Simple Summer Pasta Salad

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Simple Summer Pasta Salad, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
For me, pasta salad is a conceptually hard thing to swallow since I equate salads with (mostly) green leafy vegetables. Growing up, there was a clear separation between salads and pastas in my mother’s cooking and our family meals. But, after living in US for almost two decades, I’ve come around and appreciate that pasta salads have a place on my plate, especially if I am holding that plate during a large summer cookout or a potluck.

Having said that, I still think that many pasta salads leave a lot to be desired as they tend to be overloaded with mayonnaise, meat or even cheese. So, I decided to develop a pasta salad recipe that is simple and light, yet full of flavors and surprising textures.

The recipe below really blew me away! It’s super simple, uses only six ingredients, it takes less than twenty minutes to make, and it is a perfect pasta salad for big get togethers because it is super inexpensive.

The recipe is very simple and self-explanatory. Few tips here are: don’t cook your pasta for too long, drain it well but don’t rinse; mix the pasta with the rest of ingredients while it’s still hot, and then let it cool while the flavors are developing and merging; and if using kalamata olives in oil, scale back on the amount of olive oil you actually add – otherwise you’ll end up with something that’s too oily, which will be too bad!

And speaking of olives – kalamata olives that I get come with a nice level of acidity so I don’t feel like I need to use extra vinegar when I’m using them. This means that my recipe below does not include vinegar. Now, if you like a bit more tang, feel free to add some lemon juice or a dash of red wine vinegar to adjust the acidity level in this salad to your personal taste.

Finally, if you don’t have a box of penne rigate on hand, don’t worry. You can use any spoon friendly pasta for this – meaning not long pasta. Why do I recommend NOT using long pasta? Well, if you are thinking of this salad as picnic, pot luck, sharing-with-friends-and-family friendly, then help your friends and family help themselves by not having to wrestle with long pasta. I also think that tubular pastas work better for this recipe than flat ones – think penne, ditalini, macaroni as better, and farfalle as perhaps less suitable for this recipe – as tubular pastas have a bit more surface area to absorb the subtle flavors. And among the tubular pastas, those with ridges will work just slightly better because of the same surface area availability principle I mentioned. Having said all this, and having dragged you through likely totally unnecessary details on how to choose just the right pasta for this recipe, I’d like to stress again – just grab a box of pasta you have on hand and it will be just fine!

STOP: I just remembered – I would not recommend black bean pasta for this. I did not like the flavor of that one when I paired it with my Clams-free “Clam” Sauce and can’t recommend it for this application either. 😦

Simple Summer Pasta Salad

What you’ll need:

12 oz (340 g) penne rigate pasta

1 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

1 cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup olive oil, extra virgin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

3 tablespoons fresh basil

What you’ll do:

  1. Cook the pasta following the instructions on the box. Don’t overcook it – the pasta will be ready when it is slightly chewy to the bite.
  2. While pasta is cooking, chop the olives and the fresh basil leaves. Put to the side.
  3. Drain the pasta well and place in a large mixing bowl. Add oil, chopped kalamata olives, garlic powder, and mix well.
  4. Toast the almonds in a toaster oven or on the stove top in a heavy skillet. Watch the almonds constantly as they do burn quickly.
  5. Add the toasted almonds to the rest of the pasta salad, mix well and leave for an hour or so.
  6. Add fresh basil just before serving, toss everything together and enjoy. The result is fragrant, complex in flavors and textures, yet simple and cheap to make, perfect summer pasta salad.

 

Copyright ©Eat the Vegan Rainbow, 2017

Gluten-free Vegan Spaghetti & Meatballs

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Gluten-free Vegan Spaghetti & Meatballs, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Can gluten-free, vegan cooking be budget friendly, healthy, feed the whole family, and yet leave everyone feeling they are getting away with something? The answer is yes, and this recipe is my evidence. I use no fancy ingredients, and no fancy techniques.

How did I end up here? Well, as they say “Necessity is the mother of invention”. What happened is that I found myself facing a large bag of frozen vegetable mix, which I have cooked with many times before never to any great success. This is a classic item you can find in any grocery store – a bag that includes unspecified amounts of frozen peas, corn, green beans, carrots, and lima beans. The price on these is usually too hard to resist, and they keep really well if kept frozen so I usually have a couple in my freezer in case of an emergency where all other options dry up.

So one of those emergency situations came up and this time around, perhaps because of all this blogging I’ve been doing recently, I had a real brain wave. I decided to transform the relatively amorphous tasting vegetable mix into really incredible vegan meatballs, or should I say veggie balls?

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Frozen Vegetable Mix, thawed, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
There are couple of simple tips that when put together make this recipe work. First of all, thaw your vegetables don’t cook them! Depending on the amount of veggies you use this may take 5-10 minutes in the microwave on high. Once the veggies are thawed and soft all through, use a stick (immersion) blender, or a food processor to make a thick paste out of it all. This will be a base for your “meatballs”.

Another thing that you will need to do is add flavor to the mix. Although each one of these veggies is lovely on their own and when fresh, put all together and after freezing and thawing they do lose some of their flavor. My secret ingredient in this recipe is definitely a dash of Trader Joe’s Chile Lime Seasoning Bland. If you don’t live in the area with a handy Trader Joe’s store near by, you can use regular chili powder and add some lime or lemon zest – that will do the trick!

You will have to be a bit patient with this recipe as it does take a bit of time. First of all, I use oats to help the meatballs stick together. I did not leave the oats whole, rather I blended them all into the veggie mix using a stick blender, added the spices, and left the mix to sit for about 15 minutes. That gives oats some time to absorb the liquid and make the mix stick together better, which helps for the next step – forming the “meatballs” and browning them. I recommend using a Dutch oven to brown the “meatballs”, as well as simmering the rich tomato sauce.

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Vegan “Meatballs” Browned in a Dutch Oven, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
One word of advice is not to overcrowd your Dutch oven, and keep some room in between the “meatballs”. This helps them cook, and helps you maneuver them around. Once the “meatballs” are nicely browned set them aside and use the same Dutch oven for putting your tomato sauce together. I kept my recipe simple and my cost down by using canned crushed tomatoes and using some crushed garlic, dried oregano and dried basil to flavor the sauce. The sauce does not need to cook for long, and once it starts to simmer nicely and gently you can add the “meatballs” back.

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Vegan Meatballs in Tomato Sauce, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Don’t forget to lower the heat , bring the post to a very gentle simmer, and put the lid on! Without the lid you will soon end up with tomato sauce all over the stove top and the floor as this sauce does erupt in tiny little tomato sauce geysers.

To keep the recipe ultra healthy and gluten-free, I paired the meatballs with simple Zucchini Spaghetti.

Gluten-free Vegan Spaghetti & Meatballs

What you’ll need:

2 lbs (1 kg) bag of classic frozen vegetable mix

2 cups oats

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon soy sauce, reduced sodium

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon Trader Joe’s Chile Lime Seasoning Bland

1 1/2-2 28 oz (800 g) can crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons crushed garlic

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

Cooking spray

Fresh basil for serving

What you’ll do:

  1. Place the frozen vegetable into a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5-10 minutes to thaw the vegetables and slightly heat them through.
  2. Place the vegetables into a large mixing bowl. Use the stick blender to grind the vegetables into a relatively fine paste.
  3. Add oats and blend again.
  4. Add tomato paste, soy sauce, as well as onion, garlic, chili and lime chili powder. Mix well and let stand for 15 minutes or so.
  5. Spray the bottom of a large Dutch oven with cooking spray and bring to medium high heat. Use 1/4 cup or the ice cream scoop to scoop out the “meatball” mix and form the balls. Place them into the hot Dutch oven and let brown for 2-3 minutes. Turn the “meatballs” over and brown on the other side. Take them out of the Dutch oven and set aside. Spray with more cooking spray if needed and add another batch of “meatballs”. Continue until all your “meatballs” have been browned.
  6. Bring the heat up to high, add more cooking spray, and add crushed garlic and dried oregano and basil. Let it bloom, develop & release the aroma for 1-2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes. Depending how much tomato sauce you’d like to have you may need to adjust the amount of crushed tomatoes you add. Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  7. Turn the heat way down and add back the “meatballs”. You will likely have two layers of meatballs which is fine, but it’s a good idea to keep in mind that they are relatively soft so treat them gently! Make sure they are nicely snuggled and covered by the sauce. Put the lid on and let the “meatballs” and sauce simmer for 15 – 20 minutes.
  8. When you are ready to serve, start with a generous amount of Zucchini Spaghetti, add couple of vegan meatballs, spread some sauce, and top with fresh basil. Enjoy!

Update: Few days ago I used the same “meatball” mix and made a “meatloaf” out of it. It worked really well!!! Here are couple of pictures to show you what it all looks like. One tip: bake the “meatloaf” on 375 F (190 C) for 25-30 minutes first, before putting on the tomato paste, then bake for 15 minutes more. Let the “meatloaf” stand for 15 minutes before cutting – the loaf will be soft when it comes out of the oven but it will firm up!

Copyright © Eat the Vegan Rainbow, 2017

Pizza Supreme, Gluten-free & Vegan

gluten-free pizza with roasted veggies

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Gluten-free Vegan Pizza Supreme, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Friday night is pizza night, and making this gluten-free version has become part of regular easing into the weekend and unwinding ritual. Quite honestly, developing the perfect gluten-free pizza crust has not been easy. I tried many different recipes, from scratch and store-bought baking mixes, and many different techniques and none really worked. I would end up with a pizza crust that was either too thick or too soggy or too different from a nice thin and crunchy pizza crust that I prefer.

But, all this trial and error has not been a waste, since it led me slowly but steadily to my current recipe that is incredibly simple and works like a charm. Result is a thin and crispy pizza crust that is as close to the real thing as I think I can get. I start from three ingredients: rice flour, baking soda and baking powder. I mix rice flour and water in same amounts (1 cup rice flour to 1 cup water) and the dough I get is nice and smooth, yet slightly sticky. I let the dough sit for 20 to 30 minutes which is just enough time to get my roasted vegetable topping done, and other toppings and sauce organized, and I use a special technique to spread the dough as thin as I like it.

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Gluten-free Pizza Crust Starts from Rice Flour Dough, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
What I do to transform this sticky dough into a pizza crust that will bake well and hold the filling is to place a piece of parchment paper on the pizza peel, add enough dough to form one pizza pie, cover the dough with another piece of parchment paper and use fingers to spread the dough out by pressing over the parchment paper. This really help and if you are to try to do this without the second piece of parchment paper you would end up with sticky fingers and mess – trust me on this, I’ve been there! Once the dough is as thin as needed, peel off the top parchment paper, spray the top with cooking spray and the pie is ready for the oven.

There are also two tricks to baking the perfect gluten-free pizza. Trick number one is to give the dough a chance to bake on its own for 10-15 minutes at 425 F (220 C) on a pizza stone. Technically you can use any baking pan or cookie sheet but if you are into making lots of pizza getting a pizza stone is a wise investment – they are pretty much indestructible and one will last you forever! This will help both your top and the bottom get nice and crunchy, browned and caramelized.

The second trick is to pre-cook your toppings. My Gluten-free Vegan Pizza Supreme uses roasted red onions and roasted red peppers, which I slice and roast at 425 F (220 C) for 15-20 minutes while my dough is resting, and couple of other toppings that don’t require pre-cooking like sliced black olives, vegan ground beef substitute, and vegan shredded cheese. Why pre-cook? The assembled pizza will not stay in the oven long enough for toppings like peppers and onions to really brown and soften, and I do prefer them slightly charred. But if you like your veggies on a raw side you can skip this step.

The rest is really a breeze. Cover your half-baked pizza crust with good amount of sauce – on this occasion I used nothing fancier than marinara sauce from a jar – and top with roasted red peppers and red onions, sliced black olives, vegan ground beef substitute, homemade cashew ricotta, store-bought shredded vegan “mozzarella” cheese, or both, sprinkle with dry or fresh basil and oregano, and return to oven for another 12-15 minutes. Take out of the oven and let it rest for 2-3 minutes… or not!

Happy pizza time!!!

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Gluten-free Vegan Pizza Supreme on the Menu Tonight, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow

Gluten-free Vegan Pizza Supreme

What you’ll need (for 2 x 12 inch (30 cm) thin-crust pizzas):

2 cups rice flour

2 cups water

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 red onion, large

1 red bell pepper

1/2 cup vegan ground beef substitute

1/2 cup sliced black olives

1/2 cup Cashew Ricotta

1/2 cup shredded vegan mozzarella cheese

Cooking spray

What you’ll do:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F (220 F) with your pizza stone (if using) inside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix rice flour, baking powder, baking soda and add water. Mix everything well until the dough forms. The dough will be soft and relatively sticky, but should still hold its shape. Let stand for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Slice the red pepper and red onion thinly, spread on the cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray and put in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, to brown, caramelize and slightly soften.
  4. Place parchment paper on your pizza peel (if not using pizza peel and pizza stone, you would place the parchment paper on your cookie sheet or other baking pan you will be using), put half of your dough in the middle, cover with another piece of the parchment paper and use your fingers to spread the dough out to the size and thickness that you like. Peel the top parchment paper off with care – the dough may stick but the top parchment paper should come off relatively easily. Spray the top of your pizza dough with cooking spray and put in the oven for 12-15 minutes.
  5. Take your pizza crust out of the oven. The top should be slightly golden and the edges should have gotten slightly browned. Spread the tomato sauce and all the toppings you like, and put the assembled pizza pie back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. Enjoy!

Copyright © Eat the Vegan Rainbow, 2017