Last night, I made a vegan thing.
It was a calculatedly vegan thing, in that I actually found it because it was vegan instead of, I don’t know, making something and then at the last minute realizing it’s vegan. It came from Mark Bittman’s VB6 cookbook, a thing I wrote about before and am coming to learn needs a little work.
I already knew this about Mark Bittman. While I know that his recipes are probably all extensively tested, I’ve come to realize that they’re more for people who either don’t cook very often or don’t have very demanding palates. And while I realize that this sounds snobby as shit, the thing is, I do cook a lot, and I want what I eat to taste good. This is why I’m more disappointed than a lot of people when I order something in a restaurant that I could have made better at home. And before you say it, I am an excellent orderer. I don’t go around getting default club sandwiches or culturally anomalous stuff all the time. I order well and most of the time I’m not let down. Some of the time I am, though, like when I get collard greens anywhere because I am apparently the world champion of collard greens and no one else’s come close.
Anyway. Before I made this vegan thing, I decided to see if anyone had bothered reviewing the recipe. Oh yes, because not only can you find recipes for pretty much anything, you can find feedback from people who boldly went before you did and maybe weren’t very impressed. I did this because I didn’t want to waste time making something I wouldn’t like, and because this recipe included eggplant. I don’t normally like eggplant.
Okay, I get it, vegetarians. I’ve heard that eggplant is a terrific, incredibly versatile substitute for meat and I’m supposed to love it. But guys, hey – that’s if you’ve never actually had meat. And it’s not that versatile (most recipes require a pre-salting and draining lest you end up eating a bitter sludge), and have you ever had baba ghanoush? At the risk of talking shit on a huge swath of Middle Eastern culinary culture, you guys are out of your fucking minds with baba ghanoush. I don’t care how you make it. It’s ideal texture is a bowl full of mucousy slop and that is fucking nasty.
Anyway anyway. I looked up the recipe, compared it with some reviews, and wrote a few edits of my own. And it was…okay. Would have been better with meat (at least then I wouldn’t feel like a liar by typing it like “meatballs”), but compared to other “meat” products made without meat that I’ve tried, at least in restaurants and not the mechanically-produced freezer section stuff, it’s of comparable quality. So if you’re looking for something with a texture more along the lines of a non-fried falafel (or if you’re already a vegetarian or vegan and don’t know the difference), this might be worth a shot. Especially if you have a little time on your hands, a bunch of summer CSA produce, and a night that’s gone a bit chilly (as most of them do around Seattle, since we have a lower dew point so warm air doesn’t condense during the day and meteorology is very fascinating, you guys) and is therefore ideal for comfort food:
It’s basically this recipe, although like I said, I made a few changes. Namely, I made my own sauce in my own way (see below). Also, I toasted the breadcrumbs, added about 1/2 cup of toasted/popped quinoa, as well, and didn’t add any water to the eggplant pan because it’s wet enough already. Ohhhh right, and I added a minced poblano (like eggplant and tomato, pepper is an excellent summer market pick), plus some dried oregano, smoked paprika, and a tiny pinch of coriander, and if I had to do it all over again, I’d probably bake the “meatballs” like Bittman suggests but then fry them. Which would require an egg wash, which renders them completely unvegan. But they’d taste better.
Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Sauce
Makes enough for a whole batch of the “meatballs” in the recipe, or for a pasta dinner for a family of 4. Probably.
NOTE: You need to prepare the tomatoes at least a day in advance. Seriously, it takes like 5-6 hours just to roast them, and you never have to check on them at all during this time. Also, nce roasted, they’ll keep for several days in the fridge. I did mine about five days before I made the actual dish.
It’s also great to make a much larger batch than you need, and the below recipe is easily doubled. Can you get a bumper crop of tomatoes and peppers at the height of summer? Great, make a ton of this sauce and the portion it into freezer bags. Flatten them out, stick them in the freezer, and hey, you’ve got ready sauce for several more months.
- 4 heirloom tomatoes, quartered (do not get the shitty wooden things from the supermarket in winter, so help me god)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- salt and pepper
- 1 smallish jar of roasted red peppers (Trader Joe’s has a very good brand) or 2 roasted bell peppers, diced
- several cloves garlic, minced (I used probably four big ones, but do whatever you want)
- 1 tbs kosher salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp red chili flake
- 1 tsp dried Italian seasoning (or a mixture of dried oregano, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram)
- 2 tbs balsamic vinegar
(You can also add some softened onions to this. Just make sure that they’re actually soft and just about golden brown before adding them to the sauce.)
Preheat oven to 250. Place the quartered tomatoes, skin sides down, on a baking sheet lined with foil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. You want the tomatoes to be well drizzled, by the way, none of this barely spilling a drop nonsense. The oil is going to come in handy when it comes time to store these.
Place the tomatoes in the oven and let them roast for 5-6 hours. Yeah. A looooong time. You want them to begin drying a bit, get nice and shrivelly like dark, jellied jewels, and smell like concentrated tomato sugar. Which is basically what you’re making.
After you remove the tomatoes from the oven, let them cool slightly. Then dump the entire contents of the baking sheet – intensely-flavored oil and all! – into a storage container. Thanks to the acid in the tomatoes and the fat in the oil, this will keep in the fridge for about a week.
When you’re ready to make the sauce, dump the tomatoes and oil container into the bowl of your food processor. Add the diced peppers and minced garlic. Blend until somewhat smooth, or until you can see most of the garlic pieces disappear.
Place a thick-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat and add 2 tbs olive oil. Once this is warm, add your tomato-red pepper sauce mixture. Add the salt, pepper, chili flake and Italian seasoning and stir to combine. Continue stirring occasionally on a very low simmer, adjusting the heat lower if necessary, for about 30 minutes.
Add the balsamic vinegar and stir to combine. Continue simmering for about 5-8 more minutes, and then remove from heat. If you’re freezing it, allow it to cool most of the way before portioning into bags.
Like I said, this is good for the “meatballs” above or for actual meatballs, or for pasta. You can also add about a teaspoon of tomato paste to make a pizza sauce or do what I’m doing tomorrow night, which is simmering chicken thighs in the sauce with some chickpeas and beet greens and then serving it with some crusty bread.
The rest of the “meatballs” I made are in the freezer. Waiting to be
improved fried someday.