Canopy Cassoulet

Logo of Canopy Northwest Arkansas, a refugee resettlement serviceAs a volunteer with the refugee resettlement group Canopy Northwest Arkansas, I made a family’s first meal in their new home.

The mom and dad, ages 30 and 28, have been living in camps since fleeing Democratic Republic of  Congo in 2003. Their son just turned 6. Who knows what they’ve been eating all this time. A recipe, a north African-style tajine stew that my wife and I enjoyed a couple of times in recent months, made the most sense.

Did they like it? The adults were nearly beyond exhaustion, and there was a language barrier. They ate silently but heartily. The volunteers who brought them to the apartment from the airport wanted the recipe, it smelled and looked so good.

The boy? For a long time, his folks couldn’t tear him away from the toy trucks the group had waiting for him. Continue reading

Vegan Frittata

My chickpea frittata with flash-cooked bok choy.
My chickpea frittata with flash-cooked bok choy., the website of the 2011 documentary, piqued my interest a few months ago with a recipe for “Chickpea Omelet.” No, it’s not lumpy with garbanzos. The dish is a savory pancake using flour ground from the bean.

The chickpea flour sometimes is found in the gluten-free section of supermarkets, but it always has a shelf spot in Indian or other Asian groceries. There it’s also known as gram or besan flour.

Nor can the beans sit still with just two names, as they’re also known as chana or ceci.

Gram now has a spot in my pantry. A 2-pound bag costs under $10, even the organic version, at my area’s main South Asian market.

I’d been missing frittatas and omelets since going vegan in spring 2013. Scrambled tofu doesn’t appeal. (I am a 95 percent vegan — rarely, I’ll order huevos rancheros at a TexMex cafe, and I never interrogate any host on whether their cookies or cakes contain milk and eggs because they likely will.)

Continue reading

Snack on Vegan Schnecken

Yes, schnecken can be veganized. I wouldn’t be posting, but the sweet rolls were a hit at a party Christmas afternoon. The friends won’t know the pastries were animal free until they read this.

The earlier recipe, in this BrickSavor Schnecken Like a Snail,” was last updated a year ago, and it stands as delicious for those who are fine with dairy and eggs. Below, however, are the refinements. The dish’s story and original cooking tips are in the earlier post. Also, I’m now using cake pans not muffin tins — ease of cleaning.


About 2 pounds of any challah or brioche “enriched” yeast dough, preferably one including whole wheat. Bakers call a bread enriched when it includes eggs, dairy and/or sugar. A 2-pound loaf is one that starts with around 4 cups of flour. (See Credits at bottom for vegan brioche.)

Cinnamon-Sugar Filling

  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup raisins, plumped overnight in refrigerator in water or fruit juice to cover, (drain and reserve liquid)
  • 1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped. Lightly toasted is optional.
  • 2 tablespoons vegan margarine, vegan shortening or coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tablespoons soy or other plant milk or reserved raisin liquid
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Caramel Glaze

  • 6 Tablespoons vegan margarine, vegan shortening or coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 3 Tablespoons corn syrup (light or dark)
  • 2 tablespoons soy or other plant milk or vegan eggnog or reserved raisin liquid
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups pecans, halves or pieces. Lightly toasted is optional.

Filling: Using dry fingers (it’s efficient) combine brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a small bowl and mix until thoroughly combined, breaking up sugar lumps. (If using whole cloves, grind 4-6 of them in coffee grinder first with cinnamon and salt.) In another small bowl, combine plant milk, shortening and vanilla.

Glaze: Combine all ingredients for glaze — except vanilla and pecans — in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until shortening is melted and sugar dissolved. Turn off heat, stir in the vanilla and leave on burner to stay warm.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured, large carving board, about 18 by 24 inches in size. Roll out dough to about 18 by 24 inches, to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. If the dough resists, wait five minutes and go again. Add just a little flour to either side to prevent sticking.

Brush the liquid filling mixture over dough, leaving dry a half-inch border along all four edges. Sprinkle all the dry filling mixture over the wet area. Sprinkle drained, plumped raisins over that. Sprinkle the nuts over that.

Beginning with a long edge, roll dough into a tight cylinder. Pinch seam and ends to seal, and roll cylinder to be seam-side down.

Grease three 8-inch round or square cake pans, even if they are non-stick. Spoon the warm glaze into each pan evenly. (Don’t worry if the glaze doesn’t level out. The oven’s heat will move the glaze everywhere.) Place the pecan halves or pieces on the glaze.

With a sharp knife, slice off roughly half-inch rounds. Pull out and lengthen the remaining cylinder between every few cuts. Place each slice in the pans. Each pan will hold nine to 12 slices; as they rise they will fill the pan. The slices probably will not be the same size; your guests will appreciate having a choice.

Cover the pans loosely with plastic wrap. Set them in warm, draft-free spot. After 30-45 minutes, turn on the oven to 350 degrees to preheat 30 minutes. (A baking stone on the lowest rack is recommended.) Total rising time is 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Remove plastic wrap and place tins on two racks in oven. Bake a total of 30 minutes, rotating the position of the pans twice, every 10 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.

Cool on wire racks 10 minutes. Have ready a dinner plate and three squares of wax paper about the size of the plate. Place a square of wax paper over one pan, then the plate. Invert, and the rolls will drop onto the wax paper-covered plate. Slide the rolls with wax paper onto a wire rack or another plate. Repeat for the other pans. Using a soft spatula, scoop out any glaze that remains in the pans and smooth onto the rolls. Center the pecans on the rolls with the soft spatula. Continue to cool.

Schnecken can be served immediately. The larger rolls can be halved with a knife before presenting, because they’re rich. To store, wrap the rolls loosely in wax paper or plastic wrap, placing several in a zip plastic bag. They keep at room temperature for up to two days. Schnecken freeze well. They can be warmed gently in the oven, first removing the wax paper or plastic and wrapping in foil. Do not microwave; that toughens them.


My first source is Sunset Breads by Sunset Publishing. The dough I’ve used in recent years is a half recipe of “Braided Challah with Whole Wheat and Wheat Germ” from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoe Francois. To vegan-ize this dough, replace the eggs with 1 1/2 Tablespoons of Ener-G Egg Replacer and add 3/4 cups water to the liquid ingredients — or create three “flax eggs.” The glaze and filling, and general instructions, are adapted from the “Sticky Buns with Pecans” recipe in the September 2004 issue of Cooks Illustrated.

Falling-Down Cake

“Falling-Down Cake” is my childhood name for Mom’s chocolate cake.

These are Mom's cookbooks (her Joy of Cooking is lost). Note the cigarette burns on the Settlement. The Falling-Down Cake is from last night so it has a fresh snowfall of confectioners sugar. Yeah, its dome was doomed, right out of the oven, as usual.
These are Mom’s cookbooks (her Joy of Cooking is lost). Note the two cigarette burns on the Settlement. The Falling-Down Cake is from last night so it has a fresh snowfall of confectioners sugar. Yeah, its dome was doomed, right out of the oven, as usual.

Mom, as discussed previously, was a cook of post-War vintage, the Joy of Cooking, The New Settlement Cook Book and Thoughts for Buffets her references, with a handful of index cards copied from her BFF Isabel Marks.

Her weeknight chocolate cake — the single pan sort with powdered sugar on top instead of icing — invariably disappointed her. Nine times of 10 it fell. Mom would present it to the table with an embarrassed grin and announce it “tastes just as good” as if the middle stayed even or higher than the edges. As a toddler I called it Falling-Down Cake, which stuck.

In my whole-grain vegan diet I continue to build a go-to index of everyday recipes, really easy and from the pantry. Dessert is the weakest category. Thirteen months ago I found a great one, Continue reading

Puttanesca Off Line

This pasta sauce says summer to me louder than gazpacho soup. If you’re desperate for hot weather, this’ll be almost as good with canned tomatoes and dried basil.

Puttanesca, added capers and red bell pepper
Puttanesca, with added capers and red bell pepper

The temperature contrast between room temperature sauce and steaming pasta is deliberate.

Here’s a quote from a 1985 newspaper recipe by Arthur “Food Maven” Schwartz: “Some uncooked pasta sauces are called puttanesca on the theory that they were invented by prostitutes who need and like quick, lusty dishes. … An elderly and grand Florentine lady of my acquaintance, however, swears that in her day such sauces were just as regularly prepared by more respectable women who were having extramarital affairs in the afternoon. They could quickly put the sauce together early in the day, then serve it … to a never-the-wiser spouse in the evening.”

Now, 29 years later, Schwartz’s website includes puttanesca, but this one’s cooked. (July 2016 note: Schwartz’s Food Maven website is defunct.) Sure it’s a tomato quick sauce and not an afternoon-simmered marinara, but still. Elsewhere online, puttanesca invariably is a briefly cooked pasta sauce.

Fortunately we live in the 21st century where raw foodism continues. The raw puttanesca recipes are reassuringly similar to mine, though most include anchovies and not nearly enough tomatoes.

Rather than link to those online, consider the original hard copy here: Continue reading

Tasty Homemade Matzo

This matzo recipe tastes way better than a box. That’s the joke about storebought matzo, the unleavened bread eaten instead of conventional yeast or baking soda/powder loaves or other baked goods during the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Tasty homemade matzo
Tasty homemade matzo

Yet I’ve always liked matzo, and factory-made does taste far better than cardboard. Homemade isn’t difficult, though takes a little time. This is a delicious joy to present to guests at a seder table, but be warned: Some Jews prefer the supersized cracker of their childhood, and others may want assurances of this being not just kosher but kosher-for-Passover that you likely cannot assure. So have conventional boxes at the ready.

There is another problem: With no leavening agent or even salt, this recipe may range from crackly crumbly to hardtack tough. That’s when it first comes out; the next day the consistency always is a little different.

Because of this, I always tell guests that my matzo is either the bread of freedom or the bread of affliction! In any case, the flavor is wonderful.

The original recipe, “Angelina de Leon’s Matzohs,” came from “Jewish Recipes Of the Inquisition,” The New York Times, April 16, 1997. I’ve nudged it toward whole grain. Please see the notes that follow.

  • 4 cups flour, either unbleached or whole wheat or a combination (2 and 2 recommended)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten (see Notes)
  • 6 tablespoons honey (see Notes)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water, as needed

Preheat oven to 450 degrees, OR heat outdoor grill OR stovetop to medium for two-burner griddle.

In large bowl, mix flours and pepper thoroughly with fork.

Combine eggs, honey and oil in a measuring cup. Pour into flour mix and stir with wooden spoon or by hand. Add water 1 Tablespoon at a time to make a stiff dough. Do not overmix or otherwise knead. It will come together in under 3 minutes.

Lightly oil a dinner plate. Pull off a meatball-size (1 1/2 inches wide) lump of dough, form into a ball with both palms. Place balls on the plate, cover lightly with oiled plastic wrap to keep from drying out. This recipe makes 12 to 18 flatbreads.

Lightly flour a large surface. Flatten a ball with palm then roll into a thin disk about 8 inches wide, dusting with flour as needed to prevent sticking. If dough won’t cooperate, rest it a minute (work on other balls in the meantime) then resume rolling. If dough comes out more oval or simply misshapen, call it authentic! Prick several times on both sides with two forks held together. Move the bread to a holding area, e.g. a cookie sheet or wax paper, and roll out 2 or 3 more matzo.

If using oven, place 4 matzos on a large, ungreased cookie sheet or baking stone and bake 4-5 minutes, until golden brown and a little puffy (no need to flip them). Remove to a cake rack to cool.

If using griddle or grill, cook 3 or 4 matzo on medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned with a few dark brown blisters, flip and cook another 2-3 minutes, then cool on rack. While each set of matzo bakes, roll out and pierce the next set. The indoor griddle need not be greased but should be either seasoned cast iron or nonstick.

Serve immediately. Store leftovers in plastic wrap, zip-seal bags or a covered container.


  • If not baking immediately, cover the dough or dough balls with oiled plastic wrap.
  • Honey. Vegans and others can substitute any other liquid sweetener such as agave, maple or corn syrup. [4/21/14 Update: Molasses is tasty and darkens the color a little, adding a slightly bitter note.]
  • Eggs. Can substitute 1 cup of cholesterol-free liquid eggs or of egg whites. For vegans, omit any egg product and add 2 Tablespoons of powdered egg replacer powder into flour mixture, and mix sweetener and oil into 1 cup of water, having on hand that 1/4 cup water if needed to thin dough. Aquafaba is a great substitute as well — 1 cup’s worth.
  • For the afikomen ceremony, roll out three of the balls extra thin and extra large to ensure at least one of them bakes out crispy enough to break in half.

I’ve discussed the home seder previously in Brick, in “Notta Lotta Matzo.”