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Veggie Grill’s New Seasonal (and Tasty!) Winter Menu

Veggie Grill, my most favorite vegan fast-casual chain, updated their seasonal winter menu for the year. New Year’s resolutions are fresh on everyone’s planners, so a healthy lunch or a family dinner at Veggie Grill is a great choice. As many people are eating a more plant-based diet, the freshness of their winter menu pleases the palates of all types: vegan, vegetarian, and omnivores (a.k.a. less-meat-a-tarians) alike can be happy with what’s on their plate this season.

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Sunset. Cherries. Gentle breeze. Red Thread 2015 red wine blend makes the ideal wine gift for Valentine’s Day. Did you know, that according to Chinese legend, a matchmaker god connects two people by a magical red thread, destined to be lovers?

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Vegan Dan Dan Mian Noodles + Giveaway!

I have such a love for spicy noodles. When Eddie and I go out on dates, he likes taking me out for authentic Chinese food. Sichuan in particular is a favorite! As much as I appreciate his knowledge of good Chinese food in Los Angeles, most of it isn’t vegan. Eating my veggies and tofu while watching my sweetie devour spicy chicken feet and all kinds of oily-spicy-fishy-meaty things (and sweating profusely) isn’t that appetizing. There’s a few tofu and veggie dishes available for me, usually, but not much. So during our date nights, I’m always on the lookout for healthier vegan options. I try to steer Eddie into places that make vegetarian and vegan versions of traditional Chinese dishes, just to balance things out. Believe it or not, there are many amazing vegetarian and vegan Chinese restaurants to choose from. Sometimes I attempt to recreate my favorite Chinese dishes at home, à la veggie!

This recipe came together with two of my most favorite brands: Lahtt Sauce and Banza. Join me on Instagram and enter the giveaway here. We are hosting this joint giveaway from February 3rd-5th, 2018, and winners will receive: 4 jars of all-purpose chili oil sauces in mild, medium and hot (three vegan and one traditional Chinese recipe). Also, winners will receive 6 boxes of Banza chickpea pastas. 

To promote the giveaway for Lahtt Sauce and Banza that I’m hosting on Instagram, I decided to make Dan Dan Mian (spicy street noodles) using Lahtt Sauce gourmet chili oil sauce. This is my own fresh vegan version, using Banza chickpea noodles instead of Shanghai style noodles (omitting the minced pork entirely). If you want to make this dish as close to the real deal Dan Dan Mian (but totally vegan) you could sauté some plant-based crumbled “pork” and add it into your sauce. But let’s be clear: this dish is a fun vegan twist on Chinese street noodles. I’ve had a Chinese vegan “kidney” and basil dish that came close to the original version, so anything goes when making plant-based recipes. 

Lahtt (Cantonese for “hot“) Sauce has four different varieties of their sauces: Vegan Mild, Medium, Hot, and Traditional (made with bacon and shrimp) Medium. This all-natural, no MSG, no preservatives, no GMOs, just delicious umami from a blend of sunflower oil, gluten-free organic tamari soy sauce, dried onion, dried garlic, fermented black bean, dried shiitake mushroom, tomato paste and salt. There’s also dried garbanzo bean, chili peppers, dried ginger, ground sesame seed paste, sesame oil, vinegar and licorice powder to add some extra flavor. The vegan sauces use shiitake mushroom for that magical taste that brings out the chili punch. Even the mild is remarkably flavorful without being too salty. I used a spoonful of the vegan medium sauce and a spoonful of the vegan hot for this recipe. 

Banza chickpea pasta is another product I use regularly. My whole family comments on how good the pasta tastes every single time I serve it up! High protein, high fiber, no empty carbs. It’s delicious, nourishing, and has great texture, unlike some of the gluten-free types out there that get gummy and sticky. Made of chickpeas and tapioca pea protein, it’s allergen-free and nourishing, without that heavy bloated feeling you can get from wheat pasta. They have many shapes to choose from. I used Banza spaghetti for this Dan Dan noodle recipe. 

Vegan Dan Dan Mian Noodles

Ingredients

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon tahini paste

1 tablespoon almond butter, raw & creamy style

1 heaping tablespoon Lahtt Sauce, vegan, medium

1 heaping tablespoon Lahtt Sauce, vegan, hot

1 lime, juiced 

sea salt (for cooking water)

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons shaoxing rice wine

8 ounces Banza spaghetti noodles

cilantro, leaves

scallions, sliced

1-2 limes, halved, to taste

Directions

Make sauce:

1. In a large Pyrex glass measuring cup or bowl, mix together the sesame oil, tahini paste, almond butter, Lahtt chili oil sauces, and juice of 1 lime. Blend until well incorporated.

Cook pasta:

2. Bring large pot of salted water to boil. When ready, add the Banza noodles and cook according to package, about 7-9 minutes. Do not overcook.

Sauté garlic and mix sauce:

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add chopped garlic. Cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add shaoxing wine and stir to combine. Remove from heat.

4. Pour the sauce mixture into the garlic oil and allow to settle, mingling the garlic oil and sauce.

5. When the pasta is al dente (cooked through with a slight tack to the bite), drain, and rinse the noodles with cool water to keep from cooking. You can add a little sesame oil to separate the noodles if sticky. 

Toss sauce with noodles:

6. Place noodles in large bowl and pour the sauce all over. Toss the noodles until all of the sauce soaks up and is well covered.

Serve:

7. Serve noodles in wide bowls and garnish with scallions, cilantro, and lime wedges.

If you make this, let’s see it on Instagram! Tag #thesensualfoodierecipes  

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wine, napa, cabernet

Ruby color. Blackberries. Fruity tang, subtle spice, soft lingering finish. I’m enjoying this glass of cabernet outside on my patio just before sundown, as I’m observing an industrious squirrel rustling high up on a branch in my orange tree, knocking down one orange after the other. This is California in January. My lawn is covered with half eaten oranges, courtesy of local squirrels.

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I’m pleased to announce that I’ve partnered up with CrockPot to create a nourishing and delicious slow cooker recipe post featuring one of my most beloved stews: chickpeas with yogurt and harissa. 

The first time I enjoyed chickpea stew was many years ago while treating myself to lunch. I waited for quite awhile among the hipster chic crowd at Gjelina on Abbot Kinney in Venice before finally seating myself at the long wooden stretch of their communal table. Now, I know it may sound like I’m making such fanfare over a rustic bowl of chickpea stew here, with all of the preface and scene setting, however, the chickpea stew with yogurt and harissa was a sensory revelation. And maybe it was one of those moments when I just wanted a big ol’ bowl of comfort food. Nevertheless, the chickpea stew was sublime in its simplicity. 

After enjoying that bowl of chickpea stew, I was inspired to try to make it myself at home. Back then, I lived in a tiny apartment with an electric stove. The suggested slow cooking method for the recipe I found online was quite primitive.

The traditional Greek chickpea stew recipe called for a big clay pot sealed up with dough, lugging the heavy thing over to a large communal oven somewhere in a small Greek village, which involved many, many hours of waiting while slowly simmering the stew into a fragrant melange of lemon, thyme, onions, oregano, olive oil, and tender melty chickpeas. 

Obviously, slow cooking methods have improved since. During my first attempt at a slow cooked chickpea stew, I could have definitely used a CrockPot. Instead, since I didn’t have a slow cooker, I took the chance in putting together all of the ingredients into an actual clay pot and placed it reluctantly into my electric oven on the lowest heat setting for 8-something hours. I was truly afraid to fall asleep with the oven kept on all night. Perhaps I was being silly, but it wasn’t how I imagined testing out my first version of chickpea stew. Honestly, slow cooking the stew in a CrockPot would have been the best method of choice. 

This recipe is a flavorful and cozy stew that is entirely plant-based. You won’t have to carry a heavy clay pot full of chickpeas to your local village wood-fired oven and wait for hours. Please, for the sake of ease, safety and modernity, don’t attempt to slow cook your stew in a clay pot in your oven all night long. 

I used the Crock-Pot 7-Quart Programmable Cook & Carry™ Slow Cooker to make this stew.

Chickpea Stew with Spiced Yogurt & Harissa

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

4-6 cans of chickpeas

1 yellow onion, quartered and chopped

1 bunch of carrots, peeled and chopped 

6 garlic cloves, smashed

a few fresh thyme sprigs

1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds

1 teaspoon of coriander seeds

1 teaspoon of fennel seeds

1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon of ground turmeric

2 tablespoons of tomato paste

1/2 cup of dry white wine

4-6 cups of vegetable stock

sea salt, to season

a few kale leaves, stemmed and chopped

a splash of red wine vinegar

a dollop of *harissa per serving bowl, to taste (optional)

a dollop of spiced “yogurt” per serving bowl (*see prep below)

 

You can find plant-based yogurts and mix in spices and herbs easily. Just buy some store bought non-dairy sour cream/plain yogurt, which works nicely and doesn’t take any extra effort. All you have to do is mix in spices and herbs.

Spiced Yogurt

Ingredients:

herbs & spices

pinch of ground coriander
pinch of ground cumin
2 tbsp of chopped herbs (thyme, mint, cilantro), optional

“yogurt”

To make 1 cup of spiced “yogurt” just use any non-dairy (or dairy yogurt if serving vegetarian) plain yogurt and mix in the herbs and spices. Add a touch of olive oil. Stir by hand or blend in food processor. Set aside for serving. 

*Harissa is a Tunisian chili pepper paste made with fresh red peppers, garlic, salt, sunflower oil, coriander, and caraway. You can find this in most Middle Eastern markets, and to my surprise, Trader Joe’s carries small jars of harissa in their stores. 

 

Preparation to make the chickpea stew: 

  1. In a large soup pot, over medium heat, sauté the onion and cloves of garlic in a little olive oil. Allow the onion and garlic to soften and caramelize, about 15 minutes. 
  2. In a small frying pan (dry with no oil) over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds just until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Let cool before grinding the toasted spices to a coarse powder (you can use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle). 
  3. Add a pinch of powdered cumin, paprika and turmeric into the pot with the onion and garlic, and cook until quite fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, scraping the bottom of the pot frequently so that it does not burn, and cook until the entire mixture is fragrant and turning color, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add in a dash of white wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan until everything is reduced by half, 2-3 minutes. Add a splash of veggie stock. 
  5. Put all of the chickpeas, carrots and thyme into the pot, then pour all of the veggie broth in to cover. Season with a little sea salt and stir to combine. 
  6. Transfer the chickpea stew into your CrockPot to slow cook, until the chickpeas are tender, about 2-4 hours. (Since the chickpeas are canned, you don’t need to cook them as long as dried chickpeas.)  
  7. Once the chickpea stew has slow cooked, you can keep it warm until serving by selecting the keep warm feature on your CrockPot. Season the stew to taste– you can brighten up the flavors with some lemon juice and another splash of red wine vinegar, add more sea salt, or sometimes I use a little soy sauce/tamari to give it an extra savory taste. Also, don’t forget to pull out the thyme stems before serving.
  8. Serve in wide bowls with a dollop of spiced yogurt, a drizzle of harissa, a squeeze of lemon, and garnish with chopped kale. Pairs nicely with sourdough toast and garlic spread to soak up all of the stew. 

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