Vegan Caramelized Carrot Risotto

IMG_2868     After seeing the movie The Fault in Our Stars where they eat the Dragon Carrot Risotto, I knew I had to make it.  So last Fall, I ordered organic seeds from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, and began planning a few dishes to make.   I found this recipe online and veganized it.  Swapping out the animal products still produced a classic, restaurant-style risotto, with a real flavor of parmesan.  Caramelizing the carrots is genius, and this is good enough for company, for a birthday, or even for Thanksgiving.  In the end, I did use a mélange of carrot cultivars to make this dish, because that day, along with the Dragon carrots, I also pulled Cosmic Purple carrots and Atomic Red carrots from the ground.   This dish makes a lot and reheats well.


Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided  (not canola oil)
3 Tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, divided
6 medium carrots, peeled and chopped as finely and evenly as possible (about 3 Cups)
(I used a food processor for the carrots)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
5 Cups vegetable broth  (I used Better Than Bouillon No Chicken Base)
1/3 Cup minced onion
1.5 Cups Arborio rice
1/2 Cup dry white wine
1/4 Cup vegan cream cheese  (I like Trader Joe’s)
1/4 Cup vegan parmesan, I like Go Veggie Vegan Grated Parmesan
1 Tablespoon finely-chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus 1 Tablespoon for garnish
1 teaspoon roughly-chopped fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Heat 1 Tablespoon oil and 1 Tablespoon vegan butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot.  Add carrots and stir until well coated.  Ad 1/2 Cup water, salt and sugar, cover and cook 5 minutes, or until tender.  Uncover and cook a few minutes more, stirring occasionally until water evaporates and carrots are just starting to brown.  Reserve half of these cooked carrots.  In a blender, puree the other half with 3/4 Cup hot water.

Bring broth to a simmer and keep hot, covered, over low heat.

In same (unwashed) pot used for carrots, heat remaining oil and butter over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add rice, stirring to coat rice with oil, 1 minute.  Add wine and cook, stirring until wine evaporates.  Add carrot puree and cook, stirring, until mixture no longer looks soupy.

Add 1/2 Cup hot broth, stirring often, until rice absorbs most of the liquid.  Repeat process, adding 1/2 Cup broth at a time and stirring often until each addition of broth is absorbed before adding the next, until rice is al dente (about 20 minutes).  At least 1 Cup of broth will remain.

Set aside 2 Tablespoons of the caramelized carrots.  Fold in the remaining carrots, cream cheese, parmesan, 1 Tablespoon parsley, and the thyme.  Add up to 1 Cup broth (1/4 Cup at a time) to loosen the risotto.  Season with pepper.

Garnish each bowl of risotto with the remaining parsley and reserved carrots.  Serve immediately.

Notes:  Better Than Bouillon also makes a very good Seasoned Vegetable Base that would work fine.  When reheating, add some leftover broth or water to loosen it up again.

cropped-IMG_2825.jpg  Organic carrots from my garden.

Jamaican Rice and Peas in A Rice Cooker

IMG_2742    In the Turks & Caicos last winter, we drove to a resort at the end of a long, unpaved, chalky road.  When we arrived, there were no other customers and no restaurant menu like we had seen online.  We were seated in an empty outdoor bar, and we asked them to bring us something vegan.  There was one local guy cooking in the kitchen and he was really just cooking a simple meal for the staff of Belongers, but we were welcome to have some.  The revelation of that meal was the Rice and Peas.  Wanting to try it in the rice cooker, I watched several youtube videos, and it turned out well.  In Jamaica, Pigeon Peas are called Gungo peas (pronounced goongo), but you can find them in the Latin section of many grocery stores, and it will say Gandules Verdes on the label (see below).  Pigeon Peas contain high levels of protein, and the important amino acids.  There’s much debate between countries and cooks as to whether one should use long-grain or medium-grain, or Jasmine rice.  One lady on youtube even uses parboiled rice, and some cooks use the entire can of beans, liquid and all (a practice I’ve adopted).  Some use creamed coconut and some use coconut milk.  Some mix in a bit of chopped Scotch Bonnet pepper, and some simply lay the uncut fiery pepper on top of the rice while it’s cooking, and many don’t use any spicy peppers at all.  The main elements are here below.  Peas also often refers to kidney beans, so if you cannot find the pigeon peas, you could substitute them, but I do love the flavor of the Gungo peas.  Please read the full recipe, including the notes at the bottom, before you begin.  When I say “cups” in the recipe, I’m referring to the measuring cup that came with your rice cooker (see notes).  Once you make this, you’ll see how easy it is.    p.s. See my little Thyme patch below, and think about planting some, as it’s a perennial in many climates.


Serves about 6

2 rice-cooker measuring cups of medium-grain white rice, or Jasmine rice, rinsed of starch  (I’ve also used un-rinsed white Jasmine rice)
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 scallions/green onions, sliced using the white and pale-green parts only
1 can pigeon peas, drained, but save the can liquid
3 sprigs fresh thyme  (strip leaves and discard stems)
15 oz. can lite coconut milk
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 Tablespoon Earth Balance Buttery Sticks

Add rice to rice cooker.  Heat olive oil in small skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and let it sizzle for a minute or two, taking care it doesn’t burn.  Add scallions, pigeon peas and thyme leaves, and sauté stirring for another 2 or 3 minutes.

To the rice in the cooker, add bean liquid, and enough lite coconut milk to bring your contents up to the appropriate mark on the rice cooker.  For example, I used 2 rice-cooker measuring cups of rice and added just enough liquid to bring the contents up to the #2 on the inside mark of the rice pot under the White Rice/Mixed Rice column (see photo)Now add skillet contents, salt, pepper and vegan butter, and stir contents.  Set rice cooker on the White Rice or Mixed Rice setting.  You may have a “Mixed Rice” option and that may be what you want (not sure, as every rice cooker is different).  In my old Zojirushi, I do use the Mixed Rice fill level mark.  When the rice is done cooking, open lid briefly just to stir contents with a rice paddle, and then close lid again.

Notes:  I’ve also used long-grain organic brown rice.  Every rice cooker comes with its own measuring cup, and they often do not equal a standard 8 oz. Cup measure.  For example, the cup in my 15-year-old Zojirushi NS-ZAC10 holds less than 8 ounces–it holds 3/4 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons of water, or only 14 Tablespoons of water (a standard Cup is 16 Tablespoons), and this is measuring level to the very top of the cup.  If I’m using brown rice in my old Zojirushi, even though I’m filling the liquid to the Mixed Rice level mark, I am then choosing “brown rice” on the electronic settings.  It’s important to add the skillet contents after adding your liquids, because the skillet contents will displace a lot of the liquid, and enough liquid is needed to properly cook rice, especially if you are using brown rice.
IMG_2727  I really like the flavor of these Goya pigeon peas.
IMG_2735   2 “cups” dry rice and enough liquid to reach “2” on the inside of the rice cooker pot, of my Zojirushi NS-ZAC10.  Note the “Mixed Rice” option under the white-rice heading.
IMG_2745  Fuzzy Logic.
IMG_2737  Here’s part of my thyme patch, peeking out from under Fall leaves and mums.  It often comes in handy, even late in the year here in Maryland.

Vegan Fried Rice – Local Style

  With Seitan, caramelized onions and fresh corn.

Here’s a good, quick Fried Rice.  In Hawaii, there’s always someplace to get good local-style Fried Rice, but not here on the Mainland.  So, you can make this at home with whatever you have on hand.  This time, I used one of our favorite combinations of grated carrot, caramelized onion and fresh corn kernels.  Some considerations with Fried Rice, which is in essence a Stir Fry, are the order in which you add things to the pan, how finely ingredients are chopped, and most importantly, the seasonings.  I’ve tried using more shoyu (soy sauce) to get more oomph, but it backfires every time.  The key is subtlety–have some balance, keep it simple, not too much oil, and of course, use REAL rice!  If you’ve ever lived in Hawaii, you know that a common joke is to accuse someone of using “Uncle Ben’s” rice.  Yes, the rice must be actually cooked, by you, but you can use a rice cooker, of course, as most Hawaiians do.  I grew up having white “sticky rice” at every meal, but now I like brown rice, and for Fried Rice, I use short-grain brown rice, and it’s delicious.  This photo is not garnished because I didn’t have any green onions on hand, but they are important in this dish.  The protein i used this time was the General Tso’s Vegan Chicken from Whole Foods, cut into quarters, and sauteed with the rice toward the end.  But you could press and cube tofu and cook it beforehand, use nuts, etc.


Make rice one day ahead.  Rice must be cold.  Freshly cooked rice will just make a sticky mess.

Serves 3 to 4 people

2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
1/8 tsp fine sea salt, or Hawaiian salt
4 Cups cold cooked rice (real rice only)
1 large onion, chopped finely
1 carrot, grated
½ C fresh vegetables, chopped fine
A protein, such as diced seitan or pressed-and-cubed tofu or shelled steamed soy beans, or nuts, etc.
2 Tablespoons Tamari sauce
1 Tablespoon Black Bean Sauce  (my personal secret ingredient)
Black pepper
For garnish:  green onions, sesame seeds, etc.

Whisk together the Tamari and Black Bean sauces, and set aside.
In a large, non-stick skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of sesame oil.
If using tofu, fry it until firm or slightly browned, and set aside.
Heat the remaining sesame oil.
Add onions, carrot, the salt, and sauté until onions are a bit caramelized.
Add other vegetables now, if you have not added them with the onions.
Break up lumps of cold, cooked rice  (with your hands) and add to pan.
Stir until rice is heated and grains are separated.
Stir until thoroughly heated and mixed.
Sprinkle Tamari sauces mixture over rice and mix evenly through.
Sprinkle with black pepper if desired.
Garnish with green onions, sesame seeds, etc.

Note:  If using heavy, raw vegetables, chop them finer and add them earlier; when you add the onions, so they have time to really cook.  They key with this dish is to chop things somewhat uniformly.  We like our vegetables to be chopped pretty fine so it’s a more married dish.  When the fresh, local corn is ripe, we like it in this dish.

Trader’s Joe’s Frozen Brown Rice

This is a very convenient product that you keep frozen until preparation.  It’s great for that last-minute meal you need to make on the fly.  I have used it twice to serve with stir-fry and for fried rice, both with good results.  For fried rice, add one tablespoon of sesame oil to the skillet or wok and start browning your onions and whatever other vegetables on medium-high heat and then when you’re ready, add the frozen rice and your other vegetables, such as broccoli florets, chopped greens or thinly sliced celery, whatever.  Add a tablespoon of Tamari sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos, a pinch of sea salt and pepper, some tofu or steamed edamame, you name it.  Let the rice sit a little so there are some well-cooked rice spots on the bottom of the pan, but keep stirring occasionally.  It’s done in 15 minutes and you’re at the table.  Honestly, you could let this thaw and make a quick sushi rice, red beans and rice, or hot cereal or whatever.  I’m not too big on microwave cooking, but I do think this is great for when you’re pressed for time, or you didn’t prepare the rice cooker that morning.

Vegan Persian Rice with Dried Fruit

I grew up eating “sticky rice” but I love the aroma and taste of Basmati rice–to me, it’s exotic.  Come to find out, Persians eat a lot of Indian Basmati rice, go figure.  And this recipe is amazingly delicious;  delicately flavored, but with a bit of toothsome chew.  It’s practical but frivolous, and pretty enough to evoke oohs and aahs.  And the scent of it is so fine–this is when you want your house to smell like dinner.  Adapted from this epicurious recipe, I only changed a couple of things.  Substituting the Earth Balance vegan butter, of course, and I added a pinch of turmeric to amp up the golden color, and the tiniest pinch of saffron, just to make it even more divine.  There are quite a few videos on youtube about preparing Persian Rice, and they’re fun to look at and provide good comparisons in cooking methods to this one.  Keep in mind that the measurements below are halved from the original, which you can link to above.  I used a smaller stock pot with a very heavy bottom on it, like it’s a half inch thick or something.  I think I did not have the rice sitting on a hot enough burner, but we did get some crusty bits described and next time I’ll go for slightly higher heat.  Either way, it was super delicious.  I served it with Tasty Bite Channa Masala and it was so good that Lars went back for seconds,  AND commented twice on how good it all was.
Notes from Gourmet Magazine:  Here, you only boil the rice briefly before combining it with the dried fruit and cooking it without water.   This recipe is adapted from a Persian method that yields a buttery crust (called tah-dig) on the bottom of the pan — later the crust is served with the rice. Usually you have to dip the pot in cold water at the end of cooking to release the crust, but a happy kitchen accident occurred when we tested this recipe. Food editor Ruth Cousineau let the rice stand for almost an hour (things can get hectic when you’re preparing a holiday meal), and the crust came right out without the dipping. Using HEAVY-bottomed pot helps keep the rice hot, too.

Jeweled Rice With Dried Fruit

Makes about 4 servings

Active Time: 25 min.
Total Time: 1 1/2 hr (includes standing time)

1.5 cups basmati rice
2 qt water
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped into 8ths (or smaller)
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
4 Tablespoons Earth Balance vegan butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
Less than 1/16th tsp saffron threads in one Tablespoon water
1/3 cup coarsely-chopped shelled unsalted pistachios (not dyed red)
Sumak spice for sprinkling on top (optional, but so good)

Rinse rice in at least four changes of cold water in a large bowl until water runs pretty clear. Set to drain in a fine sieve.

Please note that I tried cooking this in a Revere-ware copper bottomed pot and burned the bottom of the rice.  A stock pot with a heavy bottom is necessary.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a HEAVY-bottomed pot, then add rice and boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes from time water returns to boil. Drain rice in sieve.

Toss together dried fruit in a bowl.  In cleaned and dried pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter with cardamom, turmeric, pepper and saffron threads/water, stirring to combine.  Then alternately layer rice and dried fruit over it, beginning and ending with rice and mounding loosely. Make 5 or 6 holes in rice to bottom of pot with round handle of a wooden spoon, then cover pot with a kitchen towel and a heavy lid. Fold edges of towel up over lid (to keep towel from burning) and cook rice over moderately low heat, undisturbed, until tender and a crust forms on bottom, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat and let rice stand, tightly covered and undisturbed, at least 30 minutes.

Heat remaining Tablespoon butter in a small skillet over moderate heat and cook pistachios, stirring, until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes.

Spoon loose rice onto a platter, then break crust into 1-inch pieces and scatter over rice. Sprinkle with pistachios.  I just put a plate over the pot of rice and flipped all.

Cooks’ notes:   Rice can be parboiled and drained 4 hours ahead and transferred to a bowl. Keep, covered with a dampened kitchen towel, at room temperature. • Rice can stand off heat up to 1 hour. • If you’re short on time, you can skip letting the rice stand after cooking: Spoon loose rice onto a platter and then dip bottom of pot into a large bowl of cold water for 30 seconds to loosen crust.