I’ve always wanted to blurb a book. You know, where an author you admire asks you to contribute a sentence or two to adorn the back cover? Well, it finally happened thanks to Jenn de la Vega. Her cookbook, Showdown Comfort Food, Chili & BBQ, is a delight and totally reflects her can-do, adventurous, and playful personality. All wrapped up in a cooking competition-honed, highly skilled, Searzall-wielding package.
I wanted to highlight a recipe from the book and suggest a few wine pairings so I picked this vegan dish. I actually eat meatless/dairy-free most of the week for breakfast and lunch. The latter is something I cook up (almost) every Sunday and affectionately call my “vegan slop” though it is a flavorful blend of beans, grains, vegetables, tomato sauce, and lots of hot sauce.
Jenn has a thing for meatballs and there are many creative, meat-tastic recipes to peruse. But I love the combination of pepitas, nutritional yeast (try it on popcorn, BTW), and shitake mushrooms. And with the added tomato paste, I must break out the “u” word to describe this flavor combination: umami.
Wine Pairing With Vegan Dishes
Who says vegan can’t mean complex flavors? This is a dish rich with mushrooms, miso, and nutritional yeast. Time to break out the Pinot Noir, especially more savory, earthy examples from Burgundy. If that’s a little too pricey, go for a Cru Beajuolais. The crus are the region’s top sites and, though made from the Gamay grape, scratch that Burgundy itch for 20ish dollars.
I’d also like to mention a couple Sicilian wines. Anything made from Frappato, a light delight. If you want a little oomph, check out Cerasuolo di Vittoria. It’s got a chunk of more burly Nero d’Avola to go along with the Frappato.
Somewhat confusingly, there is another Italian wine called Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. Made from the Montepulciano grape, it’s kind of like a very dark rosé or an extremely light red. Depends on your perspective. I like the one from Annona.
Try all of the above wines slightly chilled, especially in summer. The Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo can take a deeper chill.
For rosé, this is a good time to go a little heartier, like a bottling from Tavel in the south of France.
For whites, go for something on the richer side. Dare I suggest an oaked Chardonnay?
Black Bean and Pepita Balls
How do you bind seemingly chunky ingredients together in a ball without using eggs, cheese or cream? The answer is panada. In some cultures, panada is known as a bread soup. Panada is also a thickener made of soaked bread crumbs in either water, broth or milk. In this case, the liquid released from the cooked vegetables will bind with the bread crumbs and blended beans. These non-meatballs get their heft from black beans with help from savory shiitake mushrooms and crunchy pepitas.
Total Time: 2 hours
- 1 large onion, peeled
- 2 carrots
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 garlic clove
- ½ lb (250 g) shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean and stems removed
- ¼ cup (40 g) kale
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
- 2 tsp (11 g) salt
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) tomato paste
- 2 cups (475 ml) cooked Cinnamon Black Beans (page 117) (or canned is okay, too!), divided
- 1 tbsp (10 g) fresh oregano or ½ tbsp (5 g) dried
- ¼ cup (45 g) nutritional yeast
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) white miso
- 1 cup (150 g) bread crumbs
- ½ cup (75 g) pepitas
Place the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, mushrooms and kale in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to break everything down uniformly as small as pebbles; make sure there are no large chunks.
Start a frying pan on medium heat with the olive oil. Transfer the vegetables to the pan and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. As the vegetables release water and start to brown, add the salt, cinnamon and tomato paste. Cook for 5 more minutes, remove from the heat and let it cool.
Meanwhile, add half of the black beans, oregano, nutritional yeast, miso and a scoop of the cooked vegetables to the food processor. Pulse to form a paste, scrape down the sides and continue to process. If it is not blending, add any liquid gathering in the pan of vegetables.
Combine the cooked vegetables with the bean paste in a large bowl. Fold in the bread crumbs, remaining black beans and pepitas. Cover and completely cool in the fridge for at least an hour.
Once the mixture is completely cool and you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C).
Use cooking spray or a paper towel soaked with olive oil to grease a quarter sheet pan.
With a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, shape 30 balls. As you make them, press the cup of the scoop against the side of the bowl to pack it well. That way, each ball is consistently the same size.
Drizzle a bit of olive oil over each row of balls and bake for 20 minutes. Check the bottom of the balls for browning and crust forming on their tops. They are not done if they break when you pat the top.
Let the meatballs cool for 5 minutes before serving. I advise you not to hold them in sauce but pour sauce over them, if you must. They will fall apart with tongs, so use a spatula, spoon or dainty fingers. Makes 30 (1-oz [28-g]) meatballs.