FIGGY LOVE IN EVERY BITE!

Fig CrackersFIGGY WAFERS

Hunting for a stand-out holiday appetizer? I think I’ve got just the one!

Welcome your holiday guests with something warming to sip and a surprise taste adventure to invigorate the appetites –a platter of Figgy Wafers. Beautiful little flavor-infused morsels, these delicious crackers stand out because of a generous measure of aromatic cardamom to complement the sweetness of the figs.

While these irresistible little wafers make wonderful tidbits without accompaniments, pair them with a thin slice of vegan cheese and send your happy little flavor receptors into vegan nirvana. Even better, top the crackers with a slice of banana and then put the cheese on top.

Fig CrackersPlan ahead for the holidays by making one or more batches of the recipe, rolling them into logs, and freezing them. Then, when you’re planning to serve them, it takes only a few minutes to slice and bake them.

 FIGGY WAFERS

 

Yield: about 40 slices

10 dried figs, either black or golden

1/4 cup rum or brandyFig Crackers

1/2 cup whole almonds

1 cup Old Fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup dairy-free margarine

  1. Have ready a large bowl and a pair of kitchen scissors. Using the scissors, snip off and discard the tough stems from the figs and snip the figs into small dice into the bowl. Pour the rum over the figs and set aside to soak for several hours or overnight.
  2. Combine the almonds, rolled oats, flour, ground cardamom, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are finely ground.
  3. Add the margarine and pulse until the mixture becomes crumbly. Transfer the mixture to the bowl with the figs and use a fork to blend the mixture into a dough.
  4. Form the dough into a long log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and freeze for at least 3 or 4 hours, or until solidly frozen. The log will stay fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  5. When ready to bake the wafers, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
  6. Unwrap the frozen log and use a firm, thin-bladed knife to cut it into 1/8-inch slices. Put them on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Carefully, lift the wafers with a metal spatula and transfer them to a platter to cool completely.

Fig CrackersA Note About Cardamom

Because cardamom is not as familiar a spice as cinnamon, it frequently gets overlooked. But give it an opportunity to show its mojo and you’ll be hooked.

cardamom-greenYou can buy this spice already ground into a powder in the spice section of most markets. You can also find it in Asian and Indian markets where it’s available in whole pods or already ground. While the ground cardamom is certainly more convenient, it quickly loses its pungency and its flavor fades.Cardamom brown

For its flavor delightful strength I much prefer to buy the whole pods and crush the small seeds with a pestle. Really fresh pods are green, but if they’ve been around awhile, they turn beige. It’s a bit painstaking because first I pound each pod to open it. The, one-by-one by hand I open each pod and empty the seeds into the mortar. You can also put the seeds into a spice grinder for a quicker grinding process.

THE PERFECT ICE-BREAKER–A HOT BUBBLING APPETIZER!

Tomatoes overGARLIC TOMATOES AND SNOW MOUNTAIN

Who doesn’t welcome a warming, savory appetizer that invites the guests to “play in the pool” together! The perfect icebreaker and conversation starter for a holiday gathering, this dish urges everyone to dip chunks of sourdough bread into the steaming hot dish together. As the first dipper, you may need to demonstrate how to scoop some of the Garlic Tomato Sauce along with the Snow Mountain onto the bread. For squeamish dippers, providing spoons or spreading knives might make them more comfortable and is definitely less messy.

And don’t forget to provide plenty of napkins–this well-seasoned appetizer is outrageously delicious and lots of fun with everyone plunging into the bowl for the next bite–but it can also be a bit drippy.

This tangy and very winning appetizer is ideal for those extra-special times when you want to present a starter that stands apart. This is not one of those dishes everyone has in their repertoire–but you might be the first one to introduce it to your friends and family.

Party hosts love this recipe because it’s a delicious, make-head dish and can be prepared in three convenient stages: making the Garlic Tomatoes, preparing the Snow Mountain, and heating the dish just before serving).

All this starter needs is a basket of dipping breads like chunks of sourdough, soft or toasted whole-grain pita wedges, quartered toasted whole-grain bread, baked corn chips, or toasted cocktail breads. I think sourdough bread makes one of the tastiest bases for this sumptuous appetizer, but other choices are equally as good.

Here’s the process in a nutshell: Chop tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Cook them with herbs. Transfer them to a deep dish pie plate and set aside. Make the snow mountain. Spoon it into the pie plate. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. Heat in the oven until bubbling and serve.

Tomato Ingredients

Tomatoes cooking

Herbs for seasoning

Tofu

Refrig appetizer

Tomatoes finishedIn addition to making a delightful appetizer, you might consider turning Garlic Tomatoes and Snow Mountain into a light lunch or dinner by providing a hearty salad before serving the bubbling starter. This is one of those dishes that’s really handy to have ready-made in your refrigerator when you’re busy shopping for holiday gifts, attending festive events, or rushing to the airport for out of town guests.

A NOTE ABOUT SEASONING DISHES IN GENERAL: I noticed that when I add salt at the end of cooking, the dish requires much less of the salt to bring up the flavor. This is especially true of tomato dishes that already contribute a rich, umami flavor–even without salt.

GARLIC TOMATOES AND SNOW MOUNTAIN

Yield: 10 to 12 servings as a starter or 5 to 6 as a light lunch or dinner

Garlic Tomatoes

2 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes, chopped

2 large onions, choppedTomato Ingredients

7 to 8 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt

Snow Mountain

1 pound firm or extra firm tofu

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juiceTofu

1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon rice vinegar

2 large garlic cloves

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon dill weed

1/2 teaspoon onion powderTomatoes over

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Garnish

Paprika

1 sprig fresh herbs (basil, mint, cilantro

  1. Have ready a 9- or 10-inch, deep-dish, heat-proof pie plate or an 8-inch square baking dish.
  2. TO MAKE THE GARLIC TOMATOES, combine the tomatoes and onions in a large, deep skillet and cook over high heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, thyme, oregano, and basil. Stirring frequently, cook about 20 minutes, or until the tomatoes and onions are broken down, the liquid evaporated, and the sauce is thickened and chunky.
  4. Add the salt and mix well. Adjust the seasonings, if needed. Transfer the garlic tomatoes to the pie plate, and set aside.
  5. TO MAKE THE SNOW MOUNTAIN, drain and rinse the tofu, break it into pieces, and put it in a food processor. Add the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt, coriander, dill weed, onion powder, and pepper and process until smooth and creamy.
  6. Spoon the tofu mountain into the center of the garlic tomatoes, forming a tall mound. Garnish with a sprinkle of parsley and place the herb sprig at the top of Snow Mountain. At this point you can refrigerate the appetizer until shortly before serving.
  7. PREPARE THE APPETIZER FOR SERVING: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. If you’re serving the dish shortly after preparing it, put the pie plate on a large, rimmed baking sheet for easy handling. Tuck the appetizer into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbling.
  8. Remove from the oven, sprinkle very lightly with paprika, and add the fresh herb sprig. Bring the bubbling appetizer to the table and set it on a trivet–and don’t forget the dipping breads!

Important:

If you’ve prepared the dish in advance and have chilled it, bring it out of the fridge about 2 or 3 hours before serving. Then pop it into the preheated oven.

If you’re taking it right from the fridge and want to heat it, put it on a baking sheet and pop it in a cold oven. Set the temperature to 400 degrees F. and warm for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until it is bubbling. Refrigerated, the leftovers keep well for up to 5 days.

Tomatoes finished

Brussels Jump to the Favorite List

ALMOND AND OLIVE STUFFED BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Almond Olive Stuffed Brussels Sprouts copyAfter watching dinner guests take a pass when plain, steamed Brussels sprouts came to the table, I became aware they were not on everyone’s list of favorite vegetables. But when I stuffed them and served them as an eye-appealing appetizer, they proved their mojo.

This recipe also just happens to be one that’s in my Vegan for the Holidays Vegan Holidays highrescookbook. It’s in the Christmas section, but don’t pay any attention to that. Serve them all season long. They’re perfect for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Years, too!

I’ve also noticed an encouraging new trend in recent years. Attitudes are changing about green vegetables as the vegan message about their health benefits jumps into the mainstream. How nice to see the turnabout, especially for Brussels, a vegetable that used to be left languishing on the plate at the end of the meal.

Today Brussels sprouts have climbed pretty close to the top of the favorite list. At farmer’s markets and some of the more vegetable-savvy groceries, they come to market still attached to their tall, thick stalks and looking very perky and inviting.

Last year, just before Thanksgiving, those 2-foot long stalks showed up at my local Trader Joe’s market. While checking out, I couldn’t help noticing how popular they’ve become. About every third shopping cart had a stalk of Brussels. I bought two of them, knowing this recipe was sitting on my kitchen counter waiting for me to dig right in.

ALMOND AND OLIVE STUFFED BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings

20 fresh Brussels sprouts

1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped

1 (13.8-ounce) can water-packed artichoke hearts, drained

20 pitted Kalamata olives, chopped

10 jumbo pimiento-stuffed green olives, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 to 3/4 cup Homemade Parmesan or prepared vegan Parmesan

6 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters, for garnish

 

  1. Fill a 4-quart saucepan two-thirds full with water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, trim the Brussels sprouts stems and discard. Cut the sprouts in half-lengthwise. Plunge the sprout halves into boiling water in batches and boil for 1 1/2 minutes, or until they are just tender but still hold their shape. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels and repeat the process until all the sprouts are tender.
  1. Using a serrated grapefruit or paring knife, carefully scoop out the centers of the sprouts to create a cavity. Reserve the centers for another r recipe.
  1. To make the stuffing, put the almonds in a food processor. Process until they form a coarse meal, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. Transfer to a large bowl.
  1. Put the artichoke hearts in the food processor. Process until they are coarsely chopped. Add them to the bowl with the almond meal.
  1. Put the olives, shallot, and garlic in the food processor. Process briefly, just until chunky. Add the olive mixture to the bowl with the artichokes and almonds. Mix well. If the stuffing seems too dry, add 1 to 3 teaspoons of water to moisten.
  1. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of the stuffing into the cavity of each sprout half. Sprinkle with the Homemade Parmesan and garnish each with a cherry tomato quarter if desired. Serve at room temperature or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  1. To serve warm, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the stuffed sprouts on the prepared pan. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or just until heated through. Garnish each with a cherry tomato quarter if desired. Transfer to a serving platter.