Pesto Anyone?

basilI have 3 kinds of basil this year Italian, lemon, and Thai all growing in my garden. Some are in the veggie bed and I have others in containers. If you have no space you can even grow some inside on a sunny window sill.

If you don’t have a garden you should be able to get locally grown basil at your farmers market, or local natural foods store at this time of the year. You can get fresh herbs in the winter, but they are expensive and they don’t taste as good to me.

Pesto is fragrant mixture of herbs and nuts ground into a thick paste with olive oil. And there are dozens of variations.

Traditional Basil Pesto

  • 2 cups basil leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 – 1/2  cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (optional – add salt to taste if you are leaving out or use a vegan substitute)

Put basil, garlic, ¼ cup olive oil, nuts, and cheese if using into a food processor. Process the pesto using the pulse setting, so you can still have a few small chunks of nuts for texture. Add more oil if the mixture is too thick. Taste and add more garlic, salt, or cheese until you love what you have and can’t wait to eat it.

What to do with it?

  • Toss with pasta and top with fresh ground pepper
  • Spread on a pizza crust instead of red sauce
  • Put in mashed potatoes
  • Add into a soup (minestrone is great for this)
  • Mix into your scrambled tofu in the morning
  • Blend with silken tofu for a perfect dairy free dip

Ok, so I’ve sold you on trying to make pesto, but you don’t have any pine nuts? Or maybe your basil didn’t do so good this year. Now it’s time to get creative. First off you can substitute any nuts for the pine nuts. I used almonds in mine. Why not try pistachios or walnuts?

Use the recipe above for general proportions, but realize you will have to taste as you go even more since some herbs have a stronger taste than others. You’ll begin to notice how the oils of the bruised herbs smell mingled with the smell of the nut you chose.  And then you’ll know if you need to add more of another ingredient.

  • A few combinations to try:
  • Arugula (Rocket) and Pistachio
  • Oregano and Walnut
  • Sage with Pine nuts and a little lemon juice
  • Mint and Almond
  • Rosemary and hazelnut
  • Tarragon and no nuts at all

If you need more ideas take a look at this post on the gardenWeb herb forum.

Save your new creation for a winter surprise! Oil an ice cube tray and put your freshly made pesto into the slots. Once the cubes are frozen, remove them from the try and place into a freezer bag. Now in January they’ll be waiting to go into your steaming pot of minestrone!


Happy New Year Vegan Sausage Mushroom Ragu

I just had the nicest New Year’s Eve dinner party. 8 of our friends came over for a dinner of lentil soup, spinach salad, and Gimme Lean Sausage and mushroom ragu over baked polenta. It turned out well enough for me to pass the recipe on to you. Plus I promised a recipe this week and I want to start the year off right.

Happy New Year to all of you – I wish you only the best this year!

Vegan Sausage Mushroom Ragu

  • 1 Tbl. olive oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 package Gimme Lean Sausage
  • 2- 28 oz cans of organic crushed tomatoes with basil
  • 16 oz crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 large portabella mushrooms, chopped
  • extra basil to taste (I used 1 ice cube of basil that I froze from the summer)
  • 1 Tbl. Italian seasoning
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbl. balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • 2 – 3 Tbl red wine (optional)

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add onions and saute until translucent and add garlic.

In a very large pot add tomatoes and turn heat to medium. Add onions and garlic from skillet. Add chopped mushrooms and cover.

In the same skillet that you cooked the onions, now cook the package of Gimme Lean. Chop it with a large spatula as you cook to break it up into sausage crumbles. Once it begins to brown add to tomato mixture.

Simmer covered for 1 – 3 hours on the stove. You could use a slow cooker and cook it all day if you prefer.

Add water if the sauce becomes too thick, but it is a thick chunky sauce. Serve over pasta, polenta, or use in a lasagna.

Vegan Polenta with grilled eggplant and heirloom tomato sauce

I decided to invite some people over this weekend and grill out. So that meant that we needed to get out the grill and do a trial run. This was pretty easy, though more time intensive since we use charcoal. But charcoal tastes so much better to me.

Polenta with grilled eggplant and heirloom tomato sauce – serves 2 as a main course

  • 1 package trader Joe’s precooked polenta sliced thick (or your own made from scratch, chilled and cut into rectangles)
  • 3 large tomatoes (I used Purple Cherokees from my garden!) – cut in half width-wise
  • 1 small eggplant sliced thin
  • 1 medium zucchini sliced thin
  • Handful fresh basil chopped
  • A couple of sprigs of fresh oregano
  • 1 Tbl. tomato paste

Make sure your coals are hot, but not all flamey and get ready to grill! First we’re going to grill the tomatoes, so we can use them and make our sauce. Spray a little oil on the cut side of the tomatoes and place cut side down on the grill. You will cook this a couple of minutes until they are cooked through to almost the top end. Once you take them off the grill they will cook the rest of the way.

the veggies:

Mix the eggplant and zucchini slices with some salt and oil then put on the grill in singles layers.  You won’t need to cook these long, plus we want to achieve a meaty texture with these veggies. After they are cooked on both sides remove from grill and mince them. Sprinkle the slices with fresh ground pepper. Set aside for now.

the sauce:

  1. Heat a non-stick pan
  2. Scrape out the insides of the grilled tomato into a food processor with basil and oregano – puree
  3. Pour into the hot pan
  4. Add tomato paste
  5. Cover partially, and cook over low heat until it thickens a bit.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste

the polenta:

Slice in thick slices, oil the surfaces that will be exposed to the grill, and grill on both sides until it is done enough for you.  Mine tried to let the grill cut into them, and I’m not quite sure why.  I just flipped them if they looked like they were starting to sink in.

put it all together:

Lay a few slices of polenta, cover with the eggplant/zucchini mixture, cover with your thickened sauce and a couple of small basil leaves.

I really liked the smokey flavor the grill gave the veggies. I’ll be making this again. It’s easy and looks impressive.

Recipe: Vegan Asian Black Eyed Pea Soba Noodles

Slow Cooker Thursday

It’s slow cooker Thursday!
See other great recipes at Diary of a SAHM

Adapted from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker

Even my friend who has hated black eyed peas her whole life liked this. If you wanted to get really sneaky you could puree the beans and greens for super picky eaters. You can substitute any pasta if you don’t have soba noodles, but they are super delicious!

Asian Black Eyed Pea Soba Noodles – makes about 7 servings

* 3 cups cooked Black-eyed peas (1/2 a small package dried)
* Carrots, raw, 2 medium In chunks
* Swiss Chard, 4 cup, chopped (rainbow chard is pretty and in season right now)
* Garlic, 2 cloves
* Ginger Root, 1 tsp
*Soy Sauce, 1 tbsp
* Japanese Noodles, Soba, 1 package about 12 oz. (made with buckwheat)

First off, either start dried peas in the slow cooker the night before. I cooked the whole package and save half for a meal later this week. I put the peas in right before I went to bed, and cooked them on high all night. If you have canned black eyed peas you can skip this step.

In the slow cooker combine the cooked peas, chunky carrots, chopped chard, minced garlic, soy sauce, and minced ginger.

Cook for 6 – 10 hours depending on when you are ready for dinner.

Cook soba noodles and drain. Serve in a bowl topped with pea mixture.

A friend of mine said she’s like this with rice, so feel free to try it that way. You can lower the sodium by using low sodium soy sauce or leaving it out completely.

Amount Per Serving
Calories 262.6
Total Fat 0.9 g
Saturated Fat 0.1 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.2 g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.1 g
Cholesterol 0.0 mg
Sodium 710.1 mg
Potassium 737.5 mg
Total Carbohydrate 57.3 g
Dietary Fiber 6.1 g
Sugars 4.1 g
Protein 11.4 g
Vitamin A 175.6 %
Vitamin B-12 0.0 %
Vitamin B-6 12.0 %
Vitamin C 34.8 %
Vitamin D 0.0 %
Vitamin E 9.8 %
Calcium 17.3 %
Copper 14.4 %
Folate 10.5 %
Iron 24.8 %
Magnesium 34.0 %
Manganese 50.7 %
Niacin 10.8 %
Pantothenic Acid 6.9 %
Phosphorus 16.7 %
Riboflavin 9.7 %
Selenium 1.5 %
Thiamin 18.8 %
Zinc 8.2 %