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Bob, meet our nemesis, EEEEEEEEEVIL WHEAT-BEAST!

Our nemesis, EEEEEEEEEVIL WHEAT-BEAST!

Shoh ’nuff. “Bob” just announced on his Mill Room blog that two of the Big Cheeses at Bob’s Red Mill are going gluten-free for a month. The kid part of me says, “Whoop-dee-doo, welcome to life in Strict Dietville, you healthy jerkies,” (said in the nicest way possible, of course) but the adult part of me congratulates them on their open-mindedness and willingness to see the world through the gluten goggles we celiacs must wear. Honestly, when I venture outside the confines of my well-stocked kitchen and into American Food World, I am absolutely, positively FLOORED by how universal gluten is. Americans live on gluten (no wonder they’re so jiggley)! Save the spotted banana and the wax apple by the counter at every Starbucks/Panera/Caffe Bacci/Corner Bakery/blah-dee-blah, we inhabit a sea of gluten. It’s a bummer, dude, because there are so many other worthy grains out there. Let’s hope Bob’s Gluten-Free Gladiators inspire legions of people to abandon their gluten addiction and encourage the proliferation of other grains in our diet. Amen, sistah.

Northern Indian cuisine (what most of us think of when we think of Indian food) is full of delectable but tragically wheaty breads. But India is a huge country. Have you explored Southern Indian food?

Here in Chicago, we enjoy the benefits of a thousand Indian restaurants on Devon (pronounced, inexplicably as “Dev-ON” rather than “DEVon”), many of which are Northern Indian, but there are also Pakistani, Mughlai, and Southern Indian (also vegetarian – bonus!!!) It is at one of these vegetarian Southern Indian places that we discovered the dosa. For the uninitiated, dosas are thin, crispy lentil & rice pancakes filled with various vegetabley delights. Wikipedia has a great explanation on dosas if you’re looking for more.

This weekend I decided to give the dosa a try. I had bought some urad dal, the lentils they use in the batter, the last time I was in an Indian market up north.

Urad Dal

Urad Dal

Tonight the batter was ready, so I whipped up some dosas and filled them with veggies I had on hand. The results? Pretty dern delish. Have a gander:

Dosa with Kale & Spaghetti Squash Filling

Dosa

  • 3/4 c. uncooked basmati rice
  • 1/4 c. urad dal
  • salt to taste
  • water
  • veggie oil or ghee

Soak the rice and the dal in separate bowls of water overnight. The next day, drain the rice and place in a blender with approximately 1/4 cup of fresh water (or whatever it takes for your blender to properly grind the rice to a smooth paste). Do the same with the dal, using slightly less water. Combine the rice paste and the dal paste into one bowl and mix with 1 1/2 cup water. Cover lightly and let sit out on counter overnight.

The next day, add salt to taste and enough water so that the batter is very thin and has the consistency of 1% milk when it pours. Heat a nonstick frying pan with some ghee or oil on high. With a 1/4 cup measuring cup, pour the batter into the pan and swirl the pan so the batter covers the entire bottom in a thin film. Cook until bottom is golden brown and crispy (no soft crepe wannabes). No need to flip – dosas are usually only cooked on one side.

Dosa with Veggie Goodness

South Indian Flatbread: Dosa with Veggie Goodness

Kale & Spaghetti Squash Filling

  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 a spaghetti squash
  • 1 bunch lacinato kale
  • 1″ piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cumin seed
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. mustard seed
  • 1-2 hot green chilis
  • veggie oil or ghee
  • salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350F. Slice spaghetti squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Lube lightly with olive oil. Turn face down in a pyrex dish and bake for 30 minutes.

With 5 minutes remaining on the clock for the squash, heat oil or ghee in a large pan. Slice onions into thin strips and saute. Add garlic and chilis, saute. Add ginger and spices, saute for another minute. Slice the kale into thin strips and add to the mix. Saute until slightly limp. When the squash is done, remove from the oven and flip over the halves. With a fork, tease out the spaghetti strings and add them to the kale filling. Salt to taste and fill the dosas, folding them into thirds, kind of like a cannoli. Serve with hot Indian chutneys of your choice, plus a little yogurt to cool the fire.

Truth be told, I’m a soupivore. If I could translate every meal into some kind of soupy goodness, I would, in a second. Maybe it’s a tribute to college days when we would “drink our dinner” (enh, not really – never was a big drinker) or the fact that I am a camel and unless you force me to drink water, it never really occurs to me to do so (much more likely). But to me, nothing is better than a big ol’ vat of soup with my name on it.

Avgolemono Soup Yiayia would be proud of

Avgolemono Soup Yiayia would be proud of

Ranking high on the list of soup favorites is a Greek masterpiece called avgolemono. The name literally (and oh so gracefully) means egg-lemon. You can stop drooling (you were gagging? How rude.) If you’ve never tried lemon in your chicken noodle soup (or veggie equivalent) you haven’t experienced the goodness that Greeks bring to brothy soup (they add lemon to everything. And it’s damn good, might I add.) Avgolemono is akin to a creamy chicken rice soup, but here I make it with veggie broth for us rabbits. Great for a quick meal on a cold winter’s day, or if you have a cold and need some love from the Greek Yiayia you never had (or maybe you did! What do I know?) Anyway, enjoy.

Avgolemono Soup

  • 8 cups veggie broth
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 eggs

Bring 4 cups of broth to a boil. Add the rice, cover, and simmer until rice is tender (also a great use for leftover rice). Add the remaining 4 cups of broth and turn heat to medium-low so that no bubbles are breaking the surface (very important!). In a medium bowl or a 2-cup measuring cup, add the lemon juice to the eggs and beat.

The secret of making avgolemono is to make sure that the eggs do not coagulate and produce the strings characteristic of egg drop soup (Greek grandmothers everywhere gasp with horror). Rather, the eggs should act as a thickener, making a creamy soup without the help of a flour roux (which they do sometimes in restaurants as a shortcut, so ask before you order).

There are several tricks to avoiding the egg drop disaster. First, slowly add 2-3 ladles of the hot broth to the egg and lemon mixture while beating vigorously. This will bring the temperature of the eggs up slowly to approach that of the soup. Then, before adding the watered-down eggs to the soup, make sure the soup is not boiling or even simmering. Any bubbles that break the surface mean that the temperature is too high and you’ll get egg drop, I can guarannnntee. So turn the soup way down and make sure it is perfectly still before adding the egg mixture. As you add the egg mixture, again, beat vigorously. Serves 2-3.

Reheating this soup can be tricky. You have to watch to make sure it doesn’t simmer, or again, the egg drop disaster will rear its ugly head. Those metal heat diffusers can be handy if you have a gas stove. I think microwaves are also a safe option… don’t quote me on that, though!

The Greeks do not fear garlic. You shouldn’t either. Skordalia, the lesser known Greek garlic dip (tzatziki being the better known one, thanks to gyros) actually has its root in the word “skorda,” which means garlic. And that’s the common theme that runs through the countless variations of this dip. Some are bread-based, some potato-based, some almond- or walnut-based. All are delish, but if you ever order it at a Greek ‘straunt, be sure to ask the waiter if there is any bread or flour in it.

Skordalia is typically served with fried, salted cod (bakaliaro) or sliced beets (patzaria – a personal fave) or fried zucchini (kolokithakia). My husboy is on an eggplant buying binge lately (no complaints here), so we tried the ol’ zucchini/eggplant switcheroo. I think my Yiayia would have done the same.

Fried Eggplant with Greek Garlic Dip

Fried Eggplant with Greek Garlic Dip

Fried Eggplant

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2/3 cup of brown rice flour
  • 1 cup grapeseed oil
  • salt & pepper

Slice & soak: Slice the eggplant into 1/4″ rounds and place in a bowl of cold water. Pour a generous amount of salt over the eggplant and let soak for 10-15 minutes while you prepare the breading. Measure out the flour onto a dinner plate, add a healthy dose of salt and pepper and mix to distribute evenly. Gently squeeze the eggplant while submerged in the water. Do this a couple of times. You’ll see the water change to a narsty brown color. This is good. This means the salt is doing its job of leeching the bitterness out.

Fry the bastards: Remove the eggplant from the soaking water, gently squeezing to get the last drops of bitter water out. Coat in your flour mixture. Heat a pan with the grapeseed oil (I use this because it doesn’t smoke at frying temperatures) on high. Fry the eggplant until lightly golden on each side. When done, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to absorb some of the excess oil. Makes enough for 2 people. Serve with the skordalia below.

Skordalia (Greek Garlic Dip)

  • 5 medium Russet potatoes
  • 5 medium cloves of garlic
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • salt

Cut potatoes (unpeeled) into thirds and cover with salted water. Boil until you can stick a fork easily through the thickest potato chunk. Drain and cover with cold water. Peel taters (you can do this right off the bat if you prefer, but it’s easier after they’re boiled). In a large, preferably flattish bowl, mash the potatoes well so there are no lumps. Crush garlic and add to mix. Add olive oil and vinegar and mix well. Salt to taste. Makes dip for an army (ours never lasts past lunch the next day…)

Kali orexi!

I appreciate this message from Mark Bittman regarding his new book, Food Matters:

http://fora.tv/2009/01/12/Mark_Bittman_Food_Matters

Bittman’s message of moderation is a great one, and is especially convincing coming from a dedicated omnivore. Omnivores tune out when vegetarians pipe up. So, thanks to Mark Bittman! I hope some of the Michael Pollan following takes his advice to heart. It will do us all good!

One of the most helpful gluten-free blogs for me starting out was Karina’s Kitchen. Her recipes are sophisticated, tasty, fresh – in short, right up my alley. She has a number of other allergies these days, so I’ve drifted away, but her archives are indespensible. After a long hiatus, I checked her site and it looks like her blog has been nominated by Well Fed Networks as one of the best Food Blogs with a Theme in 2008! I would have to agree. Check out her site and if you like it, vote for her here! She is currently neck-and-neck with another blog called Lunch In a Box. Voting closes Saturday, Jan. 24th at 8pm EST.

I spent a summer in college on the island of Spetses doing a Greek language program. One of my favorite people there was a Dutch girl named Eleni. I remember talking about waffles one day and she didn’t know the word in English. So I described them and her face lit up, “OH! VAFFLEEEEES!!!!” I practically fell off my chair laughing. Why don’t we call them vafflees? It’s an infinitely cooler word, for sure.

Here’s the staple vafflee recipe in my house. It’s based off of my mom’s pancake and waffle batter, but adjusted to be gluten-free delicious.

Gluten-Free Waffles

  • 2 1/8 c. gluten-free flour mix (I like equal parts sorghum, teff, tapioca, and sweet rice flours)
  • 4 T sugar (sometimes I sub maple syrup or honey here)
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (do you have a Microplane?! This is an essential kitchen gadget)
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 3/4 cups milk of some sort (If you use another GF flour mix from the one I suggest below, you’ll have to adjust this amount of liquid to achieve the proper consistency)
  • 4 T melted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • chopped nuts and fresh fruit for topping

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix to evenly distribute flours, spices, etc. Add eggs, vanilla, butter, and half of the milk. Mix until smooth. Add the rest of the milk incrementally until the batter is thick but still pours. Grease up the ol’ waffle iron and make you some vafflees! Top with fruity, nutty goodness and whatever else floats your boat. Makes waffles for 2 extremely hungry people or 3 normal people (or 4 birds, 5 twigs, you get the idea).

Chicago is a funny town. It took me a while to realize when I first moved here that there was indeed ethnic diversity in this city. The diversity is not like New York where everyone is piled on top of one another and jumbled together so that at any given moment you may have all seven continents represented in any given public space (yes, penguins frequent NY in the colder months…) Chicago is neighborhoody. Chinatown on the south side, Koreaville up on Lincoln, Greektown on Halsted, and oh-baby take me to India on Devon! If you have a car and the gumption, there are some fabulous ethnic markets to visit with wild and crazy ingredients that’ll make ye li’l heart sing.

Needless to say, my aforementioned Rhode-Island-sized spice cabinet is due in a large part to the Indian markets on Devon. They sell lifetime-supply bags of cardamom pods for $4. Who can resist such spice gluttony?! So, the question arises: what does one do with buckets of cardamom, coriander, and clove? Make buckets of chai, of course.

chai-spicesChi-town Chai

  • 5 cups water
  • 3 cups milk of some sort (cow, soy, whatever)
  • 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds, slighty crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds or 1/2 a star anise, depending on your tolerance for licorice flave
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 half-inch thick slice of fresh ginger
  • 1 black tea bag (I like earl grey, but experiment around with what you like)
  • honey to taste

Put water and spices in a pan and bring to a boil. Boil down until just overĀ  half the water has evaporated and 2ish cups of a healthy brown liquid remain. Set a fine seive over a bowl or measuring cup and pour the liquid through, separating the spices out. Discard the spices and return the liquid to the pot. Add milk and heat over medium-low heat until steaming (don’t let it boil over – major mess potential here!) Add honey to taste. Makes approximately 2 big cups of spicy goodness.

P.S. The cool thing about this recipe is that you can leave anything out at any time. Mix and match to your heart’s desire.

deathsauceIn a world of omnivores, I think vegetarians get the short end of the stick when it comes to being served flavorful food (unless you happen to come across one of the gems in the cooking world who views veggies with the same deference as Bessie the Cow.) What has always been the veghead’s response? Douse the damn meal in hot sauce. I’ve always found this approach less than fulfilling. Hot sauce has its place, but it is not to be used like a crutch to help you forget your woes (or mask other people’s attempts at vegetarian cooking, neverMIND GF-veggie cooking).

That said, I’d like to introduce you to the world’s only hot sauce worth its salt: Blair’s Death Sauce (original flavor, pleeeease)! Don’t be intimidated by the name – it’s not deathly hot. It’s got the perfect blend of spice, tang, and oh so much flava-flave. Much less widely distributed than other brands like (enh) Melinda’s or (gag) Tabasco, but in my opinion, LEAGUES above and beyond. It’s worth a trip to Blair’s website to buy a case. I’m tellin’ ya. Your tastebugs (as I used to call them) will thank you.

A small, but infinitely expandable list of Vehicles for Death Sauce:

  • open-faced grilled cheese sandwich (soH nice!)
  • fried egg on a corn tortilla (staple breakfast food)
  • pizza, pizza (if you can find or make a decent gf one, obv)
  • nachos, oh yes
  • tacos, tostadas, etc, etc
  • on any lame, tasteless bean or rice dish that someone tries to pass off as veggie food! (If I must douse my sorrows in a hot sauce, Death Sauce is the only one that will do)
  • I’m tellin’ ya. Deeeelish.

Hello! Where are all the gluten-free vegetarian blogs out there? (Sorry, gf-vegan is just too contrived for this food hound.) After two years of cobbling together recipes from the wonderful gluten-free blogs out there and adapting them for my vegetarian tendencies, I’ve decided to go whole hog and adopt a wheat-free/meat-free blog of my very own. Why should us wheat-tard/meat-tards have to shop around? We shouldn’t. So welcome to GF VegHeads Central. YUM.

I’ll tell you right now that I love ethnic food and am not afraid of a spice cabinet the size of Rhode Island. I am constantly on the hunt for naturally gluten-free goodies that don’t try to be anything they’re not. Let’s face it; there are some very good gf breads out there, but we’re just never going to get the exact same crispy crusty rustic loaf from bean flours. It’s ok, though. There is a world of wacky flour out there and plenty of interesting ethnic goodies that utilize them. So onward on our quest! Our battle cries? We will eat well. We will not be discouraged. We will not miss wheat! And we won’t eat no meat. WORD.

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