Tag Archives: veganmofo

Bringing Pizza Back

28 Nov

No doubt you my have heard countless vegans name pizza as one of their most missed foods from B.V. (Before Veganism).  Pizza and probably Macaroni and Cheese, the latter being my most missed.

In B.V. times, I would order just extra cheese — no toppings — on my pizzas, but all that changed when I gave up cheese.  Along with the peace of mind that goes with the cessation of stealing calves’ milk, I also changed my pizza habit — tons of veggies toppings, and no cheese — if and when I had pizza at all.

At home, I would do the same on my pizzas, complete with veggies on tomato sauce and a whole wheat crust.  Then one day I discovered Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet cheeses.  These cheeses satisfied my husband’s craving for cheese, but were still a bit of a pain for me to grate by hand — at this point I had gone without cheese pizza for so long that it didn’t seem worth the trouble of all that grating.  Furthermore, the taste was just OK, and the melting was one step up from competing vegan cheese makers.

And then there was Daiya.  I first discovered it at the Vegetarian Summerfest I attended this past July in Johnstown, PA, where in addition to other ridiculously delicious foods three times per day, we were provided with pizza — lots of pizza — at both lunch and dinner.  I had a slice at every meal — probably to make up for lost time!

Daiya melts — it melts — it really melts!!  Daiya really tastes more like mozzarella, or cheddar, more so than other brands.  Daiya is already grated when you buy it in a small package.  Yes!  Daiya has brought pizza back to many of us now, and the beauty of it is that it mostly tapioca starch — it’s actually soy- and gluten-free, which means it can be embraced by people with allergies too.

I have had to travel far to get my Daiya, since my nearest Whole Foods is 45 minutes away, and no one else by me sells it. But I have good news:  I went to my local health food store and was speaking to the owner, and I asked him directly if he had heard of it.  He actually had not heard of Daiya but immediately offered to order it for me.  Within three days, he had a box of it!  No more traveling for Daiya!

One bag will yield me enough cheese to satisfactorily cover two pizzas, each with an approximately 12 inch diameter.

So this weekend I made four pizzas for a party at my house:  a grilled zucchini and eggplant, a onion and mushroom, a “meaty” one with Tofurky Kielbasa and Yves Pepperoni slices, and a just plain cheese mix of both cheddar and mozzarella Daiya cheese.

Of course, I wouldn’t eat pizza every day, but it is great to have an alternative that I can confidently recommend to other vegans, and most importantly the uninitiated veg-curious.  Truly, now there is nothing missing from the vegan world!

Below are some pictures — unfortunately with a house full of people, I did not get a chance to take the pictures until after they had already had slices pulled from them:


Orange You Glad For Black Beans?

22 Nov

Don’t get me wrong — I love hummus, and believe chick peas (garbanzo beans) are the world’s most perfect bean.  However, every now and then I like to try something else for my veggie dip or spread.  Lo and behold, I had the opportunity to test a new recipe for a black bean dip by vegan cookbook author Robin Robertson.  As a tester, my job is to prepare a recipe exactly as directed by the author, and write feedback on its taste, practicality, portion size, and directions.  While I have permission to photograph and blog the recipes, I cannot reveal the exact recipe — you’ll just have to wait for Ms. Robertson to publish her next book!

The recipe I tested was called Spicy Black Bean Hummus with Orange — intriguing.  Spicy and citrusy?  I had to sign up to try it!

I gathered all my ingredients, which basically would include black beans, tahini, jalapenos, salt, cumin, garlic, and cilantro.

The beauty of this recipe is that it was remarkably quick using the food processor.  First, I put in the garlic, jalapenos, and salt.

The orange flavoring would come from the zest of an orange.  I love using a microplane in order to zest.  I usually do it over a small bowl or plate, so I do not lose any of the zest.  I did not zest it directly over the other ingredients, because I needed to measure a precise amount for this recipe.

With the zest ready and the garlic and jalapenos already chopped, I added the remaining ingredients and whirled it around in the food processor.

The bean dip was meant to be garnished with cilantro, which I cut on a board with a chef’s knife instead of using a food processor.  Years ago, I used to get lazy and use the food processor for both my parsley and cilantro, much to my mother’s chagrin.  She insisted that it ruined the herbs, and I wouldn’t listen until I finally tried cutting them instead and tasted the difference.  Yes, indeed, the food processor cilantro or parsley ended up pulpy and watery, while the hand-minced herbs retained a better texture and flavor.  When chopping cilantro, I always include the stems too, because they are just as tasty!

A final garnish around the black bean dip.

Delicious!  I can’t wait to read what the final version of this recipe will be, and try it again in the future.

The Shepherd Has Freed The Flock

15 Nov

Sometimes, children like the most unusual foods.  I think almost everyone has a food they loved as a child, that perhaps seems gross now as an adult.  Perhaps it’s an unusual combination of ingredients, or possibly something too sugary to withstand as an adult.  It could also be associated with certain childhood memories.

For my husband, it was the dreaded Shepherd’s pie in his Catholic school cafeteria.  Most students hated it, but apparently he and only one friend loved it.  Usually it was only offered once per month, but sometimes to their delight, it would suddenly appear every week on the menu.  The boys cheered while others groaned when they heard the morning announcements proclaiming Shepherd’s pie on the menu.  My husband and his friend ran to their seats in the cafeteria, then sat quietly with their hands folded, waiting for one of the nuns to approvingly send them to the lunch line.  With glee, they dug into the mess of meat and instant mashed potato flakes, while other kids just pushed it around into alien formations on their plates.

Well over twenty years later, my husband sometimes asks fellow alumni if they remember the Shepherd’s pie and if they too liked it.  He hasn’t had any luck finding more fans —  most people either don’t remember it or hated it.

What could have possibly been so delicious about this Shepherd’s pie to these two elementary school students?  What was in it?  Apparently, just ground beef, corn, and mashed potatoes.  Nothing else — and that does mean nothing! I learned that the hard way the first time I attempted to replicate it.  I decided to get fancy and add carrots, edamame, and chopped broccoli to the corn layer, much to my husband’s disappointment.  Actually, he does like carrots, broccoli and edamame, but not in his Shepherd’s pie!

This time I promised to stay true to the recipe of his childhood school cafeteria favorite.

So I started by immediately cheating and reaching for an onion!  How could I not put an onion in it?  The flavor of a sauteed onion is too much to give up!  Thus, I began by dicing and sauteing a large onion.

My favorite ground meat substitute is Lightlife Smart Ground.  I use it for shepard’s pie, sloppy joes, pizza, lasagna, and chili (in which it has totally fooled meat-eaters at parties, and even a chili contest!)  Sometimes my grocery store runs out of it, so very often I buy several at a time because they do keep in the freezer well.

Whether you store it in the freezer or refrigerator, it is a good idea to crumble it completely into a bowl first, so that you do not have clumps.

Sometimes, I do the mise en place thing and put my herbs and spices into a bowl first.  Today I used dry parsley, oregano, basil, paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper (more cheating!).  I did not measure it, but I can say the dried herbs were about 1 tablespoon and the spices were about 1 teaspoon each.

Once the onions were sauteed to the point in which they began to appear translucent, I added the Smart Ground, herbs, and spices.

After blending everything together and sauteing for a minute, I added Annie’s Worcestershire Sauce, which is vegan (many other brands are not!)

I stirred some more, until everything was incorporated.  I find that keeping a cup of water nearby and occasionally adding water prevents sticking, if necessary.

Once I was satisfied with a taste-test of the Smart Ground, I layered it thickly along the bottom of a glass casserole dish.

My next layer was frozen corn.

My final layer was a thick layer of mashed potatoes (Click here for the recipe).

I baked it in the oven at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes.  Then I turned the broiler on for about 3 minutes, but unfortunately it browned unevenly, as you can see here.  Maybe it’s my oven, but I am just not a fan of the broiler.  However, my  husband wanted it brown on top, just like when he was a kid.

After letting it cool a bit, we served large portions of it.  My husband enjoyed two hearty servings and never noticed the other ingredients outside of the corn, mashed potatoes, and Smart Ground!

Truly a mess, but ultimately a good comfort food, which brought some happy blissfulness and nostalgia for my husband.  I liked it too, although I can’t say I would have liked the original school cafeteria version.

In thinking about this meal and the story behind it, I’m going to provide a sneak peek at tomorrow’s blog:  I’m going to write about my favorite gross childhood food.  It involves chocolate, bread, “cheese,” and “ham.”  You’ll have to stay tuned!!

Tempeh Takeover! (When husbands invade kitchens…)

13 Nov

I awoke this morning to the tantalizing sounds of something sizzling in the kitchen.  There was a subtle aroma in the air of….curry?  On Saturday morning?  What was going on?

As it turns out, it was a Husband Take Over day in my kitchen.  Having woken up earlier than me, my husband was in the mood for pancakes.  But pancakes require several ingredients, accurate measurements, and possibly even reading a recipe.  Too much for a Saturday morning, I’m sure!  So instead, he dug around in the refrigerator and found tempeh and Tofurky Kielbasa sausages — totally protein-centered “man” foods (in a vegan household).

I have to admit, my husband is very good at pulling together random ingredients without recipes and measurements.  It is truly a treat when he cooks, because it is bound to be good with much less effort than I usually need.  He also has the uncanny ability to complete everything in one pot with one spatula, and no need for a pile of dishes.  He probably should have his own blog called “The Vegan’s Husband” or something like that.

The food was pretty much ready when I came into the kitchen, but my husband described his creation as follows:

First, he cut the tempeh block into two inch strips, and the kielbasa diagonally.  Then he started to sautee scallions and garlic (both were precut in containers I had in the fridge).  Next, he added the tempeh and let that cook gradually.  Then he added about two tablespoons of curry powder (this is his estimate — he just winged it) and about 10 sprays of Bragg’s Amino Acids (it was the smaller spray bottle.  He said it was “enough to form a puddle in the bottom of the pan.”  He continued to sautee the tempeh in these seasonings for a few minutes before adding the sausage.  Then he said he just “kept stirring to keep it from sticking,” and occasionally added a little bit of water for the same reason.  He still wanted some sweetness, however, so he also squirted about 1 tablespoon of agave nectar and gave the mixture a few more stirs before serving it.

It certainly was delicious, and I was grateful for the break from cooking!

Three Minute Vegan Ice Cream

10 Nov

At a Veg Meetup a few weeks ago, I described my vegan ice cream recipe that I’ve been making for a few years.  To some, it seemed to involve a lot of work, but to me it only takes about five minutes, or three minutes if I rush.  The trick is to always have the ingredients on hand, of course, and multi-task the preparation and clean up.  Today, I actually set my stopwatch and finished the whole job (with pictures) in 2 minutes, 58.2 seconds!

Very often, I have an insatiable desire for chocolate, and sometimes it’s in the form of ice cream.  In the summer, it’s every day!

Vegan Ice Cream does exist and is available for sale in both health food stores and regular grocery stores like Shoprite — however, it still has fat and sugar comparable to cow’s ice cream.  As much as I love Coconut Bliss, So Delicious, and Purely Decadent chocolate ice creams, I can’t afford to eat the calories (or pay the price) every day.

But a banana, ice cubes, almond milk, and hemp powder can be a surprisingly rich stand-in for these higher-calorie ice creams, and very easy to make.  As I mentioned in my smoothie post, I always keep frozen overripe bananas on hand.  I usually buy them at Acme, where they sell them for $0.25 / lb. in paper bags.  Before they get mushy, but after they are very yellow and have quite a few black spots on them, I peel them and freeze them in a plastic ziplock bag.  Provided I have these bananas, some cocoa powder, and almond milk on hand, I’m set!  You don’t need the hemp powder, but I have been adding it ever since I discovered that I’d much rather have chocolate ice cream after a workout than a protein shake.  Thus, I put my hemp powder in the ice cream, with the added bonus that it does add a subtle nutty flavor and some body to the ice cream.  Now I add it all the time, even when I haven’t worked out.  All in all, the result is a delicious ice cream eating experience that really amounts to no more calories or regret than having eaten a banana!

Following a recipe based loosely on Alissa Cohen’s Living on Live Food and in observing banana whips in progress at Bashful Banana (Great veg-friendly food!) in Ocean City, New Jersey, I devised a strategy using the tools and resources I have.  Bear in mind, as pictured, my food processor has a hole on the top of the lid with a removable cup.  Once the machine is running, I safely add most of my ingredients through there to avoid wasting time, but you might want to stop yours in between ingredients (today I had to stop it in order to take pictures).  I also suggest washing some of the tools while the food processor works, but for the first time, you may want to keep your eyes on it instead.

1. Set up and plug in food processor.

2. Put 3-4 ice cubes in the processor and start running it.

3. While the ice is chopped up, grab a knife, cutting board, and a banana from the freezer.  Cut it into round slices about 3/4-inch thick.

4. Add these slices to the food processor (I actually throw them in through the hole on top and keep the machine running).

5. While these get chopped up, wash off your knife and cutting board, and grab the almond milk, hemp protein (if using), and cocoa powder from the fridge.

6. Pour in about 3 tablespoons of the almond milk (eyeball it) through the hole on the top.

7. Add about 2 tablespoons each of cocoa powder and hemp protein.

8. Put the hemp protein, cocoa powder, and almond milk in the fridge while the food processor is running.

9. When the mixture is thick and smooth but not liquified, stop the food processor.  Immediately wash the food processor lid.

10. Remove the food processor bowl and careful take out the blade.  You can use a small rubber spatula to push off the ice cream.  Immediately wash this blade too.

11. Don’t waste time or dirty any more dishes!  Take that same small spatula and eat your ice cream right out of the food processor bowl!

12.  When finished, wash the bowl immediately to avoid sticking.

Mmmmmm!!!  Tastes great, and if you multi-tasked, you really don’t have dishes to wash or stuff to put away.  Five minutes later, it looks like nothing happened in your kitchen — nope, no sneaky snacks at all!

However, the only catch is that you really do need to eat it on the spot before it melts, and it won’t keep the same texture if you freeze it.  Thus, for real vegan banana ice cream, you’d have to use an ice cream maker and more ingredients.

Here are some suggested add-ins I’ve used in the past (add to the finished ice cream and pulse the blade a few times to incorporate it):

1.  Almond or peanut butter (be sure it is room temperature).

2. Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips.

3. Vegan Graham Crackers, Sweet and Sara Marshmallows, and chocolate chips (My response to the Phillies Graham Slam flavor put out by Turkey Hill).

4. Coarsely chopped Oreos (I usually get Newman-O’s).

5. Peanuts or almonds.

6. A teaspoon of agave nectar and a drop of vanilla extract (especially if your bananas weren’t that ripe and sweet).

7. Chunks of brownie or cookie dough if I happen to be making some.

8. Carob powder instead of cocoa powder.

Substituions, if needed:

1. Frozen chunks of mango also work as well as bananas, but I wouldn’t put cocoa powder in it.

2. Almond milk is my favorite for this recipe, but really any non-dairy milk will do.

3.  You could always skip the cocoa if you don’t like chocolate.

****If I get a Flip video camera for Christmas, I promise I’ll repost in the future with a video to prove how fast this recipe can be made!  In the  mean time, enjoy!

I’ll Take My Flu Shot in a Bowl With a Spoon

9 Nov

Lately, I can’t seem to drive more than a few miles through town without seeing advertisements for flu shots at drug stores and supermarkets.  Walk-ins welcome!  $20, administered by a pharmacy technician — no prescription (in other words, no consultation with a doctor needed in order to make this medical decision).

I am no expert on vaccinations, but I must admit I am wary of them in the same way that I am wary of just about any health advice that carries a strong backing from a U.S. government body and/or pharmaceutical group.  Why?  Well, let’s not forget these are the same groups telling us it is OK, and even nutritious to consume meat and dairy — precisely the foods that cause cancer, diabetes, heart disease, several auto-immune and digestive disorders in addition to being foods contaminated with pathogens such as salmonella, campylobacter, E. coli, and other bacteria (coming from the feces of the animal that inevitably gets on the flesh, milk, and eggs).  What do these groups recommend?  Useless and equally troublesome “moderation” diets as well as prescription drugs for the chronic diseases, and cooking at high temperature to kill the fecal bacteria that cause infectious diseases.

Furthermore, with the global community we have now via the Internet, it surprises me to see news articles from other countries in which health organizations exercise a lot more caution in testing and administering vaccines, and have raised their food safety standards much higher than ours.  For example, in Australia, the Swine Flu vaccine was found to cause serious problems in children, and so it has been halted.  Yet here it was immediately administered in schools!

Again, I am not a doctor, so I am only describing my experience.  Also, I can attest to the fact that as a former teacher, I have been exposed to countless sniffles from children who sneeze all over the place, in schools that had no budget for supplying tissues.  Yet, since becoming a health-conscious vegan, I stopped catching all the bugs the students brought in the classroom.  Typically, when people near me start to get sick, I increase my intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, including fresh juices and smoothies, as well as soups loaded with vegetables and clear broths.  Last year, my school district had a quite a blow on its attendance due to the Swine Flu.  Hundreds of students were absent, and I spent about a week with less than a dozen students in my classes.  One of my co-teachers who spent three hours per day with me fell victim to it and was absent for nine days, but I was fine.  I began coming to school with a one-liter water bottle filled with fresh juice with every vegetable I had in the fridge — carrots, collard greens, dandelion leaves, lots of red peppers, parsnips, and kale, along with lemons and oranges.  The juice came out a very gross brown color, but I didn’t care.  My students saw it and thought it was disgusting, but I assured them it was my medicine — my way to avoid the Swine Flu — and it worked.  Food was my medicine, not some vaccine that isn’t even effective — again, from my teaching experience I witnessed a lot of students get sick despite (or perhaps because of??) a flu shot.  Bottom line:  not every cold or flu virus is destined to get a person ill as if it were some unstoppable Ebola virus.  We touch, breathe, and swallow germs all day long, but we’re not sick every day.  The fact is that the germs from these illness only affect people with compromised immune systems.  A poor diet, lack of exercise, and high stress can compromise an immune system.

Perhaps when U.S. health groups begin acknowledging that we are what we eat and our food can both cause our problems and reverse them, perhaps I’ll start listening.  So with that said, I will step off my soap box and describe my recent flu prevention strategy.

Soup!  I worked with just the vegetables I had today in my refrigerator, so there really is no right or wrong way to make this soup.  I was happy to see that I had a red pepper, which has 8 times the amount of vitamin C as an orange, as well as parsnips, which are known to be beneficial to the respiratory system.  I also had carrots, which have plenty of vitamins and minerals as well.

I began by sharpening my knife, because I knew I was going to depend on it!

I also began boiling a large stock pot full of water.  Since I did not have any homemade or store-bought liquid vegetable broth, I used two products I enjoy for their natural flavors and less-than-astronomical sodium levels. One is Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon, which comes in a cube shape, and the second one is Gayelord Hauser’s Vegetable Broth.  The latter of the two comes in a loose powder form, which is also good for putting into Follow Your Heart Vegenaise for an excellent ranch-like vegetable dip.

With water working toward a boil and my knife sharpened, I washed and cut the ends off my vegetables.  I did not peel them because all of these pictured are organic, but I did scrub them to remove any dirt particles.  Finally, I was ready to begin the meditative process of chopping vegetables!  I enjoy the process because I find it relaxing to concentrate on the cuts and utilize geometry to work around the curvature of the vegetables.  With each one, I find ways to make lines, flat surfaces, narrow strips, and small squares using parallel and perpendicular slices.

As a I plan what to cut and when, I start with the thickest, hardest vegetables, as these will need to cook longer.  The parsnips were the hardest, and also have an awkward shape.  First I cut the wide thick tops away from the skinny bottoms.  Then I slice the skinny bottoms lengthwise to make two halves, each with a flat bottom.  I then cut these halves lengthwise into strips, then turn my knife perpendicular to cut the strips into tiny squares.  For the thick bottoms, I set them vertically on the cutting board and slice them to make several flat panels as shown in the picture.  Then I cut these panels into strips as well, and proceed to cutting the strips into squares.  I did not wait for the water to finish boiling, because it doesn’t matter — I just threw the parsnips in as soon as they were ready.

Next I cut the carrots, following a similar strategy as the parsnips:  cut the thicker parts away from the thinner parts, cut into strips, then cut into tiny squares, and throw them into the pot.

Now it was time for cutting the pepper, which can be a bit of a pain with all those seeds sticking to everything.  What I do is stand the pepper up on the cutting board and cut downward around the four sides of the stem.  Usually all the seeds stay attached to the stem core and the mess is minimized.  I then use a smaller knife to cut out the white parts, since these tend to make the pepper bitter, and I even rinse the pepper chunks again if there are any seeds clinging to them.  And once again, I cut the peppers into strips and then small squares.

Celery!  With celery I also cut it lengthwise into either two or three strips and then turn my knife perpendicular and chop away.  Notice I have included the celery leaves as well.  There’s no reason to throw them away — they have nutritious value too.  Chop them up!

Lastly, I chopped the zucchini, since it was the softest vegetable.  By now my broth, along with the parsnips, carrots, peppers, and celery was at a decent boil, and so I proceeded once again with the same strategy:  cut in half lengthwise, cut lengthwise into strips, turn the knife perpendicular, and cut into squares.

Every time I added vegetables to the pot, the boil would disappear, but it would come back fairly soon.

I probably should have added these sooner, but I forgot:  dried mushrooms and kombu.  I started buying these dried mushrooms and keeping them in my pantry because it seemed as though fresh mushrooms in my fridge would go bad pretty quickly unless I was using them in my salads every day.  The kombu is a great choice for adding flavor to the broth that is not necessarily that “fishy” taste that comes from some seaweed.  In addition, it contains valuable trace minerals that add even more flu-fighting power to the soup.

Just for fun — I added some animal-shaped pasta to the soup, hoping to put a smile on my husband’s face, since it has been cold outside and he’s feeling a bit under the weather.  This product, Orgran Gluten-free Farm Animal Vegetable Pasta, was in a gluten-free aisle at Haars, a local health food store in my area.  I’ve been using gluten-free pasta for about two years now, in an effort to reduce my exposure to gluten and vary my grains, especially since I learned that close to 40% of people of European descent have a wheat and/or gluten intolerance.  I’ll probably blog about this in the future — stay tuned.

As the soup was just about finished — all the vegetables were soft and the pasta was al dente — I added several handfuls of spinach, and let it wilt and heat up in the soup for about a minute.  That’s all it needed.

The final result:

A bowl of this soup every day for a week, and those nasty, invasive flu germs won’t stand a chance in my body!

Wow, those are some big bananas! (Tostones: fried plantains with rice and beans)

8 Nov

If you’ve never seen a plantain, you may be surprised to see it looks like a prolific banana.  In fact, when I taught Spanish and brought them to my class, it drew quite a bit of attention from the immature minds of my high school students.  In addition to the inappropriate comments, most students said they had never seen such big “mutant bananas” and others thought they might have been rotting since even the green ones had some spots on them.

Interestingly enough, most people don’t know that our sweet beloved bananas are the real mutant.  The original fruit is the starchy plantain that can be traced back thousands of years to Southeast Asia, and is usually cooked when eaten.  And although the most popular banana we eat today is the sweet yellow one, the truth is that the banana mutation occurred in 1836 in Jamaica, when discovered by Jean Francois Poujot in his plantation.  After that, entire nations were developed due to the rising power of the banana industry.

Bananas are indeed delicious, and had a significant influence in world history, but today I acknowledge its parents, the plantains.

When purchasing plantains, you may see they are often sold either green (platanos verdes — unripe) or yellow (platanos maduros — ripe).  If you want them ripe for other recipes, you could also buy the green ones and wait several days.  But for today’s tostones, green is good.

Way before I started preparing the plantains, I planned ahead for my rice and beans.  Both needed to be soaked several hours before preparation, so I did that first thing in the morning.  But note the difference:  the beans should be soaked in boiling water, and the rice should be soaked in cold water.

Both rice and beans from dry packaging require rinsing to remove any dirt or powder.  In addition, the beans should be examined to be sure there are no tiny rocks or twigs (I have found rocks!).  For improved digestion, rice should also be soaked in cold water because it will release its phytic acid, which can interfere with the absorption of protein and certain minerals.  Beans should be soaked in hot water because it helps to break down indigestible sugars known as oligosaccharides (known to cause gas!)  Also, in both the rice and the beans, the time soaked contributes to the cooking time, thus resulting in a faster preparation later in the day.

The rest of the rice and beans preparation can occur right before you fry the plantains, or during, if you can multi-task.

For the beans, be sure to drain the soaking water and rinse them completely to wash away the oligosaccharides and any remaining dirt.  The best way to cook them is in a pressure cooker, but it could be done in a regular pot too if you give yourself more time.

If you have a pressure cooker, put the beans in it with enough water to cover approximately one inch above the beans.  Add bay leaves, and some spices to your liking.  Today, I used about 1 tsp each cumin, annatto, chili powder, dried cilantro, and garlic powder because I was going for some of the Latin flavoring.  The measurements for these depend on how much beans you’re cooking (I only had about 2 cups).  Put the lid snugly on the pressure cooker as per the directions, and set the burner on high.  Your pressure cooker may vary in its directions, and it will also vary with your choice of beans.  I used black beans, so they only needed about 15 minutes of cooking after the pressure cooker reached the point of pressure.  Unless your pressure cooker has a specific way of identifying this status, you may just need to rely on what you see and hear happening.  With mine, I start to hear a rise in a hissing sound, until it’s making quite a fuss and blowing some steam through a hole in the lid.  Then suddenly it stops and I hear a quiet rumble and hiss.  That’s when I start the timer.  When time’s up, I wait for the pressure to drop and check the beans.  If the beans are soft, then they are done.  Don’t worry if there is extra water.  You can leave the beans in that water, because this water is OK to save or even use in another dish.

Meanwhile, the rice can be drained and rinsed, and then prepared in another pot.  With the exception of the presoaking part, I still make my rice as my sister-in-law showed me using sauteed onions in the pot first, then adding the rice and mixing it all together with water and a boullion cube.  A quick trick to quickly chopping an onion:  cut the onion in half down its vertical center (not its equator!), then make several slices perpendicular to it’s root, but not all the way through so that it does not come undone.  Then slice parallel to the root and the onion will magically appear chopped into little squares.

Since the rice has already been soaked, I just use a 2:1 ratio of water to rice, instead of the 2.5:1 recommended for dry brown rice.  Once the water is on the rice, it really shouldn’t be stirred because the starches break up and make the rice mushy.  Leave it to boil until you notice that enough water has evaporated and you see sputtering holes in the rice’s landscape.  At that point, lower the burner to a simmer, and keep a lid on it for 20 more minutes.

When finished, you can mix the rice and beans together in a bowl, if you don’t mind the color of the beans running into the rice (like a dirty rice), or keep them separate and plate the rice with the beans on top or on the side.

Now the plantains!  Peeling green plantains can be a challenge.  I try to cut lengthwise along the natural creases and peel them.  If you have a very hard time, it could help to cut them first into 1.5 – 2 inch chunks and cut the skins off by tilting them on their sides and cutting downward where the plantain meets its skin.  There’s actually a great step-by-step explanation with pictures here.

Once you have these chunks, you are ready to deep-fry.  Yes, I did say deep fry.  But don’t be alarmed!  If done correctly, deep-frying can result in less oil absorption than other forms of frying.  Some general tips:

  • Use an oil that can stand high temperatures, like safflower oil, and always monitor it with an oil/candy thermometer.  Oil that is too cold will be absorbed into the food.  If it is too hot, it will obviously burn the food and also release carcinogenic compounds.
  • Use tongs to both place and remove your food from the oil, so you do not splash hot oil on yourself or your stove (it’s hard to clean).
  • Do not put all your foods in at once — that will cause the oil temperature to drop.  Regulate the oil by monitoring your burner at all times.  370 degree is generally a good temperature (recipes vary), but it should never go above 400 for most oils — also, depending on your oil thermometer, watch that the temperature doesn’t go anywhere near the maximum number, because it will break!  If you see it rises high, just pull the thermometer out so it can cool in the air, but never put it into cold water.
  • After frying, rather than setting the foods on the paper towel (where they sit in their own oil), put them on a cookie cooling rack instead, with paper towels or a cookie sheet underneath to catch the dripping oil.

To make tostones, they must actually be fried twice.  The first time, they are fried in their chunk forms only until the outside is golden and you no longer hear crackling — just sizzling.  As you fry each batch, make sure they are on a cooling rack , and keep them in some kind of order so that when you are ready for the next step you start with your cool ones first and don’t burn yourself!

Next they will be squashed with a beautifully simple device called a tostonera.  Place the fried plantain chunk onto the circular indent and close the handle onto it.  You need not smash it completely to smithereens — just enough to make it into a patty.

Once your patties are ready, they go back in the deep fry oil (check the temperature!) and continue to fry until they have become a crispy golden patty.  Remove them from the oil and drain them once again on cooling racks.

Sprinkle the tostones with coarse salt and serve with the beans and rice.