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Quinoa-Stuffed Bell Peppers, Swiss Cheese, and Ruminations about Vegan French Pastries

May 27, 2010

This was our dinner on Tuesday night: roasted green and red bell peppers, stuffed with quinoa (cooked with some vegetable broth), garlic, caramelized onions, seared celery, and slightly browned TVP (which I seasoned with some soy sauce and garlic powder).

I think I should try stuffing vegetables more often–it’s pretty easy, looks beautiful, and tastes great. Working with the Parisian TVP was interesting, since it comes in such huge chunks (which means that it takes a long time to reconstitute). But once I figured out what I was doing with it, it tasted great. When I make this again, I think I’ll do it this way:

First, I’ll roast the peppers a bit before stuffing them. This time, I just stuffed and roasted them, but this kept them from getting very cripsy. So, I’ll try drizzling them with some oil, and popping them in the oven for about 15 or 20 minutes beforehand.

Then, I’ll basically do everything else the same. I’ll cook the quinoa in some vegetable broth, throw some chopped onions and celery in an oiled pan and let them brown a bit (adding some chopped garlic at the very end), boil the TVP in some water until it’s reconstituted, then brown the TVP in a little oil with some soy sauce and garlic powder. Then I’ll mix it all together (tossing in a little dried basil), stuff the pre-roasted peppers, and then bake them for another 30 minutes or so at about 180 celcius.

These little guys were delish. But would that I had made them just a couple of days later! I regret having made them when I did only because both Graham and I agreed that they would be perfect with just a little bit of cheese on top–and we had none, at the time. And then, last night, I discovered the ultimate vegan cheese–vegan cheese like no other vegan cheese I had ever had: Swiss cheese.

No, not that kind of Swiss cheese–not the cow-sourced stuff with holes in it. Vegan cheese from Switzerland, called Vegusto. Here’s how we found it.

Last night, we found ourselves at home with very few ingredients. I think we’re still getting used to needing to do a little bit a grocery-shopping every day (rather than a huge grocery run every week or two). So, we had to decide between going grocery shopping and making dinner, or going out. Since we were already pretty hungry, we opted for going out, but again wanted to find a place that was both affordable and delicious. The obvious choice, then, was Loving Hut. If every post from now on contains a Loving Hut reference, I sincerely apologize–it’s just so good. It’s delicious, it’s healthy, it’s inexpensive–I don’t think we could do better. So, we walked over to Loving Hut.

I decided to get another one of their salads, along with the “New York Crisp” appetizer.

Even though I just got a “small” salad and an appetizer, this was more than enough for one person. Fortunately, Graham (even with his plat de jour) was able to help me finish it off. The salad (I can’t remember what they called it), had several different kinds of cabbage, cucumbers, and carrots, in a mint-peanut dressing. It was both extremely tasty and filling. I’m not sure why the New York Crisps are called New York Crisps, but they’re great–chicken-style seitan breaded and fried, and served with a tomato-curry sauce and cole-slaw. Graham again got an amazing plat de jour.

This was another puff pastry, but this time filled with vegan beef and vegetables, with a different kind of brown gravy (different, that is, from the gravy in the other puff pastry he got there). It also came with some beef brisket, and a side of cauliflower in a cilantro-alfredo sauce. Yum.

One thing we noticed this time was that the Loving Hut has a vegan cheese platter. Now, normally, if I see “vegan cheese platter,” I’m a little suspicious. I like my home-made cheese sauce quite a lot, but most vegan cheese (that’s not Daiya) is not so great, in my opinion–and certainly not platter worthy. But we decided to get it. 

And this was how we discovered Vegusto. The cheese plate comes with five different kinds of vegan cheese, made in Switzerland–some are mild, some are strong, some are spicy, some contain nuts, and some were flavored with herbs. All of them were stunning. This, I think, is the best non-dairy cheese I’ve ever had.

To be honest, not eating cheese isn’t too hard for me. When you think about becoming a vegan, though, you expect that giving up cheese will be the hardest thing in the world. But, once you get into the swing of things, you find that most of those foods you love that contain cheese can be made (and in many cases made better) without dairy cheese. Like I said above, I really like my home-made cheese sauces, which make things like mac n’ cheese and lasagna a pinch. But there are two things I miss, being vegan. 1) Oysters. (Don’t worry–I plan, one day, to master the art of “Soysters.”) 2) Good, strong cheese. I used to really like Gouda, and Blue Cheese, and generally cheeses that you take little bites of and sprinkle on salads. 

I had thought that packaged vegan cheeses were doomed to be imitations of bland American and Cheddar cheese. I had heard promising rumors about Dr. Cow nut cheese (http://www.dr-cow.com/products/), but never mustered the strength to pay to have it shipped to Indiana. But, it turns out that the elusive Dr. Cow is not the only one working on making delicious strong cheeses. The Swiss are doing it too.

Vegusto is truly wonderful. Though there are milder flavors, you can also get very strong ones. These, I think, would be perfect for a wine, cheese, and pear party. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Oh, and did I mention that it’s soy-free? It’s soy-free. And, of course, you can buy huge blocks of it at Loving Hut for 5 euros per block.

So, we got a block of the “herb” variety, and had some with our lunch today.

Vegusto is a vegan miracle.

Finding all of this new food is, well, thrilling. And places like Loving Hut–places that make amazing vegan food bafflingly affordable–really inspire me to do more experimental cooking, and to avoid thinking that any recipe is off-limits. This brings me to my next point.

The pastries along our street are beautiful. Not vegan, but just take a look:

My thought is this: good vegan bakers have, I think, basically mastered the art of making incredibly delicious, decadent desserts. (They’ve also mastered the art of making tasty and fairly healthy desserts, but that’s old news.) This isn’t to say that I’ve mastered that art, of course, but many people have. However, it seems that most of those delicious, decadent desserts are more in the American tradition, where a good dessert is a giant piece of rich chocolate cake with chocoloate mousse frosting, chocolate ganache, peanut filling, caramel drizzle, a scoop of deep-fried ice-cream, etc. But here (at least on my street), the decadence of a pastry seems to be measured not so much by its caloric content as by its shape, its colorfulness, and the care with which it’s put together. This isn’t to say that French pastries are health foods, but I think you get my point.

I think it would be very fun to figure out how to make some vegan French pastries. Now, at this point, everyone is fixated on the uber-trendy macaron (see the second non-vegan pastry picture). Not macaroons, mind you, but the very colorful Franco-Italian merigue cookie sandwiches. Amazing vegan bakers are working on perfecting vegan meringue, which is of course the first step to a macaron. Susie’s been working diligently on it:

http://parsnipparsimony.wordpress.com/.

This person seems to have done it: http://chocochichi.com/?s=meringue

As has this person, although perhaps with less success:  http://adirondackvegan.wordpress.com/2008/04/21/meringue-fantasy/

And, famously, Hannah has figured out the secret to the perfect vegan macaron: http://bittersweetblog.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/landing-on-my-feet/

But she’s not about to tell anyone how to do it. I suppose we all have to make a living, and some of us do it by selling cookbooks. Oh well.

So, I’m toying with the idea of attempting a macaron. Since I don’t know any chemistry, I don’t think I can do it Susie-style. And since I’m not a natural baker, I don’t think I can do it Hannah style. I’m considering cheating a little and buying some vegan meringue mix by Angel Food (http://www.cosmosveganshoppe.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=CVS&Product_Code=AFMC&Product_Count=&Category_Code=
), and experimenting from there. Macarons are not merely meringue, after all, so it’s not totally cheating. Right?

But before I attempt the macaron, I’m thinking of just trying to make some sort of fairly straightforward pastry. On my street, you see lots of little layer cakes with fruit, which I’m considering trying. If any of you have any suggestions for how to go about such a thing (in particular, for how to make such thin layers of cake without breaking them), do let me know. The filling and fruit topping will be the easy part, I expect.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. patricia leach permalink
    May 27, 2010 10:23 pm

    I suspect if you could crack the French Pastry vegetalien… you could start selling them in NYC or any major city… Chicago….and do quite well. I wonder how well they would ship?

    Anyhow, I look forward to every blog entry… You are a wonderful, engaging food writer… This has to go somewhere… I see a wonderful little book form vegan app or something one could buy for a kindle.

    If I sign MOM…my comments will lose cred… so maybe I should sign as I am – Mother in Law… These are a notoriously nasty species known to offer no lavish compliments for their daughters in law.

    Really, I love reading cookbooks and especially your blog from my non vegan place in the world…

    • May 28, 2010 7:25 am

      That’s so nice of you, Pat. I’m glad you enjoy reading! It was great getting to “see” you on Skype the other day (if only briefly)!

  2. Mary Bosch permalink
    May 29, 2010 7:20 pm

    I’m curious about all the cabbage. Is it used much more than in the US or do you just happen to choose dishes with a lot of it? Also, I’d like to try to make the cabbage salad with the mint and peanut dressing. Any suggestions?

    Your narrative is wonderful and so are the pictures!

  3. May 29, 2010 7:47 pm

    My impression is that cabbage is more common here than in the US–I see it (and many different varieties of it) in the grocery stores, as well as on menus.

    I’ve never made a mint-peanut dressing, but I would think that you could start by combining a couple tablespoons of peanut butter, a little soy sauce, maybe a little rice vinegar (or white vinegar), some chopped garlic, chopped mint, and some water. If it still needed something, you could try adding chili oil, or a sweetener.

    If you end up making that, and it works out, let me know! I’d like to make it, too.

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