Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Vegan Fun in San Marcos & Austin, TX

Howdy Y'all!

Recently I spent some time down in Texas: 4 days in San Marcos for a yoga workshop, and 4 days in Austin for fun. Mr VE&T flew down for the second half of the trip and we had a little Austin vacation together. It was so fun to be back in Austin -- it was my first time back since the glory of VidaVeganCon III, and Mr. VE&T's first time ever. 

first things first!

My friend Christy was so sweet - she picked me up at the airport and transported me to two of Austin's most important vegan destinations: The Vegan Nom taco truck and Capital City Bakery -- conveniently located right down the street from one another. We had such a nice time together, talking, connecting, and getting to know each other better. I was so touched by her generous time and company! 

If you only have one afternoon to be a vegan in Austin, I suggest these two excellent spots. The tacos at The Vegan Nom are sooooooooooo good. Should I keep adding more "o's"?? Ha ha. I love that place and I sure wish we had a Taco Nom truck here in Santa Cruz. And of course I also had a Topo Chico -- the super delicious Mexican sparkly water that is hugely beloved in Austin. I am a bit of a sparkly water afficionado (if I do say so myself!), and that Topo Chico is some damned good fizzy bizz! And then we went over to Capital City Bakery and decided to split a huge and gloriously decadent slice of Key Lime Cheesecake. Holeee Moleee. So fantastic, and without any hesitation, the best vegan cheesecake I have ever had. 

San Marcos Country-Western Dance Contest 
with a super killin' country swing band. So much fun! 

I'm sorry to say that I didn't take many pictures of the food I ate down in San Marcos -- I was pretty focused on enjoying my yoga workshop and the new friends I was making there. That sad, there was some good vegan eating in San Marcos. Not a ton of all-vegan spots, but plenty of vegan awareness and easy to get something good to eat:

* VERTS Mediterranean Grill - VERTS is kinda like Chipotle, but with Mediterranean flavors. It's a good place for veegs and non-veegs folks to go together. I got a falafel salad with lots of great veggies and sauces, and I really enjoyed it. 
* Wanderlust Food Truck - has several veganizable options, including a super-yummy Kale & Apple Salad
* St. Pitas has good falafel, a fried avocado sandwich, hummus & pita
* Earth Burger - I was so excited to check out this all-vegan spot, but it was slated to open about one week after I was in town. Drat! 

After four glorious days of yoga yoga yoga, I scooted on up to Austin to meet my #1 bub -- Mr. Vegan Eats & Treats! It was so fun to be reunited together in a fun place. Of course we got straight to work with excellent eating adventures! 

One of the first places I took him was to Capital City Bakery -- a spot I knew he would love. It is just such a sweet spot: cute as all get-out, excellent staff, and totally amazing baked goods. I swear to you - the pastries are so glorious and tempting. You can also get any of your favorite coffee drinks there, for an excellent fancy drink + pastry experience. 

After much deliberation, we selected a few treats for ourselves - a perfect brownie and a strawberry-filled poptart. I also got a scone "for tomorrow morning," ha ha ha ha. That didn't happen. 

Bouldin Creek Cafe

Our first morning together, we headed right on over to Bouldin Creek Cafe. Such a great spot, with an amazing array of vegan options... but also a selection of non-vegan options. I know that's not perfect for everyone, but since Mr VE&T isn't a vegan, it's always great for us to find places where we can both have a big selection of options to choose from. I had two huge and amazing breakfast tacos: The Tofu Ren (tofu scramble, jalepenos, garlic, sauteed onions) & The Timmy (vegan chorizo, red & black organic beans, shredded lettuce, locally grown tomatoes). 

Breakfast tacos are big news in Austin, and one of my top goals while in town was to eat as many breakfast tacos as possible. I was very successful with this important mission! 

Manana Cafe

We stayed at a sweet spot near South Congress, and on our morning walk we came across this beautiful cafe called Manana. They always have at least one vegan baked good for sale, great coffee (with nondairy milk choices), and they carry this very lovely and fancy local brand of vegan coconut yogurt called Kokonut. Kokonut yogurts are pricey, but my Austin pals assured me that it was worth a try. As far as vegan yogurts go, I am generally quite a soy-loyalist, but I really loved this yogurt a lot! It was super thick and rich and not overly coconutty, with a delicious flavor (I had the Bourbon Vanilla flavor). Austinites are lucky to have this awesome product! 

Last time I was in Austin, my beloved pals Nick and Jojo took me to Kerbey Lane Cafe, and I was so excited to take Mr. VE&T there. Talk about a vegan-friendly spot!! They have a huge non-vegan menu, but for a place that isn't dedicated to veganism, I think Kerbey Lane has some seriously legit vegan options. I got the Vegan Migas (a spicy tofu scram with tortillas mixed in) with rice and beans and green salsa and vegan queso. Can you believe they even have a vegan queso option!? In case you don't know "queso" is the word for "cheese" in Spanish, but down in Texas it refers to a cheezy salsa dip/sauce and it is seriously YUM. 

I also got a vegan pancake on the side because my very favorite thing is sweet and savory for breakfast. Needless to say, this was quite a filling feast! ha ha. No regrets. 

TopoChico = True Love Forever

On my previous trip to Austin, I had been introduced to the GLORY of Topo Chico. I am a devoted fan of sparkling water, and it's probably my favorite thing to drink. Topo Chico is a sparkling mineral water bottled in Mexico, and for whatever reason, the fine people of Austin have recognized it's magnificence, while many other communities remain sadly ignorant. I was overcome with emotion when I saw this huge TopoChico display at the Whole Foods Flagship store (a worthy stop in and of itself, by the way!!).  While in Texas, I drank at least 1 Topo Chico per day, often up to 3 bottles a day. I like to call them TopoPipo though, it's my special name that I made up when I couldn't remember their actual brand name at first. Happily, I've found a Latin market here in Santa Cruz that sells TopoPipos, so I can get my fix here at home too. Yeah!


A vegan potluck! 

You know what's super cool and warms my little vegan heart? Here's what: going to another town and having awesome vegan pals throw you a potluck! My always-wonderful pal Smurfy threw a potluck and I got to hang out with Jess & Wes, and I got to meet a fun new vegan friend too! :) Smurfy made some green enchiladas and vegan queso. I really loved that queso - it's from Kathy Hester's Instant Pot Cookbook and IT IS GOOD. There were some other goodies that I didn't photograph: great tacos and a big bowl of perfect beans. So fun! 

Since we were traveling, I couldn't really cook anything easily ... but I could splurge and pick up a Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Cake from the amazing all-vegan ice cream parlor called Sweet Ritual. ZOMG. Sweet Ritual is a great place to check out while you're in Austin. Let's just say that we went there "more than once" while we were in town. So many great flavors (with many different bases - cashew, coconut, almond, peanut, etc), waffle cones, a zillion rad toppings.... It's a great spot.  

By the way, Jess is one of the owners of Rabbit Food Grocery, and I didn't take any pictures there - but it is such a great spot to stock up on vegan goodies and gifts. I loaded up on jars of Nacho Mom's vegan queso, Frog Hollow chocolate bars, and various other goodies that can't be found in Santa Cruz. RFG is  super rad vegan grocery store, and it's always great to support small vegan-owned businesses! You can also order from them online and they have great stuff. Here's their website. 

A Consultation with the Doctor of Tacology

Smurfy, Jess & Wes are all part of the esteemed team of taco scientists behind "The Taco Cleanse." If you are unaware of "The Taco Cleanse," check out my posts about it here and here. I promise you, your life will be better with this book in your kitchen. It is so funny, so fun to read, and the recipes are amazing.

So, Smurfy busted out her official Doctor of Tacology lab coat! So rad. We had an impromptu consultation, resulting in an excellent prescription of More Tacos and More Topo Chico. Ha ha. All problems solved! 

Another stop at The Vegan Nom

Even though I'd already been to The Vegan Nom once, I needed to go back, and obviously I needed to bring Mr. VE&T here. I mean, honestly, I wish I could eat here every day. There is some serious taco mastery at work in that little blue taco truck. We met up with Smurfy again for a lunchtime taco date and the tacos did not disappoint. These taco wizards know what's up! 

It goes without saying that Mr. Vegan Eats & Treats was duly impressed with these magical tacos. Of course he was. They are the best. 

Another one of my favorite people in Austin is my friend Joanna and I was sooo stoked that we had a chance to go out to dinner with her and her awesome son and her fella. I would have been happy just to run errands together as long as we could hang out together. But we did better than that. She suggested dinner together at The Beer Plant - a 100% vegan restaurant and beer spot that is pretty new to Austin (new since the last time I was there). Holy Moly. This place is Wow. 

Mr VE&T and I were both blown away. SO many incredible choices on the menu and every single thing we had was just fantastic. I am pretty envious of Austin people who can go here any time they want. First of all - the best Buffalo Cauliflower I have ever had in my life. Spicy, amazing batter, amazing ranch dressing.

I was actually really in the mood for a big salad, and they have some pretty amazing-looking salads on the menu, but I felt like it would be silly to travel all that way and have a salad. So I ordered the Gyro, which came with a side salad. Perfect! The Gyro comes with "garlic rosemary seitan, romaine, red cabbage, cucumber, red onion, tomato, tzatziki, and parsley on pita." It was perfect - great flavors, textures, combo of spiced seitan with the fresh veggies, fresh pita, and cooling tzatziki sauce. I also made a nod to my veggie cravings and ordered a side of Roasted Shaved Brussels Sprouts. Oh my goodness, I wish I was going here for dinner again tonight! 

On our last afternoon in town, we managed to sneak in a visit to one more vegan food truck: Bistro Vonish. I had heard so many great things about this wonderful spot. Unfortunately, I arrived with a belly full of tacos and wasn't able to fully dive into their menu options. However, we were both in the mood for a cool drink - and so we got ourselves each a Hibiscus Mint Agua Fresca (so lovely and perfect!). I also got myself two kolaches for the flight home - savory one filled with white beans and sage that was quite magical, and a sweet blackberry one. When we got to the airport that night and almost all the food options were closed for the night (by 8pm, really Austin Airport??) - I was pretty stoked to have two delicious emergency pastries in my purse. A good action plan, indeed! 

I've been keeping the spirit alive ever since we got home - with lots and lots of tacos and Topo Chicos. I even hosted two taco dinner parties complete with an array of fillings, salsas, tortillas, and fun. My next post will be about a big taco potluck my pals and I had last weekend. Keep your taco levels high and let your spirit shine! 

ps. if you are ever going to Austin, check out Smurfy's amazing Vegan Guide to Austin

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Sweet & Cozy Easter Brunch

I've been having a happily full life lately - lots of yoga teaching, and also a trip down to Austin TX for some yoga learning (and tacos!). I'm working on a post about my Texan adventures and eats, it's coming soon! I hurried home and suddenly it was Easter morning! This year we had a very sweet and tiny gathering -- just us two, my parents, and my youngest nephew. It was a rainy day here, which made the whole thing quiet and cozy and mellow.

Easter Brunch

I am a fan of brunch at all times and under any circumstances! I love the pace and the decadence of it. I love the sweeties and the savories. I love the carbs and veggies and fruit all together. And I love the leisure of the company and the chatting. Our sweet little Easter brunch was no exception - we talked and laughed and remembered and looked at pictures from our Texas trip and it was all very sweet. 

if i ever got a tattoo...


Along the lines of keeping it easy and low-key, instead of fussing over some big casserole -- I just ran down the street to The Bagelry. We are lucky to have a spot in our community with really good bagels, and one of their locations is right near our house. Plus, bagels are always a hit with pretty much everyone -- so it was a good way to go. I got 2 sesame bagels, 2 onion bagels, 1 poppyseed bagel and 1 jalepeno bagel. All good choices!

Spreads and Fixin's

For a proper bagel bar experience, you gotta have lots of choices of different spreads. I put out two different peanut butters (I prefer the organic PB from Trader Joe's, but Musty & my nephew prefer Jif, ha ha!), grape jelly, Kite Hill cream cheese, and hummus. There were also some non-vegan options which shall not be discussed or photographed on these hallowed pages! 

I also put out fresh watercress, fresh dill, sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and red onions. I really like a few veggies on my bagel - they balance the super carb-athon of the bagel experience. Plus the crunchy cuke and the moisture and acid of the tomatoes and the pungent onion all go together so nicely. 

eat your fruits and veggies!

We had a huge bowl of organic strawberries and a huge platter of pan-seared asparagus. Simple, and perfect. I am lucky to have a bestie and a dear yoga student who both grow amazing organic strawberries and who each gifted us some berries before Easter!! I even sent home strawberry party favors with my parents and my nephew. 

berry party favors
my nephew has always loved strawberries, it was so fun to share with him! 

Hot Cross Buns

I really love hot cross buns a lot, but I also really love being lazy. This year I was feeling a bit extra-lazy since I had just gotten home from my trip to Texas... and I had pretty much made up my mind not to make any HBCs this year. But here's the thing. My dad also really loves HBCs and every year, when he comes to Easter brunch at my house, he gets super jazzed about them. So, somewhere around 9pm on the night before Easter, I decided I just couldn't go without! I didn't want to disappoint my daddy!

I used this great recipe from King Arthur Flour's website for Easy Hot Cross Buns. In place of eggs, I used aquafaba - which worked really great. (about 7.5 Tbsp aquafaba in place of the 2 1/2 eggs). I mixed them up, let them do their 1st rise and about 20 minutes of their second rise, and then I put them in the fridge overnight. I really like this method, which I learned several years ago. In the morning, I was able to let them rise for about an hour while I preheated the oven and went out for the bagels... and they only take about 20 minutes to actually bake. So they were perfectly fresh when everyone showed up at our house. Ahhh, a freshly baked bread product really is something special. 

For years I made HBCs that were "good enough," but weren't really great. This recipe makes really wonderful buns - light, fluffy, and perfectly flavored with just the right hint of sweetness. Of course, as soon as we got ready to eat, my dad beelined straight to the HBCs! I was so glad that I had motivated and made them at the last minute. What was I thinking??

Saturday, March 25, 2017

NoRooz Mobarak! Happy Persian New Year!

Happy Persian New Year! 

Hoorah!! It's officially springtime and that means it's also my favorite adopted holiday of the year! NoRooz is a very beautiful and ancient holiday that goes back to Zoroastrian times. NoRooz is celebrated at the vernal equinox - which right away makes me love it. I love the association with a natural/astronomical event. I also love that all the various celebrations and foods and traditions of NoRooz are ripe with meaning and symbolism and connection to the natural world. You can read a lot more about it on this wikipedia page. Technically these days of celebration go one for almost two weeks, so if you're feeling inspired, it's not too late to make a feast of your own! 

Each year I host a big gathering of friends and family for NoRooz. I love all the days of anticipation - scheming my menu and hunting down all the ingredients that I'll need. This year I made a special trip over to San Jose to go to a Persian Market -- oh my gosh, it felt so festive and merry to be in a shop full of people preparing for NoRooz! Everyone was shopping with baskets full of goodies and sprouts, and herbs and millions of other good things. I must remember to do this every year, just to build up the merry spirit of the holiday in my heart! 

This year's celebration was even bigger than usual because it was also my dad's 80th birthday the following day, and we combined the two celebrations into one -- and for such a special day a few extra people came. It was pretty great. Two of my besties came over and spent the whole afternoon helping me in the kitchen which was both super fun and also a total life-saver for helping me meet my ambitious culinary agenda! 

cheese and herb platter

For appetizers, we prepared two beautiful cheese and fresh herb platters. I made the homemade Cashew Chevre from Miyoko Schinner's book Artisan Vegan Cheese. This recipe takes a few days to age at room temperature, but otherwise it's nearly effortless and SO delicious. In fact, our two cheese platters were fully enjoyed by my non-vegan guests and there was hardly any cheese left at the end of the night. Great success!! It sure does make this vegan heart happy to see non-vegans digging and enjoying my vegan cheese!

The platters had fresh dill, chives, cilantro, mint, and parsley... along with walnuts, dates, and dolmas. The dates are my most favorite Black Gold Dates from Sam Cobb Farm down in Palm Springs, and they are so fantastic. Since we didn't go down to the desert this year, I ordered my dates online.  They have a rich, deep flavor and aren't super mooshy or super dry. Just perfect! The dolmas were straight outta cans from Trader Joes! ha ha. Sorry to disappoint!

Nan-e Barbari

I also made a double batch of Nan-e Barbari yeasted bread (I used this recipe from King Arthur Flour - it was my first time using this recipe and I was really happy with it!). I made the dough the night before and got a super enthusiastic first rise. Then I divided and shaped the dough into four small loaves and put it in the fridge. That made it pretty easy to bake the breads on the day of NoRooz. I used a mix of Nigella seeds, Poppy seeds, and Sesame seeds for the topping. As you can see, these turned out pretty much perfectly. I was so happy! 

We cut the breads up into little strips and put them out with the cheese platters. In this picture, you can a little bit see that they got a very nice crumb and texture: a good balance of density and airy-ness. 

happy nibbling and chatting and festivizing! 

huge platter of Kuku Sabzi

Kuku Sabzi is a traditional NoRooz food - an omelette packed full with minced fresh herbs, walnuts and barberries. Over the years I've tried many attempts at veganizing this recipe, and this is really my favorite -- it's based on the mini muffin-tin omelettes from Isa Does It, and then mixed up with lots of fresh herbs. I finally took the time to type up my recipe:

Kuku Sabzi Minis
(based on Muffin Pan Mini Omelets from Isa Does It, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)
*you can easily double this recipe

2 1/2 Tbsp dried barberries
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro
1/2 cup packed fresh dill
1/2 cup packed scallions (green parts only)
1 cup packed spinach
1/4 cup fresh fenugreek, or 2 Tbsp dried fenugreek (optional)
generous 1/3 cup chopped walnuts, plus extras for decorating
2 cloves garlic, peeled
14 ounces silken tofu
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1 Tbsp arrowroot flour

Cover the barberries with warm water and let them soak for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile combine the parsley, cilantro, dill, scallions, spinach, and optional fenugreek in a food processor and pulse until finely minced. You don't want it to turn into a paste, but you really, really want to chop those guys into oblivion. If you don't have a food processor, get a good knife and start chopping chopping chopping. Once the herbs are chopped, set them aside in a large bowl, and next use the food processor or knife to chop your walnuts. Add the walnuts to the herbs. Don't worry about cleaning out the food processor between steps. 

 Preheat your oven to 350F. Next, chop up the garlic in the food processor (or a blender). Add the silken tofu, water, nutritional yeast, olive oil, turmeric, salt, and black pepper. Process until the mixture is smooth. Add in the chickpea flour and arrowroot and process more, until fully integrated. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the minced herbs and walnuts. Drain the barberries, discard the soaking water, and add the barberries to the batter. Stir well until fully incorporated. (note: at this point, you can refrigerate the batter to use it later or the next day)

Lightly oil a muffin tin and fill the muffin cups about halfway full with the batter. If you'd like, you can put a few chopped walnuts (or a whole walnut half) on each mini kuku sabzi. Bake the mini kuku sabzis for about 20-25 minutes, until they are lightly golden. Allow them to cool in the muffin pan for at least five minutes before you try to get them out.

Shirazi Salad

Shirazi Salad is a simple and delicious salad - and such a nice balance to the other flavors of the NoRooz feast. Light, fresh, crunchy, and simple -- it's a refreshing component with so many more robust dishes on the table. This year's salad was Persian cucumbers (the organic ones from Trader Joes are great!), cherry tomatoes, chopped red onion, and olives... along with several small handfuls of fresh herbs: a combo of cilantro, parsley, dill, and mint. For a dressing, I ad-libbed a quick dressing with pomegranate paste, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Easy and delicious! 

i love this picture!

One of the features of a NoRooz celebration is a Haft Seen display, spread out on the sofreh. I use my mantle above the fireplace... mostly so our pets won't mess with it! The Haft Seen has seven ("haft") traditional items arranged on it that all begin with the letter "S" ("seen") in Farsi. The items seem to vary a bit from region to region, and there are also lots of lovely supplementary items you can put up. One of our annual traditions is that every year I stand up and go over all the items on the table, their name in Farsi, and their meaning/symbolism as part of the display. Mr VE&T got this great panorama picture of our whole gang (I love my brother playing with Footie in the bottom right corner!)
The main 7 items:
Sabzi - sprouts symbolizing growth and rebirth
Samanu - a sprouted wheat pudding, symbolizing wealth
Senjed - oleander seeds, symbolizing love
Seer - garlic, symbolizing medicine 
Seeb - apple, symbolizing health
Sumac - ground sumac, symbolizing the color of the sunrise
Serkeh - vinegar, symbolizing "old age and patience."

some of the other things include:
Sonbol - a hyacinth, symbolizing spring time
Sekkeh - coins, symbolizing weather and prosperity
Shirini- sweeties, for sweetness in the new year
A mirror - symbolizing reflection
A copies of poetry books Hafiz & Rumi, two great Persian poets
Eggs, symbolizing new birth (I use glass eggs)
A goldfish, symbolizing life (I use a cute plastic goldfish!)

Sabzi Polow

Sabzi Polow is another traditional NoRooz dish - parboiled basmati rice is mixed with yogurt, a mountain of fresh herbs, and then cooked/steamed in a pot. The Persian preparation of rice is so special and fantastic - the individual grains of rice are never clumpy or sticky, and there is a beautiful, crunchy golden crust on the exterior. This crunchy part is so good that it has it's own word "tahdig" -and it is definitely the best part. Every year I suffer some anxiety about how well my tahdig will turn out and this year I got a beautiful golden crust -- perfect, beautiful and delicious! I was so happy! 

Sabzi Polow
based on the Persian Rice recipe from Vegan Eats World, by Terry Hope Romero
*you can easily double this recipe, which is what I usually do 

3/4 cup minced fresh dill
3/4  cup minced fresh cilantro
3/4  cup minced fresh scallions or leeks (green parts only)
3/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 2/3 cups white basmati rice
8 cups water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsweetened vegan yogurt
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp olive oil or melted vegan butter

Wash and mince your fresh herbs thoroughly - either by hand or with a food processor. Remember, you really really want to mince those herbies finely.

Put the rice into a mesh strainer and rinse it well under cold water, to wash off excess starches. In a large pot, bring the 8 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add in the salt, then add the rice. Boil for 3-5 minutes. Take out a grain or two of rice and bite into it -- you want the outside to be soft and lightly cooked and the inside to still be hard. Drain the rice and rinse it again with cold water, and then put it in a large bowl.

To the rice, add the 1/4 tsp salt, vegan yogurt, and 2 Tbsp of the oil/butter, and mix well. Take out 1/2 cup of this mixture and set it aside. Now add the minced herbs to the big bowl and mix them to fully incorporate. 

Preheat a heavy, 2-quart pot no larger than 10 inches wide, with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add the remaining oil/butter and swirl it all around to coat the bottom and the first couple inches of the sides of your pot. Use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to spread the 1/2 cup of reserved rice across the bottom of the pan evenly. Now add in the remaining rice (with the herbs mixed in). Use the back of a measuring cup to gently but firmly press down the rice. 

Use a chopstick to poke several holes into the rice - an inch or two apart and a couple pokes in the center too. This helps the steam escape so the bottom can get good and crunchy! 

Next, take a clean, smooth-textured kitchen towel and put it over the top of the pan - then put the tight-fitting lid firmly onto the pot (so the dishtowel is between the rice and the bottom side of the lid.) Carefully fold the corners of your towel up on top of the lid, so that they don't hang down and catch fire on your burner - use a rubber band or a chip clip to secure them on top of the lid! The towel is important because it catches the steam and helps you get perfect Persian rice! 

Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for 35-45 minutes. It's a good idea to rotate your pot a few times, for a more evenly golden crust. Check the rice by lifting the lid -- the rice should smell toasty (not burnt). Sometimes you can get a butter knife and carefully peek down the edges of the rice to see if you see a golden color developing. Cook another 10-15 minutes if needed (and you can also turn up the heat a little if it's not getting golden), to get a good golden crust. Keep an eye on the rice, and also don't forget about it -- you don't want it to burn!

Remove from the heat, and take off the lid and towel. Take your serving platter, and invert it over the pot. Carefully hold the edges of the serving platter and the handles of your pot, and flip it over! It takes courage! A perfect tahdig will make a little "floop" sound and land perfectly on your serving platter. Dig in! 

Amoli Rice Salad with Barberries & Orange Peel
from Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey, by Najmieh Batmanglij

OMG this dish is so beautiful and so perfect. I hadn't made it in a couple of years, but since we were having a bigger group this year I decided it would be good to have two kinds of rice. Yay! I'm so glad I made that choice, because this rice is really something special. This is a spin on "shirin polow" in Farsi ~ "shirin" means sweet, and "polow" means rice ~ this dish is a magical combination of sweet and savory flavors. Orange peel and grated carrots are boiled in a light syrup, and they are combined with barberries and raisins to bring sweetness to the dish. Then, the whole thing is served over chopped lettuce and tossed with a savory dressing of lime juice, garlic, salt & pepper, and fresh minced herbs. Such a winning combo. I made a 1.5 sized batch and it was pretty HUGE and there was a lot leftover, but I'm not complaining. It makes great leftovers straight out of the fridge!

By the way, Silk Road Cooking is such a beautiful and evocative book, I highly recommend it. Especially if you enjoy reading about food and cooking foods from around the world!

Ash-e Reshteh
with onion-turmeric-mint garnish

Ash-e Reshteh (find my recipe here) is a super traditional must-have at NoRooz! It's a wonderfully complex veggie soup with caramelized onions, turmeric, beans and lentils, fresh herbs galore, beets, and noodles. This year I made a double batch which was - ha ha - WAY TOO MUCH! At least I will have delicious soup forever! I froze a bunch of it in tupperwares, and I've been enjoying it ever since NoRooz... like most soups, it makes wonderful leftovers. Note to self though, one batch will be plenty next year! This soup is one of the dishes I look forward to every year with NoRooz -- I love the earthy beets, beans, lentils, and flavors... it feels grounding but not heavy. 

And I especially love the contribution of the garnish: onions cooked until golden, then with added ground turmeric and dried mint. It is amazing! I made a big batch of the garnish this year too because I like to have lots of it!!

Ghormeh Sabzi

Maybe you have noticed that several of these dishes have the word "sabzi" in their name -- "sabzi" means "vegetables," or in this case "herbs." The traditional dishes of NoRooz are filled with fresh, tender herbs to symbolize the growth and new life of spring time. It's usually a combo of parsley, cilantro, dill, scallions/chives, leeks, and baby spinach. If you can track down fresh fenugreek (or even dried fenugreek), it's also great to include some of that! Fenugreek is a strong flavor, so I usually use a little less of it compared to the other herbs. 

Ghormeh Sabzi is usually a meat & beans dish, but it's easy to veganize and is absolutely delicious. Rich, robust, earthy, but not heavy. You can find my recipe here, it's got mountains of herbs and spinach (of course!), kidney beans, onions, portobello mushrooms, turmeric, and more. Man, it's so good. I think it's one of my favorite NoRooz dishes... and honestly, there's no reason why I couldn't make it at other times during the year! 

Adasi Persian Lentils

I made this recipe a few years ago for NoRooz, and hadn't made it since. It's from a no-longer-active blog called Pomegranate Diaries (recipe here). When I was looking through my old NoRooz posts to plan my menu I saw these lentils and read "this was Mr. VE&T's favorite dish of the whole night." The sad truth is that Mr. VE&T doesn't always love Persian food (SAD.) In fact, I once had a vision of making a vegan Persian/NoRooz zine, but of course that would involve recipe testing and eating lots of Persian food. When I told him my big plan was when he finally admitted to me that he isn't actually such a fan. Alas. At least he tolerates my enthusiasm once a year, and he actually did enjoy several of the dishes this year... so maybe he's coming around. 

Nonetheless, I thought it would be nice to make something that I knew he'd love and, lo and behold, he loved these lentils again this year! I know they're not much to look at, but they are perfectly seasoned with cinnamon and angelica (a ground spice that I found on my trip to the Persian market, called "golpar" in Farsi.) They are deceptively delicious for such plain looking lentils! 

My dinner plate of glory

Such beautiful abundance! I just love the flavors and aromas of Persian food - they are complex, strong, and still often unexpected to my American palette. As you can see, I enjoyed a mountain of delicious food... and we haven't even talked about dessert yet! Mwahahaha! After two long days in the kitchen, it felt great to sit down and dig in. Of course it tasted great too!

Special Drinks: Dried Lime Tea, Mint Limeade, & Pomegranate Mint Spritzer

Persian cuisine has an amazing array of non-alcoholic drinks and there are many, many more that I would like to make and learn about. This year I made three party staples. First, a lightly sweetened Dried Lime Tea (recipe here) made from dried Persian limes (recipe here: If you have never had dried Persian limes, I suggest you look for them ... maybe even order some online? They are absolutely unlike anything else you've ever had! The author of the recipe I use says it perfectly: "slightly funky, a little bit sour, and very aromatic."

I also made Mint Limeade -- we cooked up a special lime syrup by making a simple syrup, adding fresh lime juice, and simmering it for a bit longer. We added that with some fresh lime juice, springs of fresh mint and sparkly water. I think next time, I will also boil some fresh mint with the syrup - so that flavor can come through a little more. Pretty much everyone loves limeade, so it's not surprising that this one was a hit! 

We also made a simple Pomegranate Spritzer -- fresh pomegranate juice from the farmer's market, a touch of simple syrup, sprigs of fresh mint, and sparkly water. After the even was over, there was a little limeade and a little pomegranate spritzer left over, and I just combined them into one pitcher. Note to self - it was good! 

NoRooz Sweets!
Saffron Almond Diamonds
Nan-e Nokhodchi (chickpea flour cookies)
Sohan As-Ali
Walnut Cardamom Cookies
Pomegranate and Pistachio Turkish Delight ~ store-bought and sooo good! 

Sweets are an important part of the NoRooz celebration! I guess sweets are an important part of lots of holidays, and NoRooz is no different. Whenever I go to the Persian market, they have these packaged trays of sweets - and they are just stunning. The sweets are always in lovely shapes and arranged just-so, and decorated with little ground pistachio garnishes... and they look perfect, and they usually aren't vegan (though, happily, a few are!). Anyhow, those packages of sweets are my inspiration every year.

This year I made lots of treats, and I even intended to make one MORE sweetie but I ran out of time and obviously it's just as well. There was no shortage of NoRooz sweeties.

Saffron Almond Diamonds (recipe from zozobaking). These beautiful yellow diamond candies are rose-scented marzipans, and they are extremely delicious and also extremely simple to make. They're also naturally vegan and gluten-free! Woop! I made these last year, and was a bit too skimpy with the saffron, so they turned out tasty but pale. This year I went big with the saffron, and got such a beautiful golden hue. Huzzah! Highly recommended recipe! 

Nan-e Nokhodchi / Chickpea Cookies (recipe from zozobaking) are a traditional NoRooz treat -- also naturally vegan & gluten-free, they use chickpea flour, powdered sugar, shortening, and cardamom... such simple ingredients and such a lovely little treat. They are traditionally in this clover shape (I also ordered my official nan-e nokhodchi cookie cutter from Zozo) - and they are delightfully tiny little morsels! I'm not sure if you can tell from my picture, but my cookies spread a little bit this year, and they should be a little more crumbly. Happily, they were still perfectly delicious, but I think next year I will try adding a bit more chickpea flour. I've noticed that different brands of chickpea flour can has radically different absorbency... so I think that might have been my issue. 

Sohan As-Ali (find my recipe here) are the almond brittle candies that you see, and they were the first Persian sweetie that I ever learned to make. Making candy can be a bit nerve-wracking and every year the Sohan making is the most thrilling part of our NoRooz culinary experience! This year was no different - with a mad rush to get all the candies onto the parchment paper and sprinkle them with chopped pistachios before they start to set and become firm. It's definitely a two-person job, and a rushed one at that. This year my pal Kendra even burned her hand with the liquid candy - ack! Hopefully it's feeling better by now. Even with the stress of candy-making, I still make these magical treats every year because they are absolutely amazing: the cooking brittle toasts the slivered almonds for a sweet and toasty flavor, along with a generous blast of saffron soaked in rose water, and the pistachios on top. They are sophisticated and gorgeous and tasty.

Nan-e Gerdui / Walnut Cardamom Cookies -- I saw several recipes online for these and figured that I could find a way to veganize them... the ingredients are basically walnuts, powdered sugar, egg, and cardamom. Then I thought of the wonderful "brutti ma buoni" cookies from Italy, which have a very similar ingredient list, only with hazelnuts.  I modified my own recipe and came up with these:

Nan-e Gerdui / Walnut Cardamom Cookies

2 Tbsp flax meal
3-4 tablespoons water
10 ounces walnuts
1.25 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1/2-1 tsp ground cardamom (to taste)

Preheat your oven to 400F. 

Combine the flax meal and 3 tablespoons of the water in a medium bowl and whisk it vigorously until it starts to turn viscous. Set aside.

Put the walnuts, powdered sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and start pulsing until the nuts are coarsely chopped. You want some of the nuts to be ground up like coarse polenta, but you want some bits that are a little bigger than that.

Now, combine the hazelnut mixture, the flax goo, and 1/2 tsp of ground cardamom. Mix well until you have a thick dough, and there are no dry bits left. It might take a little stirring. If you feel like it's too dry, add the extra 1 tbsp of water. Taste your batter and see if you want more cardamom flavor. I like a lot, but it also depends how fresh your spices are, and how much you want that flavor to come through. 

Next, line your cookie sheet with parchment paper, and put tablespoon-sized blobs on the sheet, with about one inch in between them. The cookies will rise and spread a little, but not a whole lot. 

Bake the cookies for about 13-14 minutes, until they are slightly golden on the tops and lightly golden on the bottoms. I use a spatula to peek under the bottom and check on them. Let them cool on the sheet for at least a few minutes before transferring them to cooling racks, because they will be very soft at first. As they cool, the exterior will become more crispy and the inside will become more chewy. Yum! 

An Apple Pie for an 80-year old Birthday Boy! 

But wait! That's not all! NoRooz is always on the first day of spring, and so it's always on the day of my dad's birthday, or one day ahead. As I mentioned, this year was extra special, because my dad was turning 80!! Holy Moly! I asked him what he wanted for his birthday dessert this year, and he asked for an apple pie... and he got an apple pie! Ever since my friend Max made The World's Best Apple Pie, and it turned out to be Cosmo's Apple Pie from Vegan Pie in the Sky by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, that is my go-to apple pie recipe. I don't think you can tell from this picture, but this rustic beauty of a pie was a veritable mountain of appley wonder. It was a huge heaping mound of a pie... and also a super delicious pie! 

Happy birthday, Daddy! 
I only used 8 candles, one per decade... because, really now. Ha ha. 
But I did get him 80 daffodils - his favorite flower! <3 nbsp="" p="">

a peek inside!

You know how sometimes a fruit pie looks like a huge mountain, but when you cut into it, there's a big gap between the fruit and the top crust? That is always such a bummer, and I was afraid it might happen with this heaping pie... but no! Happily, it came out just perfect and absolutely packed with fruit. I love that! Some of the pie recipes I have from older cookbooks call for just a few cups of fruit (perhaps from a more frugal - or less gluttonous - era), but I just love a fruit pie that is abundant with fruit. The crust was perfectly thick and flaky, and basically the whole thing was a great success! I think my dad liked it too, which is the most important thing! 

If you've made it this far through this epic post, you deserve a pie of your own. Phew! NoRooz is probably my biggest culinary event of the year. Even at Thanksgiving and Xmas, the tasks are split up and everyone in the family cooks part of the meal. I love the festivity and ambitiousness of a big adventure in the kitchen... and I'm also happy when it's over and I get to sit back and eat leftover for days on end. 

I love so much that the foods of NoRooz are actually quite healthy (sweets aside, I suppose - but even those are small and simple). The ingredients are fresh, simple, and yet somehow they come together into complex and wonderful dishes. Everything beside the pie and the bread were gluten-free, too -- which makes it quite a friendly cuisine for our gf loved ones. 

I hope you enjoyed your own first few days of spring, and may the new season bring some fresh energy for growth and vitality! Happy NoRooz! Happy Springtime! 

The First Mess Cookbook Giveaway Winner! 
With the help of the Random Number Generator, I also picked out a winner 
for my giveaway of a copy of The First Mess Cookbook,
Congratulations to commenter #23: Kate Swelstand
Kate, send me your mailing address (ameyfm -at- yahoo -dot- com)
and I'll make sure your book arrives pronto!