"Food from Literature" is on summer break. Here are some pickles!

Last month I promised you two "Food From Literature" posts in June... and I have not followed through. While I've been doing a lot of reading, the heat has meant that i haven't been as interested in trying new, long-cooking recipes. I've felt so guilty about falling behind on that, though, that I got stressed out and stayed away from my blog altogether.

And then I realized: it's summer! There is no reason to be stressed, nor is there any strong argument for sitting in front of my computer typing blog entries when I could be enjoying the weather! Plus, this time of year is when students take breaks from academics--so I am declaring a summer hiatus of "Food From Literature." We will resume in the fall! In the meantime, I won't feel guilty for post content/lack thereof.

I think I write about pickled vegetables a lot, but I love them. I love them so much that when my parents accidentally ordered a case of half-gallon jars of dill pickles for their natural food store, they gave two to me and the boyfriend, and it took us surprisingly little time to go through them.
One half-gallon jar of pickles.
Once, when I was making the Beer Battered Tofu recipe from Vegan Brunch,, I had some leftover batter. I don't like throwing away food if I can help it, so I looked around the kitchen for what else I could batter and fry. And then it hit me: PICKLES.
They're on the left; the tofu is on the right. Deep-fried pickles are a special treat, obviously, but ohhhhhh man if you have the opportunity to try them, you should.

I love summer, and I love almost everything that comes with it. (The one exception being how hot our apartment gets. But I'd rather be hot than cold, so it's tolerable.) One thing I'm really looking forward to this summer is when the farmer's market starts selling local watermelons! I love watermelon, and I recently ran out of my stash of Citrus-and-Spice Pickled Watermelon Rind. I made them two summers ago, and as you can see, I had quite a few:
And this was after I halved the recipe! I got the recipe from Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen, and I LOVED it. The pickles don't taste like watermelon, but the syrupy, spicy brine (spiced with cloves) does taste like sweet, down-home pickles my elderly Scottish and Irish great-aunts used to make and bring to family events. Basically, they taste like summer, and like childhood. I love Bryant Terry's book, but if you can't get it, you can find the recipe here.

Whew, and now onto July! Maybe our hot apartment isn't the one thing I dislike about summer; I also dislike how quickly it goes by!


nightshade-free kimchi

I really love Korean food. Let me rephrase that: I really loved Korean food before I developed an intolerance for nightshades and could no longer eat many of my favorite Korean dishes. It's possible (and easy) to find nightshade-free vegan Korean food (like tofu bi bim bap, my favorite dish to order at Korean places), but I really miss the pungent, spicy hot sauces and condiments characteristic of Korean cuisine. In particular, I miss kimchi.

If you've had kimchi before, I don't need to explain; you understand how sad it is not to be able to have it. If you haven't had kimchi before, it's a standard--no, the standard Korean condiment or side dish. It is very spicy fermented/pickled cabbage, with other vegetables and seasonings thrown in. While many restaurants' kimchi has fish ingredients in it, all the Korean places I've been to have also had fish-free kimchi if you ask for it specifically. However, the point of kimchi is to be spicy, so while it can be easy to get vegan kimchi, nightshade-free kimchi has been a longtime unfulfilled fantasy of mine.

Well, readers, it is a fantasy NO LONGER! It is A REALITY. I am seriously excited about this, if you can't tell from all those capital letters. This recipe has been years in the making. Over the last three (almost four!) years, I've scoured cookbooks and the internet for dozens of kimchi recipes, and took a little from here, a little from there, picked and chose the methods I thought would work best, experimented with fermenting and pickling other foods, and brainstormed. When a big old napa cabbage came in my CSA order a couple weeks ago, I knew it was time.
Kimchi is very easy to make, but it sounds intimidating because 1.) it takes a lot of time, and 2.) you ferment stuff. Do not let this intimidate you! (It intimidated me, which is part of why it took me years to actually make some.) If you can have nightshades, feel free to add a diced hot pepper or two. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how spicy my nightshade-free version is, though! Raw garlic, ginger, scallions, and generous sprinklings of sichuan and black pepper give this version enough heat that even my pour-hot-sauce-on-everything boyfriend thought it had a good kick. We had some with dinner last night and my mouth burned a little and I was halfway through a spontaneous happy dance before I even registered I was dancing. That's how good kimchi is. And it's BACK IN MY LIFE.

Blog readers, I present to you my baby. Some notes before you get started:
  1. You don't need to have a large mason jar to make it, but you do want a large glass sealable container of some sort.
  2. Because you're fermenting things here, you're going to want to sterilizer said glass container. You can do this by submerging it in boiling water for 10 seconds.
  3. Use the freshest ingredients you can. Your tastebuds and stomach will thank you.
  4. Making the kimchi is a two-day process, then you store it for 4 days, so if you want a meal with kimchi, you'll have to plan ahead!
Vegan Nightshade-Free Kimchi
Makes a lot of servings.

1 large napa cabbage
4-5 scallions (I used a whole bunch but found this to be too many; I'd say half a bunch, which I estimate to be 4-5, will be best)
6 cloves of garlic
2-inch chunk or a little larger of ginger
2 (small) carrots or 1 large one
black pepper, and sichuan pepper, if you can get it, ground

Get a large bowl and fill it with very salty water--I'd say 1/2 cup of salt for 4-6 cups of water. Dissolve the salt in the water.

Wash your cabbage well, then chop into 2-inch chunks. Put the cabbage into the salt water. To stop it from floating, put a plate on top of it in the bowl,, then put something heavy on top of the plate. Like so:
Let this sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours. (I did it in the evening, then came back to it the next day after work.) Then drain the cabbage, but save some of the brine.
Rinse the cabbage really well under cold water.
If you're like me, you'll be shocked at how much it reduced. Now get all your other ingredients.
Grate the carrots into a large bowl, preferably glass. Then chop up the garlic and ginger as tiny as you can. A garlic crusher might be good in this situation if you have one (I don't), as would a ginger grater. Chop the scallions however you like; I did inch-long segments, split down the middle, but I think I'll do smaller next time.
To these ingredients, generously add freshly-ground black and sichuan pepper. Then add the napa cabbage, and mix it all up really well. It's easiest to do with your hands. This is kimchi! Or it's going to be soon. Put it into your glass container.
REALLY pack it in there. It's going to seem like it can't fit, but it can! There will be some juice in the jar; if it isn't enough to cover the top of the kimchi, add enough brine just to cover the top.

Now this part that sounds tricky, but isn't really. Because everything's fermenting, any bits of vegetable that are floating above the liquid could end up with mold on them, so you want everything to be submerged. Easier said than done though, right? A simple way to keep things from being exposed to air is to stuff a ziplock bag in on top of the kimchi. Fill the ziplock bag with water until the water-filled ziplock bag fills the empty space in the kimchi jar. Fold the sides of the plastic bag over the sides of the glass container, and close the lid, around the plastic bag.

Voila! Refrigerate for 4-6 days. If your place is cool, you can leave it in a cool, dark place out for a day first, to speed along fermentation, but since it's June in Boston, that was not an option for me.

After 4-6 days, remove the zip lock bag and enjoy!

Kimchi with tofu fishsticks (the boyfriend says I make this dish more often than any other. If this is a bad thing, I don't want to be good), wasabi sauce, greens, and miso-sesame mashed sweet potatoes.
Kimchi is good as a side for many Asian-themed meals. It is also delicious as a topping for plain rice, a last minute stir-in for stir-fries, over noodles, and in soups and stews.


grilled romaine hearts

It's grilling season! Just like I believe all vegetables get tastier when roasted, I believe that all food is better grilled.
Grilled tofu, corn, and bread with a (not grilled) salad, from last summer.
I'm a big fan of the smokey flavor charcoal/wood-burning grills impart, but I take what I can get. Being city dwellers, we don't have a grill, nor do we have a place to put one, but we have a cast-iron grill pan, which is the next best thing. I like that grill pains allow you to control the temperature (and therefore cooking time) a lot better than a real grill can.

Grilled romaine hearts are delicious, quick, and simple. They are, in fact, so easy to make that I almost feel embarrassed giving you a recipe. It's been a while since I've posted an actual recipe, though, so I'm going to do so anyway.
Grilled Romaine Hearts
If this dish is a side to a big meal, one romaine half per person will do. If it's a small or simple meal, use one heart (two halves) per person.
2 hearts of romaine
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste (a few shakes of each)

Heat your grill. If you're cooking with a grill pan, you want to heat it on medium. While it's heating, pull away any outer leaves on the romaine hearts that look limp or are falling away from the rest of the heart. Cut the hearts down the middle, length-wise, so you have two long, matching halves.

Brush each side of the romaine hearts with olive oil, then set them down on the grill, cut side down. Shake a little salt and pepper over the side that's facing you.

Cook for about 2 minutes; the edges should look a little wilty in parts and brown in others. (If your grill/pan isn't totally hot yet, this could take 3-4 minutes, but watch it closely.) Flip the hearts, sprinkle this side with a little salt and pepper, then cook till that side is brown/wilty, another 2 minutes.

That's it! The only garnish you need is a little more salt and/or pepper, if you are so inclined. The grill turns what is essentially salad into a sophisticated-tasting side dish.
You'll have to cut it with a fork and knife, but that will give you a reason to use all those steak knives you have in a drawer and rarely have a reason to use. I like to think it adds t the sophistication. Serve with whatever else you have on the grill/pan, like here with grilled tempeh on a bed of grilled onions. Grilled avocado is also a great topper, to keep with more side-salad-like ingredients.