Eggplant Steaks with Spicy Sundried Tomato Sauce and Balsamic Mushroom Garnish

The picture of this one doesn’t look that fabulous.  It’s probably because my plates don’t contrast enough with the dish…but hey, I’m a grad student– I only have room for one set of plates.

However, this is a tasty and satisfying vegan meal and pretty cheap to make.  The colors are also fun– the contrast of the purple and light yellow color of the eggplant with the bright orange sauce and the earthy brown and green mushroom garnish.IMG_0612

Eggplant Steaks with Spicy Sundried Tomato Sauce and Balsamic Mushroom Garnish

Serves 2


  • 1 medium or large eggplant, cut into 6 slabs, lengthwise.
  • Sea salt
  • Canola oil

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup sundried tomatoes
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the garnish:

  • 1/4 yellow onion, cut into slices or diced
  • 6-7 mushrooms, stems removed and sliced into mushroom shaped slices
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • black pepper to taste

Cut the eggplant and sprinkle each side with salt.  Set aside.

Start the sauce: put the carrot and sundried tomatoes in a pot with enough water to cover them.  Simmer until the sundried tomatoes plump up and the carrot is softened, about 10 minutes.  Allow to cool a bit.  Place this in a blender along with all the other sauce ingredients.  Blend until as smooth as you’d like.  Return to pot to keep warm.

Put mushroom slices in a pan with no oil.  Cook on medium high to cook out some of the water first, until they start to sweat.  Then add the onions and parsley and saute until the onions become translucent and the mushrooms have begun to brown.  Add the balsamic vinegar (just enough to coat the mushrooms, not to have extra liquid in the pan), stir, and turn off the heat.

In a cast iron skillet or on a griddle preferably, put a tablespoon or so of canola oil in a hot pan.  Add as many eggplant slices as can fit in the pan (with one side of the eggplant touching the pan– do not layer.).  Flip when underside begins to brown.  If eggplant does not soften, reduce the heat and press the eggplant against the pan with a spatula.  The eggplant should start to look more soft and damp but be brown on parts.  When they are done, remove them to a plate and repeat until all eggplant is cooked.

You could alternatively roast the eggplant in the oven, but ideally you want the eggplant to have crisp browned edges and be soft in the middle.

Serve the eggplant steaks topped with the sauce, then topped with the mushroom garnish.

Two Months of Food and a Favorite Breakfast

Apparently I went on an unintentional two month hiatus from this blog…to be fair, a lot of things have happened in the last two months that have kept me pretty busy:

  • A trip to Chicago for the national ASHA convention that involved threats of getting hit by massive tornadoes
  • (Quickly following the above) A trip to my parents’ for  my first vegetarian Thanksgiving with my family and some extended family
  • Finishing up my speech pathology externship working with awesome kids and staff
  • Finals!
  • A vegan challenge week with lots of cashew cream and avocados
  • Catching up with old friends I hadn’t seen in a while
  • Travelling to Southern California to visit my extended family for Christmas
  • New Year’s with my good friend Marco
  • And now…an online class through January 17
  • Then…starting school again the week of the 21st

Here’s some of what I ate during that time:


Clockwise from top left, ending in the middle:

  1. New Year’s Eve dinner with Japanese flare (nagaimo yam balls, miso braised mustard greens, daikon and carrot new year’s salad, stir fried lotus roots, various store-bought tsukemono)
  2. My Thanksgiving Vegetarian Lentil Wellington creation that took a good 6 hours to construct and cook (a patty of lentils made by cooking lentils in seasoned broth until the water had evaporated mostly, baking it in a greased pan until it became a firm patty, surrounded by butter-sauteed asparagus, peas, carrots, and other vegetables, various types of finely chopped sauteed mushrooms, and mushroom gravy, all wrapped up in a buttery flaky puff pastry)
  3. A McDonalds cheeseburger ordered without the burger and then stuffed with fries
  4. Grapefruits from my Aunt’s tree that I ate three of in one day
  5. A vegetarian Chicago style hot dog from Navy Pier
  6. shōjin style meal to recover from Thanksgiving’s excess (turnip in miso sesame dressing, mushroom soup, persimmon in sake sauce, pan fried crispy tofu, chestnut rice, quick pickled napa cabbage)
  7. Deep dish pizza from Giordano’s in Chicago
  8. Vegetarian shrimp, mushroom, and bacon okonomiyaki
  9. Thanksgiving dinner with mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy, lentil wellington, vegetarian stuffing, brussels sprouts, orange cranberry sauce, green beans in garlic and white wine, and spiced baked yams

There were a lot of other delicious things during this time, including vegan pizzas…soyrizo tacos with avocado…a fairly successful vegetarian menudo experiment…cashew cream mac & cheese…an attempt at a Panda Express eggplant tofu knockoff…and a lot of toast with peanut butter.

This semester promises to be absolutely insane. I probably need to be more frugal with my food purchases, because there are going to be a lot of incidental expenses– testing fees, application fees for licensing, credentialing, national certification.  I don’t know how much time I’m going to have to cook and blog about it, but hopefully it’ll be more frequent than every two months.  Maybe if people poke or nag me, I might post more–otherwise, I’m mostly just writing this blog for my own fun when I feel up to it. :P  Now that I’ve summed up the last few months, though, it should be easier to get back to posting individual creations and recipes.

Lastly, I promised you (in the title of this post) to introduce you to one of my favorite breakfasts.  It’s not vegan.  Some people may not consider it vegetarian if they don’t eat eggs.  I may have already told you about how awesome this is before, but I don’t think I did!  So…I present to you:


…steamed white rice with various tsukemono, topped with a fried egg with a runny yolk.  If you can, you should try it!  It works best if you have a mix of salty and sweet pickles.

Happy new year!

A Vegetarian Tribute to Ecuadorian Style Fried Chicken

Sometimes I think I have a freakish memory for taste.  (Warning that if you’re hardcore vegetarian or vegan, you might want to skip ahead to the recipe. The recipe isn’t vegan, but if you’re creative you might be able to adapt it.)  It’s been about 2 1/2 years since I was in Ecuador, but one of the things I remember is the fried chicken.  I didn’t get to eat a lot there, because I spent about half my time in bed and repulsed by the scent of food with the most horrible stomach ailment I’ve ever had.  I sure remember the fried chicken though.

In Ecuador, fried chicken is coated in breadcrumbs and served with a tomato hot sauce (ají) and limes.  Just something about the simplicity of it all was so great: juicy chicken pounded thin and coated crispy savory breadcrumbs, with the umami enhancing tomato hot sauce on the side and fresh limes to squeeze on top.  Also, the accompanying chunks of ají — basically an amazing sweet and not too hot version of a red habanero (of which I have no idea what the best American substitute would be, hence the seeds).  When you’re in a foreign country and have been travelling for a while, sometimes the simple things are the most amazing things.

Last year for Christmas I was gifted some ají dulce seeds. I planted them early early early in spring in starter pots.  Strangely, they grew slowly all year until late summer when they took off and finally bloomed. Now it’s November, I just turned the garden and planted winter crops, and I’ve gotten a whopping two tiny ají dulce peppers out of my potted plant and needed a way to savor them appropriately as the process of growing them has just been crazy.  So…Ecuadorian fried chicken?  But I’m vegetarian!?  So…tofu? It actually worked out surprisingly well.  Thank goodness for the invention of tofu in China 2000 years ago!


Ecuadorian Style Fried Tofu

(Serves 1, multiply as necessary for the number of people)

Fried tofu:

  • 1 big slice of Extra Firm tofu (I used Trader Joe’s organic high protein super firm, and it made the perfect size slice.)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • dash black pepper
  • 4 tbsp bread crumbs (not whole wheat or panko. that just wouldn’t taste right!)
  • canola oil for frying (about 1/4″ in the bottom of a pan)

Ají sauce ( You can use any other ají sauce recipe you’d like if you want, this is just my take on what I remember.):

  • 1/2 cup diced or sauce style tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp yellow onion
  • 1/8 of a serrano pepper, minced
  • lime juice to taste

For serving:

  • 1/2 avocado, cut into slices
  • 1/4 lime in a wedge

Prepare the tofu first.  Press as much water as you can out of the tofu– I put it between paper towels and squish it down on the cutting board as hard as I can with a glass tupperware. This will limit the crazy hot oil popping explosions.   Start your canola oil heating in a pan (I used a non-stick ceramic pan), about 1/4″ layer of oil in the bottom , until it’s hot enough to fry but not so hot that it smokes (probably about medium high).

Mix the garlic powder, salt, and pepper into your beaten raw egg.  Remove the egg from your pressing and paper towls and dip and coat the tofu in egg, then coat it in another bowl in breadcrumbs.  Drop the tofu into the hot oil, being careful to avoid explosions of water popping in the hot oil.  It should be sizzling around the edges slightly but not bubbling crazily, so adjust the heat up or down accordingly.  Once you see it start to get golden brown around the edges, flip it and let it get golden brown on the other side.  When the whole thing is nice and golden, carefully remove it from the pan using a spatula or chopsticks and let it drain on some paper towels.

While the tofu is cooling, prepare the sauce.  Put the minced chili and tomatoes in a bowl.  Press one clove of garlic (or mince it finely) and add it to the sauce, and press or mince or grate the onion and add it to the sauce.  Add lime juice to taste, maybe about 1 tsp.  Add salt if you feel it necessary.

Serve the tofu on a plate with the sauce in a bowl on the side, a wedge of lime, and avocado.  If you happen to have an ají dulce pepper, cut that into rings and put it on top of the tofu.  When eating, squeeze lime onto the tofu and dip chunks into the sauce (or spoon it over the tofu).

Fall-a-licious Mushroom Pâté

To me, sage is the quintessential herb of fall.  Maybe it’s because I grew up with my parents making stuffing from scratch every year for our turkey.  Whenever I start using sage in my cooking, I know autumn has officially arrived.  Mushrooms are also very fall-flavored for me, because my parents and I have quite the tradition of mushroom hunting.  Our favorite mushrooms come out in fall.

For last week, I made a lovely mushroom pâté to go on sandwiches that encapsulates the tastes of fall.  The nutmeg is my own suggestion that I haven’t seen in other recipes– I think it adds just a little bit of that certain taste that liver pâté usually has.  I very much liked regular pâté when I was not vegetarian, but now I still get a craving occasionally and this hits the spot, even if it is different!  And, my Chinese friend’s mother informed me that mushrooms are supposed to be amazing for your health.  So just ignore the copious amounts of butter and oil and enjoy yourself. ;)



Serving suggestions:

  • On toast with cranberry sauce as pictured above
  • In a sandwich with tofurky (or turkey, if you eat it) and cucumber slices
  • Spread in a wrap with cream cheese, lettuce, and cucumbers and/or other veggies
  • Just on some nice bread with fruit and a glass of wine

Kestrel’s Fall Mushroom Pâté

Makes 6 generous sandwich topping servings at about 225 calories each, or 8 light servings.

  • 1/2 cup walnuts — soaked for an hour at least, then rinsed (raw cashews soaked overnight could be good too)
  • 4 tablespoons whipped butter (or margarine if you’re feeling vegan)
  • 1-2 tbsp white truffle oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 10 oz crimini mushrooms (Trader Joe’s has prechopped ones in a blue container that are 10 oz, hence the odd measurement)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped other mushrooms — I used King Trumpet mushrooms, but fresh porcini would be amazing– if using dried, use less and reconstitute
  • 1 shiitake mushroom — if dried, ground in a spice grinder (sans stem)
  • 2/3 cup fresh sage leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh italian parsley leaves
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tbsp (optionally vegetarian) worchestershire sauce (or, really, I use the Japanese brand Bulldog’s Fruit and Vegetable Sauce, because it’s essentially the same thing– I can’t find veg worchestershire sace around me.  It’s a little thicker, I use more too because the flavor is a bit milder)
  • two splashes of red wine
  • (optional) 1-2 tsp dark soy sauce (for color)
  • fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste

Sautee the garlic and onions in the butter and oil until onions are translucent.

Add everything else (except wine and worchestershire) and cook out some of the water from the mushrooms, until the mushrooms are slightly browned.  You want to try to dry them out as much as possible, but they should still have a bit of juice left in them.  Turn off heat and let cool for a little bit, until not scaldingly hot.

Add to food processor and add liquid (worcestershire, red wine, soy).  Puree until pâté texture is achieved.  Transfer to a storage container and let chill in refrigerator before serving.


As a bonus for reading this far, here are some recipes I’ve tried this week with good results:

  • Sweet Potato-Peanut Bisque - Spicy, sweet, hearty
  • Fluffy Mexican Rice — good Mexican rice recipe, except I subbed vegetarian chicken broth for the chicken broth and had no celery, so I used about 1/2-1 tsp of celery seed


Favorite Comfort Food Roundup

I’ve been a little MIA for almost two weeks now, thanks to school madness.  Does anyone else end up overeating when they’re stressed like me?  Oh sigh.  But there are some foods that really will make me feel better if I eat them.  And this, friends, is why I am not skinny despite biking 10+ miles a day.

Here is a random assortment of healthy and not so healthy Kestrel comfort foods:

  • Spaghetti with butter, lots of fresh basil and minced garlic
  • Instant ramen, cooked and then with the water drained with sauce mixed into the noodles afterward, with sesame seeds and hot chili oil
  • Mashed potatoes with cheese and ketchup
  • Rice with tsukemono (Japanese pickles, preferrably including fukujinzuke) and a fried egg on top
  • Tabouleh with extra lime or lemon juice and salt
  • Bean and cheese burritos
  • Quesadillas
  • Toast with lots of butter, garlic powder, and salt
  • Boxed mac & cheese…sigh
  • Fruit and yogurt smoothies
  • Soyrizo and just about anything
  • Cheese.  Lots of cheese.  Preferably with crackers, fruit, and wine.
  • Bananas microwaved with brown sugar, butter, & peanut butter (oh it’s terrible but delicious)

So friends, what are your comfort foods?  Do you have any healthier ones? ;)

A Noteworthy Vegetarian California Roll

I stopped by our Vietnamese/Chinese/Mexican grocery last week and finally found the frozen vegetarian meats section.  Vietnamese cuisine has come up with some fabulous faux meat products, ranging from the usual vegetarian beef and chicken (and chicken drumsticks!) to vegetarian shrimp and fish.  Some of them are very good.  The vegetarian shrimp are okay– vague seafoody flavor, chewy texture. (They’re not vegan, though.)  I bought some anyway and came up with a great use for them:

Vegetarian California Rolls!



When I was a non-vegetarian, California Rolls were not my favorite sushi…but as a vegetarian, even they sounded good.  Grated up, the veggie shrimp taste almost exactly like “krab”– that fake crab made out of fish that most sushi restaurants use for California Rolls..  Here’s my attempt at a recipe for you.  It’s not an inside out roll, though, because I didn’t feel like getting that complicated.  Feel free to Google how to make those if you’re inspired.

Vegetarian California Rolls

Makes 2 Rolls

  • 6 vegetarian shrimp, defrosted in the microwave
  • 1-2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 cups of cooked short or medium grain white rice (short is best)
  • 1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 sheets sushi nori
  • 1/2 avocado, cut into slices
  • cucumber, peeled and seeded and cut into strips
  • toasted sesame seeds for garnish
  • soy sauce, wasabi, & pickled ginger for serving

Mix the cooked rice with the rice vinegar and allow to cool, stirring occasionally.  You can put it in front of a fan if you want– it cools fastest on a big ceramic plate, spread thinly.

Defrost the shrimp, let them cool, and then grate them.  Your best bet is probably a food processor or rotary grater.  Mix the grated shrimp with the mayo and set aside.

Toast the nori over a stove gently and briefly, just until it smells like lightly toasted seaweed.  This step is optional, but improves the taste a lot.

(Alternate method for inside out roll here.  I use sesame seeds in lieu of fish eggs when I’m eating vegetarian because of my own personal views…but everyone has their own preferences and views!) On a sushi mat, place the nori shiny side down and spread half the rice mixture over about 2/3 of the nori.  Add a little bit (just a few grains) of rice whetted with water on the end where there is no rice so that the nori will stick to itself and hold together.

Spread 1/2 of the “krab” mixture, in the middle of the rice.  Then top with cucumber, avocado, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Roll up the sushi with the mat, trying to make it as tight as possible.  Cut with a knife that is a little serrated for best results, wiping with a wet paper towel between slices.  Top with sesame seeds and serve with soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger.


Instant Ramen Sundubu

Dark and cold weather made me want soup for lunch.  I didn’t feel like being complicated, so I went with good ol’ instant ramen.  Top Ramen brand Oriental Flavor is actually vegetarian (maybe even vegan).  I wanted to spice it up a bit, though, so I threw in my usual green onions and peas with the cooking noodles for some nutritional value…but then I had a brilliant idea…!

Why not sundubu it?


(Sundubu is a korean soup with soft tofu and Korean chili powder.)  The “oriental flavor” seasoning packet actually mixed well with Korean chili pepper to make a satisfying soup.  The peas are not usually used in sundubu…and I’ve also never seen ramen noodles in it…but hey..that’s why this is a con-fusion type blog.  This is easy and tasty, even if it is a confusing mix of things.

Instant Ramen Sundubu

  • 1 packet Top Ramen brand “Oriental” flavor ramen
  • 1-2 green onions, chopped large
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 3 tbsp ground Korean red chili pepper (do not substitute cayenne!  Korean chili pepper is much more mild and coarsely ground.  I suppose maybe you could try mixing paprika with a little bit of cayenne if you don’t have Korean chili pepper…but no guarantees)
  • 1/2 cup silken tofu, roughly broken up into large chunks

Cook noodles according to package instructions, adding in peas and green onions with the noodles. Add seasoning packet, chili pepper. Stir.

If you want, you can crack a raw egg in after you stir it and then don’t stir it anymore.

Add tofu when noodles are just about done.


Take that, Sandra Lee.

Late Summer Veggie Tacos

Summer is starting to wind down, and so is our garden.  I’m lucky that the farmer’s market is still going strong.  I just harvested our four pumpkins and one kabocha squash that were volunteers from the compost that we turned into the soil, and we’re slowly picking our five apples as they ripen or get sunburnt.  We’re still getting a few peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplant but it’s definitely starting to slow. :(  At least the thought of spicy curries and soups will help me not dread the rainy winter so much, hopefully…


Today is a pretty Tex-Mex sort of southwest inspired cooking day I guess. (Though, I do intend to make some fresh pesto from garden basil too!)  Not only do I have a big crockpot full of vegetarian chili going, but I made some fantastic vegan tacos for lunch today with farmer’s market corn and padrón peppers. They also had a very special accompaniment: some home grown, home-canned pickled jalapeños I made last year when we had a very enthusiastic jalapeño plant!  These were pretty easy to make and delicious.  I was also glad to find that the pickles kept well and tasted fantastic.



Late Summer Veggie Tacos

Makes 3 tacos, enough for one hungry person. 

  • 2 tsp canola or other mildly flavored oil
  • 1 ear of corn, husked, desilked, and kernels cut off the cob
  • 5 or 6 crimini or button muhsrooms, washed and diced
  • 1 small red onion, diced — and divided into two piles
  • 1 small bell pepper, seeded and diced (or, if you have shishito or padrón peppers, just chop 6 or so of those up whole, except for the stems…I had padrón, so that’s what I used.)
  • 1-2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • dash fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced (with seed and peel removed of course.)
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped roughly
  • 1/2 lime
  • 3 corn tortillas (taco size)
  • cooking spray
  • pickled jalapeños (optional)

Bring a nonstick frying pan to medium heat, add oil and corn, mushrooms, half of the onion, pepper, and spices.  Sautee until onions are translucent and peppers are soft.  Don’t overcook.  Empty into a bowl and set aside.

Either clean your frying pan or use a new clean one.  Bring heat to medium high and spray the pan with cooking spray, add a tortilla (or two if they fit), and spray the top of the tortilla with more cooking spray.  When you just start to see the tortilla form air bubbles, flip it.  Cook until both sides are just lightly golden brown in spots.  Transfer to a plate.

Top tortillas with sauteed veggies, cilantro and the rest of the onion and avocado.  Serve with lime wedges to squeeze on the tacos and pickled jalapeños to add if you so desire.  If you want to make this non-vegan, you could serve it with sour cream (or…vegan sour cream I guess, but I’ve never liked that much…maybe cashew cream instead) and that would also be pretty tasty.

Labor Day Jammin’

Woke up early today and made some chilaquiles– a nice big brunch to hold me over until BBQ time.  My friend Marco had recommended the idea to me when I frustratedly realized that 3/4 of the package of tortillas I had bought were broken.  I also have a ton of tomatoes from the garden, so I made the sauce from scratch.



I used this recipe, except downsized and added a little cumin, and used mozzarella..  I also added one too many chiles de arbol — it came out super spicy! Quite the way to wake up.

Today I also finally got around to processing the two gallon freezer bags of apricots that I picked and pitted a few months back.  They’ve been taking up my entire freezer.  But now, I have 19 half pints of jam.  Now I know, 2 gallons of prepared fruit = 19 half pints of jam!  Yikes!



Luckily I split my jam makings with my neighbors because they usually help with buying canning jars and, in this case, are the ones who planted that apricot tree 10 years ago!  Funny to think if I had picked as many apricots as I thought I should for jam how many half pints I would have…well, I guess my parents know what they’re getting for Christmas.

Back to cooking now…have to grill some veggie burgers and check on my homemade baked beans that have been cooking for probably about 19 hours now.  Happy Labor Day, everyone.  A big thank you to those who work in jobs that help keep us fed, clothed, in clean drinking water, safe, and so much more!

Vegetarian Club Sandwich — and, Pad See Ew. Because it totally makes sense.

I’m going to shamelessly admit that I was inspired to create a vegetarian version of a club sandwich after watching the Rino & Yuma video:   If you haven’t seen any of their videos, they’re painfully adorable– especially the earlier ones.  Then, later in the day for some reason I was inspired to cook something completely different.  (More on that later.)

Here’s my veggie club sandwich that I decided to cook at 10 pm because I was so stressed out and needed something to distract me:



Here’s the original recipe I went off of:

Except, the following substitutes:

  • Canola Mayo for regular mayo (you could easily sub vegannaise)
  • Tofurky tempeh bacon, crisped up in a pan, for regular bacon
  • Hickory smoked tofurky deli slices for turkey
  • Whole wheat bread for white bread (I use Milton’s because it contains no milk because of my lactose intolerance, but if you consider honey not vegan, Milton’s is not a vegan option.)

I also threw in some cucumber for good measure because we have too much in our garden right now. It was pretty simple (probably less cooking time for the veggie version…) and kept me full from noon until 5 pm!  I bet it’d be extra great with some avocado on it!

I also made some more veggie pad see ew tonight, with my wok on my tiny gas stove.  (In case you were curious, this is the wok I’ve been using– inexpensive and it’s served me well since 2010.)  It’s so easy and quick, compared to so many other meals.  You only need to soak the noodles, mince the garlic, chop the broccoli, and scramble the eggs and that’s a good 80% of the work!



It didn’t come out as good as the last batch (Not entirely sure why…maybe because I used less oil? I didn’t fry the tofu myself?), but my neighbor Laura and I still managed to eat it all in one day.  Have I mentioned how much I love my wok?   It’s taken a lot of work to get it seasoned beautifully, but now it cooks everything so quickly and deliciously, and remarkable non-stick power.  Here’s the coolest video/recipe combo I’ve seen for pad see ew!  Though, obviously, I sub tofu for chicken in mine.

I would say that a wok and a gas stove make a big difference, as they say on that blog, but…if you really have a craving and can’t get to a Thai restaurant you might be able to get by with some other cooking methods.