Thanks for everything empanadas

The day before heading to Paris I woke up realizing even though I’m not having a traditional Thanksgiving there were all the elements of that once-a-year food smackdown in the fridge. Add a bag of cranberries, purchased on a whim for muffins or bread, I felt that I had to attempt some kind of holiday-ish cooking before becoming estranged from my kitchen for next two weeks.

And I wanted empanadas. The solution: empanadas stuffed with “faux” Thanksgiving leftovers, with a supporting cast of leeks and winter squash stuffed into pump, over-filled pastry pockets. And the cranberries? The classic fresh-cranberry relish spiked with smoked paprika makes for a hybrid cranberry-chutney chimichurri.

You’ll need roughly about 3 cups of filling for 12 plump empanadas, or more if you want really overstuffed treats. The basic idea is to have an element of soft sweetness (roasted squash or sweet potato), savory softness (stuffing), and a “prize” of a chunk of Brussels sprout or mushroom. Finely diced leftover meatless roast–Tofurky, veg sausage or ham–makes a tasty add-in to the stuffing mix. If your leftovers look a little dry moisten them up with a little vegetable broth; the savory mixture should be moist and sticky, but not soupy. You can either choose to layer the ingredients (my husband wasn’t a fan, reminded him of a meal just moved from the plate into the insides of an empanada, but I took that critique as mission accomplished) or gently fold the ingredients together for a uniform consistency.

I wish I had thought to bring these empanadas for snacking on the plane (blame the pre-flight jitters), but I bet your tofurkey that they would make a great weekend breakfast or hearty late night snack this post-Thanksgiving weekend.

Thanksgiving Leftover Empanadas with Cranberry Chimichurri

12 large empanadas

You’ll need roughly 3 cups of filling for 10 large empanadas. This can include a mix of chopped meatless holiday roast, stuffing, roasted veggies, sweet potatoes, you name it. I recommend a ratio of 2:1:1 roast (protein), stuffing, veggie.

This filling mimics that Thanksgiving leftover experience with hearty white beans and leeks, if you just want to skip T-day and head right for the glorious mashing of flavors wrapped in a tender wheat crust. A quick cranberry “chimichurri” relish is tart, sweet and subtly smoky companion to these little hand held meals.

12 six-inch rounds Whole Wheat Empanada Dough (prepare and chill dough before making filling) or any empanada dough from Viva Vegan!

1 large leek (about 1 lb), trimmed and carefully cleaned to remove grit

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

½ cup dry white wine or vegetable broth

1 teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon rubbed sage

One 14oz can white kidney (cannelini) beans, drained and rinsed

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups mashed, roasted butternut or winter squash. Lightly season with salt to taste. (just under 1 lb fresh squash)

12 Brussels sprouts, roasted until tender, lightly season with salt to taste

If desired: about ½ cup chopped meatless holiday roast, seitan, or vegan sausage

Soy creamer or almond milk for brushing

Chop leek in half then slice into ½ thick pieces. In a large skillet heat oil over medium heat, add leek, sauté until softened about 5 minutes then add garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in wine, thyme, cumin, sage and bring to a boil, then add beans. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until most of wine has been reduced. Remove from heat and let cool enough to handle.

While mixture is cooling preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. If desired fold squash and chopped holiday meatless roast into beans, or don’t if you want a layered empanada. Brush a dough round lightly with soy creamer, add about 2 ½ tablespoons of filling total, either half bean/squash mix or separate layers and plunk a roasted Brussels sprout in the center. Fold over dough, crimp or braid, gently place on baking sheet and brush with more soy creamer. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden, turning baking sheet half way through for even browning. Let cool for a few minutes (filling will be piping hot!) and serve with cranberry chimichurri.

Cranberry Chimichurri Relish

makes about 2 cups relish

I use less than ¾ cup of sugar, but if you want it sweeter add up to 1 cup, tasting as you go.

12 oz fresh cranberries

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon lime juice

grated zest from 1 orange

¾ -1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons sweet or hot smoked paprika (obviously hot paprika will make this spicy, so go easy if not accustomed to using)

pinch allspice

Clean and dry cranberries. In a food processor bowl pulse all ingredients until a chunky relish forms, scrapping the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula. Taste and season with more lime juice if desired. Store in a glass container tightly covered and let stand overnight or minimum 2 hours before serving to allow flavors to blend.

Wheat Empanada Dough

makes 12 large six inch diameter dough rounds

Tip: Drop a few ice cubes in the water for colder water that helps keep the gluten strands in the dough shorter. Shorter gluten equals more tender pastry. And tender pastry equals tender, more loving empanadas.

2 cups white whole wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

8 tablespoons chilled non-hydrogenated shortening

2 tablespoons chilled vegan margarine

3/4 cup or more cold water

In a food processor bowl pulse together flour, salt and baking soda for a few seconds. Slice shortening and margarine into 1/2 inch chunks, add to food processor and pulse. Pour flour/shortening mixture into a large bowl and stream in cold water while mixing with fingers. Continue adding just enough water until to form a soft and stretchy dough. Briefly knead a few times, separate into four balls and flatten each into a disc about an inch thick and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Handle the dough minimally to keep it from getting tough. Chill overnight or for at least 4 hours.

Tear 12 pieces of waxed paper about 7 inches wide. Lightly dust with flour rolling surface and a rolling pin. Roll one of the dough discs about 3/8th thick, stretching and pulling the dough a little if necessary. To keep dough from getting too tough use long rolling motions on dough, occasionally lifting the dough by the edges and turning it a little to ensure even thickness throughout. Using a 6-inch diameter bowl pressed into the dough as a guide to cut circles, take a small sharp paring knife and run it around the edge of the bowl to cut out circles. Or use a huge round cookie or biscuit cutter. Stack circles of dough on top of one another, using small squares of waxed paper or plastic wrap to separate each piece to keep from sticking. Chill dough scraps and repeat rolling and cutting with remaining dough disc. Gather up all the remaining dough scraps, re-roll only one more time and cut out as many circles as possible. Chill rounds while preparing the filling or store in the refrigerator for up to a week, tightly wrapped in plastic to keep from drying out. Keep chilled until ready to fill and bake.

I get my (Top Chef) Just Desserts: Battleship Cake

Cake, like love, can be a battlefield. And is always better with side of ice cream.

I’m drowning in a sea of end-of-the-season produce: carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, lettuce galore. But I haven’t let me lose focus on that other essential food group: dessert. An opportunity from vegan news bloggy Vegansaurus! set me straight into cakeland with the challenge of making a vegan adaptation of the winning dessert from previous episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts.

Read more for my grumblings about buttercream, the pleasures of sour cherries and get a fresh batch of epic dessert recipes.

Stuffed stuff: Cornbread stuffing, hello old friend

I’m missing Thanksgiving this year. That is I’ll be far away from family and most of my friends and most importantly my kitchen (Paris Vegan Day calls, but more on that when I get back). But that’s not so unusual: most of my Thanksgivings my whole life have involved getting in cars, buses, walking, hiking and most forms of locomotion. So when do I get to cook and eat exactly what I want? Typically just before or after T-Day, with just a modest selection of the big hits; cranberry sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts, a simple salad and stuffing. Gotta have stuffing, for if there’s nothing else about Thanksgiving cooking that arouses foodly passion for every eating persuasion it’s that comforting, carby mash.

Speaking of, make mine cornbread. Molded and baked into that perfect vehicle of a pre-cooked winter squash it’s a filling and gorgeous centerpiece on any vegan Thanksgiving table. This recipe is an old family favorite: being that Thanksgiving isn’t something either of my Venezuelan parents grew up with, it’s a holiday menu we cobbled together, without any established traditions. We made it up as we went along, picking and choosing from what recipes sounded best. I believe this particular cornbread stuffing is based off of an old James Beard recipe, perhaps from a Gourmet from the 80’s. Or maybe not, it’s been in regular rotation for so long it’s impossible to tell.

The original recipe had flourishes of scallions, red bell pepper, sausage–now vegan, of course–and toasted pecans that have remained untouched. This year I’ve enhanced it with more savory seasonings: fennel seed, celery seed (my fave), rubbed sage and chopped leek for that perfectly fall-like oniony kick. The homemade cornbread base really adds something special, so go ahead and make some, even if you choose to veganly modify a mix. Add a chopped red apple to the vegetable saute if you crave additional sweetness, or make it bold with spicy homemade or store-bought chipotle vegan sausage. I used succulent vegan beer brats by Tofurky this time with great, beery success. Cornbread stuffing fix achieved, I’ll try and post one or two more Thanksgiving-style recipes before I’m off across the pond next week.

Cornbread Scallion Pecan Stuffing
makes a boatload of stuffing, serves 6-8 stuffing hounds
1 hour, not including baking corn bread

Instead of stuffing into squash this stuffing is equally at home baked in a large 9 x 11 lasagna-type pan. It’s cooked already so the idea is to form a crusty, crunchy top.

1 recipe Cornbread for Stuffing, made at least 24 hours in advance
10 ounces vegan sausage (breakfast-style works well here)
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 tablespoon non-hydrogenated vegan margarine
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 bunch scallions, trimmed, white and green parts separated and diced
1 large leek, green ends trimmed, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed, diced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
5 oz lightly toasted pecans, chopped
freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
2 1/2-3 cups vegetable broth

If stuffing in butternut squash: 3-4 lb squash, either 1 huge squash or several smaller, roasted*

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a large 9 x 11 lasagna-type pan or place in pans roasted winter squash ready for stuffing.

In a very large mixing bowl crumble cornbread into small pieces. Dice vegan sausage into small pieces and over medium heat in a large saute with vegetable oil until lightly browned but not overly dry. Remove from pan and add to crumbled cornbread. Melt 2 tablespoons of margarine in the skillet and toasted fennel and celery seeds for 30 seconds, then add diced onion, white part scallions and leek. Stir occasionally and cook until onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in chopped red bell pepper, thyme, sage and cayenne pepper (adjust amount for heat…1/2 teaspoon makes a stuffing with a pleasant, slow burn for spicy food aficionados). Cook for another 5 minutes to soften pepper then add vegetables along with toasted pecans to cornbread mixture.

Heat 2 1/2 cups of vegetable broth (I like to use “chicken” flavored veggie stock in this instance) in a small saucepan over low heat until hot, then stir in remaining 3 tablespoons of margarine to melt. Pour onto stuffing mixture and use a large wooden spoon to thoroughly, completely stir broth to completely moisten the bread. You’ll see what I mean by needing a really big bowl to make this stuffing by now! Stuffing should be very moist but not slopping wet: if too dry dribble in a little more broth at a time and keep stirring. Taste stuffing and adjust seasoning with black pepper and salt if desired. Pour stuffing into prepared pans or firmly pack into roasted squash, mounding and piling on the stuffing. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes or until top of stuffing is golden browned. Serve pipping hot!

Uncooked stuffing can be made up to two days in advance, just keep tightly covered and chilled prior to baking.

*Roasting squash for stuffing
For best results you’ll want to pre-cook winter squash prior to stuffing. It’s easy enough to do it the night before assembling the whole thing. In the case of butternut squash split in half, remove seeds, cover cut part with foil and place cut-side down on rimmed baking sheets. Bake in preheated 400 degree oven until it becomes tender enough to easy insert a knife through the skin, but no so tender it’s falling apart. For a large, thick squash that’s about 30-32 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Just prior to stuffing scoop out enough roasted flesh (use pureed in muffins) to leave a thick 1 1/2 inch shell (more or less) and rub cut part with a little olive oil and lightly sprinkle with sea salt.

Cornbread for Stuffing
makes one 9 x 11 pan of cornbread

I modified this from the much-made skillet cornbread recipe from Veganomicon. Baked in a 9 x 11 pan it’s certainly thinner but with more surface area it’s crustier and firmer, ideal for making stuffing. Bake it night before stuffing-time and let it sit, uncovered, on the counter to dry out and get a wee bit stale, the ideal texture for soaking up broth for a moist, fluffy stuffing. Tip: I prefer corn flour, a finely milled corn meal, for this finely textured kind of cornbread. But regular corn meal will do just fine here too (just avoid chunky polenta-style meal).

2 cups plain soy or almond milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 cups corn flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour or all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil

Line a 9 x 11 x 2 inch pan with parchment paper and lightly spray the sides with non-stick cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large measuring cup stir together soy milk and apple cider vinegar. In a large mixing bowl combine corn flour, white whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Form a well in the center of the mixture and pour in soy milk and canola oil. Stir just enough to moisten the dry ingredients and pour batter into prepared baking pan. Bake for 22-24 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of bread comes out clean. Remove from oven and let pan cool on a wire rack. For stuffing let the bread sit out on the counter, uncovered, overnight before making into stuffing.

2010 year of the seitan tamale: Viva Vegan! is VegNew’s Cookbook of the Year

The cat’s been out of the bag for over a week now, so I’ll say it here. While attending the Boston Natural Expo East (helping a friend in the name of vegan research) I received a tweet from VegNew’s editors in San Francisco to call the next free moment. In between nibbling seaweed crackers, inhaling geranium scented air at the laboratory-style oxygen bar and foraging for vegan chocolate I broke free of this demanding schedule and got the exciting news.

Admittedly I was giddy. Viva Vegan! was quite the project when I first strapped myself in over 2 years ago and I was clueless as to what kind of response it would receive. I had no idea that the notion of meatless, dairy-free Latin cuisine would seem anything less than insane to avid cookbook readers and kitchen enthusiasts, not just the vegan population at large. Yet it has made an impression beyond anything expected. I’m happy and hopeful Viva Vegan! will continue to serve the palates of Latin-food lovers gone veggie, long time vegans and the adventurous veg-curious in the US and beyond.

Perhaps this post is the closest I can get to a virtual podium and speech? If so I’d like to warmly thanks Viva Vegan! recipe testers putting up with demands of learning the distinction between masa harina and masarepa, patting out endless pupusas and steaming enough seitan to heat a spa (next up, seitan saunas?). Thanks also to VegNews staff and readers for making an impact with a vibrant, modern magazine to spread the vegan way o’ life. And of course huge, papaya-sized thanks to readers of Viva Vegan! itself…I’m hoping your copy is crusted with bits of masa harina dough and post-it-notes as much as my own copy (and my kitchen sometimes too).

As they say in the distant vegan utopia of “Veganzuela”, Viva los Vegans!

Me, you, tamales and the Boston Vegetarian Festival this Saturday

Tamale making elves...I mean students, at work

Tamales tamales tamalesthe cry of the street tamale vendor sometime heard in Queens reminds me that it’s time to get cracking making tamales. In the spirit of the fall tamale making season (tamales are year round eating, but I love the smell of steaming masa in cool weather) I’m going to be presenting a vegan tamale-making demonstration this Saturday morning 10:45 at the 2010 Boston Vegetarian Food Festival. These tamales will be stuffed with of chipotle-seasoned beans and roasted sweet potatoes, a damned fine combination for fall-inspired eating.

If you can’t make it to Boston I still hope you’ll have tamales on the brain as much as I do right now. Here’s a snippet of how I put together a tamale assembly line, essential for mastering batch after batch for your next tamale party explosion.

For assembly I like to set up my workspace as follows:

1)  Soak the dried corn husks. Make sure to soak an additional 4 for tearing into strips and 6 or more for lining steamer basket

2)    Prepare filling and let cool enough to handle.

3)    Set up the tamale assembly space such as a large clean cutting board and large plates for stacking finished tamales. Set up steaming basket and fill steaming pot with 3 to 4 inches of water. Line basket with soaked corn husks. Have a small bowl of cool water handy for moistening hands, useful for patting sticky tamale dough.

5)    Make the tamale dough. I like to make it right before I’m ready to start filling and use it while still warm.

6)    Assemble the tamales by spreading the dough onto soaked husks, filling, wrapping and tying. About half way through making the batch of tamales I like to put a lid on the steaming pot, turn the heat on high and try to time getting the water boiling by the time I finish the last tamale.

7)    Place tamales into steamer basket. The easiest way to do this is by leaning tamales against the sides of the basket, overlapping tamales slightly in a spiraling pattern. If you have too much space in the center (enough that tamales tend to fall over), fill the space with a crumpled ball of foil. Don’t pack tamales too snug; leave a little room to allow tamales to expand while cooking. Place basket into preheated pot, cover and steam tamales for at least 50 minutes, up to 1 hour.

8)    Test cooked tamales by using tongs to removing a single tamale, let cool for a minute and peel back the wrapper from one end. Tamales are done when the husk wrapper pulls away easily from the tamale. Cooked masa feels solid and has a somewhat firm yet tender texture. Maybe you could say it’s like firm, sliced polenta, but way better. Sometimes cooked tamales may still be a little sticky. Slightly sticky tamales sometimes just need a little more cooling, about 20 minutes, to firm up and be no longer tacky.