Vegan Caprese Salad in a Sandwich

img_2518
Vegan Caprese Salad in a Sandwich, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow

In my other life, as the editor of two leading journals for chemical and structural biology (I know, sounds intimidating!), I once used Caprese Salad – tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella – as an example of how simple is incredibly powerful, beautiful and irresistible, in an emphatic attempt to convince scientists to implement principles of simplicity when writing their scientific papers.

Here, my interests are purely culinary as I set out to recreate the Caprese salad out of plant based ingredients only. I started from a batch of vegan fresh mozzarella, following a recipe developed by Jules Aron and included in her “Vegan Cheese: Simple, Delicious, Plant-Based Recipes” book.

The path to fabulous vegan fresh mozzarella is long and slippery- meaning that it will take you about two to three days to have ready to eat batch of cheese on your hands, and there are few places along the way where a little mistake can derail your cheese making process. Having said that, I found Jules’s recipe to be clear and helpful, and the final result AMAZING!

I made only some minor adjustments to the recipe, as I used cashew yogurt for fermentation stage of the mozzarella, and agar powder and tapioca starch to firm it up – Jules recommends Kappa carrageenan powder and tapioca flour (which I think is the same thing as tapioca starch but it’s worth mentioning as a point of difference)!

The process starts, as many vegan cheeses do, by soaking some nuts. I usually cover the nuts, in this case cashews, with water and leave them in the fridge overnight. The next step for this cheese is blending the well soaked cashews, that have been drained and rinsed, with some almond milk or water until nice and smooth – I used almond milk.

Then, you add yogurt – here I used an amazing Cashew Yogurt by Forager – cover with cheese cloth and leave on the kitchen counter for a day or so. Make sure that your yogurt contains live cultures as you want the bacteria to start the process of fermentation and acidification, yielding a nice, subtly tangy flavor.

Making of vegan mozzarella, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow

The penultimate step is adding the thickener to the cheese mix, cooking it until it starts to thicken to a consistency of very thick oatmeal, porridge or polenta.

 

While the cheese was cooking, with frequent stirring, I made the brine. I used tap water and ice cubes, plus a tablespoon of plain kitchen salt since that’s what I had handy, and mixed it all until salt was fully dissolved.

Once the cheese was cooked, I used my measuring spoon (tablespoon size) to measure out cheese balls, formed a bit with hand – watch out here as it may be hot, so you can form the balls using two spoons at the same time. Dump the balls into ice/water/salt mixture, cover with cheese cloth and leave in the fridge overnight. Jules recommends at least 4 hours, so I just left my fresh mozzarella cheese balls to rest until the next day.

img_2513
Vegan Fresh Mozarella Balls in Brine, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow

Waiting wasn’t easy but it was worth it!!! I got some fresh baguette, fresh basil, a ripe tomato, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and my homemade vegan fresh mozzarella, and made myself a phenomenal sandwich for lunch.

I transferred the fresh mozzarella with the brine and all into a container with a tight lid, and stored it in the refrigerator. It lasted for about one week, at which point it was all gone!!! I will be making some more soon, but next one from Jules’s book I want to try is an almond-based baked feta!!!

Since this post is all about another person’s recipe, I am not sharing the notes, but encourage you to go visit Jules’s site, and get her book or better still borrow it from your local public library, which is what I did. I am happy to share what my Caprese Salad in a Sandwich looked like – it’s a real feast for your eyes!!!

img_2520
Vegan Caprese Salad in a Sandwich lunch, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow

Copyright ©Eat the Vegan Rainbow, 2017

Advertisements

Simple Summer Pasta Salad

img_2143
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