Easiest Ever Kimchi

bowl-of-kimchi

I often hesitate to use the word “ever” in a recipe. Descriptions like “The most decadent pie ever,” or “The best breakfast you’ll ever eat,” are just a little bit too over the top because these statements hardly ever turn out to be true. But I kid you not, this recipe for kimchi is the easiest you’ll ever find. You mix up some brine, stir in chopped veggies, and then let it sit out for a while. You’ll be rewarded with salty, funky, and crunchy kimchi that is addictive.

A lot of the ingredients (rice powder, gochugaru pepper flakes, and sesame oil to name a few) that I needed to buy individually (according to kimchi recipes I found in cookbooks) are all ingredients found in gochujang paste. Since I’m on a budget, and didn’t want to buy half a dozen ingredients that I might only use occasionally, I subbed these with a combination of gochujang paste and other condiments.

Now this isn’t by any means a traditional recipe. Honestly, your Korean grandmother might be rolling in her grave right now because of the ingredients list. But even with it taking a different avenue from other versions, the results are a delicious ferment. As with most recipes, feel free to swap out some of the ingredients to make it as spicy, sweet, or tangy as you’d like.

kimchi-bowl

Easiest Ever Kimchi

Makes about 4 pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 napa cabbages or large bok choy, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions (green parts only), chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 1/4 cup grated fresh ginger
  • 10 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup sweet soy sauce
  • 1 cup gochujang paste

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, toss the cabbage, onions, and salt. Set aside for 10-15 minutes to sweat. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.
  2. Once the cabbage and onions have wilted slightly, add enough water to the bowl to cover the vegetables. Roughly mix the cabbage and onions in the water with your hands (to remove any excess salt that’s left) and then drain well.
  3. Add the drained cabbage and onions to the gochujang mix. Toss with either gloved hands or tongs until everything is well coated. Put the kimchi mixture into 4 clean pint jars, leaving headspace of about 2 inches. Use a fermentation weight to weigh down the top of each jar, ensuring that the cabbage stays underneath the brine. Now you can either cover each of your jars with a regular lid (and ‘burp’ them daily to release excess pressure) or choose airlock lids for less hassle.
  4. Store in a cool place away from sunlight for 3 to 5 days and start checking the taste of the kimchi on the third day. It’s ready once it’s bubbly and tastes delicious. Store in the fridge for up to a year (but I promise it won’t last that long).

Nutrition per serving (1/4 cup):

Calories: 33 Fat: 0g Saturated Fat: 0g Protein: 1g Carbohydrates: 6g Sugars: 4g

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Adventures in Fermentation (and Some Beginner Cookbook Recommendations)

two canning jars and two fermenting cookbooks on a green background

There’s something about doing things yourself that really makes me happy. Baking bread, creating condiments from scratch, or mixing your own tea blends are all things that I’m gung-ho about. But there’s one food ‘project’ that has really caught my attention lately: fermenting.

My first introduction to fermented foods (not counting the occasional sauerkraut on a veggie dog) was during our honeymoon. We visited the farmers’ market in downtown Austin, Texas which included Buddha’s Brew, a kombucha company with a variety of flavors for sampling. Neither of us had heard of such a thing, but we happily drank up the blueberry version whilst eating tamales and listening to the vendor explain the various health benefits to us.

Fast forward to three years later and nearly every counter in my poor, overworked apartment kitchen is covered in a myriad of jars and bottles containing bubbling ferments. In the last few months (especially thanks to three weeks off in-between jobs) I’ve started to seriously work on developing my fermenting from a fair-weather hobby into a real skill.

gallon jar of kimchi with a hand nearby to show sizeSo far, I’ve perfected my own recipes­—after drawing inspiration from various cookbooks—for lemon-dill sauerkraut, kimchi (see right, blog post coming soon!), and fennel-white peppercorn carrots. Obviously I’ve got a lot more to learn before I can even call myself an experienced fermenter, but I’m excited for the challenge.

Along with just being really delicious, fermented foods have a big health benefit: probiotics. These helpful little gut bacteria can help with an assortment of things, including digestion and boosting your immune system. Every time I have to take antibiotics, no matter the medicine’s strength, I’m always violently ill with a sick stomach. But if I take my meds with fermented foods (I usually drink a glass kombucha in the morning and eat a spoonful of kimchi at night) then my symptoms never get worse than a little nausea. Before, I would run out and purchase these items, but now I can just make my own ferments at home to keep illness at bay.

There are roughly a million other fermentation books that I’d like to add to my cookbook collection, but I’m starting small for now. These are the books that I’ve really been enjoying reading and learning from so far:

Ferment for Good: Ancient Food for the Modern Gut: The Slowest Kind of Fast Food—Author Sharon Flynn has created a career from her passion for fermenting, and you can definitely tell by reading her book. It’s an impassioned beginners guide that covers everything from the equipment you need to what all of the ‘scary’ looking changes are that occur when fermenting foods (most of which are perfectly safe and natural). Not to mention, she has some delicious recipes, most of which come with suggestions on how to mix-and-match ingredients to create your own unique ferments.

Fiery Ferments: 70 Stimulating Recipes for Hot Sauces, Spicy Chutneys, Kimchis with Kick, and Other Blazing Fermented Condiments—This book is hot! Literally. The recipes range from basic spicy relishes to sophisticated-sounding condiments (Habanero Carrot Sauce, anyone?) and each is sure to impress any heat-lover in your life. If you’re worried about making hot ferments and then not knowing how to use them, they’ve covered that too. There’s an entire chapter with delicious-sounding suggestions for using the recipes.

The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World-I almost feel silly listing this because it’s such a well known book, but I’m doing it anyway. This is basically the bible of fermenting, written by Sandor Katz, the famed fermentation revivalist who credits these probiotic-rich foods with helping his health after an AIDS diagnosis. At nearly 500 pages, there’s a wealth of knowledge tucked in-between the two covers. Learn about which salts are best to use, traditional methods from a wide range of cultures, how to ferment non-dairy ‘cheese,’ and more!

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you buy anything linked on this page, it won’t cost you any extra, but I’ll get a small commission through the Amazon Associates program. This helps me cover costs to keep the site up and running.

Seitan Shepherd’s Pie

seitan shepherds pie in a casserole dish

While I’m all about fancy foods and impressive dishes, sometimes it’s hard to beat a good casserole. When I’m craving comfort food and want something that’s easy to make, I turn to a classic: shepherd’s pie.

Although it’s usually made with lamb or beef (hence the name), my favorite filling to make a ‘meaty’ dish is seitan (say-tan). This wheat gluten-based food is packed with protein (actually more than tofu) and touts a short, recognizable ingredients list that you can feel good about. Best part? By making a vegan version of this often over-indulgent dish, each serving comes in at just above 200 calories.

I was lucky enough to have Sweet Earth reach out and send me a goodie bag packed to the brim with their multiple seitan products. Their varieties come in different cuts (strips, slices, or grounds) and there are even flavored versions, all of which are delicious. For this recipe I used their ground seitan, which holds up well in the rich gravy and gives a savory boost to the dish.

seitan shepherds pie in a glass casserole dish

Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

Serves: 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables (corn, peas, carrots, green beans, etc.)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 (8-oz.) packages white mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 oz. ground seitan (like Sweet Earth Traditional Seitan)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups non-dairy milk 
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast 
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 cups prepared mashed potatoes

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Steam the frozen vegetables and and pour into a 9×13-inch casserole dish.
  3. In a large pan, bring the olive oil to medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent and fragrant. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in mushrooms and seitan, cooking until the mushrooms have become tender. Add the seitan mixture into the casserole dish.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together water, milk, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, Italian seasoning, pepper, and cornstarch. Add the sauce mix to a large saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring often. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until thickened.
  5. Pour the gravy over the vegetable and seitan mixture and stir together. Spread prepared mashed potatoes on top and cover the dish with foil. Bake for 45 minutes, remove foil, and bake for 15 more minutes. Sprinkle more nutritional yeast on top, if desired. 

Nutrition per serving:

Calories: 208 Fat: 3g Saturated Fat: 0g Protein: 15g Carbohydrates: 32g Sugars: 7g

5 Tips to Make Weekly Batch Cooking a Breeze

 

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If you had told me a year ago that every Sunday I would be regularly batch cooking my meals for the entire week, I would have said that you merely had a pipe dream. I assumed then that batch cooking must involve strenuous hours in the kitchen, eating up an entire day of my precious weekend. Though this length of time may be true for the first few times you batch cook, it eventually will become easy to only use a few hours to cook meals and snacks ahead for the entire week.

When I batch cook, I find that it saves me time throughout the week and I’ll naturally opt for healthier lunch and dinner options simply because they’re already prepared. Plus, when you have no real rush during cooking (unlike when your stomach is rumbling on a busy weeknight) there’s plenty of time to be creative and try new things in the kitchen.

While it might seem intuitive to just jump in and start cooking, there are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way that can help you quickly begin food prepping for the week with ease.

  1. Start With a Clean Kitchen

It seems like common sense, right? But there have been plenty of times I’ve begun cooking with the sink half full of dishes and quickly regretted my decision. It’s harder to find space to drain pasta, fill up large pots, or throw your newly dirty dishes into. Just take the 15 minutes ahead of time to wash a load of dishes and wipe down the counter. You’ll thank yourself later.

  1. Strategize Your Recipes

Once you’ve chosen your recipes for the week and done all the grocery shopping, it’s time to make a game plan. You can either print out each recipe, or, like me, just have them all open on your computer. I look at each recipe, ordering them from the most to least amount of cooking times, and then figure out what needs to be started first. You wouldn’t want to begin your recipe that takes two hours at the very end of your cooking session. The easiest thing (for me) is to start my basics first (baking potatoes, cooking grains or legumes, marinating tofu, etc.) and then begin making more specific components of recipes.

  1. Wear Shoes

I feel a bit silly putting this in the list, but it’s not something I thought about when I first started meal prepping. I don’t wear shoes at home, or in my kitchen, so why start now? Well standing up for two or three hours on a hard wooden floor will definitely come back to bite you the next day. I quickly learned my lesson thanks to aching feet, and now wear sturdy tennis shoes every time I know I’ll be cooking more than one meal. For extra comfort, think about purchasing a kitchen mat too.

  1. Invest in Containers

My kitchen is constantly overflowing with colorful bowls, plates, and other fun dishes. I didn’t think I’d need to buy any containers since I’m already a bit of a Pyrex pack rat, but I quickly got tired of putting plastic wrap and foil on the many lidless plates and bowls I own. If you don’t own products specifically designed for storage, you might end up wanting to invest in some. I snagged 10 three-cup Pyrex containers during a sale at Target and they’re the perfect size for lunches. That way, between Peter and I, we have the right amount of containers to pack five lunches ahead for our workweek.

  1. Keep Yourself Entertained

If you’re a cooking novice, it might take your full concentration to make each recipe. But if you’re comfortable in the kitchen, you may find your mind wandering while you cube a five-pound bag of potatoes, or roll a dozen burritos for the freezer. Keep yourself upbeat and high-energy by listening to fun music (Disney, anyone?) or occupying your mind with an intriguing podcast. For true crime buffs I recommend The Generation Why or Sword & Scale, or for those wanting to take the foodie route, A Taste of the Past and Gravy Audio are great listens.

How to Cook in a Hostel

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Dundee Backpackers in Dundee, Scotland

One of my favorite things about traveling is the food. After picking a destination, and maybe plotting out a few major points of interest, the next thing I do is search for the best restaurants, holes in the wall, and street vendors to visit.

While I love trying local specialties and grabbing meals around a new city, eating out can quickly add up and strain your travel budget. If you’re staying at a hostel, you’ve got the opportunity to cook for yourself and save your hard earned money for other things.

Through my travels, and the various trials and errors they have entailed, I’ve learned a few tricks for making the best of hostel kitchens, no matter how shabby or understocked:

Take Stock of the Kitchen

Before you ever make a grocery list or plan a time to cook, visit the kitchen and see what you’re working with. Check out what appliances, cookware, and tools are at your disposal. I’ve seen everything from well equipped kitchens featuring several ovens and stovetops, to a hostel that only had a single hot plate. While you’re there, see if your hostel provides a “Free Food” cabinet. Many hostel goers buy too much and leave behind their leftovers. This means you can sometimes find a wealth of staples like rice, pasta, oils, vinegars, and spices for free.

Shop With the Locals

Take notice of where the locals shop. Avoid the convenience stores usually found near tourist districts because of their lack of variety and high prices. Instead visit farmers’ markets and local grocery stores to do your shopping. One of the fun things when visiting another country is seeing all the foreign (to you) foods available. Plus if you’re choosing to cook a local specialty, you’ll have no trouble finding all the ingredients.

Avoid Peak Times

Even during off seasons, hostels can be packed with fellow travelers. This means the kitchen area will likely be full during peak eating hours around lunch and dinner. If you can, try and cook a little before or after regular mealtimes. Though cooking side-by-side with other hostel-goers can be a great way to get a conversation going, you might save yourself some time (and stress) by choosing your timing wisely.

Add Some Spice to Your Life

There’s no better way to quickly improve a meal than by adding a hearty dose of spices. Here are a few simple solutions to avoid overloading your backpack with spice bottles while still creating tasty meals:

  • Base your meal choices around the spices available in your hostel’s free pantry. This can lead to some really creative recipe creation.
  • Buy one or two spice blends (cajun, Italian, lemon-pepper, etc.) to just sprinkle on each meal for a serious flavor boost. This works best if you’re traveling for a week or less, so you don’t get tired of the recurring flavors.
  • If you know you’ll always want certain spices on hand, your best bet is to pack your favorites in a stackable pill organizer (like this one.) The screw-on top keeps the spices in place and the containers are usually easy to label.

Keep It Simple

Nobody expects you to make a luxurious five-star meal at your hostel. If that’s your thing, more power to you. But I like to stick with simple “recipes” that require little ingredients. It’s usually a good idea to create a balanced meal with about five ingredients, including a protein source, carbs, and veggies or fruit. Since I’m usually cooking for myself and Peter, and we don’t mind leftovers, most of the meals I cook makes about four servings. If you’re traveling solo, make sure you only buy how much you need for your stay. Some of my favorite simple hostel recipes include:

  • Creamy Lentil Curry: Cook red lentils in coconut milk, vegetable broth, and curry powder. Top with chopped pineapple and cilantro.
  • Shroom Pasta: Cook pasta. Sauté a chopped onion and a few handfuls of mushroom in olive oil. Toss with pasta and sprinkle with red pepper and nutritional yeast.
  • Hearty Soup: In a large pot sauté a chopped onion in olive oil. Add a can of diced tomatoes and a can of white beans. Add a chopped potato or any desired veggies you have on hand. Pour in enough vegetable broth to cover everything and simmer until veggies are tender.
  • Super Spuds: Poke a few holes in a russet potato. Microwave for 5-7 minutes, or until soft. Top with a handful of spinach and chopped green onions. Dollop on salsa and guacamole before serving.

A Vegan’s Guide to Reykjavik

Hopefully you’ve already read my recommendations for Five Must-Dos in Iceland from our week-long getaway earlier this month. If not, hop over there for suggestions on attractions to visit and activities to do. Then, it’s time to get onto what every vegan really likes to research before a big trip: Where to eat.

I will warn you guys, the food photography is not great here because wintertime Iceland has sunlight for only about six hours. Combine that with low-light restaurants, and you’ve got some less-than-stellar photo ops. But I promise everything I pictured was delicious and beautiful when I was served.

Iceland was apparently the land of defying expectations. Meaning: every blog, book, or website I read said Iceland was one of the hardest places to eat vegan. I’m happy to say there was no shortage of yummy and satisfying plant-based food, which was not hard to find at all. Honestly, Reykjavik was much more veggie-friendly than almost any place in the Southern U.S.

My only warning is that dining out in Iceland is expensive. A cheap meal for two people is about $20, and that’s if you’re getting something like chips (fries) and a soda. Since a lot of foods (especially fresh produce) have to be imported, the high price tag makes sense. But be aware that the majority of your vacation budget can easily be blown on a night out of fine dining. Because of this, Peter and I stuck to more casual eateries, though according to Happy Cow there are many more choices available in the city for those willing to drop some cash.

Here are some of the amazing places we dined at:

Kaffi Vinyl

Totally vegan and with a wealth of menu options, Kaffi Vinyl was our first stop for food. The restaurant, which also doubles as a record shop and music venue, had a relaxed vibe with servers changing the records as they ran out. We both got coffees, Peter’s was cold and mine was hot, in an attempt to help our adjust to the time change. They offered several non-dairy milk options like soy, oat, and coconut.dscn1799Peter ordered the lasagna, which was an extremely hearty meal filled with rich marinara, veggies, and a sprinkling of vegan parmesan atop. It was served with rustic bread, olive tapenade, and salad.

I took a chance on a bizarre sounding combo, and ordered the black bean burger, which came with blueberry jam, kimchi sauce, some type of cream cheese, pickled veggies, and a slice of pineapple. I just have to say, this burger was so good. I never would have thought to put a sweet jam on a burger (I guess I didn’t learn from that episode of Spongebob) but the whole thing just worked. Sweet, salty, creamy, tangy, every bite had a big burst of flavors.

Cultural note though, Icelanders tend to avoid eating with their hands. For example, I was given a fork and knife to eat this burger and watched two locals at another table cut theirs apart too. So just keep that in mind when you get any “hands on” food.

Reykjavik Chips

A restaurant entirely dedicated to potatoes is my kind of place. Serving only (you guessed it) fries, Reykjavik Chips is a cute little shop that you shouldn’t miss out on. Their large pile of potatoes next to the cash register (see below) should attest to how popular it is.

The chips come in two sizes, small and large, and I highly recommend getting a small. Because when they say large, they mean it. The container is roughly the size to hold two American large fries, so stick with a small (which is about the size of one American large fry) unless you’re sharing.

Crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside, the chips are made fresh-to-order and topped with whatever sauce you desire. Vegans have the options of ketchup or rich peanut-y satay sauce. Best part? Since Icelanders don’t eat with their hands, when they toss the chips in a sauce it’s served with a skewer to eat with.dscn1937

Nudluskalin

Just what you need when the cold wind is whistling into your face, Nudluskalin is the place to go for a meal that will warm up your frozen body.

Very easy to eat vegan at, you can substitute tofu for any meat and several of their menu items are already vegan. I choose the Green Throughout (below, right), a rice noodle soup that is heavy on the veggies and features fresh garlic and chilis for a thorough sinus cleansing.

Peter got the vegetarian option of Bamm Al Pomodoro, a less-brothy hybrid dish that had a bit of Asian and Italian influences. With a tomato broth base, it featured fresh egg noodles, peppers, carrots, Italian herbs, and a hearty handful of beansprouts. dscn1951

Joylato

Joylato is one of those places I’d never expect to have vegan options, and I’m always pleasantly surprised every time I turn out to be incorrect. Using liquid nitrogen, you can mix-and-match ingredients for you own custom bowl of made-to-order ice cream.

You have the options of the base being coconut or dairy milk, then choose the flavor of ice cream you want, add in sweet bits like fresh fruit or chocolate chips, and finally decide if you desire a sauce to drizzle atop. Besides the dairy milk, the only non-vegan add-in was white chocolate chips. I went with a coconut-based salted caramel ice cream with chocolate fudge sauce.

Despite the oxymoron of eating ice cream in cold weather, it was a great sweet treat. But if you’re wanting something a bit warmer, they also make vegan hot chocolate or chai tea that is perfect for sipping while exploring the city.dscn2008

Pylsa/Pulsa

Icelanders seem to love their sausages and hot dogs. I was thrilled to be able to try a vegan version of the local favorite at Pylsa/Pulsa, which was only made better by the fact that it was in the same building as our hostel.

We both got the Bulsur Sausage, which was labeled as “100% vegan” and sat at the bar to eat. If you’re interested in local Icelandic brews too, they had several options on tap. The sausages were crisp on the outside and slightly soft on the inside, with a heavily spiced flavor that was balanced out by the herb gravy. On the side was mashed sweet potatoes and a refreshing green salad. img_1122

Glo

Right off the main street of Reykjavik, Glo is the best place to stop for a healthy afternoon meal. With about half a dozen mostly-vegan salad options, along with wraps and soups, you can mix-and-match until you’ve got the perfect plate.

I ordered some ridiculously creamy cauliflower soup, which came with a dense (in a good way) piece of wheat bread, and three salad of my choice, which were cabbage, potato, and quinoa. Peter got a slightly spicy hummus wrap and the same salads too. Each of left feeling totally full, but not overly weighed down, by the veggie-packed meals.

Habibi

Although they’re usually a safe bet for vegans, the falafels at Habibi weren’t just your run-of-the-mill dinner. I ordered the falafel wrap, asking for no dairy sauces, and the lovely guy behind the counter quickly began frying them up. The soft wrap was just the right balance for holding crunchy falafel, fresh veggies, and silky hummus. It definitely beat out any falafel wraps I’d eaten before. If we’d had more time in the city, I definitely would have returned to try their falafel plate too.img_1182

The Deli

Due to construction, the entrance to The Deli isn’t the easiest to find at the time of writing this. So just keep your eyes peeled for the spray painted pictures of pizza. Peter, a severe pizza fiend, was hankering for some when we found The Deli.

He got several of their vegetarian slices, margherita and white garlic, which were displayed behind the counter. I required a more special order and requested the pasta alla noplentana without cheese or garlic bread. I was pleased that the staff didn’t seemed puzzled at all by my dairy-free request.

The pasta and pizza, which we got to-go, were both great. Peter was a happy camper, and I was pleased by the pasta tossed in a rich marinara sauce and dotted with fresh cherry tomatoes, basil, and black olives. Their drink selection was vast too, so keep an eye out for Icelandic brands. I got an interesting bitterlemon soda that was a delightful balance of bitter, sour, and sweet.dscn1852

1011

It may seem strange for me to include a convenience store at the end of this list, but it’s here for a good reason. 1011, which has branches throughout the city, boasts a large section of pre-made foods. A shocking amount of these dishes are vegan, and clearly labeled so.

Vegan sandwiches, salads, falafel meals, rice bowls, curries, and daals, are available in the refrigerated section for very decent prices. Peter and I shopped their several times for meals to take on long day tours and everything we tried was fantastic. This wasn’t run-of-the-mill gas station grub either, everything was properly prepared and about as good as the food we ate at the nearby eateries.dscn2001dscn1997dscn1999As a bonus, keep an eye out at 1011 for the “Cool American Doritos”. They’re not vegan, just very funny. dscn1944