Mermaid Cafe

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Refreshing Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Weird fact: This is my secret blog. It's not entirely secret; my whole family and a few friends know about it - but that's it. Why? I'm not really sure. Maybe it's just because this blog is not as polished as I would like it to be yet, maybe it's just because I'm self-conscious about the fact that it exists for some reason.

I'm sure that I'll share this blog with more people, but for now I end up sneakily taking photos of my food when no one is home or awake. Luckily, my roommates mostly seem to sleep until noon so I often see no signs of life before leaving for the day. It does mean that my posting schedule is a little erratic. Most food bloggers seem to schedule their cooking around blogging; I cook when I want food and then hope that I'll get a chance to take a picture before I've eaten the whole dish or it has been in the fridge for so long that it no longer looks appetizing.

This probably makes it harder for me to achieve the consistency that I want in this blog, and therefore makes it less likely for me to share it. I guess I've created a bit of a cycle of positive feedback, but for now it is what it is. This salad, for example, was made yesterday and then smuggled into my room this morning for some photos before I ate it for breakfast. And by breakfast, I mean second breakfast. Don't judge.

This salad is so refreshing - the bright and tangy flavours from the herbs and lemon juice go well with the fresh and hydrating vegetables (or fruits, if you want to be technical) and the red onion and seeds add a little extra crunch for texture. Plus, it's so easy to make.

Simple and light, this salad is perfect for summer. It is somewhat inspired by greek salad - the lemon, herbs, and salt make the tofu somewhat reminiscent of feta. If you want to go further towards a greek salad, add some olives or even feta. I used tofu for the protein content (which also makes this vegan) but adding feta and removing some or all of the tofu would also be delicious - just be sure to adjust the salt and lemon quantities accordingly.

  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 English cucumber, chopped
  • 1/3 red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 package extra-firm silken tofu
  • 2 tbsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice, to taste
  • 2 tsp salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1. Chop fresh vegetables and herbs and mix together in a salad bowl.
2. Dice tofu, and mix with 3tbsp lemon juice, dried herbs, and salt.
3. Add tofu mixture to vegetables and mix. Taste, and add additional lemon juice to salad if desired.
4. If making in advance, leave the salad in the fridge until you are ready to eat it. This salad stores well as the flavours infuse the tofu more over time, but it can also be eaten immediately.
5. Add sunflower seeds just before serving, and enjoy!

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Saturday, 25 May 2013

Creamy Roasted Vegetable and Bulghur Salad

I've been feeling kind of ineffective lately. I'm used to having a regular training schedule requiring me to be awake and present somewhere at ridiculous hours of the morning (last summer I left home at 4:15am to get to practice on time), or at least a full time class schedule which I have to plan my schedule around. Right now, I have a couple of hours of class in the afternoon, train at random times depending on how my ankle is feeling, whether I can get on the water, when I work, and when I drag myself out of bed. For some reason this lack of structure leads to a lot of sleeping in and a lot of forgetting to bring lunches. An accident which sometimes wonderfully results in me buying myself falafels to eat for lunch. I know they're fried, but they can't be thaat bad for you, right? Chickpeas, herbs, in a wrap filled with vegetables... regardless, they are oh-so-delicious.

The one time that I tried to make falafels, I didn't have too much success, so I decided to go a different route. The idea for this salad started off as a kind of deconstructed falafel concept - chickpeas, cilantro, parsley, onion, tahini. In reality, it is not really falafel-like in the slightest. It is, however, delicious. The smoky, spicy and flavourful roasted vegetables and warm, garlicky toasted bulghur and chickpeas are a hearty and delicious base, coated with a smooth, lemony and creamy tahini and herb sauce. This tastes decadent and rich, but is actually very healthy and full
of protein since the sauce is made creamy using silken tofu.

This is really easy to toss into a jar in my backpack for lunch, as it tastes good cold as well as warm. It is also, unfortunately, really easy to forget said jar in the fridge. I guess I will have to go buy more falafels...

  • 1/2 cup uncooked bulghur wheat
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • salt, to taste

  • 1 eggplant, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt, adjust as desired
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne, adjust as desired
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red pepper, diced

  • 1 container silken tofu, firm
  • 3 tbsp tahini
  • 1 small bunch parsley, chopped (about 1.5 cups)
  • 1 small bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1.5 cups)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
1. Pour boiling water over bulghur, cover, and let sit for at least 20 minutes.
2. Place eggplant, zucchini, onion, garlic, paprika, cayenne, salt, and olive oil in a bowl or dish, and toss to combine. 
3. Roast vegetables in a pan or on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes. Add red pepper, toss vegetables, and roast for another 10 minutes or until they are thoroughly roasted.
4. While vegetables are roasting, combine tofu, tahini, parsley, cilantro and lemon juice in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
5. Melt coconut oil on a pan, and add garlic. Add drained, cooked barley and chickpeas, garlic, paprika, and salt. Sauté for a few minutes until most of the water from the barley has evaporated and it begins to turn a deeper golden colour.
6. To serve, either mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl, or layer roasted vegetables on top of barley and chickpea mix, and spoon the dressing on top of the vegetables.

Notes: Be sure to add a decent amount of salt and spice to the vegetables and barley, since the sauce is very cool and creamy. Make the vegetables more spicy than you would normally want so that the spice still comes through.

Change up the vegetables if you want, or add more. If I made this again, I would probably make it a little more vegetable-heavy.

Do NOT skip the toasting step for the bulghur and chickpeas. The first time I ate this it was a little watery and bland - good, but not great. Luckily I had stored my three parts in separate containers, so I toasted the barley and chickpeas with the garlic, paprika, and coconut oil, which really added depth to the dish and made it fantastic.

I am sure that you can sub another grain for the bulghur - quinoa would be my first choice, but barley, cous-cous, or probably even rice would work; you could probably also serve it over bread or in a pita. This is also good over fresh baby spinach as more of a green salad, if you so desire.

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Sunday, 19 May 2013

Poached Eggs, Greens, and Potatoes in Tomato Sauce

This morning, I was faced with a harrowing choice. After about ten minutes of agonizing, page-turning, mind-changing, and reading and re-reading, I made the split-second decision about what to order for breakfast.

I'm always that person at a restaurant who reads the menu at least five times, asks everyone else what they are eating, debates out loud the pros and cons of various dishes, and then insists on ordering last to put off making a final decision. Breakfast, though, is especially difficult. Breakfast might just be my favourite meal - possibly brought on by years of morning practices. I like new and exciting foods, but I also like my breakfasts to be familiar comfort food with SOME nutritional value to start off my day right. As one of my friends pointed out, though, usually the biggest factor in deciding what to eat for breakfast is sweet versus savoury.

Sweet breakfasts are usually my go-to at home - fruit with yogurt and granola or oatmeal topped with cinnamon are pretty standard for me. Probably because I want something different, I usually get a savoury breakfast when going out - usually an omelette full of veggies and cheese, with lots of toast and home fries. Delicious, and not the worst thing for me, but maybe not the most healthy or budget-friendly.

Earlier this week, I decided to make a healthier and quicker version of this breakfast, all in one bowl. Flavourful tomato sauce simmered with herbs and balsamic vinegar, mixed with potato and some wilted greens, topped with soft poached eggs makes for a perfect breakfast: flavourful, nutritious, filling, and comforting. I make variations on this for other meals as well (sometimes adding or subtracting potatoes and other vegetables, or using fresh tomatoes or jarred pasta sauce or even soup) but it made an especially satisfying breakfast.

1/2 cup strained tomatoes
1/2 cup water
1/4 balsamic vinegar (or to taste)
1 tbsp dried basil
salt, to taste2 small potatoes, chopped
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1 cup baby arugula (or other baby green or chopped green)
2 eggs

1. Add tomatoes, water, vinegar, basil, and salt to pot.
2. Add chopped potatoes and cover pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Cook until potatoes are mostly soft (about 15 minutes).
3. Add parsley and arugula. Stir into sauce, and leave simmering for a minute or two until arugula begins to wilt.
4. Make sure that sauce is bubbling gently (but not boiling) in order to properly poach the eggs. Crack both eggs over top of sauce, replace lid, and cook for 5-10 minutes, until eggs are poached.

Note: Once the eggs are as poached as you want them to be, put everything into a bowl right away so that the eggs do not keep cooking in the pot. Alternately, turn off the heat and remove the pot from the stove just a little early. The eggs will continue to cook for a few minutes. This is especially helpful if you want to eat this right out of the pot. Which I may or may not do on a regular basis.

Also, if you have fresh basil use that - add lots of basil, the more the better! Likewise with fresh tomatoes, just dice them, use a bit more water, and squash the pieces a little while you are cooking them.

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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Strawberry-Ginger Cashew Cheesecake - Kind of Raw, Definitely Vegan

"It's a gamble! It's a gamble, Mira!" cried my brother desperately on Saturday night, trying to convince me that his favorite Thai restaurant would be a better decision than the restaurant I wanted to try - a vegan and largely raw restaurant. I'm not saying that I don't love Thai food, but the gamble was definitely worth it.

I have to be honest, I was in love with the place the moment I walked in. Apart from the fact that it is attached to a yoga studio, it just seemed friendly and earthy and a little eclectic.... and there were little pots of sprouts on the table. Which I snacked on. Because I'm sure they were not just for decoration.. right?
Cute little tasty raw bruschetta... mmm!
Luckily, the food itself was also great. The appetizers shown here were a little on the small side, but cute and raw and tasty. The meals were delicious, though we did all order cooked dishes. The highlight of the meal, however, was definitely the dessert. I'm not just talking normal dessert being a highlight. This was extraordinary: we had a raw caramel apple cheesecake which was loved by my lactose-intolerant, sugar-opposed vegetarian father, my ravenous brother with the largest sweet tooth known to man, and my more traditional carnivorous east-coast grandfather who still believes that we have been brainwashed into vegetarianism. When I say loved, I mean adored. Like, trying to politely-yet-aggressively devour as much of the cheesecake as you can before everyone else does kind of adored.

So, I decided that there was only one thing to do: make my family a cashew cheesecake for Mother's Day. I am a far cry from a raw foodist, but I am fascinated and find it quite appealing. Likewise, I am by no means vegan but enjoy exploring vegan cuisine. Honestly, my biggest deterrent in exploring raw desserts has been the sheer cost of buying that many cashews. But this was seriously incredible for a special occasion.

Side note: Maple syrup? Not raw. The glaze? Not raw. As I said, I'm just exploring raw foods. Modify it if you want to keep it raw, or just make it as I did for a delicious vegan dessert.

  • 3/4 cup dates
  • 1 1/2 cup nuts (I used pecans)
  • 3 tbsp flax seed
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chopped ginger
The crust - good enough to eat on its own. By the handful.
  • 2 1/2 cups cashews, soaked
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup (or raw honey or agave to keep it raw)
  • Juice of two lemons
  • 1 cup frozen chopped strawberries
  • 1/2 cup water + 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp grated ginger
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup (or sweetener of choice)
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
1. Soak cashews for 3-4 hours to overnight. I cheated, and used boiling water to speed up the soaking process. If you want to keep it raw, just start a little earlier.
2. Pulse crust ingredients in blender until they form a thick paste, with a larabar-like texture. The nuts should be mostly ground or in small pieces, and you should be able to form shapes with it.
3. Line a tin or baking dish with parchment paper/seran wrap/a clean plastic bag. Pat crust into the bottom of the tin to form a thin but solid layer, and place in freezer.
4. Drain cashews. Pulse cheesecake ingredients in food processor until creamy and smooth. Remove crust from freezer, pour filling into the dish, and return to the freezer.

Up to this point (minus the maple syrup and boiling water) the cheesecake is raw. The glaze, however, is definitely not raw. If you want to keep it raw, top with thawed strawberries. Otherwise...

5. Let strawberries thaw, at least partially. After cheesecake has hardened in freezer, add 1/2 cup water, grated ginger, and maple syrup to a small sauce pan, and heat to a boil.
6. Dissolve cornstarch in remaining water, reduce pan to a simmer, and add cornstarch mixture. Stir constantly, as this will thicken very suddenly.
7. Place 1/2 strawberries, thawed, on top of cheesecake.
8. Once glaze starts to thicken, add remaining strawberries. Mix until incorporated and thickened.
9. Pour glaze over cheesecake, and return to the freezer to harden for at least 10 minutes.
10. Remove from freezer, serve after a few minutes, and enjoy your cheesecake and the resultant praise. :)

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Monday, 13 May 2013

Pesto Kale Soup

Saturday morning, I hopped on a bus home to surprise my mom. Five hours later, I got a text from her asking if I was on my way home. Due to some small communication issues, my grandfather ended up telling her that I was on my way and plan sneak-home-for-mother's-day was ruined.

Surprising her would have been fun, but the most important part was that I still got to spend Mother's Day with my amazing mother, who I am so grateful to for being the most wonderful mother I could ask for. Thank you for raising me and feeding me and hugging me and comforting me and making me go for walks as a child even when I practically refused to leave the house and trying to stop me from plucking out ALL of my eyebrow hair in middle school and dealing with all of my messes and editing my papers and supporting me in everything that I do and for cheering me on at regattas and taking horrible pictures because you were too excited and in tears watching my race. And thank you for always being there to comfort me when I call because I'm upset, or because I need daily advice on school/life/how to put detergent in a top-loader... and for worrying about me a little bit too much. I love you. :)

For dinner on Mother's Day, I made a vegan dinner of pesto soup with squash gnocchi and vegan cheese, followed by a raw cashew cheesecake topped with a not-raw strawberry ginger glaze.

Today I am going to share the soup recipe, taken from Isa Chandra at Post Punk Kitchen. This is definitely a very "green" soup, but tasty if you like your greens like I do... Hearty, healthy, and my whole family went back for seconds. If I were to make this again I would add a lot more garlic and a lot more basil, but I will post it the way that I made it in case any of you are not avid garlic-devourers. I made it with water, but would recommend using broth to add a little more depth.


  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
  • 4 cups of broth or water
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tbsp rosemary
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup fresh basil (I used about 2 tbsp frozen + 1 tsp dry because that was what I had, but I think it needed a bit more)
  • 4 cups frozen kale
  • About 25 frozen gnocchi

1. Heat oil in a large pot, and chopped garlic and sauté for 5 minutes.
2. Add cauliflower and sauté for a few minutes before adding 3 cups of water/broth, balsamic vinegar, salt and rosemary. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes or until cauliflower is tender.
3. Mix cornstarch and remaining broth in a cup, and add to soup with the basil.
4. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes and then blend. Use an immersion blender if you have one, otherwise blend in batches. Don't add too much soup at once or the blender WILL explode, splattering soup all over the counter/window/nearby plants.
5. Bring soup back to a simmer, and add frozen kale and gnocchi. Continue cooking until gnocchi is cooked through - about 8 minutes. Be careful stirring in the first few minutes, since the gnocchi may break.
6. Top with cheese (I tried to make vegan cashew cheese), poached eggs, or serve alone. Enjoy!

There you have it, pesto soup! I made butternut squash gnocchi which I will post the recipe for on another day, but this can be made with any frozen gnocchi, store-bought or homemade, squash or regular. Making gnocchi is fun though, so stay tuned for that recipe - and for the delicious cashew cheesecake. :)
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Saturday, 11 May 2013

Fiddlehead Barley Risotto [Virtual Vegan Potluck]

In my usual fashion, I'm late. Three hours late, to be precise. For the one thing I am usually not late for: a potluck. If you don't know what I am talking about, today is the day of the May 2013 Virtual Vegan Potluck, a worldwide event where food bloggers post their vegan recipes potluck-style. This is a fun event, so please click through the links and follow along the blog-hop through the different courses (I brought a main dish, so the posts before and after mine are also main dishes). You can either click through the links in order, or head to the main page for a listing off all of the different blogs who are participating!

I am very deeply sorry for my tardiness, and in an attempt to make up for it I offer you a lovely risotto. Please accept my apologies for being a horrible potluck participant, and enjoy some risotto. You should also enjoy the wonderful Stromboli posted by The Road to Serendipity, who is the previous poster in the Virtual Vegan Potluck. Never heard of Stromboli? Neither had I (nor had they, apparently) but this looks delicious and definitely worth investigating. I am especially encouraged by the reference to being "penniless student hippies" in the introduction to this recipe. Tasty and student-budget-friendly? It doesn't get better than that. :)

Disclaimer: The fiddleheads were a much nicer bright green before this risotto sat in the fridge for the weekend, I just didn't get a picture! Guess I'll have to make it again... no complaints here. :)

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1.5 cups barley
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh thyme
  • juice of one lemon
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 cup fiddleheads
  • 1 small leek
  • 1 cup fava beans (cooked, I used frozen)
1. Bring broth to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.
2. While waiting for broth to boil, sauté onions in 1tbsp coconut oil for a few minutes, then add garlic.
3. Once onions are soft, add barley. Toast for 1 minute, coating in oil, and add wine.
4. After a few minutes (once the wine is mostly cooked off), add 1/2 cup of broth. Stir occasionally until broth has mostly been absorbed. Continue this process, gradually adding 1/2-1 cup of broth at a time, until 3 cups have been used.
5. During this time, sauté the leeks in coconut oil.
6. Add fiddleheads to broth, and continue adding broth to the risotto. Add fiddleheads with the last batch of broth, making sure that they have been cooking in the water for about 10 minutes.
7. With fiddleheads, add lemon juice, herbs, fava beans, and salt to taste. Continue stirring until broth is absorbed. The risotto should still be sticky, but not too watery.

I love making barley risottos, and find it magical how creamy they become even as a vegan dish. This version is light and spring-y and green, but the barley keeps it hearty and satisfying. It is a little bit time-consuming, but very straightforward and definitely worthwhile!

And, when you're finished check out this creative Michigan Cherry Chickpea Salad from Thyme and Love (from whom I especially beg forgiveness).

PS. Anyone who is here from the VVP, comment and say hi! I would love to meet you all. Also, if you feel so inclined, follow my blog with Bloglovin
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Monday, 29 April 2013

Sesame Ginger Coleslaw

I just got the key to my new apartment. This is for real. I am moving. I'm moving in two days, and I've packed one box. And a suitcase and a backpack. How do I have so many clothes? Why do I feel like I wear the same three outfits and yet I have so few clothes to get rid of? Why did I decide that leaving my apartment was a good idea? Can I just take a nap instead? Too bad, I did. Don't I have an exam that I should be studying for? Yes, yes I do.

My current strategy (naptime aside) is to alternate studying with bike trips to move my things. This seems to be working semi-effectively, though I'm having some balancing issues cycling with my enormous backpack.. and my neighbour just gave me a puzzled look and curiously asked if I was going on some really long trip. Nope, just transporting a lot of clothing and a crock pot.

All complaints aside, I am really excited to move. I'm excited for a new apartment and for summer time and to be living with new people and the most adorable little kitten. I'm excited to live in an apartment with roof access, and though it may be a little tricky - it's only accessible by a ladder - I am hoping that I will be able to grow a few things on the roof. Somehow. I'll figure out the moving thing, and THEN I'll figure out the planting thing.

One side effect of moving is that my fridge is pretty empty right now, except for a few dishes I concocted to use up as much of my remaining food as possible. My fridge certainly does not contain this cole slaw, which I actually made a few weeks ago, but I really wish that it did. This salad is exactly what I'm craving with this warm, sunny weather. It is crunchy and sweet and tangy, fresh and bright and light with a hint of spice from the cinnamon and ginger to mix things up. It is also pretty cheap and very easy to make, lasts well in the fridge, and produces enough cole slaw to eat for days (and feed your friends, as well). When I move, the first thing I put in my fridge might just be a cabbage so that I can make this again.

  • 1/2 of a large head of cabbage
  • 1 apple
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cups of fennel
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp mustard
  • 3 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon


1. Thinly slice cabbage and fennel. I hear that mandoline slicers are quite useful if you have them, but I just used a big knife. Dice the apple and onion, grate the carrots, and combine all of these ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Combine vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt and ginger in a jar. Shake it up, and pour over salad.
3. Add sesame seeds and cinnamon, mix everything up, and leave it for a few hours.

Note: This is oil-free and sugar free, but if you would prefer to add a bit of olive oil or sweetener to the dressing, go for it. Alternately, use orange juice instead of lemon juice for a sweeter cole slaw.

Side note: Does anyone else have difficulties replying to comments on blogger? For some reason I have not been able to reply directly to comments lately, so I have just been posting new comments. I am not sure why, since I have replied to comments in the past using that super handy reply button, but it now does nothing when I click it.
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