When I was a kid my mom would occasionally make a vegan spinach mushroom pie. I’m not sure how she made it, but I always enjoyed it. In my co-op days I tried making something similar, starting with a recipe from Ron Pickarski’s cookbook, but it turned out bland and boring. Recently, when looking for something to do with a pie crust that had been taking up precious space in my envelope-sized freezer for about 6 months, I noticed that Peter Berley also has a spinach mushroom quiche recipe in his cookbook Modern American Kitchen. The recipe was even posted on 101 cookbooks, along with a beautiful photo, a rave review, and a discussion of how loooong this recipe takes to make. I decided to try the recipe, using my traditional, non-vegan crust rather than making Berley’s oat/sesame vegan crust.
Besides switching out the crust, for the most part I followed the recipe. The largest change I made was substituting 13 ounces of frozen, finely chopped spinach for the 2 pounds of fresh spinach. I figure that substitution alone cut at least half an hour off the prep time. I also used thai basil instead of regular basil, dried thyme instead of fresh, and reduced the oil and salt a bit. (This recipe calls for a huge amount of oil, and Berley always goes overboard with salt.) I also failed to follow the instructions in a few places. I pureed the garlic with the tofu before sauteeing it, so then I sauteed some more garlic with the herbs and chili flakes and added this mixture to the (already) pureed tofu mixture, forgetting to puree them together. I also didn’t squeeze all the moisture out of my frozen spinach; I just mixed it directly into the cooked onion and mushroom mixture, then mixed in the tofu.
I used a smallish tart pan (9 inches, with short sides), and there was no way that I could get all the filling into my pan without it overflowing. I could only fit about 3/4 of the mixture into the pan. I prebaked my crust for about 15 minutes, but still when the finished tart came out of the oven the bottom crust was completely soggy (perhaps because my filling was too wet?). However, the side crust was crisp and delicious, the texture of the filling was firm, and the tart held together well when sliced. The flavor was good, but a tad too acidic for my taste. I could definitely see the tofu and spinach, but I couldn’t pick out the flavor of the basil, the thyme, or the mushrooms. It’s unclear to me if these ingredients (even if I can’t taste them individually) are what make the filling flavorful, or if they’re actually non-essential. The mushrooms, at least, certainly add some texture.
Derek and I both really liked this recipe, and I’ll definitely be making it again, but next time I’d like to tweak the flavor a bit, reduce the oil if possible, and try using only a side crust to see if the tart still holds together without the soggy, wasted bottom crust.
Update 2nd try:
I made this recipe again for company, as it seemed like a pretty dish to make, and a crowd pleaser. I actually doubled the recipe as it really only makes 6 servings and I was having a big group over for dinner. This time I made Berley’s oat/sesame crust, which wasn’t hard but took more time than I expected, and used a lot of oil. Also, I couldn’t find whole wheat pastry flour here in Germany so I subbed in half whole wheat flour and half white flour. Finally, I only had one tart pan so I made the second quiche in a 10-inch springform pan, and didn’t attempt to make any side crusts.
This time I was careful to saute the garlic in the same pan I used to cook the onions, so as to only get one pan dirty. Then I added the garlic/herb mixture (using fresh thyme) to the tofu mixture in my mini-food processor, and pureed it, as the recipe says to do. I cut back on the vinegar/lemon juice just a tad this time, and subbed in some soy sauce for some of the salt, to increase the recipe’s umami level. I still used frozen spinach, but this time I let it cook a bit with the onions and mushrooms, to release some of its water. However, I accidentally added the white wine to the tofu mixture, instead of using it to deglaze the pan. Also, even with my large springform pan, I still had too much filling, and had to leave at least one quarter of the mixture in the fridge for another day.
The tarts cooked up nicely. After letting them cool for a few minutes we removed the sides from the pans, and sliced them. Almost all the slices held together perfectly, even the ones with no sides. We did cut up the bottoms of my tart and springform pan a bit, however. I wonder if I could have removed the bottoms before trying to cut them. Would the pies have fallen apart if I attempted to pull off the pan bottoms?
Berley’s oat sesame crust was okay. It had a nice flavor, but tasted quite oily to me, and Derek said it tasted “granola” and “vegetarian.” It held together fine, and the bottom crust was less soggy than before, but still a little soggy, and didn’t really add all that much texture or flavor.
The filling was pretty, and really tasty. It had just the right acidity and salt levels, and the flavors were more cohesive and well-rounded than my first attempt. All my guests seemed to like the tart, with most taking seconds. Derek liked it even more than the last time (although he preferred the non-vegan crust). I’ll definitely be making this again on a special occasion.
Below are my modified instructions, designed to minimize prep and cleanup time. I haven’t tried this exact recipe, but this is what I want to do next time.
For the filling:
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup finely diced onion
- 8 – 10 ounces white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, slice crosswise into 1/8-inch rounds
- 10 to 12 fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
- Pinch hot red pepper flakes
- 14 ounces firm tofu, rinsed and patted dry
- 5 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tsp. rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine or water
- 12 ounces frozen, finely chopped spinach
1. Adjust oven shelf to middle of oven. Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly brush a 9-inch tart pan with toasted sesame oil.
2. Make one third of a crust recipe, either a traditional butter crust or Berley’s vegan oat/sesame recipe–just enough for the sides of your tart pan. Roll the crust out into a long narrow strip. Place the dough around the edge of the tart pan, and press to fill int the fluted sides of the pan. Refrigerate while you make the filling.
4. To make the filling, start by using your food processor to finely chop your onions, and to slice your mushrooms. Move the vegetables to a large bowl, but no need to clean out the food-processor.
5. In a 12-inch, thick-bottomed skillet over medium heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic, basil, thyme, and red pepper flakes. Simmer gently for 3 to 4 minutes. While the garlic simmers, crumble the tofu into the now-empty bowl of the food processor. When the garlic is golden (but not brown), use a heat-resistant spatula to scrape the garlic oil into the bowl of the food processor, on top of the tofu.
6. In the now empty large skillet, warm the final 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and mushroom, raise the heat to high, and saute for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring and shaking the pan until the vegetables are caramelized. Add the wine and deglaze the pan. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and continue to cook until dry. Next, add 13 ounces frozen, finely chopped spinach to the skillet, along with the onions and mushrooms. Cook briefly, just until the spinach stops releasing liquid.
7. While the onions and mushrooms cook, add the lemon juice, vinegar, soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the food processor and puree until smooth. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the tofu mixture into the now-empty large bowl. Add the cooked onion/mushroom/spinach mixture, and mix evenly. Add black pepper, and add more salt if needed.
9. Remove the tart pan from the refrigerator, pour in the filling, and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the center looks firm. Let cool for 8-10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Yields 6 to 8 slices, or 4 to 6 main-dish servings.
Derek: B+ (A- with a standard pie crust)
For comparison, Ron Pickarski’s recipe calls for:
- 6 cups chopped fresh spinach or one 10-ounce package frozen spinach
- 2-4 Tbs. sesame or olive oil
- 3 cups diced onions
- 1 Tbs. minced garlic
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms
- 2 Tbs. chopped parsley
- 2 1/2 tsp. dill weed
- 2 Tbs. chopped basil
- 2 tsp. sea salt
- 4 cups (2 pounds) firm tofu
- 2 Tbs. arrowroot dissolved in 1 Tbs. water
- 1/4 cup barley malt syrup (optional)
The onions, garlic, mushrooms, and seasonings are sauteed and then the steamed spinach is added and cooked down to reduce the moisture. The mashed tofu is added and heated through, then the dissolved arrowroot goes in. It’s baked in a ten-inch pie pan between two crusts, in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. The barley mal syrup and water is used to glaze the top crust, so that it ends up shiny and brown. Pickarski says if you don’t use a top crust then brus the top with a little oil immediately after baking to give the top a fresh glossy look.