Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Food, American style (inauguration edition)

strata a savory bread pudding being prepared
The following recipe is for a delicious appetizer, a strata (pictured above, being prepared). It's a good dish to bring to a gathering when, like me, you have an aversion to transporting cooked food (and the resultant sloshing of food inside your car or on the subway), which does not need to be reheated, and is not a dessert.

It's best made the night before an event, so that it can "set" completely, making it easy to cut into squares. Like inauguration week, this dish is colorful, packed with flavor, and easygoing.

Vegetarian strata (savory bread pudding)

11 ounces day-old bread, torn into bite-size pieces (I used most of a sesame semolina loaf from Firehook Bakery, but any crusty bread will work)
1/2 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon dried porcini
1/2 cup whole flax seeds
1 cup water
1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons canola or other vegetable oil
1/2 cup soy milk (oat or rice milk are good substitutes)
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper to taste
1 or 2 green onions, finely chopped (white and green parts)
1 sprig fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 package veggie shrimp, thawed, OR 2 links veggie chorizo, finely chopped*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small bowl, pour the boiling water over the dried porcini and let soak.

In a small saucepan, add the flax seeds and one cup water, bring to a simmer, and let simmer for five minutes. While flax mixture is simmering, in a small frypan, heat the oil over a medium flame, then add the red bell pepper and cook for two or three minutes, until softened.

After five minutes, strain the flax seeds and let the liquid drip into a small bowl. (The liquid should be clear yet thickened, akin to raw eggs in texture.) Add the soy milk, porcini water (use the leftover mushrooms in another dish), salt, and pepper. Gently mix.

Place the torn bread pieces into a casserole dish, then pour the flax seed/milk mixture over the bread and combine thoroughly. Mash mixture around with either a fork or a potato masher, so that the bread becomes mushy. Add all remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly in the casserole dish.

Cover casserole dish with foil, then bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. After removing the strata from the oven, let cool, then refrigerate overnight.

To serve, cut into squares. (The pieces are easiest to pick up, after cutting, with toothpicks.) Yum!

*The veggie shrimp is available at area health food stores and co-ops, as is the veggie chorizo, which is also available at supermarkets and Whole Foods.

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