Vegan Panzanella Salad

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Summer is the best time of year in Chicago! We have a multitude of parks that host free movies and live music all summer long. One of my favorite summer activities is packing a picnic and sitting on the lawn of Grant Park. The backdrop of the city skyline combined with fresh air, the sounds of a full orchestra, friends and family, and delicious food makes for a perfect evening! Panzanella is one of my favorite summer salads to bring on a picnic. I love French bread, fresh herbs, and really good olive oil. All of the fresh ingredients along with the red wine vinaigrette make this salad really tasty. You can use 1 day old, crusty French bread or toast fresh bread in the oven to make sure it doesn’t get too soggy once it’s in the salad. The bread should have a chewy (not soggy) consistency once it absorbs the dressing. I used vegan mozzarella by Follow Your Heart that I found at Whole Foods but you could also use extra firm tofu as a substitute. The capers add salty flavor and the bright, multi-colored heirloom tomatoes are just bursting with sweet flavor. There are several variations of this salad. You could add red and yellow peppers for tangy crispness. There’s also a version that adds arugula for a spicy kick. I think this dish is really satisfying and often have it as a light meal. It goes really well with most white wines or even rose. This recipe is so simple and super easy to assemble. If you make it, let me know how it turns out! Tag your picture with @thefriendlyepicurean on Instagram and Facebook or Pin It on Pinterest!

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Fresh, simple ingredients!

Vegan Panzanella Salad

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 (6oz) French demi baguette, cut into 1.5 inch pieces (about 6 cups)
  • 1 lb grape heirloom tomoatoes, halved
  • 4 Persian cucumbers, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 (10oz) package vegan mozzarella cheese, cut into 1 inch pieces (such as Follow Your Heart brand)
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbs capers
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped
  • For the dressing:
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 300F. Cut bread into 1.5 inch cubes and spread evenly on a baking sheet. Bake at 300F for about 13-15 minutes. Remove bread from oven and set aside to cool. Next, make the dressing: whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, minced garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and set aside. In a large bowl toss bread with dressing and combine well. Let bread absorb dressing for about 5 minutes. Next, add tomatoes, cucumbers, vegan mozzarella, onion, capers, basil, and oregano and combine well. Salad is best if consumed within 24 hours.

Nutrition Information:

  • Approximate calories per 1/6 of Vegan Panzanella: 307 cal

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Polenta with Mushrooms, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Sage

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It’s mid-March and still snowing in Chicago! This type of weather is perfect for comfort food. Polenta is easy to make from scratch and is hearty and satisfying. It’s an often overlooked vegan ingredient which is very versatile. It can also be used to make corn grits. Polenta seems to be making a comeback in 2017… We even have a new, all polenta restaurant in the West Loop in Chicago that serves up hot polenta with various sauces (including a vegan option!). You can buy polenta that is already cooked, but I prefer to make mine from scratch because the flavor is unbeatable. You can actually skip baking the polenta to make a creamy, decadent side dish. Baking allows for a firmer, chewy texture that can be cut into squares. I like to serve the baked version as an appetizer because it’s easier to eat and serve. This recipe has endless variations… you could add fresh diced tomatoes instead of sun dried and chopped basil instead of sage to give it a more traditional Italian flavor. Truffle oil is also delicious in polenta! If you’re gluten free, look for gluten free polenta – Bob’s Red Mill makes a gluten free version. This dish is creamy, delicious, and filling but still low in calories. The mushrooms add an earthy flavor and go well with tart, sweetness of the sun dried tomatoes. The fresh sage adds fresh flavor and fragrance. Remember to take a picture and tag @thefriendlyepicurean if you make it!

Colorful, whole ingredients!

Polenta with Mushrooms, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Sage

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup corn polenta (uncooked)
  • 3 cups water
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tbs sun dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs fresh sage, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • olive oil spray
  • 1 tbs vegan butter (such as Earth Balance)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F. Grease an 8″ x 13″ baking dish with olive oil spray and set aside. Cook garlic 2-3 minutes in olive oil on medium heat in a medium sized sauté pan. Add sage and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes or until mushrooms are soft and most of the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated. Next, bring 3 cups water to boil in a medium saucepan. Slowly add polenta to boiling water, stirring frequently with a spatula or whisk. Reduce heat to low and cook polenta for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently. Polenta will thicken and bubble (be careful as polenta may splatter and burn skin!). Add butte, salt, and pepper and stir well. Next, gently fold mushroom mixture into polenta. Spread polenta evenly onto greased baking dish and bake for 18-20 minutes. Polenta should be firm, turn golden-brown, and start to separate from the sides of the dish. Cut into squares and serve warm. May store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Nutrition Information:

  • Approximate Calories per 1/6 of polenta: 137.5 cal

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Curried Sweet Potato Fries with Lemon Garlic Aioli

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I don’t eat fries often but when I do it’s to treat myself after a tough week at work or after a big workout. Good fries are not hard to find in Chicago. The temptation is everywhere! Fries are vegan but not exactly healthy… This spicy, healthier recipe for fries is easy and will satisfy your craving without destroying your healthy eating goals for the day. You can enjoy a serving of these fries with less guilt. I’ve learned a lot about food from reading Michael Pollan’s books including Omnivore’s Dilemma. He recommends making your own fries when you crave them. That way you can control what goes in them. Making your own fries also allows you to appreciate and savor them more. The lemon garlic aioli is really the star of this recipe. It goes perfectly with the curry spices in the fries. If you like crispy fries make sure that you spread them out evenly so they aren’t touching on the baking sheet. I prefer softer fries so I tend to pile mine onto the baking sheet. These fries are incredibly flavorful and so easy to make. They contain less fat compared to traditional fries since they are baked not fried. The spices add a savory kick which complements the natural sweetness of the potatoes. I prefer sweet potatoes because they are high in vitamin A and have a lower glycemic index compared to regular potatoes. Let me know how they turn out by taking a picture and tagging @thefriendlyepicurean on Instagram!

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Curried Sweet Potato Fries with Lemon Garlic Aioli

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 2 lbs sweet potatoes (about 4 potatoes)
  • 2-3 tbs olive oil
  • olive oil spray
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • For the aioli:
  • 3 tbs vegan mayonnaise
  • 2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (use a garlic press for best results)

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease a baking sheet with olive oil spray and set aside. Wash, peel, and cut potatoes into 1/4″ to 1/2″ sticks. Toss potatoes with olive oil, cayenne pepper, cumin, garlic, coriander, salt, and black pepper. Spread fries evenly on baking sheet making sure fries do not overlap (for crispy fries). Bake for 30 minutes (flip half way through cooking time). For the aioli: whisk together lemon juice, mayonnaise, and minced garlic until smooth. Serve immediately. Store fries and aioli separately in an airtight container for up to 1 day. Reheat fries in oven or toaster oven at 350F for about 5-7 minutes.

Nutrition Information:

  • Approximate calories per 1/4 fries: 210 cal (without aioli)
  • Approximate calories per 1/4 aioli: 68 cal

 

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