My Favorite Thai Basil Stir Fry

This is one of my favorite dishes – one that I crave and often treat myself to when I’m just cooking for one (though it works well for dinner parties, too). I came up with it many years ago when Super H Mart opened in Atlanta and fresh Thai basil was suddenly accessible! The recipe is flexible and forgiving; I doubt that I’ve ever made it exactly the same twice. In the version below, I experimented with adding freshly ground Indonesian green and white peppercorns from La Boite Spices.

Thai Basil Stirfry Served

Ingredients

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
3 scallions, sliced
1 roma tomato, diced
3 mushrooms, chopped
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1 bunch glass noodles, cooked
1 cup diced firm tofu or meat substitute (here, I used Beyond Meat Lightly Seasoned Chicken)
5-6 sprigs fresh Thai basil, leaves stripped from stems
1 lime
1/2 c vegetable broth (I make my own bouillon using this recipe – definitely worth the effort!)
1 tsp chili paste
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame seed oil
2 tbsp canola oil
1/4 tsp freshly ground white and green peppercorns (optional)

Thai Basil Stirfry Prep

Directions

1. In a large skillet (I prefer cast-iron), heat the canola oil and sesame seed oil over high heat.
2. When hot, add garlic and ground pepper and saute for about 30 seconds.
3. Add carrots and tofu or meat substitute and saute for another minute.
4. Add scallions, tomato, mushrooms, peas, and glass noodles and saute for about a minute.
5. Add soy sauce, chili paste, and vegetable broth. Cook, stirring, for another 3-4 minutes, until the vegetables are just cooked.
6. Toss in Thai basil leaves at the end, and squeeze juice from half of a lime over the stirfry.
7. Serve immediately.

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Chocolate Mousse with Whipped Coconut Cream

In college (and a bit beyond), I often cheated on my vegan diet when it came to desserts. I had a particular weakness for Finale‘s Dark Chocolate Decadence cake. Recently, I decided to try to recreate some of my favorite desserts using only vegan ingredients. This chocolate mousse requires only five ingredients and is incredibly versatile. The whipped coconut cream has a texture similar to whipped cream made from milk and a delightfully light taste.

EquipmentSaucepan (or double boiler), spatula, blender, hand mixer or electric whisk

Ingredients

For the chocolate mousse:
1 box Firm Silken Mori-Nu Tofu
3 tbsp rice, soy, almond or coconut milk
1 tbsp agave nectar
1/4 tsp vanilla
1-1/4 c dark chocolate chips

For the whipped cream:
1 can coconut milk*
4 tbsp powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla

*Do not buy lite coconut milk because you need the cream. I find Whole Foods brand to be very high quality and reliable. Some of the less expensive brands I’ve purchased at Asian supermarkets are lower quality, watery, and will not work for this recipe. You need to separate the coconut cream from the coconut water. The easiest way to do this is to let the can sit in your pantry for a week or so. Since a week is a long time to wait when you want whipped cream, I just keep a few cans in my pantry ready to go at all times.

Directions

1. Combine tofu, milk, agave, and vanilla in a blender. Puree on high for 2-3 minutes, or until the tofu is creamy and free from lumps. After a minute of blending, scrape down the sides using a spatula and continue blending.

2. Melt chocolate chips in double boiler or in saucepan over very low heat. Be careful not to burn the chocolate.

3. Once the chocolate is smooth and shiny, pour into blender. Puree for another minute or so until thoroughly mixed into the tofu. You should have a thick, creamy and chocolatey pudding. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour.

4. To make the whipped cream, carefully open a can of coconut milk that you have let sit for about a week. Do not shake! The cream should have risen to the top. The amount of cream in a can varies; when I use Whole Foods coconut milk, about 2/3 of the can will be cream. Scoop out all of the thick cream into a medium-sized mixing bowl. You can discard the coconut water, use it in another recipe, or drink it.

5. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat on high with handheld mixer or electric whisk for 4-5 minutes. The cream will be fluffier, but still a little runny compared to traditional whipped cream. Refrigerate for an hour to allow the cream to thicken.

6. To serve, spoon chocolate mousse into a serving bowl and top with whipped coconut cream!

Variations:

The chocolate mousse is very thick and rich. Put it in a pie crust for a delicious chocolate pie. Or, add even more chocolate chips to make a decadent chocolate ganache. I use this ganache as icing for cupcakes and no one can tell that it is vegan!

My dad doesn’t like chocolate, so for him, I use carob chips instead.

Dinner Party Bruschetta

This bruschetta is one of my go-to recipes for dinner parties and potlucks. It is simple to make, fairly quick, and most importantly, always a hit. I never have any leftovers! I made the batch shown in the pictures in September when the farmers markets were overflowing with delicious heirloom tomatoes; during the rest of the year, I make do with supermarket tomatoes.

It is based on this Bon Appetit bruschetta recipe, but I make a few modifications.

Equipment: Knife, cutting board, mortar & pestle, cookie sheet, mixing bowl, pastry brush

Ingredients

2 large heirloom tomatoes, diced (different colors, if possible)
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
8 tbsp olive oil
1/2 c chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 long baguette, sliced into 3/4″ slices
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

1. Preheat oven to broil.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine diced heirloom tomatoes, red onion, 4 tbsp of olive oil, basil, and balsamic vinegar. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to season. Set aside.

3. Add 4 tbsp olive oil to crushed garlic in mortar and pestle, and mix together to form a chunky garlic paste.

4. Arrange slices of bread on a cookie sheet (here, I use pizza stones). Brush garlic and oil mixture onto each slice.

5. When oven is hot, broil bread for 1-2 minutes. The garlic should roast, and the bread should be a lightly-toasted brown. Watch carefully, as the bread will burn very quickly if left in too long!

6. Spoon tomato topping onto slices. Serve immediately!

Chipotle Sambal

This chipotle sambal is very easy to make and incredibly flavorful. Use it like salsa for chips, or serve with tamales, beans, or potatoes. The key to creating a delicious, deeply flavored sauce is slow cooking, so don’t cheat on time! I like to use Muir Glen Fire-Roasted Tomatoes to augment the smoky flavor of the chipotle peppers.

Equipment: Saucepan, knife, cutting board, immersion blender

Ingredients

1 14.5oz can Muir Glen Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tbsp olive oil
4-6 chipotle peppers, depending on your spiciness preference
1 fresh chili pepper (I like to use anaheim chilis)
1 tsp kosher salt

Directions

1. Mix all ingredients together in a small saucepan. Place over medium heat until mixture begins to boil, then reduce heat to very low.

2. Gently simmer for at least 1 hour. The tomatoes and onions will start to caramelize, and the dried peppers will become soft.

3. Puree mixture using immersion blender (or standard blender).

4. Cool to room temperature. The sambal will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Simply Satisfying: Polenta Lunch Bowl

I love polenta because it’s incredibly easy to make, filling, and versatile. Here is a single-dish lunch that I whipped up after a trip to the California Street Farmer’s Market with my sister.

Equipment: Saucepan, small skillet, wooden spoon, grater

Ingredients

3 c water
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 c polenta (corn grits)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 zucchini, grated
1 heirloom tomato, diced into 1″ pieces
sundried tomato pesto (I bought mine at the farmer’s market. If you can’t find it, substitute another tomato-based sauce)

Directions

1. Bring the water to a boil and add the vegetable bouillon cube. Slowly pour the polenta into the boiling water while stirring with a wooden spoon to avoid clumping.

2. Reduce heat and stir polenta frequently for about 20 minutes, or until it becomes a thick porridge.

3. Heat olive oil in a small skillet. Add crushed garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add grated zucchini and reduce heat. Saute for about 5 minutes, or until zucchini is cooked.

4. To assemble final dish, spoon polenta into bowl. Add diced tomatoes and put a spoonful of pesto on top. Add some zucchini to the side. Enjoy!

Gluten-Free, Vegan Ravioli

This dish was inspired by my beloved little sister who, in addition to being vegan, has a gluten sensitivity. She came to visit me a few weeks ago and was craving ravioli, which she had not eaten in years. (So far, we haven’t seen vegan, gluten-free ravioli in stores).

Below is the recipe I came up with for her – the filling is based on homemade “tofu ricotta” and the skins are rice paper wrappers. The verdict was that it was good, but not *exactly* like ravioli made with semolina.

I don’t have any pictures of the final product as my photographer (aka my sister) mostly captured the prep process. I’ll update next time I make this dish!

Prep time: ~1 hour

Equipment: Blender (or immersion blender), 2 large mixing bowls, small skillet, cutting board and knife, stockpot, slotted spoon

Ingredients:

1 package firm (or extra-firm) tofu (*note, for this recipe, I prefer to use the fresh tofu found in the refrigerated section, not the Nasoya silken tofu)
1 cube vegetable bouillon
1 c sweet corn (frozen or fresh)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 scallions, sliced (or 1/4 medium yellow onion, diced)
1/4 c + 2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 c fresh basil leaves, julienned
1 package rice paper wrappers (sold at Asian supermarkets; sometimes I have found them at supermarkets)

Directions

1. To make the tofu ricotta, coarsely blend the tofu (drained), olive oil, and bouillon cube.

2. Heat up 2 tbsp oil in skillet, add garlic and onion and saute for about 1 minute (until fragrant). Add corn and 2 tbsp water, turn down flame to low, and cook until corn is soft.

3. In large mixing bowl, mix together the tofu ricotta, corn mixture, and basil. Add salt to taste.

4. Fill the other large mixing bowl halfway with warm tap water.

5. To assemble ravioli, soak rice paper wrappers (one at a time) in warm water until soft (I leave them in for about 30 sec). Lay flat on counter and cut in half. Put one spoonful of filling in the middle of each half. Fold over narrow side flaps (if you made the cut horizontally, then you’d fold up and down). Next, fold over one long flap to the left. Roll the ravioli to the left until the right tail is completely rolled around and you have a compact package.

6. Cooking the ravioli is the trickiest part. Let them sit so that the rice paper wrapper “gels” together and holds. In a large stockpot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. The rice paper wrappers are not as robust as a typical semolina wrapper, so you cannot toss them all in at once. We placed 2 or 3 on a slotted spoon, lowered the spoon in the water and held the spoon while they cooked for 2-3 minutes.

7. To serve, plate the ravioli and cover with your favorite pasta sauce. We heated up some Trader Joe’s Marinara.

Cucumber Barley Salad

Despite being vegan, I’m really not much of a salad person as salads rarely satiate me. However, I recently ate a delicious grain salad at Mill Valley Kitchen and was inspired to eat more grains in general. I came home, found a bag of barley and four Persian cucumbers in the refrigerator, and decided to concoct a salad. This is perfect as an accompaniment to dinner or as a light lunch.

Prep time: 1 hour (most of this time is to cook the barley)

Serves: 4

Equipment: Cutting board, knife, pot, colander

Ingredients:

3 c water
1 c barley
2 Persian cucumbers (or 1/2 normal cucumber)
3 scallions
1/4 c fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp lemon juice (approx. juice from half of a lemon)
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

Directions:

1. Cook the barley first: boil 3 cups of water, add the barley, return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 50 minutes.

2. Dice the cucumbers into 1/2″ cubes.

3. Thinly slice scallions. I like to slice them on the bias for presentation purposes.

4. Julienne the mint leaves.

5. In a small prep bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, and salt.

6. When barley is finished, place in colander and run under cold water for ~1 minute to cool grains to just above room temperature. Then, mix barley, dressing, cucumbers, scallions and mint. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Watermelon Cooler

Fresh watermelon juice is one of my favorite beverages – simple, beautiful and refreshing! Adding cucumber and/or mint makes it even better. Here is an easy recipe for a summer beverage. It’s also a great way to use up a watermelon that may have lost some of its crisp texture in the refrigerator.

Prep time: 5-10 minutes

Serves: 1-2

Equipment: Blender, Knife

Ingredients:

~4 c watermelon, chilled and cut into 1″ cubes (this is approximately equivalent to 1 slice from the center of a medium-sized watermelon)
1/2 c cucumber, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1/4 c fresh mint leaves, stems removed

Directions:

1. Add cubed watermelon and cucumber to blender and puree on high for 1-2 minutes. The juice will be frothy and light pink.

2. Toss in mint leaves and puree for 10 seconds, just long enough to see flecks of mint in the juice.

3. Pour into glasses and serve. If watermelon wasn’t chilled, pour over ice.

Variations:

– I have found the watermelon to be sweet enough, but if you prefer your drinks sweeter, add a tsp or 2 of agave nectar.
– This recipe makes a “pulpy” drink and retains all components of the whole fruit. However, if you dislike pulp, you could pour the juice through a strainer first. Alternatively, you could use a juicer.
– To give this drink a mojito twist, I’ve also added the juice of half of a lime.

Inspired by:

Watermelon Cucumber Punch, New York Times, Published August 20, 2008

Welcome!

Welcome to tenderistheknife!

The name is derived from my twin passions of food and fiction, though here, I focus on food.  It refers to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and we all know how essential a sharp knife is to crafting a good meal from fresh, whole ingredients.

As noted in the tagline, I am “mostly” vegan. I qualify “vegan” because I do eat honey (which many purist vegans eschew) and since my motivation for remaining vegan is entirely health-based, I am vegan only in diet (i.e. I wear leather, etc.).

I enjoy cooking from scratch (anything from a quick, 10-minute bento box lunch to a 12-hour feast) and I thrive on exploring new ingredients, cooking techniques, cuisines and dishes. Here, I’ll share my favorite recipes and comments on restaurants I visit. I am an avid consumer, and so the occasional product review may find its way in here as well.

I hope that you enjoy your visit and look forward to hearing from you!