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

Good Morning, Sunshine! Smoothie

Good Morning, Sunshine! Smoothie, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow

It’s a bit ridiculous to share a smoothie recipe like it is a thing. After all, smoothie is nothing more than throwing couple of things in a blender and pressing a button. But, I’ve now made this version a few times, never straying from the original recipe and it is a keeper. Even people who usually refuse to drink almond milk were able to get behind this one, so I decided to share it with the world.

The recipe is super fast, super easy, super cheap, super convenient – all in a real superlative fest! All you need is a banana, five frozen strawberries, some almond milk, preferably unsweetened and vanilla flavored, a dash of unsweetened coconut flakes and a sprinkle of vegan mini chocolate chips. These last two ingredients are completely optional but they do elevate this smoothie to the seventh heaven.

I do recommend using frozen whole strawberries. First of all, they have great flavor all year round as most brands use the best looking whole strawberries for freezing. Note that you should stay away from chopped frozen strawberries because I am not so sure that you can tell what those looked likes before they were chopped, and you should definitely check that strawberries are the only ingredient in the bag, just to be on the safe side. Frozen whole strawberries are usually cheaper than fresh, and they are really handy to have on hand in your freezer to use for smoothies, or other recipes. For the purpose of this recipe you can definitely use fresh strawberries if you have some. In that case you may want to add an ice cube or two, if you like your smoothie cold. The benefit of using frozen strawberries is that no extra ice is needed – they give this smoothie a nice, subtle chill that is just fabulous for summer breakfast at home or on the go.

Final note for those who like a sturdier breakfast. This smoothie is light, has no added sugar and a minimal amount of fat that comes from the almond milk, coconut flakes and the mini chocolate chips. If you want to make this smoothie thicker and more filling, you can simply add two to three spoonfuls of rolled oats. If you are adding oats, I recommend you letting the smoothie rest for five minutes or so before enjoying to let the oats soften just a smidge.

Good Morning, Sunshine! Smoothie

What you’ll need:

1 banana

5 frozen whole strawberries (fresh will work too!)

1/2 cup almond milk, unsweetened, vanilla flavor

1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut flakes (optional)

1 tablespoon mini chocolate chips, vegan (like Enjoy Life) (optional)

2-3 tablespoons rolled oats (optional)

What you’ll do:

  1. Place chopped banana, strawberries and almond milk into a blender. If you are using oats add them now. Blend until smooth and to consistency you like.
  2. Pour into a glass or a travel jug if you are taking it on the road.
  3. Sprinkle coconut flakes and chocolate chips and walk into the sunlight, figuratively and/or literally!

Copyright ©Eat the Vegan Rainbow, 2017

Vegan Mexican Lasagna with Soy Chorizo

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Vegan Mexican Lasagna with Soy Chorizo, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Few years ago when I was first trying to minimize the amount of gluten in my diet, I discovered that corn tortillas work very well as a substitute for lasagna noodles. Corn tortillas as lasagna noodles have quite a few advantages over the regular kind. First of all, they are ready to go and don’t need any preparation. Having said that, I did initially experiment with toasting them just slightly before use, and this did enhance their flavor but at the end the taste benefit was not sufficient to going through the toasting process.

To me the second advantage is the flavor. The regular lasagna noodles are more of a bystanders without adding any specific flavor to the dish, while corn tortillas are in the midst of flavors. As I started using them in lasagnas, I also transitioned away from using Italian ingredients and flavors and to using types of things that you would find in burritos or fajitas.

This Vegan Mexican Lasagna with Soy Chorizo recipe uses the same strategy. I combine two types of peppers and two kinds of onions, which when nicely browned add a hint of fajitas to this lasagna. On this occasion I gave them a pretty fine dice, but you can definitely cut them lengthwise if you are into getting even closer to that fajita style.

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Vegan Mexican Lasagna with Soy Chorizo Ingredients, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
This recipe uses Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo and because of the intense flavors that this soy chorizo brings to table you will not need to add much, if any, additional spices. Additionally, this soy chorizo is fairly oily so I start with the soy chorizo, let it brown just slightly and release the oil, and then I add peppers and onions and let them cook until veggies are gently caramelized.

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Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Once the stuffing mix is done, it is time to assemble the lasagna and, about 25-30 minutes later, enjoy this dish rich in flavor!

Vegan Mexican Lasagna with Soy Chorizo

(2-4 servings)

What you’ll need:

1/2 Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo

1 red pepper, diced

1 orange pepper, diced

1/2 red onion, diced

1/2 yellow onion, diced

Cooking spray

8 corn tortillas

1/4 cup shredded cheese, vegan

8 x 8 in (20 x 20 cm) baking dish

What you’ll do:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F (190C).
  2. Put Soy Chorizo into a non-stick pan and turn the heat on to medium high. Please note that Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo comes in a inedible casing that you will have to remove and discard. Use your mixing spoon to break it apart. Let it brown and release its oil for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add diced peppers and onions to the pan, and let them gently brown and caramelize for 5-10 minutes. The exact time depends on whether you prefer your peppers and onions a bit more on the crunchy side or a bit more on a soft side.
  4. Spray the bottom and the sides of your 8 x 8 in (20 x 20 cm) baking dish with the cooking spray. Place 4 tortillas on the bottom. Add your filling and spread over tortillas evenly. Top with 4 tortillas. Spray the top lightly with cooking spray. Sprinkle the cheese, and cover the dish with foil.
  5. Put the Mexican lasagna into the oven and bake for 20 minutes covered, and the last 5 minutes uncovered so your cheese topping gets nice and melted.
  6. Enjoy!

Note: Just before serving Vegan Mexican Lasagna with Soy Chorizo you can sprinkle the top with fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime. And while we are packing on some good Mexican flavors, why not add some fresh simple salsa, guacamole, or pickled jalapeños on the side?

Copyright © Eat the Vegan Rainbow, 2017

Jackfruit Tacos

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Jackfruit tacos, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
I never had jackfruit in my life until last night. And just like that this weird plant food became one of my favorite ingredients and the one I want to use in as many of my dishes as possible. What is jackfruit?

Jackfruit is a popular ingredient in South and Southeast Asian cooking, but it remains obscure to most living in the Western world. This means that finding jackfruit may turn out to be difficult as your regular grocery store is unlikely to carry it. But, let me tell you: jackfruit is so wonderful that it is worth jumping through few hoops to get it. My starting point were online retailers, like Amazon, and that would have been fine has it not been for the fact that I wanted to start cooking right away and could not wait for the delivery.

So I got down to plan B and found a local Asian market, in my case Formosa Marketplace, and the place did not disappoint. They got exactly what I was looking for – young jackfruit in brine. Jackfruit also comes ripe in syrup, but that is not the kind that you want for your savory dishes, plus it is not the kind that seems particularly healthy given all that added sugar.  If you are interested in learning more about jackfruit and getting the idea what type of dishes you can use it in, the Vegetarian Resource Group has a useful post.

How do you get from a can of young jackfruit to a taco filling? It’s super easy. All you need to do is rinse the jackfruit and let it drain and dry. Once the jackfruit stops dripping, you will need to go and pull the fruit pieces apart, which does take a bit of effort and time but makes for more surface area to absorb all the lovely flavors you will add next.

Although you could use a pre-made taco seasoning mix, there’s no need for that as those usually contain quite a lot of quite unnecessary salt. One additional ingredient that you will need is almond cheese. I have not yet figured out how to make almond cheese on my own, so for now I get the one from my local Trader Joe’s. They carry shredded almond cheese that is delicious and affordable.

When all is said and done, your jackfruit taco filling will look something like this.

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Jackfruit Taco filling, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
To build tacos, you will also need corn tortillas, but possibilities are close to endless. You can customize your tacos by adding salsa, avocado, fire roasted green chili peppers, cilantro, lime juice, and shredded iceberg lettuce. For me some cucumber slices and pearl tomatoes on the side hit the spot!

Jackfruit Tacos

What you’ll need (for 4 tacos, 2 people):

1 10 oz. (280 g) can of young jackfruit in brine

1 onion, finely diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 lime, just juice

1/4 cup water

4 corn tortillas, soft

1/2 cup almond cheese

cooking spray

What you’ll do:

  1. Place jackfruit in a strainer and rinse it well with water to get rid of the salty brine. Let the jackfruit drain for 15-20 min, and then pat dry with a paper, or a cloth towel. Next, pull the jackfruit pieces apart to get a pile of finer shreds.
  2. Spray the bottom of a pan with cooking spray and turn the heat to medium high. Add finely diced onion and minced garlic to the pan and let the onion and garlic aromas develop for 3-5 min.
  3. Next add the spices and let them simmer for 1-2 min. This will help the spices toast and intensify the flavor. Don’t worry if some of your spices, onion or garlic stick to the bottom of the pan as lime juice and water that you’ll add next will serve to deglaze the bottom. You may need to adjust the amount of water as you go along, so I recommend starting easy by adding 1-2 tablespoons and going from there.
  4. Once you are happy with the deglazing and the consistency, which should be somewhere between the ketchup and tomato paste, it’s time to add jackfruit. Make sure jackfruit is fully coated with your sauce, and simmer for 5-10 min, until jackfruit browns just slightly. Leave to the side.
  5. Heat a non-stick frying pan with cooking spray and place over high heat. Put one corn tortilla in, top it with jackfruit filing and 1/4 of your cheese and fold the tortilla over. Brown on one side for 1-2 min then flip over and brown on the other side for 1 min or so.
  6. Enjoy!

Note: You can use leftover taco filling in number of different ways. You can top a sandwich, or rice and other grains, as well as pasta or zucchini spaghetti

Copyright © Eat the Vegan Rainbow, 2017