Thinking ahead: vegan cooking

Holiday desserts can be enticing even without butter, cream or eggs.

Sweet potato gnocchi with grilled pepper sauce. (photo credit: HEDVA LEVY COHEN)
Sweet potato gnocchi with grilled pepper sauce.
(photo credit: HEDVA LEVY COHEN)
The festival of Sukkot is a celebration of nature – the sukka with its leafy roof, the decorative fresh fruit hanging from its ceiling and, of course, the meals rich in vegetables and fruit.
From the time that we started to learn cooking from cookbooks, we found that vegetarian cookbooks had the most interesting vegetable and fruit recipes. These days, whenever we’re looking for interesting ways to use produce, we find vegan cookbooks particularly inspiring. It’s impressive that authors of vegan cookbooks can achieve such tasty, varied, satisfying food without using eggs or dairy.
Recently we came across two such books. Both have many innovative dishes that would be perfect for Succot; one is by Israeli chef Avital Sebbag and the other is by French Chef Jean-Christian Jury. Both are vegans for different reasons.
Sebbag, whose book is Five Seasons in the Kitchen, is inspired by the food, the lifestyle and the serene atmosphere in the Zen monastery kitchens that she has visited around the world. Jury, the author of Vegan: The Cookbook, told us at his recent book presentation that he found that the vegan diet is the healthiest way to eat.
Stuffed vegetables are one of the best-loved dishes for Sukkot. As an alternative to the standard stuffed cabbage, you could make Sebbag’s elegant stuffed endive leaves. The stuffing, which needs no cooking, is made of macadamia nuts blended with Kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes.
Jury, who is about to open a vegan cooking school in Thailand, makes a variety of easy dishes from many countries, including creatively stuffed vegetables. For his Australian appetizer of stuffed mushrooms, he uses a stuffing that he calls orange tartare; a mixture of chopped oranges, shallots, olives and capers.
To make stuffed peppers, he grills sweet peppers and fills them with a mixture of cooked quinoa, shredded zucchini, chopped basil, tomato sauce, garlic and grated vegan cheese. He stuffs okra with a mixture of ground peanuts, coconut, sesame seeds and Indian spices.
When I was growing up, sweet potatoes were an important component of our holiday tzimmes (the Ashkenazi dish of sweet vegetables cooked with dried fruit). A different way to enjoy sweet potatoes as a festive Sukkot main course is to make Sebbag’s sweet potato gnocchi. She flavors them with basil and serves them coated with a roasted sweet pepper sauce.
If you’re looking for an easy lunch or supper entree to serve during Sukkot week, you could make a vegetable-studded noodle dish, like Jury’s colorful Malaysian soba noodles with broccoli, carrots and mushrooms. Jury moistens the noodles with a quick sauce flavored with orange juice and Asian five-spice powder.
Holiday desserts can be enticing even without butter, cream or eggs. Sebbag’s nut ice-cream nuggets, for example, gain their richness from dates, coconut oil and a variety of nuts, and don’t need an ice-cream machine.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
Avital Sebbag makes vegan feta cheese from macadamia nuts blended with olives and sun-dried tomatoes to use as a stuffing for the fresh endive leaves. To stuff mushrooms, Sebbag uses a similar mixture that she flavors with garlic, and bakes the mushrooms with the stuffing. Serves 8
12 endives, preferably with wide leaves
100 gr. macadamia nuts
6 Kalamata olives, pitted
4 sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
Water (as needed)
¼ cup sesame seeds
8 basil leaves
8 beet julienne strips (thin strips of raw or lightly cooked beets)
1 Tbsp. olive oil (optional)
Rinse endive thoroughly. Gently separate leaves.
In a food processor, combine macadamia nuts, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and coriander and process to a coarse, thick paste, adding water gradually as needed so it won’t be too dry. Form stuffing into small balls using a melon-ball cutter or tablespoon.
Roll balls in sesame seeds.
Place a basil leaf in each endive “boat,” followed by a ball of stuffing. Garnish with beet juliennes. Drizzle with olive oil if desired.
Jean-Christian Jury calls this dish mushroom carpaccio. He makes these appetizers with portobello mushrooms, but they are also delicious when made with button mushrooms.
Serves 4
4 portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed, or substitute 12 to 16 large button mushrooms
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for brushing
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 oranges
½ cup (120 gr.) Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
2 tsp. capers, crushed
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. cilantro (fresh coriander), chopped (for garnish)
Preheat the broiler with the shelf at the second or third position from the heat source, not the closest one. Line a baking sheet with foil.
If using button mushrooms, remove the stems. Brush the mushroom caps with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange the mushrooms on the prepared baking sheet with the open sides facing upward.
Grate the orange zest and set aside. Peel the oranges and separate into segments. Using a small knife, remove and discard as much of the fibers as possible, then chop the pulp. Transfer the chopped pulp to a bowl and mix in 1 teaspoon of the reserved orange zest along with the olives, capers, shallot and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Fill the mushroom caps with the mixture.
Broil the mushrooms for 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to serving plates, garnish with chopped cilantro, and serve immediately.
Sebbag’s flavorful vegan gnocchi are made from sweet potatoes and spelt flour and topped with a sauce of grilled sweet peppers flavored with olives and garlic. You can garnish them with strips of vegan parmesan-style cheese; they are available at natural food markets.
Serves 4
2 sweet potatoes
1 cup spelt flour
5 basil leaves, chopped
2 tsp. coarse Atlantic sea salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
3 liters water
3 bell peppers–red, yellow or a mixture
7 Kalamata olives, pitted
½ tsp. coarse Atlantic sea salt
2 cloves garlic
Chives (for garnish)
Preheat oven to 200º. Peel sweet potatoes. Bake uncovered in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until soft.
Mash sweet potatoes while still hot, gradually adding flour, basil, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Mix to a dough-like texture. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Divide dough into tennis-ball-size portions. Shape each portion into a long “snake,” rolling it on a floured surface and flouring them if they become too soft during shaping. Cut each snake into rounds 1 cm. thick.
In a deep pot, boil 3 liters water with 1 teaspoon salt. Drop gnocchi into boiling water and cook for 3 to 5 minutes after they float to the surface.
Roast peppers over direct flame or in the broiler, turning often, until their skin is charred on all sides. Place in a plastic bag for 15 minutes. Remove peppers and peel them. Cut them open carefully; they might have hot liquid inside. Scrape out and discard the seeds.
Transfer peppers to a food processor or blender. Add olives, salt and garlic. Process until smooth.
To serve, ladle some of the sauce onto plates, arrange gnocchi on top, spoon a little more sauce over them and garnish with chives.
Jury uses soba noodles to make this dish. You can use other fairly thin noodles instead.
Chinese five-spice powder is available in Asian markets. “This fragrant spice mixture varies with the manufacturer,” wrote Nina Simonds in Spices of Life. “The usual seasonings are star anise, powdered licorice root, cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns, cloves and fennel.” To make a substitute blend, follow the note at the end of the recipe.
Serves 4
For the soba noodles:
500 gr. noodles
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
For the sauce:
½ cup (120 ml.) fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder (to make a substitute, see below)
1 tsp. crushed red chili flakes, or to taste
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. agave syrup
For the stir-fry:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
500 gr. trimmed and sliced mushrooms
2 cups (280 gr.) baby carrots, sliced
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 cups (520 gr.) broccoli florets
Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Drain and return to the pan. Add the oil and toss to coat the noodles. Cover the pan and set aside.
For the sauce:
Combine the ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk until well blended. Set aside.
For the stir-fry:
Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, carrots, onion and garlic, and stir-fry for 5 minutes, until onion and garlic are golden. Add the broccoli florets, cover the pan, and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are crisp-tender. Add the sauce. Cook, stirring for 3 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
Transfer the noodles to a serving bowl. Pour the vegetable and sauce mixture over the noodles. Toss to combine and serve immediately.
Note: If you don’t have five-spice powder, you can follow this recipe from Nina Simonds: “You can make your own five-spice powder by combining ¼ teaspoon each of ground aniseed, ground coriander, ground cinnamon, and ground ginger, and ¹⁄8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. In some recipes, allspice is an acceptable substitute.”
Sebbag makes this dessert as a homemade ice-cream pie that she cuts into nuggets. The crust is made of nuts, dates and coconut oil. The ice-cream topping is made of soaked cashews and is sweetened with maple syrup. Remember to allow 12 hours to soak the cashews.
Sebbag makes the filling in two layers. The bottom layer is flavored with cocoa and the top with vanilla; to make things simpler, you can mix all the ingredients together and make a single layer. Sebbag told me that she likes to vary this dessert, and instead of cocoa she sometimes adds a layer of mango slices, berries or other seasonal fruit.
Makes a 26-cm. pie, about 30 small portions
½ cup coconut oil
3 cups assorted nuts (macadamia, Brazil, walnuts, pecans, almonds)
20 dates, pitted
Ice-cream filling:
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 cups cashews, soaked in water for 12 hours and drained
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
Chopped nuts or shredded coconut (optional, for garnish)
For the base:
If the coconut oil has solidified, heat it gently until melted. In a food processor, combine the ingredients and process until coarsely ground. Press the mixture into the bottom of the pie dish in an even layer. The base should be about 1 cm high.
Ice -cream filling:
In a blender, combine the lemon juice and zest, the soaked cashews, the maple syrup, water, and vanilla and blend until smooth.
Spoon the cocoa into a bowl and gradually stir in 5 tablespoons of the cashew mixture until smooth. Spoon the cocoa mixture onto the base. Then gently spoon the remaining cashew cream over the top to cover the cocoa layer. Cover if you like (to prevent the dessert from absorbing odors) and freeze for 3 hours.
If you like, sprinkle the dessert with chopped nuts or shredded coconut for garnish. To serve, cut the pie into small nuggets.

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