocery store, shopping for mangoes, bananas, apples, and all of their friends in the produce section. Then I spent another 30 minutes or so washing, chopping and bagging the vegetables. The result? My wife and I had two very nice dinner salads, and I still have six more bags of romaine lettuce, a package of fresh spinach,individual bags of red onion and broccoli, plus a super-sized bag of my vegetable medley. This is a mix of carrots, yellow squash, green zucchini, celery and yellow and green bell peppers.

Now, to make a salad I just grab a bag of romaine, a handful or two of medley, and a little bit from each individual bag. Add a few cherry tomatoes from the fridge and a quarter cup of seeds from the pantry and I am all set for a huge (a delicious) salad. Dressing? A little balsamic vinaigrette works wonders. Crack some pepper on top and I am set.

I spend about 5 minutes in the morning putting my lunch salad together before I get in the car for the drive to work. Think you don’t have 5 minutes to spare in the morning? Time yourself next time you go through the drive through at your local burger joint.

Think of it this way: with one hour of work on a Sunday, and 5 minutes a day, you can have a great salad every day for the next week!

And for those who are worried about protein – many vegetables have protein in abundance. A quarter cup of pumpkin seeds has 9 grams of protein! Who needs a chicken breast when you can have the flavor and crunch of pumpkin seeds on top of your healthy salad?

And for another layer of flavor and texture, add some cooked quinoa or brown rice seasoned with Bragg’s Amino Sauce!

Try this meal planning technique and see how you like it!

It’s working for me – it can work for you, too.

 

 

 

Artichoke Lentil Loaf

Artichoke Lentil Loaf

Artichoke Lentil Loaf

22 days into the vegan diet and the good food just keeps on coming. Who knew? Aside from the health benefits (which I started noticing a few days into it) it is just plain fun to cook some of this stuff. I am planning two big entrees a week and tonight was my foray into the world of artichokes and lentils.

Courtesy of Chef Christine Waltermyer, who graciously gave her recipe for Artichoke Lentil Loaf to the book, Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, we now have a savory meat(less) loaf for dinner. The aroma of the sautéed onions, garlic, and celery, mixed in with the seasonings has kept the kitchen a happy place.

Here’s my version:

Ingredients

½ cup onion, diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup celery, diced

3 cups mushrooms, finely chopped (I used a variety package)

1 tablespoon, dried parsley

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning (don’t freak out about the name. No chicken byproducts allowed)

2 1/2 – 3 cups of cooked lentils

4 artichoke hearts, chopped (I used the kind in the small bottle)

1/2 cup raw pecans, finely chopped

1/4 cup rolled oats

2 tablespoons of wheat flour

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

2 tablespoons of Bragg’s Amino Sauce

Cracked black pepper to taste

1 small can of low salt tomato paste

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sauté the onions, celery and garlic in a dash of olive oil until the onions start to become translucent. Add the mushrooms (and a little water if needed) then stir, cover and wait 5 minutes. Uncover and stir again. Add the parsley and the poultry seasoning, mix and remove from heat.

Get a large bowl. Put the seasoned vegetables in, then mix in the cooked lentils.

Now, mixing as you go, add the artichoke hearts, pecans, oats, flour, lemon juice, and Bragg’s sauce.

Add some black pepper as you go; if you want. I wanted. So I did.

Now – after you are done enjoying the awesome smell, get a loaf pan and spray it / lightly grease it.

Spoon the whole mixture into the loaf pan and press it down.

To finish the task, spoon a thin layer of the tomato paste on top. Some would say this is optional.

I didn’t.

Bake for 1 hour. Once done, let rest for 30 minutes before slicing. Good luck on the waiting part.

Now slice a slice and eat up!

Wine is vegetarian, right?

Power Berry Smoothie

Who knew blenders could make something besides margaritas?

Power Berry Smoothie in progress!

Power Berry Smoothie in progress!

This morning, day 6 on my new vegetarian meal plan, I decided to try a smoothie. I know what you are thinking – where’s this guy been? Smoothies have been popular for years! Well, remember my middle name up to this point has been bacon, and on occasion I go by scrapple or sausage. Breakfast? The norm has been a cup of coffee and Starbuck’s version of the Egg McMuffin. Fruit that wasn’t baked in a pie never entered my diet.

So today, instead of a bowl of fresh fruit – my “new normal” breakfast since last Monday, I gave my best attempt at making a smoothie. Based somewhat on a recipe from Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book, Eat to Live, here is my own recipe:

Ingredients

3 full leaves of Romaine lettuce

1 cup of frozen raspberries

1 banana

1 teaspoon of sunflower seeds

1/2 cup of almond soy milk

Directions

Put everything in the blender and liquify. Easy! Don’t skimp on the time; the seeds (both sunflower and those from the raspberries) will need time to grind up. If you want, you could always grind up the sunflower seeds in a coffee grinder first.

When done, pour into a glass and drink it right down. The frozen raspberries will help give your drink just enough chill. And the banana? Not too overpowering, a common complaint from friends who have imbibed prior at local smoothie establishments. The sunflower seeds, and I was somewhat skeptical on this one beforehand, gave the fruit drink just enough hint of nut flavor. I wouldn’t add or subtract from the teaspoon amount.

Overall – a winner!

DJ's Power Berry Smoothie - ready to drink!

DJ’s Power Berry Smoothie – ready to drink!

8 pounds down. 40 more to go!

 

Grilled Sweet Potato Steak-Fries

Grilled Sweet Potato Steak FriesFact 1: Like most of you, we have but one oven in our kitchen. Whoever decided Thanksgiving needed to be a massive feast of turkey, ham and a plethora of side dishes and desserts (all of which require the use of an oven) surely ignored Fact 1.

Fact 2: At Thanksgiving (one of the top 3 holidays food-wise here in the US) everyone wants to help cook something. My wife wanted to make her famous cranberry apple crunch dessert, my mother in law needed to saute aromatics to add to her slow cooker stuffing recipe. Okay, that one didn’t need the oven, but it involved the stove top, practically the same thing. Then my daughter was making pumpkin pie -that one definitely used the oven. Thank goodness my son and his girlfriend were cooking the turkey at their place, otherwise we’d be doomed (refer back to fact 1.)

But wait – what about the sweet potatoes? A true staple of the late November holiday; it must be done. And I’m the only one left standing without a whisk or spatula.

Fact 3: Look outside. The barbecue grill is sitting there, beckoning you to fire it up and cook those darn sweet potatoes. Never mind the cold weather; that’s what coats, hats and gloves are for, right?

This recipe, taken from my upcoming cozy culinary mystery The Apple Pie Alibi (shameless plug)  was easy to make, tasted great and had little to clean up afterward. Look at the ladies inside and tell me you don’t appreciate that last one! Anyhow, try this sometime -and don’t wait until next Thanksgiving.

What you need to start:

9×12 glass baking dish or something of comparable size to serve the potatoes once they are done.

4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges. I also cut the wedges in half (personal preference)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 gallon zip lock bag

2 Tablespoons cinnamon

2 Tablespoons salt

1 Tablespoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon black pepper

Aluminium Foil

Outdoor grill

What to do:

Place the potato wedge halves in the baking dish. Drizzle the olive oil over the top of the potatoes and, using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix together coating the entirety of the spuds.

Wash your hands. (Isn’t it fun to play with the food? I knew you didn’t use the wooden spoon! I didn’t, either.)

With dry hands, put all of the spices into the gallon zip lock bag. Close the bag tightly (well, yeah) and shake well.

Open the bag back up and put a good handful of the potato wedges inside. Close the bag back up and shake. Take the now-coated potato wedges and place in the baking dish. Repeat this operation until all of the potato wedges are seasoned. If your bag runs truly dry of spices, make a new batch. However, these amounts will last a while, even if the bag looks like it is empty. Judge by the potatoes coming out – not by the bag’s appearance.

Take your dish of seasoned potatoes outside to the grill. My grill is a gas-fueled version so I could just turn a knob and fire it up. If you are a traditionalist, I hope you have lit the charcoal well in advance. Maybe I should have mentioned this earlier, but I have to give you credit for grillmanship basics.

Place several sheets of aluminum foil over the grill grate to prevent the spuds from over-searing from direct contact with the flames. Now lay out the potato wedges on top of the foil, in a single layer. With the grill now fired up, close the lid and go back inside to witness the cacophony and help when possible. You can do it.

Ten minutes later, go back outside and using a spatula or tongs, flip the spuds over once. Close the lid and go back inside for a drink of wassail or something.

Take a paper towel and wipe out your baking dish. This will take most of the extraneous oil away, leaving you with a greased pan, perfect to serve the potatoes once they are finished baking. The treated surface of the baking dish will be just slick enough to keep the spuds from sticking to the pan.

By now (about ten minutes after the potato flip) it should be time to go back outside one more time and retrieve the now baked potato wedges. Place them in the baking dish and bring to the table. With luck there’s still room.

These potatoes are savory, with the sweetness coming mostly from the potato itself. No marshmallows required.

Happy Thanksgiving to all and thanks so much for keeping Exploding Potatoes in your bookmarks. And stay tuned for news about the first in a series of culinary mysteries, The Apple Pie Alibi. (Gotta end with another shameless plug, right?)

DJ sends.

 

 

 

Turnip Greens with a Twist

With a twist of lemon juice, that is.

This past weekend I helped out our church bazaar by standing post at the fresh vegetable stand. We had sweet potatoes, hayman potatoes, kale, collards, apples, homemade vegetable beef soup and…turnip greens? This iconic Southern US side dish was one I had not ever used in a recipe or tasted on a plate. As for greens, I prefer collards with a little vinegar. Spinach is okay but I find it is usually over cooked to the point of being seaweed-like green mush. Not much mouth appeal, in spite of what Popeye may have us believe.

Back to the turnip greens. These were fresh cut, bright green and only a dollar a pound. So I thought, why not?

Turnip Greens

I asked around and everyone, and I do mean everyone said “Turnip greens? Just put a ham hock in a pot of water and bring to a boil, then add the greens until they wilt.”  I imagine this would not take too much time. Put me in a pot of boiling water and I bet I wilt quickly, too. That said, and remember – I live with vegetarians – I knew I had to find a different, bacon-less recipe.

Aha! Check it out here. This article gives you more health and nutrition facts about turnip greens than I thought possible. Huzzah for healthy eats, people!

Anyway, so I added my own little spin on the usage of the greens – and I will say it turned out okay. Not great, but for what is essentially a bunch of bitter leaves, it wasn’t bad. You try it and be your own judge. It’s only a dollar, at least at our stand.

Ingredients:

1 cup of turnip greens, the leaves only, torn from the stems and ripped into small, bite-sized pieces.

1 English muffin, halved and toasted

1 egg, scrambled (or however you like it cooked)

Dressing:

3 Tablespoons of olive oil

1 Tablespoon of lemon juice (see, I told you there was a twist!)

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

In a large pot, add 1 – 2 inches of water and place over high heat. You will be using this to steam the greens.

While the water is heating up, make the dressing by mixing the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt/pepper in a small bowl, stirring with a fork.

Now put the English muffin halves into your handy toaster and start toasting to your favorite shade of burned light brown.

The water in the pot should be steaming now. Carefully (remember that steam can burn you very easily. I know.) add the turnip greens to a large strainer and place over the top of the pot.

Steaming the Greens

Now, in your best egg pan, cook your eggs however you like. I prefer scrambled eggs, but you may be a sunny-side up person. To each their own.

Once the eggs are done, the turnip greens will be ready to go. Now all you have to do is assemble the dish.

Starting from the bottom, here is how I layered everything:

English muffin (bottom)

Drizzle some dressing on the muffin

Add the steamed turnip greens

Drizzle a little more dressing (the bite of the lemon juice with the pungent power of the garlic will help belay the bitterness of the greens.)

Add the scrambled egg for protein and creaminess.

Drizzle just a bit more dressing on for good measure.

And top with the other English muffin half.

Eggs on muffin and greens

There you go – protein, calcium, vitamins galore, good for you fats, and some nice tasting food.

Like I said, for me this was okay. I think the next time I make this sandwich, I will add bacon. All those church ladies can’t be wrong!

Even Tink the cat liked it!

Tink

 

 

 

 

 

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