Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Caprese Salad in a Jar

Check out our cookbook, The Southern Vegetarian: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table (Thomas Nelson, 2013), on Amazon or at your local bookstore.

I brought home the ingredients for caprese salad; of course, we just couldn't leave well enough alone. This salad-in-jars recipe is basic, but the results are pretty and fun; may the ridiculous appeal of serving all sorts of food in jars live on this summer for many salads to come.

Caprese Salad in a Jar

2 cups of arugula
1/2 cup green basil (leaves only)
1/2 cup purple basil (leaves only)
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
mini bocconcini

For the dressing:
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
a drop of honey
Maldon salt
cracked black pepper

One ingredient at a time, layer first the arugula then the 2 basils, tomatoes, and bocconcini in 4 jars. Set open jars in the fridge to chill. Next, whisk all ingredients of the dressing together. When you're ready to serve the salads, take the jars out of the fridge, drizzle the dressing on top of the salads, close the lids, and tell whoever's eating with you to shake it up to mix everything together and then enjoy it straight from the jar immediately!

For more crazy caprese ideas, check out our caprese tart.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Vegetarian Carbonara with Smoked Sun-Dried Tomatoes

This is not just another pasta. This vegetarian-ized version of the classic Italian dish is truly no compromise. The smoked sun-dried tomatoes -- I found some recently at The Fresh Market for about $4 a pouch -- add an amazing savory quality to this rich dish. It's great because most of the ingredients used to make it are usually in your fridge and pantry already.

If done right, the eggs in this dish should be creamy and coat the warm pasta. Worst case scenario, you'll have scrambled eggs and pasta, which is still pretty delicious. Fear not! Just follow these easy instructions, and you're very likely to get it right.

Vegetarian Carbonara with Smoked Sun-Dried Tomatoes

3 eggs
1/4 cup cream or whole milk (in a small glass)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 cup shallots (minced)
2 smoked sun-dried tomatoes (minced)
1/2 cup white wine
2 roma tomatoes (peeled, diced)
sea salt and cracked black pepper
a pinch of cane sugar
a dash of champagne vinegar
2 servings of dry spaghetti
pecorino romano cheese 

Place eggs and glass of milk in a bowl of hot water; this will raise the temperature of both and is key to getting the creamy consistency associated with carbonara. Place a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. 

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, sauté shallots and sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil until shallots start to just brown. Add the wine and reduce until most of the moisture has evaporated. Add the romas, salt, pepper, sugar, and vinegar to the pan and stir. 

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs and cream together. Set mixture aside for just a few minutes; it's about to be added to the pasta.

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Place cooked pasta directly into the pan with the tomato mixture, and immediately add the egg mixture. Turn the heat off of the pan but keep it on the stove. Mix for about 4 minutes until sauce sticks to the noodles and is thick and creamy. Garnish with grated pecorino romano. Serve immediately.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Chubby Vegetarian Collaborative Brunch at Restaurant Iris

Carpaccio, piquillo, soubise, umami, chimichurri, tzaziki, tortilla de papa, banh mi, sririacha, tandoori, migas, flamenkütchen -- honestly, I had no idea that my menu would be so difficult to read. Save for the flamenkütchen, this is all stuff I make on a regular basis. Needles to say, I learned a lot about myself and the way I cook by putting together this brunch menu. I learned that, though I think of myself as a Southerner, I do have a world view of food. I love grits as much as the next guy, but I also love upma, panelle, poutine, dosas, injera, and kimchi. The Iris brunch menu that Kelly and I came up with was a true refection of my cooking style, and, oddly enough, a total surprise to me.

I learned something else through this experience of planning and executing a menu for 100 people, something that everyone pretty much grasps on a certain level: the restaurant business is difficult. It's made up of long hours and tons of repetitive labor. You cannot, however, lose sight of the artful dish that you hope will end up on the plate. Kelly English, chef and owner of Restaurant Iris, gave me a speech in the Iris kitchen on Sunday morning that went a little something like this:

"There will come a time when the panic will set in, and you will feel as if there is no way we can get all this stuff done. Just remember, if we work hard, we will get it done. You'll look at the clock and the panic will get worse. At about 9 a.m., the culinary professionals will arrive. When they do, everything will fall into place. Now get over there and make biscuits for 100 people."

I worked hard. I made the biscuits, pimento cheese, pickled carrots, pickled peppers, peeled the lotus, smoked the sun-dried tomatoes, made the spice rub for the shiitake bacon, and roasted peppers for the vegan migas. I thought I was on fire until I looked at Kelly's prep list. That guy is fast and accurate in the kitchen. I was in awe.

It came time for service, and we were ready -- just like I was promised. Once the first customers rolled in, my palms began to sweat. We had 97 people on the books. It had been sold out for over a month, so I felt like there was a lot to live up to that day. Luckily, we had my good friend Michael Hughes behind the bar mixing up some signature cocktails: The Hive, The Peach Julep, and Basil & Bubbles. He was able put everyone in a relaxed mood. I'm always so thankful for Michael.

The first round of orders began to make their way out of the kitchen, and they looked beautiful. I (seriously!) almost cried. It was emotional for me to see my food served in such a fine restaurant prepared by an incredible chef and his crew. The hand pies, squash blossoms, beet salad, and the stuffed peppers all looked so amazing to me.

Service was a blur of smiles and food and laughter. I loved visiting the tables and talking with people about the food they just ate or were about to eat. The kitchen continued to turn out dish after dish of wonderful food. Everyone in the dining room really seemed to have a good time. I'm a sucker for compliments, and there were a few thrown around.

Two weeks later, I'm still very grateful for the incredible opportunity.

If you ever wondered what it takes to be a Food & Wine magazine best new chef like Kelly English, I can tell you. iIn addition to a wealth of talent, it takes waking up early and staying up late. It takes dedication. It takes joy in hard work as well the willingness to work extra-hard to realize one's dreams. This is true inside and outside of the kitchen.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Vegan Crunk Guest Post: Curried Red Lentil Stew

You have to meet my friend Bianca Phillips. She runs an all-things-vegan blog brimming with personality called Vegan Crunk, and she is the author of a cookbook aptly titled Cookin' Crunk: Eatin' Vegan in the Dirty South, which is due out at the beginning of next year. The book, like the blog, will take traditionally meat-heavy Southern American recipes and veganize them. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

Knowing how much I love vegetables, Bianca created this red lentil recipe just for The Chubby Vegetarian. It's delicious. For dinner the other night, I made her red lentil stew and some upma, Indian spiced cream of wheat, by taking instant cream of wheat and adding a pinch of coriander and a few cardamom pods. I served the stew over the upma with cilantro and lemon slices.

Here's Bianca...

Can you believe I'd never tried red lentils until last year? I've always had a fondness for brown lentils, served Indian-style with lots of curry powder and cumin. But I guess I'd just assumed red lentils would be the same, so why try them? How wrong I was! I first had them in a red lentil stew by vegan cookbook author Sarah Kramer, and the recipe was uber-delicious. I love how red lentils break down and get all mushy, instantly making your soup into a stew. I also love how quickly they cook. You can throw those suckers in a pot of boiling water and have dinner on the table in 30 minutes -- try that with some other bean. Yep, only lentils cook so quickly.

This recipe also feature two of my favorite veggies: spinach and mushrooms. I throw them in just about any stew, and this one is no exception. Even though it's way too hot for stew by some people's standards, don't hesitate to make this anyway. Just sit in front of the AC while you're eating it.

Curried Red Lentil Stew with Mushrooms and Spinach
1 tbsp. canola oil
1 small onion (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
10 ounces button mushrooms (sliced)
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cumin
3 cups vegetable broth (I used 3 cups water and 1 tablespoon red miso)
1 1/2 cups dry red lentils
1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and water squeezed out (I used fresh spinach that I blanched)
1 tomato, chopped
(I added a teaspoon of vinegar. -TCV)

Heat the oil in a large soup pot on medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms and saute for 5 to 7 more minutes or until mushrooms begin to cook down and release their juices. Stir in the curry powder, salt, and cumin, and sauté for one more minute.

Add the vegetable broth, lentils, and spinach. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until lentils are tender. Stir in the tomato and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


This is whimsical and silly and it takes a little time to make, but what could be better on a really hot day than a glass of melonade? My respect for anyone who can scoop out perfect spheres of melon has grown this week after I purchased a melon baller for the first time and thought it would make for quick and flawless work right there on the spot. It turns out that melonade tastes like nothing I've had before and is quite refreshing, so the work really is worth it.

1 cantaloupe
1 honeydew
1 small watermelon
1/3 cup light agave
juice from one lime
juice from 4 lemons
1 cup of water
1 pinch of salt

Wash the melons and cut them in half. First, remove any seeds. Next, use a melon baller to scoop out nice round spheres of melon; the flesh from the top of the half will be the firmest and easiest to scoop, but you sort of have to dig into it and then twist. Place the melon balls in the freezer.

Cut the rest of the flesh from the melons so that you have about a cup of each. Place this pulp in the food processor and blend until smooth. Use a mesh strainer to strain the melon juice into a bowl; use a silicone spatula to press out all of the juice. To the strained melon, add the juice from the lime and lemons and the agave. Whisk this together and then add salt and water before whisking again. Place semi-frozen melon balls in pitcher and add juice and ice. Stir and serve over ice.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Vegetarian Poutine (Baked Fries + Truffled Gravy + Curds)

Poutine is the Loch Ness Monster of dishes around our house: we have heard of it, we knew about it, but we had never witnessed it for ourselves. Our friend Katelyn from Canada would wow us with stories about this mythical dish. We'd plan to make it (I'll bring the gravy, and you bring the fries!) but it just never happened...until this week.

My wife said the magic word, poutine, three times, and the dish magically appeared on our table this weekend. What is poutine, you ask? It's three simple ingredients thrust together to make something that is far greater than the sum of its parts: french fries, gravy of some sort, and cheese curds. That doesn't sound like something I would make! Well, it isn't, but we all have to be a little bad sometimes. Besides, I made this as healthy as possible: the fries are baked with only two tablespoons of oil, and the gravy has only one tablespoon of butter. Now that I have witnessed it firsthand, I can tell you without a doubt that we will be making this one again.

Vegetarian Poutine: Crispy Baked Fries, Truffled Gravy, 1/2 cup Cheese Curds

Crispy Baked Fries

2 medium baking potatoes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons canola oil

(The cornstarch in this recipe makes for a crispy crust even though these fries are baked and not -- gasp! -- deep fried.)

First, cut potatoes into 1/8 inch sticks; be sure keep the skin on them, though. Toss potatoes with the salt, pepper, cornstarch, and flour. Next, toss them in the oil. Immediately arrange them in a single layer on a baking pan fitted with a cooling rack; this technique allows airflow all around the potato, which yields a crispier french fry. Place into a 515 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until brown. Remove and serve immediately.

Truffled Gravy

1 tablespoon truffle butter
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
2 dashes of hot sauce

Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat and add the four. Whisk until mixture turns a pale brown. Whisk in the remaining ingredients, raise the heat, and stir until thick. Set aside.

To assemble: throw a handful of hot fries down onto a plate, top with a generous helping of gravy, and then pile on the cheese curds. It's good...really good.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Vegetarian Bánh Mí Sandwich

I'll admit it...the description of this sandwich sounds horrible: pickled carrots and radish, paté, cilantro, sriracha mayo. It kinda seems like the cook got confused somewhere along the way, but really, the original bánh mí is one of the world's oldest fusion cuisines. The sandwich in question came about after the French colonized Vietnam in the late 1800's. Along with a healthy dose of oppression, the French brought along baguette and paté, so the Vietnamese took that and added the pickles, hot sauce, and other traditional condiments. The result is the exact opposite of horrible; in fact, it is one of my favorite foods on the planet. It's rich, crunchy, sweet, sour, hot, and salty -- it has it all!

Pickled Carrots and Daikon (Do Chua):

1 medium daikon radish
2 medium carrots
2 cups rice wine vinegar
1 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 cup salt

Shred both the radish and carrot with a julienne peeler and place into a container. Add remaining ingredients, stir to dissolve salt and sugar, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using. They are best if they are left for 24 hours and will keep up to a month.

Mushroom Paté:

10 ounces mushrooms (shiitake or cremini)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 shallot (sliced)
1 tablespoon Braggs or soy sauce
black pepper

In a pan over medium-high heat, allow the oil to come up to temperature. Once the oil starts to shimmer, sauté slices of mushrooms until they begin to brown. Next, add the shallot and the Braggs. Allow this to cook for a few seconds more while constantly moving the mixture around in the pan. Place the contents of the pan into a food processor, add plenty of black pepper, and blend until almost smooth.

Sriracha mayo: Mix 3 parts mayo (or vegan mayo) with one part sriacha. (You may use less sriacha if you are a total sissy.)

Vegetarian Bánh Mí Sandwiches:

6 eggs (or 1 block of tofu or tempeh)
1 long crispy baguette (or 6 small baguette buns)
mushroom paté
sriracha mayo
1 seedless cucumber (thinly sliced)
pickled carrots and daikon
3 green onions (sliced)
handful of cilantro leaves
salt & pepper

Fry eggs over hard in a bit of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, cover, and set aside. If you are using tofu or tempeh, pan-fry thin slices in a bit of olive oil. Warm bread in a 350 degree oven until the outside becomes crispy. Slice baguette along one side but leave the other side intact, like a hinge. Spread the top with sriracha mayo and the bottom with mushroom paté. Begin to layer in your ingredients starting with your protein, cucumbers, pickled carrots and daikon, onions, and cilantro. Right before taking a bite, squeeze a lime onto the sandwich filling.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pine Nut-Stuffed Medjool Dates

Of course I am always looking for things to do with pine nuts. These stuffed dates look like oblong little birds' nests and hit all the right sweet, crunchy, spicy, creamy, and herbal notes. I only buy a few of these dates at a time so that we can savor them and do something special like this with them.

Pine Nut-Stuffed Dates

5 Medjool dates
1/8 cup pine nuts
olive oil
Maldon salt
cracked black pepper
manchego cheese

Cut dates in half lengthwise and open them up so they're flatter. Toast pine nuts in an olive-oil coated pan on medium heat; stir often so that they brown but don't burn. Add salt and pepper to them and stuff them in the dates. Add a silver of manchego and a couple of small thyme leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a tiny bit of cayenne. You may warm them in a 325 degree oven for minutes or two in order to melt the cheese or have them as is.