Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Vegetarian BBQ "Boss Man" Salad with Yogurt Ranch Dressing

Long ago, my family would get BBQ for dinner at least once a month from The Germantown Commissary, a fixture in the old town square in the suburb where the wife and I both grew up. My standard order was a bit strange for a kid: I'd always order a salad. Granted, this was a huge salad by the name of the "Boss Man" that was covered in pulled pork and served with a thick ranch dressing. It was, to my nine-year-old self, heaven. 

I wanted to figure out a way to celebrate that dish, but update it for how we eat now. We have no shortage of BBQ recipes on this site, and any of them might work in place of the eggplant. I'm thinking that the portobello mushrooms or the artichoke hearts could work just as well.

The dressing, made with tangy yogurt, would be good on anything. The result of the mixture of crunchy lettuce, smoky eggplant, and rich dressing is our take on a Memphis classic that's big enough to be the boss.

The Vegetarian BBQ "Boss Man" Salad with Yogurt Ranch Dressing

2 medium Italian eggplants
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons The Chubby Vegetarian's Signature Dry Rub
1 head of romaine lettuce (chopped)
1 medium carrot (shredded)
1 cup shredded purple cabbage
1 small cucumber (thinly sliced)
1 large tomato (sliced and quartered)
Yogurt Ranch Dressing (recipe follows)
1 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce (warmed)

Preheat your outdoor grill to high. Prepare the eggplant by slicing each in half longways, then cut slits in the flesh of the eggplant every 1/4 inch; cut through most of the flesh, but not the skin.

In a medium bowl whisk together the olive oil, sesame oil, and vinegar. Drizzle each eggplant half with the oil and vinegar mixture. Apply The Chubby Vegetarian's Signature Dry Rub liberally to each eggplant.

Place eggplant skin-side-down on the hot grill and close the lid for 20 minutes. Remove eggplant and tent with foil. Allow it to cool so that you're able to handle it. 

While you're waiting for the eggplant to cool, prepare the salad by tossing together the romaine, shredded carrot, shredded cabbage, cucumber, and tomatoes. Prepare the Yogurt Ranch Dressing according to the recipe.

Now, using your hands, pull as much of the eggplant flesh away from the skin keeping the large strands intact. Discard the skin. Toss the eggplant with the warm BBQ sauce. Divide the salad among two plates (it's a big salad!) and top each salad with a heap of BBQ eggplant. Include the Yogurt Ranch Dressing on the side.

Yogurt Ranch Dressing

1/2 cup 2% Greek yogurt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, salt, pepper, dill, chives, parsley, and olive oil. Set aside in the fridge until ready to use. (Makes 3/4 cup of dressing.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Simple Summer Cooking

We were so happy to be featured here in the paper this past week along with the amazing Jennifer Chandler! We'll talk all day long about our take on easy, quick stuff to make in the summertime, and we've had the family over a lot lately to make a meal that shows off great summer produce and takes no time at all to put together. We figured it's time to share a couple of basic and solid methods with you. 

The article featured two recipes from our cookbook, The Southern Vegetarian: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table (Thomas Nelson, 2013). Check out our Baked Zucchini Fries and Summer Salad. They would be great to whip up this week after your trip to the market.

Another easy thing we do if we're in a hurry or being lazy or just crave something dead simple is turn the oven on or preheat the outdoor grill and then wash and slice every-thing we want to eat. The things that are good raw like tomatoes or cucumbers are hurried onto a plate and garnished with basil or parsley from our garden, salt, pepper, and good-quality olive oil. The vegetables that require a bit of cooking are dressed in the same way and heated through with minimal effort. 

Serve it all with a side of pesto or remoulade or tomato sauce if you have some on hand. It's what we lovingly refer to as a "country food dinner." Fancy food has its place and all, but nothing's better than this during the summer.

This is about learning to cook, not learning a recipe. Eating simply like this is a great way to hit the reset button on your palate. Okra, carrots, corn, green beans, wax beans, asparagus, potatoes, beets, mushrooms, and the like are all beautiful and perfect just as they are, so here are a couple of great ways to appreciate them. 

How to prepare just about anything from the farmers market in the oven:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash and cut larger vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Leave smaller ones whole. Toss in or drizzle with a little good-quality olive oil. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast until cooked through and caramelized on the edges.

…Or on the grill:

Preheat the outdoor grill to high. Wash and cut larger vegetables in half lengthwise. Leave smaller ones whole. Toss in or drizzle with a little good-quality olive oil. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Grill about six minutes per side or until well-marked by the grill grates and cooked through. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Figs in a Blanket

This dish was inspired by a late-night snack at Fat Possum Hollow last summer. I had brought along walnuts and also some figs I'd picked that morning from one of our trees for a quick snack. The cabin I was staying in had one thing in the fridge: American cheese singles. Famished after a long day of shooting photos, I wrapped my figs and walnuts in the cheese slices and let out a little laugh as I thought to myself, "I am now eating figs in a blanket."

Figs are coming in right now, and this is the perfect use for those giant ones you only find this time of year. Look for figs that are just ripe and avoid ones that are already soft -- they won't fare so well in the oven.

Go on and play around with it: switch up the cheese by subbing in some blue or feta, or swap out the walnuts for marcona almonds. You really can't go too wrong here! What you'll end up with is a snack that is on the savory side of sweet due to the smoked cheddar and cracked black pepper, and they're just rich enough. They're so simple to prepare and, as a bonus, will probably elicit a bemused laugh or two from, you know, the usual pig-in-a-blanket enthusiasts.

Figs in a Blanket

8 extra large figs (medium ripe)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
1 tube crescent rolls
3 ounces smoked cheddar cheese (cut into 16 squares)
16 walnut halves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the figs in half and drizzle them with oil and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Using a pizza cutter, cut each pre-cut triangle of dough into half to create 16 long, skinny triangles. Stack one fig half, one slice of cheese, and one walnut half on each triangle. Starting at the fat end of the dough triangle, roll the fig, cheese, walnut stack. Place the resulting roll cheese-side-up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all figs are used.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until rolls are golden brown. Allow them to cool or risk burning the heck out of your mouth -- trust me on this! (Makes 16 Figs in a Blanket.)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Brainless Banana Pancakes from How It All Vegan (& Expert Pancake Advice)

One of our go-to recipes at home is Brainless Banana Pancakes from How It All Vegan, the first book that made us really love cooking years ago. We have the other 2 books in the series, but this one, Sarah and Tanya's first, has been so well-loved for so long that it's completely falling apart now…time to order the anniversary edition this week for sure.

We figured that this was the recipe to use when we were on pancake duty at our goddaughter's 3rd birthday celebration with her family earlier this month. Frankly, pancakes aren't usually our very best friend. I mean, we can manage to make a couple of pretty ones for one of us, but the other poor soul eats the crumpled, slightly burned ones.

We needed help, so we got some tips on making a whole bunch of pancakes and having them turn out well from our friend Melissa Peterson, who is very knowledgeable and trustworthy on a wide range of subjects. Her advice via text message: make 1 1/4 pancakes per person; keep the griddle well oiled;  keep the heat to medium; only pour once per cake; when edges are dull and the bubbles start to pop, it's time to flip; and only flip them once, otherwise they'll be tough. This straightforward, stellar advice worked perfectly.

One last suggestion she gave after admitting how nervous we were to cook for a bunch of children: "Make faces with mini chocolate chips in the pancakes!" She said, "You'll be a hero."  Our banana chocolate chip smiley-face pancakes turned out to be a surefire hit with the  6-and-under set. Cooking for kids is really fun and certainly educational for folks like us who don't have any of our own. It seems like a huge compliment when little one love what you made; they seem to be pretty tough critics.

Later, we got a little obsessed with perfecting our chocolate-chip-smiley-face technique at home in order to use up the rest of the batter. We ended up giving two of our nephews 20 little pancakes to look forward to now for their upcoming breakfasts. Whether you have a bunch of kids running around the house or not, you've got to try Brainless Banana Pancakes for breakfast soon!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cajun Boiled Peanuts in the Slow Cooker

On every road trip to Florida, no question, there were going to be boiled peanuts in a paper bag snagged from a roadside stand. My dad and I were the only ones who liked them, but we liked them enough for everyone. The hand-painted signed would point the way: "Produce" and then "Boiled Peanuts" and finally, "Next Right." We would start to get psyched up. The others? Well, they were crestfallen. 'They smell!' is really the only legitimate complaint they had. I couldn't see a problem with the spicy, earthy, peanut-y aroma, so I choose to tune-out my brothers' protests.

As promised, there was a kind Mississippi farmer just down the way peddling sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, and my beloved snack. After we procured a big brown bag full of warm boiled peanuts, I would climb up front into the much-coveted shotgun seat in our green Ford LTD station wagon. We would pass the bag back and forth while taunting the others: "Are you sure you don't want any? There's plenty to share!" My brothers and my mom just held their noses and shook their heads.

I couldn't understand it; I still don't. People fall squarely in either the love 'em or hate 'em category. I love them for their salty, rich, spicy addictiveness. Each one you open and pop into your mouth makes you hungry for more. They are SO good!

In all these years since, we've never made them at home, and it's a shame it's taken this long because the process is beyond simple. We added Cajun seasoning and bay leaves, but you could just as easily add whatever spices you like. Here goes…

Cajun Boiled Peanuts in the Slow Cooker

3 cups raw peanuts in the shell
1 beer (whatever you have on hand)
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning* (like Slap Yo' Mama)
2 bay leaves
Water to cover (about 2 cups)

Place peanuts, beer, cajun seasoning, bay leaves, and water to cover in the slow cooker. The peanuts will float at first, but don't worry, they're fine. Cook on high overnight or for about 12 hours. Drain and store in the fridge. Serve in a paper bag, as is road-trip tradition. (Makes 3 cups.)

*Use whatever Cajun seasoning you have on hand; just make sure the broth is as salty as you want the peanuts to be. You may need to add some to taste.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

In Our Kitchen

The Chubby Vegetarian blog is all about inventive new vegetable recipes and wild, one-off experiments. Our first cookbook, The Southern Vegetarian: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table, gathered all the Southern dishes that we make over and over again. Our love of cooking vegetables has taken us from our Memphis, Tennessee home to the James Beard House. We're proud to have been featured on The Food Network, in the The New York Times, in The Local Palate, by Woman's Day, and in The Washington Post

And most recently, on today

We so hope you love cooking with us. Look around some and let us know what works for you -- hopefully, you’ll land on lots of new ideas you hadn't thought of before and find some intriguing vegetable recipes to try. Below is our take on why we do what we do in the land of BBQ and how we learned to cook in a healthy way that's appealing to everyone. 

Oh, vegetables: you want to eat more of them because they make you feel great, or you need to eat more of them to displace some of the more dubious items on your plate. Either way, the question remains about how to take the natural, whole foods we all should be eating and transform them into something you and your family will crave. 

Our answer is simple: treat vegetables like a piece of meat -- really! We rub a pastrami cure onto beets and slice them for reubens, we BBQ spaghetti squash and slather it in a wonderfully spicy and rich Southern sauce, smoky lentils are tucked into tacos, and king oyster mushrooms are seared and served like little scallops.

On the blog as well as in our book, it’s not about replicating meat; it’s about moving vegetables from side dish to the center of the plate. It’s not about limitations or what’s missing; it’s about seeing the possibilities inherent in each beautiful vegetable and realizing its potential. Most of all it's about making delicious food that happens to be vegetarian.

For us, eating was not always about health. In 2008, when we started this blog, we were a combined 100 pounds heavier and now we know, a bit deluded about what we were actually eating. I mean, one of us is a strict vegetarian and has been for about 25 years,  and the other eats veg most of the time and has for ageshow bad could it have been? 

After making all the mistakes and going through our own health struggles, we became brave and driven enough to try something different. We both got with the program: running, biking, yoga, and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and nuts and whole grains. We’re not satisfied with picking at a boring old salad everyday -- we were set on to making ‘healthy’ a little stealthy, appealing, and even more delicious than our old way of eating. 

We wouldn’t dream of life without hot dogs, tacos, or even steaks, so we figure out better ways to prepare them, or as we say in the South, to fix ‘em. All in all, what we strive to do through TCV and our book The Southern Vegetarian has turned out to be a mission for helping ourselves and others, and it's a passion that changed our lives for the better. Let’s eat well and enjoy it, let’s be strong and full of energy, and let’s get in the kitchen and cook something awesome, and then let's pull up a chair and all share a meal together. 

-- Justin & Amy

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

4th of July Cookout: TCV Appetizers, Salads, and Desserts

We're so excited about the 4th of July! Last year's highlight was a really nice and chill lunch outside with a couple of friends and some vegetarian paella on the grill; today, we're starting to think about what we'll grill out this time around.

We have blueberries ready for a pie and a general plan to make grilled carrot dogs. Also in the mix is a red, white, and blue dress from one of the patriotically attired mannequins here. We have some flag cups and toothpicks from a closeout sale last year. That's about as far as we've gotten. And, of course, seeing some fireworks on a 66-degree-low (!) Friday night. Love this part of the summer.

Earlier this week, we gathered a bunch of main-dish recipes and put together a new recipe for BBQ Artichoke Heart Tacos. Now here are some ideas for some of the extras for the celebration this Friday. So do you have plans together for what you're going make? Comment below and let's compare notes!


Lemon Zest and Thyme Pimento Cheese (also used in our Tomato Pie)

Baked Cauliflower Wings 

Better JalapeƱo Poppers

Deviled Tomatoes


Grilled Watermelon Salad

Kale Caesar Salad

Summer Salad


Banana Pudding Ice Cream Cake

Mascarpone Banana Pudding in a Jar

Nannie's Blueberry Pie

Grilled Peach Ice Cream

Mixed Berry Crisp for a Crowd