This is the first of several recipes I want to post on my blog this spring. The winter has been full of culinary explorations, and among other things, this Southern-fried girl has been playing around with a whole bunch of vegan and raw vegan recipes. This is partly because I want to have more healthful recipes in my repertoire, partly because I love trying new things, and partly because dairy products have gotten so damn expensive! Could I not, at least sometimes and for certain recipes, be making my own almond milk and nut cheese as needed to spend money more wisely and reduce waste?
Even more importantly, could cutting back on dairy over the long term possibly improve the horrible, unrelenting, allergies and asthma I’ve had all winter, with a good nasty head cold in autumn and spring each to sandwich the whole thing together?
(This hasn’t happened yet, but reduction in terms of the waste factor and The Explanation* factor have been significant.)
I’ve also wanted to just eat more vegetables of all kinds, both for their deliciousness and health benefits. In particular, I noticed the past two winters that I had insane cravings for spinach, cooked and raw – spinach salad, spinach wrap, spinach soufflé, saag paneer and aloo saag, spanakopita, spinach soup, spinach quiche… wanting spinach every day, Bubba Gump-style.
So I decided to get a good blender and make the first meal of the day a smoothie – especially green smoothies!
Since January, other than the respiratory woes, I’m feeling a lot better and more energetic and my skin looks glowy. And I’m having a blast in the kitchen.
Of course, I’m as hedonistic as ever and my obsession with recreating restaurant dishes remains alive and well.
The recipe I have to share today is inspired by a sandwich at Aux Vivres, a vegan restaurant in Montreal cherished even by meat eaters. Everything there is divine, but my favorite thing is their Sirocco sandwich, a heavenly blend of hummus, tapenade, roasted eggplant and lettuce rolled into one of their enormous homemade whole-wheat chapatis.
Of course at home, I use spinach instead of lettuce, as to me lettuce is just useless chewing (few nutrients, no taste, mostly water, give me a Perrier instead).
Sirocco sandwiches are the best road food I’ve found yet. I took some on Greyhound in February to visit Marie in Boston for a long weekend and made enough to have some on the return trip, too. They were just as good on the trip home! I can’t wait to take some on a picnic. If you want to make a whole bunch at once, just roll them up and pop them in a Tupperware. They’ll keep for about five days in the fridge.
For this sandwich to be Aux Vivres quality, the hummus, tapenade and chapati would be homemade and you would roast your own red peppers. Feel free to experiment with any and all of these options. As a roll your own quickie sandwich, though, it’s very damn good.
* The Explanation: When I buy cheese, only to come home and unwrap the many layers of plastic to find that it has gone over and smells faintly of ammonia, and I take it back, and the grocer looks at me piteously, with my Anglo-Celtic face, and explains to me in a patronizing tone that “cheese is supposed to smell,” and I explain to him in a patronizing tone that “I am married to a Frenchman, who tells me the smell of ammonia means the cheese is no longer fit for human consumption,” and after we repeat our respective positions a couple of more times, he reluctantly concedes, I wait for 15-20 minutes for someone to fill out a paper on the incident that I must also complete and sign, and my money is finally refunded.
Easy Sirocco Sandwiches
Sirocco Eggplant (recipe below)
Tapenade (or substitute homemade black olive puree)
Roasted red pepper
Spinach or mixed greens
The best whole-grain tortillas, chapatis or other thin flatbread you can find (I use Kamut Azim, for those of you in Montreal)
At the bottom of the tortilla, spread a tablespoon of hummus. Spoon about a teaspoon of tapenade just above it. Top that with a few thin slices of roasted red pepper and 6-7 Sirocco Eggplant cubes. Top with a generous handful of greens and Roll Her Up!
If you don’t know how to roll a wrap, don’t worry! The packet of tortillas has a handy step-by-step diagram. Only the meanest, cheapest tortilla makers don’t include this act of kindness on their packaging, and you’re not buying their crap for this sandwich anyway.
1 small eggplant or 3 small Japanese eggplant
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ tablespoons olive oil
Optional – Mediterranean herb blend such as Italian, Greek or Herbes de Provence
Dice eggplant into 1-inch cubes. (If not using Japanese eggplant, sprinkle cubes liberally with salt, wrap in paper towels and leave for 2 hours to remove bitterness. Rinse well and drain before proceeding.)
In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté garlic for a minute or so. Add eggplant and toss well to coat with olive oil. Pour in enough water to cover with a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Boil for a couple of minutes, until eggplant is translucent, drain, and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Keep in fridge for up to three weeks. Makes enough for about two tortilla packets’ worth of sandwiches. Can also be frozen and thawed in the fridge.