Rocket or arugula is one of my favorite green leafy vegetables and luckily it is abundant in all the Mediterranean regions as it grows in different soils and areas provided that it gets enough water. What I love in rocket is its spicy taste and its peppery aroma but on top of that this is one of the most nutritious greens -it belongs to the crucifers together with broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower etc.
All through the year I like to grow my own arugula on pots but my plants seem to love autumn and spring as they grow faster and bigger. This is when we usually make vegan arugula pesto in place of basil pesto. Pesto sauce takes only two minutes to make it and with minimal effort we have a delicious, colorful sauce for our pasta. Making your own pesto is impressively easy: just put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Nutritional yeast is totally optional in this recipe, but I like to use it whenever I have some in hand, as it adds a discrete “cheesy” touch.
500 gr whole wheat spaghetti or your favorite pasta
for the pesto sauce
- 1 big bunch of arugula
- ½ cup good quality olive oil
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves
- ½ cup cashews or sunflower seeds or pine nuts
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
- ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
- Wash thoroughly the rocket and drain. In a food processor add the rocket along with the garlic and liquid ingredients and process for 1 minute at high speed. Then add the rest of the ingredients and process for another minute or until a homogeneous mixture is obtained.
- In the meantime, cook your favorite pasta in salted water (we prefer whole wheat spaghetti for this recipe) for 8 minutes or until they become al dente. Strain and rinse with cold running water to keep them from sticking. Put them back in the saucepan, pour over the sauce and mix with two forks. Served immediately!
Note: This sauce comes out less greasy and at the same time much more tasty and aromatic than store-bought. Nutritional yeast, although not necessary, replaces the cheese which is used in the non-vegan version.
When we have a tone of rocket we like to prepare a large amount of pesto and keep it in glass jars in the freezer for quite some time. Just remember to put it out of the freezer a couple of hours before using it.
Dakos (or ntakos), also known as koukouvagia (which means owl!) is a traditional Cretan meze consisting of a thick slice of soaked barley rusk (paximadi), topped with olive oil, chopped, fresh tomato and mizithra or xinomizithra, a kind of traditional Cretan cheese. The recipe I’m sharing today is very similar to our traditional Cretan dakos apart from that I substituted the traditional cheese with a homemade vegan mizithra cheese. Traditional vegan cheese varieties such as the Cretan xinomizithra are always very interesting and I am really happy I made vegan the kind of cheese with which I grew up!
Cretan dakos, is one of the things that brings to my mind sweet memories from my grandmother. The reason for that is that she used to make three or four times each year a huge (really huge) batch of barley bread with her own sourdough and she used to bake it in her wood oven twice, in order to make barley rusks (paximadia). These would serve as our bread for the next two or three months, till the next time she would bake (as in many other Cretan households). Barley rusks are between the most common foods found in every Cretan home and the basis to the traditional dish that is called “dakos” ( some tourists by mistake call it “tacos” but it has nothing to do with that!). As a child, when I was hungry, sometimes my grandma would make me a dakos, by soaking a barley rusk for a few seconds in water (the traditional Cretan rusks are so hard that they cannot be eaten unless they dampen!) and then she would drizzle it with olive oil, a little salt and a little chopped tomato and oregano.
This vegan version of the Cretan dakos is an delicious idea when our time is scarce and we need a quick, delicious and tasty lunch or when we are looking for a stunning appetizer.
For the fermented raw, almond, soft cheese (vegan mizithra or xinomizithra)
- 2 cups almonds, raw
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp apple-cider vinegar or other white vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp soy yogurt (optional) or a probiotic capsule
- Soak the almonds for eight hours in filtered water. Usually I let them soak overnight. The next day drain and peel them. To remove the peels more easily, soak for 5 minutes in boiling water and peel while they are stil hot.
- Put the almonds in the blender along with the rest of the ingredients and blend until creamy. To make things easier, stop the blender every few seconds and with a wooden or silicone spatula, clean the walls of the bowl and mix slightly.
- To obtain the salty, sharp taste similar to the xinomyzithra, mix in the soy yoghurt and let the almond cheese sit in a warm place for 8-10 hours to ferment.
Almond xinomizithra can be kept in the refrigerator for 5-6 days or more and from day to day its taste will become sharper.
Ingredients for 2 dakos:
- 2 barley rusks
- 2 medium ripe tomatoes grated or chopped
- 2 tsp of olive oil (or more)
- 4 tbsp vegan mizithra cheese
If your rusks are too hard -like the traditional- just soak them in a bowl of filtered water for 2 seconds (not more) before consuming. Pour one teaspoon of olive oil over each rusk and with a spoon top with a pretty large layer of tomato. Salt the tomato and add 2 tbsp of xinomyzithra in every dakos. Garnish with ground oregano and perhaps a few olives and serve immediately.
Note: Feel free to use the almond pulp left from making almond milk in order to make your own vegan mizithra. In that case, I would suggest mixing in one tablespoon of olive oil after fermentation, for a really rich flavor.
Few meals are as easy and tasty as this simple scrambled tofu, a kind of vegan omelet that you don’t even need to turn upside down! What I could not imagine though, is that this vegan scrambled tofu would be just as good -or even better- than the traditional Greek dish with eggs which is called “strapatsada”. What’s more, this amazing vegan dish does not have the heavy smell of eggs, allowing the mature tomatoes of the season to reveal their flavors and taste. Actually the secret lies in the tomatoes!
In fact, unlike the usual instructions we read in most recipes, if we want to fully enjoy a tomato, we should never remove the seeds and the peels, not only because we may lose some of the nutrients that are hidden there, but also because that’s where the plant decided to hide much of its tastefulness qualities, its fifth flavor, its umami!
Umami is one of the tastes that we do not learn at school and may not be as readily recognizable as the others, but it is the one that gives the deliciousness, the depth to our favorite dishes; it is the flavor that is hidden in some ingredients and can make our cooking unbeatable. One of the natural, vegan sources of umami, are the very mature tomatoes that, at the beginning of fall, having absorbed all the sun and warmth of the summer, are at their best. Coming near the end of their season, tomatoes can surprise us with this delicious “swan song”, as they surprised us last night and made me want to share with you our simple recipe!
(for 2-4 persons, depending on how hungry they are!)
- 400 g firm tofu
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into cubes
- 2 large, very ripe tomatoes, cut into small cubes
- 3/4 tsp ground turmeric
- 3/4 tsp ground sweet paprika
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- a pinch of dried oregano (after cooking)
1. Pour the olive oil together with the onion and garlic in a non-stick pan and sauté over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, pepper and spices, stir and continue cooking for about 15 minutes until the vegetables soften and most of their liquids are evaporated.
2. While cooking the vegetables, crumble the tofu with a fork or with our hands (don’ t have to overdo it though, just break into small pieces!).
3. Add the crumbled tofu to the pan and mix thoroughly. Cook for 5 more minutes over medium heat. Serve warm, sprinkled with dried oregano and enjoy!