Recipe (sort of) Wednesday: Ambiendi Aloo Mattar

This is a recipe and story from my e-cookbook, Ahimsa Noms, which you can read more about below. I apologize for the crap-ass photography – old camera, late night, and also, I suck at photography.

It’s 12:15 on a Tuesday morning.  You really should have been in bed two hours ago.

Say you’re a young woman with chronic insomnia who has taken her nightly sedatives, and though they’ve kicked in enough to make you do weird stuff, they haven’t actually knocked you out yet.  And say you’re hungry, but there’s basically nothing in the house to eat except some frozen vegetables, a few canned goods, and your savior: a lone Russet potato that weighs in at over a pound.

Time is of the essence.  You know that within twenty minutes you’ll be on the ground drooling, much like at the end of your last birthday party, but this time without the aid of twelve Rum & Diet Dr Peppers and a strapping Viking lad to grope from the passenger’s seat on the way home.  Plus, you’re lazy and don’t want to put forth a huge effort for a midnight snack.

You’ve also spent the evening reading a massive tome on the history of India as well as watching the over-the-top Bollywood-styled spectacle of Bride & Prejudice.  Obviously there has to be curry.

That's right--store brand peas. Only the best.

You gather together:

the giant potato
a handful of frozen chopped white onion
(rinsed, since it’s been in the freezer awhile and might have the Freezer Funk)
1 T garlic-infused oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
(all spice measurements approximate)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2-1 tsp salt, to taste
1/2 to 2/3 cup frozen green peas

First, you whip out your trusty serrated peeler and denude the potato of its outer vestments, because you’re just pervy like that.  Chop the potato into bits about 3/4″ in size; the smaller the bits, the faster they’ll cook.

You dump the potatoes into a zip-up plastic steamer bag (a box of which you keep around for just such an occasion, because hell if you’re heating up the stove to boil water, and people can bitch about using plastic in the microwave all they want, but the same people who do that also tend to eat hormone-laced meat that wastes resources and clogs their colons, so they can jolly well shut up and let you use one damn plastic bag now and then, after all you use organic cruelty-free cleaning products and reuse sponges and rags and shopping bags and drive a fuel-efficient car and don’t even wear makeup, dammit, everybody’s got to pick their battles, and if it’s a difference of one plastic bag between you eating healthy veggies and ordering pizza, well, plastic bag it is! and everyone can just kiss your dimpled yet shapely white ass, and…oh, the delicious savory taste of self-righteousness!  Wait…potatoes.  Yeah.  Potatoes taste way better than self-righteousness.).

Anyway, mumbling ironically about “freakin’ hippies,” you put the potatoes in the steamer bag and nuke ’em for 8 minutes.  If you had an aversion to said bags you could always stovetop-boil the potatoes, which would take twice as long but cost fewer karma points.

You are briefly distracted by the cat, who jumps onto the counter while your back is turned and lays waste to your spice rack.

After standing the bottles back up and hosing down the cat with the spray bottle, while a string of obscenities hangs in the air between you and the cat’s retreating backside, you heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onion, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds, stirring until the onions becomeSnuffelupagus' Revenge translucent and the house begins to smell like curried paradise.  The potatoes will be a bright yellow, as if someone had sauteed Big Bird, but of course you wouldn’t do that, because Muppets are not vegan.  Add the remaining spices and stir-fry another minute.  Then, you dump in the potatoes and mix it all together, letting the taters get a tad brown around the edges in the oil mixture.  When the taters start getting some nice color, add in the peas and cook the whole mess two or three more minutes.  Salt to taste.

Now, if you were an enterprising young gal with some form of flatbread available you could make quite a handsome wrap out of this stuff, or spoon onto one side of a tortilla and fold over, then fry lightly in the pan for a non-queso-quesadilla.  You could serve this with a variety of other dishes including various forms of tofu.  You could even stuff it into a blanched bell pepper and bake the whole shebang together for a delicious entree, garnished with chopped cilantro and perhaps some cashews. (It would probably serve two, depending on what you do with it.)

It is, however, past midnight, you have no pants on, and we all know you’re going to eat it from the pan standing over the stove.

You know you want me.

Or, if your meds are working by now, you can dump half in your trusty Buddha bowl and the other half in a container for tomorrow’s lunch along with a hastily-browned Boca Chik’n patty to help power you through the workday.

Regardless, you fill your belly with aloo mattar goodness and fall asleep sitting up in your chair while watching season 3 of Bones.  You know, the one with the guy from the Whole Foods-type chain who ends up baked in a giant compost pile?  Yeah, that one’s cool.

Now Available: My E-Cookbook, 2nd Edition!

Completely revised, reformatted, updated, and added-to like crazy, I present the new version of my e-cookbook formerly called Bowl, Book, and Spoon:

The new cookbook contains a dozen new recipes, more cooking tips, and articles, and still includes the Kitchen Witchery section.  Why change the name?  Mostly because I felt like it, but also because the old version of the cookbook reflected a different time in my life, and I wanted the new edition to reflect who I am and how I cook now, to keep it relevant and fresh.  I didn’t want to just chuck all of that great information on sacred space, though, so it’s still in there.  The focus now is on the food, the tone lighthearted and a bit silly in places.  Some of the new recipes include:

Painfully Easy Mexican Soup
Tofu Jerky
Pav Bhaji (Indian Sloppy Joes)
Peachy Cobbleresque Cupcakes
The Raspberry Pantsoff (an adult beverage)

As well as my tried-and-true favorites like

A Quinoa Pilaf Vegetable Situation
Hangover Casserole
Chewy Ginger Cookies
Chocolate Covered Cherry Cake
Pretzel Salad

And don’t forget the articles, such as

10 Tips from a Culinary School Dropout
Kitchen Shrines and Altars
10 Indispensable Ingredients for the Lazy Veg Cook
Mealtime Prayers and Blessings

Ahimsa Noms, a 70-page .pdf, is available for download for only $8.00 USD.  Surf on over to the Digital Offerings page to snag your copy, and while you’re at it, you can have a look at Becoming a Spiritual Nomad, my six-week e-course on eclectic spirituality, as well as A Holy Instrument of Joy: 14 Days of Ecstatic Dance.  

It’s…Sloppy Beanoa!

I'm a dreadful food photographer. Here, have some quinoa.

Welcome to another episode of “Sylvan Cooks Unphotogenic Food!”

I’ve been working really hard on the veganization front lately, and doing quite well. To keep myself excited I’ve been rereading some of my favorite veg cookbooks, and of course I started with the very first one I ever bought:  Vegan With a Vengeance To this day I’ve cooked more recipes out of VWaV than any other cookbook I’ve ever owned; its pages are stained, wrinkled, splattered, and scribbled-upon, a sure sign of cookbook greatness.  Aside from just being fun to read, VWaV boasts the most accessible, delicious vegan recipes without tons of processed convenience ingredients or strange esoteric stuff – if you’ve ever had my samosas or that amazing raspberry blackout cake, they came from VWaV.  You could create an entire veg repertoire for all three meals using this book.  A lot of people tout Isa and Terry’s Veganomicon as the one book every veg cook should have, but really, I think VWaV is my favorite. It’s full of the sort of recipes you’ll memorize and make over and over again.

When I first read the recipe for Quinoa, Black Bean, and Mushroom Stuffed Peppers I thought, “Wow, that filling sounds tasty, but I don’t really like stuffed peppers,” so I passed it by.  This time, though, when I saw it again I thought, “…I should just make the filling and eat it with a spoon.”

Sitting there in the pan it looked kind of…not unappealing, exactly, but not a candidate for the cover shot of Gourmet.  I altered it from the original and, of course, didn’t stuff it into anything, so what I was left with was a sort of cross between a risotto and chili.  Someone on Facebook pointed out that it sounded like it would be good in a tortilla, and I may try that with the leftovers. Straight up it was mighty tasty, though.  Very homey, comforting, and filling – like chili.  It’s also kind of ridiculously healthy.  I’m pretty sure this is going to be part of my regular dinner rotation.

Here, you try it:


Sloppy Beanoa!

(Serves 4-6 depending on appetite.)

What You’ll Need:

1 tablespoon canola oil (or whatever)
1 cup diced onion (I used frozen, but you could just dice up an onion)
1 cup diced bell pepper (whatever color; I had a package of frozen green prechopped)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (I get mine out of a jar, so I have no idea how many cloves that would be.  2 or 3? Just put some garlic in it.)
1 standard sized package of sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup quinoa
1 15oz can tomato sauce (whatever kind you like, I just used plain old Muir Glen)
1/2 cup water

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon maple syrup (you could leave this out if you don’t have it, or use a tsp of brown sugar)

Let’s Get it On:

1 ~ Heat up the oil in a pan (you need one with a lid, but the size is up to you) and then cook the onion and pepper for about 5 minutes.  Once it starts getting soft, throw in the mushrooms and garlic. Cook another 5 minutes or until the shrooms are starting to get nice and mooshy.

2 ~ Add the quinoa, tomato sauce, and water.  Cover and cook at a simmer for 20 minutes, stirring once in a while so it doesn’t stick.

3 ~ Add the beans and syrup, and cook, stirring, until everything’s heated through.  Consume in mass quantities – you can stuff peppers if that’s your thing, or make tacos, or a Frito pie sort of situation, or a version of Sloppy Joes with some buns…or do what I did and eat it with a spoon.

I suppose if you don’t have quinoa you could use another grain, but you might have to adjust the cooking time and liquid.  That’s one of the many nice things about quinoa; it cooks quickly and without much fuss.  It’s also crammed full of protein, is a whole grain, and is fun to say. Go ahead, say it:  KEEEEEEEEN WAAAAHHHH.



This is the world’s largest pinto bean. He’s 15 feet tall. His gas is EPIC.

I was born and raised in Texas, and while it’s kind of a terrifying place to live if you’re liberal, gay, a vegetarian, a cow, intolerant of blistering heat, or a woman who wants sovereignty over her own reproductive organs, one thing our fair state does have in its favor is its food.

In my home region there are two major culinary influences:  Mexican and Czech immigrants.  The former folk braved the Rio Grande, and the latter landed at Galveston and spread along the Texas coast. My formative food memories include a variety of heady smells:  barbecue, kolaches baking…and pinto beans bubbling away on my mother’s stove.

As a veggiesaur I consume a lot of beans, but I’d never really had the urge to cook them from scratch before.  Canned beans are inexpensive, endlessly versatile, and quite handy for a single gal.  They also have as much nutrition as their dried counterparts, though rinsing is recommended to get rid of the extra sodium canning imparts.

Some mad impulse (also known as Alton Brown) led me to think I should try cooking up a pot o’beans myself.  I watched the red beans and rice episode of Good Eats and thought, “Hell, I could do that.  Just…not Cajun.  And with less dead pig.”  I immediately thought of Mom’s pintos, and also of Terry Hope Romero’s amazing cookbook Viva Vegan (where my locally world famous tamales originated).

It took an entire day, but I must say…HOLY WOW.  They turned out so insanely, face-explodingly amazing that I had to share the recipe, which took its basic idea and methods from Terry’s book.  Before long my entire house smelled just like my childhood pinto memories – with the added bonus of being lower in fat, having zero cholesterol, and not involving the deaths of cute animals.  It’s an easy recipe, and if you’ve got a lazy Sunday you can have a gigantic pot of ultra-cheap beans that will feed you for a week.

Sylvan’s Magic Beans
(makes a metric assload)

What You Need:

For Da Beenz:

1 lb dried pinto beans, rinsed and picked over for bad beans and rocks and such
5 c water
1 tsp salt
2 bay leaves

For Da Veg:

1/3 c olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced (if you can get your hands on a Texas 1015, do so)
1 large green bell pepper, diced
6 cloves minced garlic
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground pepper

 Let’s Get it On:

1.  First, soak the beans:  Cover with 2-3 inches water in a bowl and let soak for 8-10 hours.  Rinse off and drain.

2.  Put all the bean things in a soup pot and bring to a boil, then drop the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

3.  About 1 ½ hours into the cooking, grab a sauté pan and heat the oil, then add all the rest of the veg stuff and spices.  Cook over medium high heat for 10 minutes, stirring often to keep it from sticking.

4.  Lower the heat and cook another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced by about ½ and is mooshy and fragrant.  In Latin cooking a mixture like this is called sofrito, and like the Cajun Trinity or French mirepoix, is used as a seasoning base for a lot of dishes.

5.   Dump the entire sofrito in the pot of beans and stir it up.  Cook another hour, lid on, stirring occasionally.  Taste for salt – mine needed quite a bit, but salt’s one of those things everyone feels differently about.  Also, if you’re not a spice wuss like me, you can hot sauce the beans, or add ½ tsp cayenne pepper to the sofrito while it’s simmering.

He who smelt it dealt it.

The beany goodness will thicken on standing, and will get even thicker over the next few days.  You can eat them right away, but

they’re like 100x better the next day.  Serve over rice, in burritos, as a side dish, whatever blows your skirt up.

Oh, and don’t forget to remove the bay leaves before serving.

A Word on Tummy Music:

Bean emissions are caused by bacteria chowing down on great big sugar molecules in beans that your digestive enzymes can’t break down. There are lots of folk remedies for the situation, but the only reliable way to cut down on the problem is to eat beans more frequently.  So basically your bean farts originate as bacteria farts, a fart-within-a-fart kind of thing….like Inception with the windows rolled down.

Recipe: Chai of the Tiger Cupcakes

These cupcakes aren’t flashy; I improvised on the topping because I didn’t have frosting ingredients.  It was pure serendipity, however, as the bittersweet chocolate drizzle contrasts so nicely with the sweetness of the cake. Plus it made them look kind of stripey like little brown tigers, which is the sort of thing that would probably never occur to anyone but me.

Chai of the Tiger Cupcakes
with Bittersweet Chocolate Drizzle

(preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners of whatever sort you fancy)

What You Need:


1 cup vanilla almond milk (soy or rice would work too)
4 English breakfast or other black tea bags
1 cinnamon stick (3-4″ long is fine)


1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/3 c vegetable oil
3/4 c granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract


1 1/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sat
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp black pepper


1 3-ounce bar dark chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger’s 82% Extra Dark, but you could use any level of  dark chocolate you have, including semisweet chocolate chips.  I just happened to have the bar in my freezer, and it was extremely bitter, which went nicely with the cake; but if you want something less intense by all means use what you like.)
1/4 c almond milk (amount may vary by a teaspoon or so)

Let’s Get it On:

1 – Over very low heat, bring (A) to a gentle simmer in a small saucepan.  Once it’s bubbling, remove from the heat, cover, and let steep until no longer scaldingly hot, 15 minutes or so.

2 – Strain the milk into a large mixing bowl and discard the tea bags and cinnamon stick.  Add the vinegar and let sit a few minutes to curdle a bit.

3 – Add the rest of (B) to the bowl and whisk briskly.

4 – Sift in (C) and stir until the major lumps are broken up. Don’t overbeat.

5 – Using an ice cream scoop or a spoon and a prayer, fill cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake 22 minutes.  Let cool on a wire rack while you prepare the topping.

6 – Over low heat (you could use the same saucepan as before) melt the chocolate and milk together until smooth and runny.  Make sure it’s thin enough to drizzle but not so thin it’ll run off the cupcakes; add more milk if you need to, one teaspoon at a time.

7 – Hold each cupcake over the sink and using a spoon, flick the chocolate at the cake tops so it looks stripey.  You don’t want to totally cover the top; since the chocolate’s really dark a big mouthful of it might be a bit overwhelming.  Once you’ve drizzled all the cuppies, allow to sit for 20 minutes or so until the chocolate sets up a bit.

8 – Consume in mass quantities.

Credit Where Credit is Due:

This recipe is adapted from two recipes in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World; I improvised the topping, though it’s a basic ganache like you’d find in any cookbook.

Since I don’t have a picture of these little guys, here: have a video of Dean Winchester singing “Eye of the Tiger.” It’s almost as awesome as cupcakes.


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