Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sicilian Style Vegan Broccoli Rappi

Broccoli Rappi has gotten quite popular in the past 15 years in the United States. Before that it was relegated to the side dish section of the menu at Italian restaurants. Most of the time it's prepared by simply sauteing in garlic and oil. When I was growing up in Sicily, broccoli rappi was not cultivated there, that is because its wild cousin,  cavuliscieddiflourished (and still flourishes) throughout the countryside with minimal help from man. Cavuliscieddi literally means "little cabbages" in Sicilian.  I imagine this is because it has a pungent and bitter taste similar to that of cabbage.  Cavuliscieddi is actually more bitter and tastier than broccoli rappi, but it is unavailable in the US as far I know unless you smuggle some seeds out of Sicily and plant them in your yard. So broccoli rappi is the next best thing to cavuliscieddi in the states. One of my favorite ways to prepare broccoli rappi is with a little anchovy, but since I became vegan I had to come up with another way to get the same great taste. I replaced the anchovy with dulse (a sea vegetable) and a nutritional yeast sauce. I have to admit this came out pretty good. I almost want to say it's better than with anchovy! If you're going to serve with pasta, cut up broccoli  rappi into 1-1/2" pieces (as instructed below). If you're going to eat as a main dish or side dish you can leave it full length or just cut in half after trimming.

1 lb bunch of broccoli rappi, washed, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2 pieces
10 ounces peeled canned tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dulse flakes
hot pepper flakes to taste
sea salt and pepper to taste

nutritional yeast sauce
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
2/3 cup water

I like to use a large stir fry pan or wok for preparing veggies like broccoli rappi as these pans are quite large and their shape really focuses the heat, so that you can cover them with a lid after sauteing and allow the tougher stems to cook through. Otherwise you may have to pre-cook the broccoli rappi prior to sauteing if the stems are particularly thick or tough. Start out by making the nutritional yeast sauce in a small frying pan. Mix nutritional yeast and water and heat through on low heat. The sauce will thicken and take on the consistency of a cheese sauce.  Meanwhile heat olive oil in a stir fry or saute pan and add garlic. Brown garlic, add broccoli rappi and quickly toss to coat with oil on high heat. After about 3 minutes the broccoli rappi should be crisp tender and you can add the tomatoes. Heat on medium flame for about 5 minutes, covering if necessary to cook through the stems. Add dulse flakes, and the hot and black peppers to taste. You may not need to add sea salt since the dulse flakes provide a salty taste (without the high sodium). Turn off heat and mix in the nutritional yeast sauce. Toss with pasta, like penne, or serve as main or side dish.

I mentioned the whole cavuliscieddi story above to show that we forget how people really ate in the "old country." I honestly thought we ate broccoli rappi in Sicily, but my mother reminded me that it was in fact cavuliscieddi. We equate foods like meatballs, veal and chicken parmigiana, prosciutto, sausage, pizza etc. with being Italian (and they are!), but up until recently these foods were sparingly consumed by Italians living in Italy. The Italian diet was plant-based relying on vegetables, fruit, legumes and semolina wheat (and polenta and rice if you were from the north). I once asked my dad how much red meat he consumed when he was growing up in Sicily (he is now in his late 60s) and he said they only had it for special occasions, perhaps three times a year.

BTW - my husband cleaned his plate and went back for seconds when I made this the other night. He would have had more if I made more.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Chocolate Quinoa Cereal

One of my favorite homemade hot breakfast cereals. I usually make this with leftover quinoa or brown rice. A very nutritious alternative to junky, commercially produced cereals. High in iron, protein, essential omega-3 fatty acids and a bit decadent from the dark chocolate. The brown rice version almost tastes like chocolate rice pudding. And obviously, both versions of this cereal are gluten free.

1 cup cooked quinoa or brown rice
1/2-3/4 cup homemade hemp milk* (you can use store bought hemp milk or your favorite
    non-dairy beverage)
1 tablespoon 100% cacao powder (i.e unsweetened cocoa powder)
1/2 banana sliced
1 large date chopped
1 tablespoon chopped almonds
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
optional 1 teaspoon agave nectar or other sweetener

In small sauce pan mix the cacao powder with two tablespoons of  hemp milk until chocolate mixture is smooth. Add remaining 1/2 cup hemp milk and stir over heat until warm (not boiling). Add remaining ingredients and mix and heat through. Add more hemp milk if you like your cereal thinner. I find that this cereal is sweet enough with the date and banana and usually don't add agave nectar. If you aren't adding the banana or date you will need to add the sweetener- unless you like the taste of unsweetened chocolate (and I kinda do!). Sometimes I don't heat the chocolate mixture and I have the cereal cold. The only drawback is that the chocolate powder will be lumpy.

makes 1 large serving

The other day my husband asked me if I was having Cocoa Puffs when I was eating this - almost, since I am cuckoo for cacao powder!

* recipe for homemade hemp milk (which is more nutritious than store bought hemp milk)
3/4 cup shelled hemp seeds
3-1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon agave nectar

Mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Store in refrigerator for up to a week. I usually store it in a mason jar.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sicilian Bean and Swiss Chard with Pasta

Growing up in Sicily in the early 1970s this was one of my favorite dishes. Lovingly made by my mom and grandmother, I remember asking for seconds and thirds of this particular dish, stuffing my little 5 year old body to the gunnels. The Swiss chard adds texture and makes this dish, which would otherwise be pasta fagioli,  a bit sweeter. It may seem odd to Americans that a child's favorite dish involved vegetables, but  I think food preferences really are based on what one is brought up eating - that and Sicilians really know what they're doing when it comes to preparing vegetables!

1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil.
20 oz canned tomatoes chopped (include juice)
1- 15 oz can cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
1 lb bunch Swiss chard, washed, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2" pieces (I used red Swiss
    chard here)
1/2lb to 3/4 lb multi grain gluten free penne (I used Schar Gluten-Free pasta.  I
    recommend De Cecco or Barilla pasta if you don't have a wheat gluten allergy)
dried oregano to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in large saute pan. Add garlic, onion, carrot and celery and cook until soft. Add tomatoes and cook about 15 minutes. Add beans and cook until heated through for about 5 minutes. Add oregano, salt and pepper to taste. While sauce is cooking prepare pasta according to package directions (make sure you cook the pasta in the amount of water specified or the pasta will come out sticky if you don't use enough water). During the last three minutes of pasta cooking time add the Swiss chard to the pasta and cook until the Swiss chard is tender. Drain pasta and Swiss chard reserving about one cup of the cooking liquid. Toss the pasta with the swiss chard, sauce and the reserved cooking liquid.

Makes 2-4 servings.