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Vegan Spanokopita

8 Oct

I love Greek food… and every time I visit my sister we always order from this little Greek restaurant next to her place.  I loooove to order myself a Stuffed Pita Sandwich made with Greek Salad inside.  It’s so delicious I even crave it as soon as I book my flight to FL.

For a while, my sister avoided dairy… and she loves to eat the spanakopita triangles at the Greek restaurant I mentioned above.  So as the big sister, I decided to make her some spanakopitas she could actually enjoy without the side-effects dairy was bringing her for a while.

Here’s my take on cheese-free vegan spanakopitas…


Recipe from KarmaFree Cooking


1 packet of whole wheat phyllo dough – 16 sheets

1 ½ packets frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry

1 container Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese

½ container Tofutti Better than Sour Cream

½ container Tofutti Better than Ricotta

2 yellow lemons – zest and juice

1 sweet onion, chopped finely

½ cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

½ cup fresh basil, chopped

1 tbs Kosher Salt

½ tbs Pepper

About ½ cup Olive Oil, divided

  1. In a large bowl combine the spinach, onions, cream cheese, sour cream and ricotta, parsley, basil and a drizzle of olive oil.  Add the zest of the 2 lemons and follow adding the juice, making sure you avoid getting lemon seeds in the mix.   Season generously with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Combine well and set aside.
  2. To prepare working with phyllo dough I first gather 2 clean kitchen towels and I get them wet and squeeze them dry so now they’re thoroughly damp.  One will be to cover the unused phyllo sheets and the other one to cover the spanakopita pockets after they’re aseembled but before we bake or pack them.
  3. Now that you have your damp cloths or towels, we gather our phyllo dough, olive oil and a teaspoon – the one you eat with, not the one you use to measure recipes.  I work on a large cutting board…  Place one sheet of phyllo dough on the board.  Make sure you cover the unused phyllo sheets with one of the damp towels.  These will maintain them pliable and ready to work with.  If not, they’ll dry out and turn brittle and will be very difficult to work with in this recipe.
  4. Drizzle in a squiggly fashion a teaspoon of olive oil over the phyllo sheet.  Using the teaspoon kinda spread the squiggle trail you made…  Carefully, overlap a second sheet of phyllo right on top of the first one.  Drizzle a very thin stream of olive oil in the same squiggly fashion but on the opposite direction.  For example, the first squiggle you went from left to right.  Now the second one, go top to bottom in front of you.
  5. Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut the phyllo sheet stack you just created into 4 sections or strips.  I cut halfway and then I cut each half in half again.  This doesn’t have to be exact, although you can certainly use a ruler to measure this.
  6. Now, add about a tablespoon of spinach filling and place in the bottom section of one of the phyllo strips, leaving about 1 inch of phyllo below where you place the spinach.  Fold this bottom part of phyllo over the spinach kinda like folding a letter.
  7. Now fold the sides of the phyllo strip inside, kinda like the way you fold in a burrito.  Now, fold the section where the spinach is enclosed onto itself until a small rectangular package is formed.
  8. Place spinach pockets in a baking sheet and cover with damp cloth as you go preparing the rest of the spanakopita pockets.  You should end up with about 32 pockets  over all.  You could also stack up 3 sheets of phyllo to make it even flakier.  Use the same method, you’ll just end up with 20 finished spanakopita pockets overall.

Now… you can either bake them or freeze them.  If you decide to freeze them, just place them in freezer zipper bags in layers separating each layer using parchment paper r even waxed paper.  They will keep in the freezer for a while, and are very convenient.

  1. To bake them…  just turn the oven to 375F and place the spanakopita pockets in a baking sheet that has been sprayed with olive oil spray.  Place them in a single layer and spray once again over the top with a light spray of olive oil spray.  Bake in oven for about 12-15 minutes until they turn golden brown.  Sometimes, I just turn off the oven and leave them there to make sure the filling is nice and cooked when I take them out.

Wait a bit to bite into them because the filling will be H-O-T!!!!

These pockets are a tad larger that the triangles I am used to make.   These are more fitting for a light lunch or even a light dinner.  I bake myself 2-3 of these with a salad.

My sister thought they were delicious and she enjoyed the touch the lemon juice and zest provided.  She did not believe these were dairy-free!!!  The filling turned out creamy and delicious very similar to the original ones we enjoy so much.

Taro Root Nests

14 Sep

I’m in love with taro root or malangas, as I call them on a daily basis…

Here is a fun and easy way to make taro root for your next party of gathering.

Taro Root Nests


1 pound of raw taro root, peeled and cut into long pieces
1 tsp sofrito
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp salt
A pinch of freshly cracked black pepper (optional)
Frying oil – canola oil, grape seed oil, vegetable oil, peanut oil, etc.
  1. Shred the taro root pieces using the shredding blade of your food processor.  You could also shred by hand using a box grater, but this would be much harder and take up more time.
  2. Transfer the shredded taro root to a large mixing bowl and season with the sofrito, salt and black pepper.  Grate the garlic cloves using a microplane grater over the shredded taro root mixture.  Combine well all the ingredients using your hands.  I find they work best for doing this.
  3. In a large skillet, add enough frying oil to make it about ½” to 1” deep and bring to temperature over medium-high heat.  The oil will be ready for frying when you stick the back of a wooden spoon into the oil and bubbles form all around it.
  4. Make mounds of the seasoned shredded taro root…  Squeeze out all the starchy liquid from it and place on the hot oil to fry.  Using a spoon, pour some of the hot oil over the mound of shredded taro root to help it cook on the inside and to start to harden the top part a bit.  Place mounds of taro root on the skillet leaving some space between the mounds so they don’t stick together.
  5. After a few minutes, flip the mound on the other side so it fries evenly on all sides.  When the taro root mounds are golden brown on all sides, take them off the oil using a wooden spoon and place them on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb all the excess oil.  If you want, you can sprinkle them lightly with some more kosher salt, but it may not be necessary.

Enjoy these little nest fritters as an appetizer or as the crispy component to any Latin dinner…

Eggplant Musubi

3 Sep

I can’t believe I had forgotten to share this recipe with you…

Hawaii is the number 1 consumer of SPAM in the United States…  Apparently, Hawaiians love their potted meat.  I have to admit, back in the days when I was growing up I looooved when my grandma made for us Spam sandwiches with mayo on criollo bread.  That was a treat we only ate while on vacations.

Now…  my tastes have changed.  And while I wanted to bring a traditional and authentic take of a Hawaiian Luau to my Yogi friends, I also wanted to make it accessible to everyone.  Some of us have access to good vegetarian “hams”, but I figured that eggplant is something most of you will be able to get and will not cringe when you read it on a recipe.  The teriyaki marinade is what will bring it all together in true Hawaiian musubi fashion.

This recipe is a tad long…  but there are just 3 main steps – 1. cook the rice, 2. cook the eggplant, 3. assemble the musubi.  So don’t be overwhelmed by it all.    I used two small plastic containers of the same size that can fit one inside the other to form my musubi.  There are musubi contraptions, but I could not find one for the life of me in Puerto Rico.   Once you get the hang of it… it will be a breeze.

Recipe from KarmaFree Cooking


2 cups short grain brown rice

3 cups water

1/3 cup plain unseasoned rice vinegar

3 tbs brown sugar

½ tsp salt

2 small eggplants, peeled and sliced thinly

1  cup soy sauce

1 cup brown sugar

4 cloves garlic, grated

1-inch piece of ginger, grated

About ¼ cup of Black Sesame Gomasio as seasoning

2 nori sheets, cut into thin strips

Olive Oil

  1. First, cook the rice…  I use a rice cooker, but you can do it on the stove top if you prefer.  The idea is to cook the rice thoroughly but that it’s a tad sticky.  Not fluffy for sure.  Although by using short grain rice you get that consistency inherently.
  2. Cook the rice without oil, just a light sprinkling of salt.  In a measuring cup mix together the rice vinegar, the 3 tbs of brown sugar and salt.  Set aside.  After the rice is cooked, transfer to a plastic or wooden bowl to cool completely.  While rice is still hot, drizzle the vinegar/brown sugar mixture over the rice to season.   Set aside for the rice to cool completely.
  3. Secondly, we season the eggplant…  Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, slice eggplant in thin, ¼ inch slices.  In a large flat container mix together the marinade for the eggplant – soy sauce, brown sugar, grated garlic and ginger.  Mix together well to make sure the sugar dissolves well in the soy sauce.  Add the eggplant slices to the marinade, making sure all sides of eggplant are coated with the marinade.  Marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet or griddle and pan-fry the marinated eggplant slices until caramelized, about 2 minutes on each side.  As you cook the eggplant slices, set aside on a baking sheet.
  5. So now…  we assemble the musubi.  Moisten your hands with water.  It will help with the rice not sticking as much to your fingers while you’re assembling.  Take about 2 tbs or rice into the bottom of the plastic container.  Sprinkle lightly some black sesame gomasio as seasoning over the rice.  Place a piece of eggplant over the rice.  Fold the eggplant slice if it’s necessary to fit into the small plastic container.  With the secong plastic container press the eggplant/rice tower to form a compact package.  Using a sharp knife separate the rice/eggplant for the edges and flip over and tap on a cutting board for the rice/eggplant to release from the container.
  6. Wrap with a thin strip of nori.  The nori sheets come scored in strips, we cut each of those strips in half, to make them yiled more strips for sheet.

Musubi tastes best the same day it is made.  Never refrigerate because the cold makes the rice hardens and it’s not very nice to eat.

As you can see, the recipe has a few steps, but it’s not very difficult to make.  And when you get the hang of making the musubi, it becomes kinda like an assembly line.   I want to thank Jesús Omar for being my musubi assistant the day we had to make 50+ musubis for the Hawaiian Vegetarian Festival.  The crowd was surprised they were eating “vegetarian sushi”  for the first time.

Next time, I will definitely try to make this with what they call “sham spam”…  my version, of course.  Stay tuned.

Tofu Mushroom Poke

15 May

Poke is not something you used to do on Facebook…  it’s a salad served raw in Hawaii.  From the looks of it, it’s the Hawaiian ceviche and the correct pronunciation is Poke /poʊˈkeɪ/.

When I traveled to Peru, I had delicious tofu ceviche and white mushroom ceviche.  Both vegan, and both tasted as authentic as ceviche made with fish.  So I decided our Hawaiian ceviche, or poke, would include both tofu and mushrooms. To add more interest, color and crunch, I thought I would include some broccoli florets into the mix.

This is a simple dish with many components coming together.  Feel free to make some parts the night before you’re serving this and finish it off the day of with the broccoli and tossing it all together in the marinade.  This way the tofu marinates overnight and the broccoli is served fresh – the best of both worlds.


Typical Hawaiian Dish from KarmaFree Cooking


2 blocks of extra-firm tofu

1 pint of cremini mushrooms, quartered

1 bunch of broccoli, florets only cut in half or thirds

2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded

2 shallots, finely minced

4-6 scallions, thinly sliced

About ¼ cup Garlic and Herb Seasonings

3 garlic cloves, grated

2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup tamari

2 tbs toasted sesame oil

The juice of 2 limes

Salt to taste


  1. Slice each tofu block in 4 slices.  Place slices in a baking sheet lined with 2-3 paper towels.  Cover with 2-3 additional paper towels, top with an additional baking sheet and weigh with something heavy.  Drain weighed tofu slices for about 30-60 minutes.
  2. After tofu slices are drained, season liberally with Garlic and Herbs seasoning.   Cook tofu slices in a dry non-stick skillet.  After you’ve placed them on the skillet, leave them for a while without touching them.  The crust they will develop will prevent them from sticking to the skillet and make it easier to turn them.  Sear them on both sides.  Set aside to cool off.
  3. Cut each slice of tofu in 12 pieces – cut into 3 pieces on the long side.  Cut those 3 strips in half and then those halves in half again.   Set aside.
  4. Mix the marinate in a container with a lid that you can cover and marinate tofu for a while – tamari, olive oil, sesame oil, shallots, scallions, grated garlic, grated ginger, lime juice.  Add tofu slices to marinate.  Add shredded carrots.  Marinate for about 4 hours or even overnight in the fridge.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Blanch broccoli florets for about 1 minute, until they turn bright green.  Scoop them out of the boiling water and shock them in a bowl filled with salted ice water.  This will stop the cooking and set the bright green color.  Working in batches will help you control the blanching process and avoid any over cooking.   When broccoli is cooled, transfer to a colander for the florets to drain well and dry.
  6. About 2 hours before serving, combine marinated tofu/carrots mix with quartered mushrooms, cooked broccoli florets and sliced scallions.  Toss well to combine and allow marinate all together.  Toss every 20 minutes to make sure all components are marinated.

Serve at room temperature.


If you enjoyed this recipe…  you can check out the other dishes we served at the Hawaiian Vegetarian Festival here in a previous post serving as anchor for all the recipes.

Recipe from KarmaFree Cooking

Lomi Tomato

9 May

Lomi Tomato is the vegetarian version of Lomi Salmon, without the salmon.  This reminded me so much of when I used to order in Chinese restaurants Chicken with Cashew Nuts, without the Chicken.  Somehow people would understand it better when explained like that.

This was the salad portion of our Hawaiian Vegetarian Festival at the Devanand Yoga Center a few weeks ago.  To me it’s really important to include in a menu a salad, but I couldn’t find a typical salad in all the searches I did on Hawaiian cuisine.  So I adapted a version of this very popular dish and made it vegetarian.

I have never tasted the original… to me it sounded very similar to a tartar or a ceviche, both of which I’ve had.  But I thought that by adding macadamia nuts it could be made very interesting.  The audience agreed…  and you??


Hawaiian Tomato Salad


4 cups grape tomatoes, halved

4 scallions, thinly sliced

1 cup macadamia nuts, chopped

½ cup fresh Italian leaf parsley, chopped finely

½ cup olive oil

1 tbs toasted sesame oil

The juice of 2 limes

Salt and Freshly Cracked Pepper

 A pinch of red pepper flakes, optional


  1. Just place tomatoes, scallions, macadamias and parsley in a large bowl.
  2. In a measuring cup combine the ingredients for the dressing – olive oil, sesame oil, lime juice, salt and pepper.  Whisk well to combine.  Add over the tomato salad and toss to combine.
  3. Allow flavors to marinate tomatoes for about 30 minutes before serving.


We served it over a bad of mixed greens…  somehow, a salad is more of an salad when lettuces and something leafy is involved, no?


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