Vegan Green Bean Casserole

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Green bean casserole is the great American leveler. It’s a trashy commodity dish served on good China. Mothers across the country make extra pans of the dish for their favorite offspring. It’s very important to call ahead on Thanksgiving to make sure that this dish will be served. It may be up to you to save the day. The original Campbell’s Soup recipe contains four ingredients; canned beans, canned soup, soy sauce and canned fried onions. It is an obscenely easy dish to make that is almost vegan. One tiny ingredient stands in the way of it being truly universal.  I’ve see many attempts to veganize this recipe that completely miss the mark. Green bean casserole should be made of canned beans and fried onions in all their hydrogenated fat goodness (although healthy fried onions are available). It’s important to know your audience. There may be times when you don’t want anyone to know you brought vegan food into their house. This is that recipe. The only variation from the original is a quick homemade mushroom soup base. It is uncomplicated and it taste like it came from can. In fact, if you like cream of mushroom soup just add more unsweetened almond milk for that fresh from the can soup taste.  Unsweetened almond milk is crucial to this recipe.  the sugar in regular almond milk will ruin everything. Gluten-free variations are included.

All American Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients

  • 2 T. Flour (Substitute Sorghum Flour for Gluten-Free Soup)
  • 1 ½ T. Vegan Butter
  • 1 C. Unsweetened Almond Milk
  • 1 Cube Vegetable Bullion
  • 1 ½ C. Sliced Mushrooms (small carton, pre-sliced)
  • 1 T. Soy Sauce
  • 2 Cans Green Beans
  • 1 Can Fried Onions

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Make the Soup:

In a medium sized saucepan, melt the butter and flour together over medium heat. Stir the roux thoroughly and cook it until it’s hot throughout and slightly bubbly round the edges. Add the almond milk a quarter cup at a time. Do not stir the milk at first. Let it heat up in the pan. When the milk is hot whisk it together with the roux. Add the bouillon cube. Continue adding milk heating it as you go until all the milk is integrated. Add the sliced mushrooms and the soy sauce and cook for a few more minutes.

Assemble the Casserole:

Drain the green beans and mix them into your mushroom soup mixture until fully integrated. Pour the mix into a casserole dish and spread it evenly. Arrange the fried onions evenly across the casserole. Bake the dish for thirty minutes or until the casserole is golden brown and bubbling. Let the dish rest for two minutes and serve.

Oysters Saigon

Oyster folk in Galveston Bay have had a rough go of it over the last ten years but this year may have been the worst.  The bad luck started in 2008 when Hurricane Ike suffocated oyster reefs with the churning muck of the bay. Next came a drought lasting six years, allowing oyster parasites run amok, killing our precious critters before they reach maturity.

Then, all of a sudden, rain.  Rain is good for oysters in the long run (Oysters need a brackish mix of fresh and salty water) but it can be bad in the short run.  Too much fresh water can bring red tide, and while there is debate as to whether the red tide hit Galveston Bay there is no debate that Texas Parks and Wildlife closed all but one reef for the first two and a half months of oyster season.  Oyster companies missed the holiday rush that they’d grown accustomed to.  Add to all this mess a never-ending lawsuit between the three biggest oyster companies in Texas and you’ve got nothing but grief for Texas oystermen.

The next few seasons are going to be some of the best we’ll see. A good hard rain can produce three years worth of bumper crops. That being said, the end of the season means many Texans flip the switch from raw to cooked oysters, while others prefer to wait for next November 1st.  I say we still have a nice little window for cooked oysters before the long hot summer begins in earnest.

This recipe is loosely based on a banh mi sandwich, which I first tried somewhere close to McKinney Street in downtown Houston. Vietnamese food is now as much a part of me as French cuisine is them. I’ll never give it up.

Oysters Saigon

  • Servings: Two Dozen Texas-sized Oysters
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Ingredients

For the Fried Oysters:

  • 2 dozen medium to large oysters with their shells, plus a few for practice
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 4 cups peanut oil

For the Vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/8 cup lime juice
  • 1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 thin slices of jalapeno
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil

For the Mayonnaise:

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp Srirracha

For the Garnish:

  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1/2 carrot
  • 1 tbsp each, mint, cilantro, basil
  • 1 box rock salt

Directions

The mayonnaise and the vinaigrette can be made the day before.  Simply mix the ingredients together.  If you make the vinaigrette ahead of time, the jalapeno will intensify over night.  This could be a good thing depending on your tolerance for spice.

To prepare the garnish, Use a cheese grater to get nice thin strips of carrot and cucumber.  It is not necessary to peel the carrot but you may want to give it a good scrub. When grating the cucumber, don’t peel it. Just grate the outside firm part and leave the fleshy, seedy part for a snack. Coarsely chop the herbs and mix by hand.

Heat the oil on medium heat or in a deep fryer.  You want to get the temperature to about 350 degrees. Prepare three breading containers for the battering process.Spread the flour across a plate and mound the panko on another.  Crack all of the eggs into a bowl with the water and whisk until well blended.

Start with four to five oysters at a time. Begin by removing any excess liquid from the oyster and then tossing them lightly in the flour. Gently dust off any access flour then dunk them in your egg batter.  Give them another gentle tap removing any access egg then roll them in the panko. Be gentle. Place one of the oysters in the oil to ensure that the oil is the correct temperature.  The oyster should immediately begin sizzling.  If everything is a go, place the rest of the oysters in the oil and fry them until golden-brown, then drain them on paper towels or a drain board.

To plate: Spread the rock salt across a tray or table and place the empty oyster shells in the salt so they don’t wobble.  Add a teaspoon (or as much as each shell will hold) of vinaigrette into each shell.  Next add a fried oyster to each shell.  Top with a dab of Srirracha mayonnaise and a tiny bit of garnish.  Serve immediately.

English Pea Gnocchi with Mint

Scoring the gnocchi

Gnocchi (nyo”-ki) is a small Italian dumpling used much like pasta.  It is traditionally made with potato and flour but in this recipe I’ve added English Peas grown here in Texas. Gnocchi should be light pillows that seem to float above your sauce.  The way to achieve that is to handle the dough a little as possible.  You will find many recipes that add baking soda or egg but I find that vegan gnocchi is just as easy and fluffy. A step by step gallery is located here.

English Pea Gnocchi with Mint

Ingredients

For the Gnocchi:

  • 2 cups organic white flout
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup diced potato
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Teaspoon sea salt

For the Sauce

  • 1/4 cup pureed peas
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 cup Plain Silk Soy Creamer
  • 1/2 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup peas
  • 1 thumb of mint
  • Bacon or Sauteed Mushrooms*

For the Garnish:

Directions

For the Gnocchi:

If you have fresh peas you will have to cook them. See Place them in water with a dash of salt and cook them on medium heat for about an hour until soft.

If you have frozen peas, thaw them out in a colander or just leave the bag on the counter until they are cool but not frozen.

Place the peas the potato and the oil in a food processor and blend until smooth.  You can use a potato masher but you really have to go at it. Pull out a fork and a spoon and whatever you can find to make a smooth, smooth paste.

Pile all of four on a cutting board or clean counter. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour the puree into the well.  Gently work the flour into the puree until it becomes a light dough.

Roll your dough into a log and cut it into two pieces. Roll one of the pieces into a half inch round sized rope. Use plenty of flour.

Cut the Gnocchi into about one inch segments and sprinkle them with flour so they don’t stick together. Gently shape the gnocchi back into shape if need be and mark each dumpling with your fork to make ridges.

Store the gnocchi in a plastic container and dust it with flour.  It will stay for about three days unless frozen.

To cook the gnocchi:

Boil a quart of water with a dash of salt and oil. Add half of the gnocchi one or two at a time to the water. If the gnocchi start to sink, stir them gently so they don’t stick to the bottom. When the gnocchi start floating to the top pluck them out of the water with a slotted spoon on to paper towels.

To make the Sauce:

Add a Tablespoon of the pea puree to a cup of cream (or vegan sour cream mixed with vegetable stock).

Bacon Version:

Cut bacon into half inch strips. Space bacon pieces apart into a skillet on medium heat. Cook until bacon is done to your liking.  Drain all the grease from the pan. Add the pea cream and cook .

Mushroom Variety:

Add one teaspoon vegan butter to a hot skillet. Add chopped mushrooms and fry them for a minute without stirring. Stir in a clove of crushed garlic to the saute pan and a pinch of salt. Continue until mushrooms are nicely browned then add the pea cream and cook unitl warm

To Finish:

Slice a half cup of cherry tomatoes in two. Add them and a quarter cup of peas to the pea cream and continue to warm.

In a separate and hot pan add one tablespoon vegan butter.  When the butter is melted add the gnocchi.  Make sure the pan and the butter is hot.  Let the gnocchi get browned on one side.  Using a spatula, scrape them from the bottom of the pan, trying to keep the browned part in tact.

Add the gnocchi to the pea cream, toss and serve. Garnish with fresh mint leaves.

Lavender Smoked Trout

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San Leon, Texas is a small drinking community with a large fishing problem. Being gifted with live fish is a thing here. It’s a way of saying, “Howdy, neighbor” or “Thanks for the ride home last night”.  You can’t pussyfoot around with fresh fish. It must be dealt with as soon as possible.  Dealing with fish means learning to fillet like a boss.  I’ve seen fishing guides go through 20 fish in 15 minutes.  Butterflying this trout took me about 15. Still, it is an easy technique as you don’t have to scale or de-bone the fish. My uncle Carl Dunn says trout start to deteriorate the minute you take them off ice so I’d better bone up on my de-boning.

Cold smoking is a great way to keep meats for longer stretches. Our ancestors all did it but they had fancy smoke houses.  All you need for this dish is a cast iron skillet, rice, tea and some heavy duty foil. Once the fish is butterflied the technique is easy.

Unlike wood-chip stove-top smoking this technique is very subtle and won’t smoke up your house.  The result is a clean fish taste with a hint of tea and lavender. I can think of a million variations I’d like to try: orange rinds, sage, anise, lemongrass…. I used Lavande tea which you can get at the Eastside Farmers Market.  Pair the fish with a complimentary sour cream sauce and cracker for an hors d’oeurvre or add it to a whole grain salad with cranberries and cheese.

Cast Iron Skillet Lavender Smoked Trout

Ingredients

For the trout:

  • 1 Whole Trout
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp black, green or red pepper
  • 1/4 tsp brown sugar

For the “smoke”

  • 1 cup dry rice (brown or white)
  • 1/2 cup lavender black tea or any other tea.

[recipe-instructions]

To butterfly the fish:

Reach your knife under one gill of the fish.  In one motion, cut through the throat of the fish and under the gill of the other side. Cut the head off of the fish applying pressure to the back of the fish’s spine.  Separate the head. Stick the knife into the neck of the fish and cut the fish from the belly to the neck so that it opens up.  It helps to use a clean towel to help grip the fish and protect your hands.  Scrape the stomach and intestines from inside the fish working from the flayed part towards the backbone.  Remove all the insides. Clean up the fish with lots of running water. Spread the fish open as much as possible.  Working on one side of  the spine, start to remove the backbone. You will have to crack through some bones to make this work. I like to work from the tail to the head scraping my knife as close to the spine as possible so that the fillet looks nice and I get all the meat.  Remove the back bone.  Now the fish should butterfly nicely and you can season it with the salt, pepper and sugar.

To smoke the fish:

Get the skillet on the fire and set the heat to a low medium.  Measure out a bit of foil that will seal the smoke and cover the fish.  When the pan is nice and hot add the brown rice and tea.  Create an air gap between the fish and the smoke.  You can use a commercial grate, or bundled up aluminum foil.  I used a pile of spoons formed in a criss cross pattern. When the pan is hot and you start to see rice popping, place the fish skin side down on the grate.  Seal the whole thing in foil so that smoke can’t escape.  It will be a very subtle smoke so don’t worry if there are no billows.  It’s important that the heat isn’t too high or you will burn the rice.  If the rice burns, start over with new rice and lower heat.  When all of the fish has turned from a fleshy color to an opaque white it is done.  The time will vary widely with the size of the fish.  Check it after about eight minutes.  When it is done remove it from the heat and cool it down.  The fish should be very easy to separate from the skin at this point but you may also choose to leave it on for a more dramatic presentation.