MY MOM’S DAAL

Does this ever happen to you?  A food you grew up eating, something you would call “ordinary,” something you like but never found exceptional because it was such a regular part of your diet—is introduced to others (who did not grow up this way) and suddenly pronounced “amazing!”  “delicious!”  “so good!”  They are dazzled.  They are wowed.  They want seconds.  And you’re like, “Umm, that?  Really?”

Really.  Like this daal, for example, made by my mama when she was in town a few weeks ago.  (Side note: we actually shared a kitchen together and didn’t drive each other nuts!  A first).  No doubt the daal was delicious, but I grew up on this shit, so no big deal.  NOT SO for my white people friends, who raved and raved and took containers home.  And demanded that I blog the recipe immediately.

So apparently, things that are obvious to me aren’t always obvious to everyone else.  Which means I’ve taken to making regular declarative statements on the chance they might be revelatory/welcome/surprising for someone else.  Like—hey, I think you’re awesome or thank you for buying me dinner and making me laugh or I will miss you a ton when you move to Oregon, —etc.  Occasionally I feel silly doing this, but mostly I’m getting pretty good at being That Girl Who Likes to State the Obvious, aka kind of a weirdo.

So this weirdo would like to do a little Blog Stating of the Obvious:

1)    I haven’t really been on my blogging a-game this winter/spring.  Which I hate.
2)    But you people have kept reading anyway.  That is crazy!
3)    And by crazy, I mean amazing.  Thank you.
4)    Cancer totally sucks.
5)    Jill is the prettiest bald person I’ve ever seen.

Anyone else want to make some declarations?  It’s kinda liberating.  Consider this an open invitation.

MUNG DAAL

I love this daal because it comes together quickly (mung daal does not have to be soaked ahead, unlike many Indian lentils) and makes for a hearty meal, whether you serve it alone as a soup or atop some basmati rice.  It’s traditional to serve a bowl of cool, plain yogurt on the side as well.

The daal-making process may seem intimidating the first time you do it, but once you have the ingredients on hand, I swear it’s straightforward.  Part 1 = cook the lentils, Part Two = make the vagar, Part Three = combine and serve.  That’s it! You can use this method for many kinds of lentils, just be sure to check cooking times and water: lentil ratios.

ingredients:

1 cup whole mung beans
½ cup “washed” mung (the inner part, rid of its dark green hull)
9 cups water
2 tsp. each, ground cumin, coriander, & salt
1 tsp. turmeric

Combine the above ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil, and top with a lid, leaving it tilted to the side a bit so that steam can escape. Cook at a gentle boil until the whole mung has split open and the washed mung has “disappeared” into the mixture (meaning you can’t pick out their little yellow bodies anymore).  This should take between 35-40 minutes.

While the daal is cooking, make the vagar (traditional sauté of spices & aromatics in butter and/or oil):

3 T each, butter & vegetable oil (you can also substitute ghee for one or both parts)
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
¼ cup finely chopped ginger
½ tsp. Indian red chili powder (lal mirch)—adjust if you’re heat-shy or heat-crazy
pinch of asafetida

Heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat.  Toss in the cumin seeds; they should hiss and crack open.  Add the asafetida, then the onion and sauté for a few minutes.  Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic, ginger, & red chili.  Cook until the aromatics are caramelized, 15-20 minutes.

When the daal has been cooked completely, add:

1 small can (8 oz.) of tomato sauce
the vagar (above)

Stir together and cook on low heat to combine, no more than 5 minutes.  Check for salt and serve, topping with chopped cilantro if you like.

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INDIAN-STYLE KALE & POTATOES

Things I Have Learned:

It feels good to be the one to shave your spouse’s head when her hair starts falling out in chemotherapy-induced clumps.  You’ll come up with (new) goofy little nicknames for her in her baldness, and—cliché as it is—you will find her as beautiful as ever.

It also feels good to go to the gym, or for a run, or for a bike ride.  These things will, in fact, seem like the very things keeping you sane, and for the power and ability of your body, you will be grateful.  After a particularly excellent workout, you may well feel like you can fly.

When you get up early Saturday morning in San Francisco while attending a work conference and go for a run from the condo you and your colleagues are renting to the waterfront where the seagulls squawk cheekily at you, the only folks you will encounter are pot-smoking bums and old Chinese ladies walking their poodles, plus a couple of fanny-pack-wearing tourists.  You’ll be able to smell the bean paste they’re making in Chinatown, to be stuffed into little balls of sesame-seed dotted and fried dough, like the ones you had the day before.

A friend will visit for the weekend and surprise you with a sonogram photograph so that you’ll squeal to wake the dead, serve her and the tiny one a big ole mess of breakfast and be so, so, so happy.

You will conclude over and over again that there isn’t any good language for anything.  Because you want to tell the people in your life just how much you love them and how much they make your life better, but you can’t really manage with language and you’re afraid you’ll freak them out with trying, so you offer hugs and hand-written notes instead.

All of your plans will be laid out as close to perfectly as possible, because hey!  You’re really good at planning, but then something like a low blood cell count will change all of your plans in an instant, but instead of that freaking you the heck out, like it normally would, you discover that it doesn’t really matter to you anymore.  You decide it must be a result of that thing called “perspective.”

Your mom is coming to town soon and you can’t wait to see her.  Because nothing will be more comforting than her presence and nothing will ever, ever taste as good as food that she makes.

POTATO/KALE SABJI

Fairly straightforward but possibly my favorite way to consume kale.  We Indians know how to make vegetables taste good without a ton of added fat.  Go us!
2 bunches curly green kale
approx. 2 lb. red potatoes
a few sprinkles asafetida
1 tsp. whole cumin
1 tsp. each, ground cumin & coriander
pinch (or more, if you like) red pepper flakes
salt to taste
vegetable oil

Prep the kale by rinsing it and stripping the leafy parts off of the middle rib.  Chop the kale into small pieces.  Peel and chunk the potatoes.

Pour a good tablespoon or two of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, toss in the whole cumin seeds and let them sizzle a bit before sprinkling in the asafetida.

Swirl oil and spices around in the pot before tossing in the kale and potatoes—be careful, they will splatter!  Cover and let the kale wilt a bit before adding the rest of the spices: ground cumin & coriander, red pepper flakes, and a good teaspoon of salt.

Cook, covered, over medium heat until the potatoes are done.  Then uncover the pot and turn the heat down to medium-low in order to evaporate any water.  You want the sabji to be quite dry; it’s done when the vegetables begin to stick a bit to the bottom and sides of the pot.
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SAFFRON/CAULIFLOWER SOUP

Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.

‘Twas in the moon of this particular wintertime that I just can’t seem to get enough of Christmas music.  Hymns, carols, Jingle Bell Rock, You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch…you name it, I’ve been belting it out.

I know it’s become fashionable to berate the holiday season, to dread, to preemptively tense one’s shoulders, to decide ahead of time that things will go wrong and family will be dreadful, to pretty much be grumpy from Thanksgiving until New Year’s.  But not me.  Not this year.

This blogger is filled with the holiday spirit.  The magic!  The cheer!  The food!  The party dresses!  Last weekend, there were latkes.  This weekend, there will be a Christmas tree.  The list of friends and family I’ll get to see (that I don’t normally) in the next few weeks is long and lush.  How can I not feel exuberant?

It very well may be the most wonderful time of the year.  Or at least, I’m going to treat it that way.

SAFFRON/CAULIFLOWER SOUP

This recipe is incredibly simple to make but stole the show at our last “Blog Day.”  Friends kept returning for bowls of seconds and thirds, and pretty soon there was no soup left.

ingredients:

1 head cauliflower florets, broken into 1-2 inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled & chopped
2 yellow onions, peeled & diced
a knot of ginger, about 2 inches long, chopped
2 T butter
2 T olive oil, plus a bit extra
1 tsp. cumin
pinch saffron
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups water

salt, to taste

In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, sauté the onions and ginger in the butter and olive oil until fragrant.  Add the carrots and cauliflower and crank up the heat in order to get a bit of color on the vegetables.  Once the cauliflower has browned to the desired degree, pour in the stock and water and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, adding cumin and some salt.

In a small saucepan, warm a bit of oil and “bloom” the saffron, releasing its flavor and color.  Add to the soup mixture.  Cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender.  Use a stick blender or transfer the soup in batches to puree the soup until smooth.  Taste and add salt, if needed.

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VEGETARIAN BLACK BEAN CHILI

Sometimes what you need is a turkey antidote.

Don’t get me wrong, I like turkey just fine—I plan on eating quite a bit of it myself, and I love the traditional trappings it comes with, the dressing, the cranberry sauce, the green beans.  I love standing in a pool of light from the fridge, pulling apart breast meat with my fingers, slapping it onto bread slathered with mayo and layering it with a few spears of Jill’s pickled okra for the best midnight sandwich ever.  I even like making turkey soup, simmering the carcass with carrots, tossing in some barley and kale, sopping up bowlfuls with hunks of sourdough.

But at some point, we all tire of the turkey.  Don’t we?  And it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.  AND WE JUST WISH IT WOULD GO AWAY.  Because we’d like to eat something completely different (but still tasty and homey and wintry) now.

Enter this chili.  If you’re planning to host or be hosted this holiday, if you need to feed a passel of people on the cheap (and before you can bust out the turkey, or after you’re exhausted its ability to feed you), I recommend this recipe.  Toss it in the slow cooker, preferably a few days ahead of when you plan on serving it, and set it out with cheddar, sour cream, chips, & cornbread.  The best part?  If you get tired of it, you can throw it in the freezer for later.

VEGETARIAN BLACK BEAN CHILI

a former coworker brought this in for lunch one day & I fell in love.  adapted slightly from the recipe he kindly provided

2 medium eggplants, sliced into thick rounds

3 zucchini, sliced into thick rounds

2 portobello mushroom caps, stems removed

2 green bell peppers, seeded & halved

2 onions, diced

4-6 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-oz. can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes

2 14-oz. cans black beans, drained

2-3 cups vegetable broth, depending on how thick or thin you prefer

½ cup chopped cilantro

2 ½ T chili powder

2 T ground cumin

balsamic vinegar

olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

optional: ¼ – ½ tsp. cayenne

Line a baking dish with paper towels, then layer the eggplant on top.  Generously with salt and let the eggplant sit for about an hour.  Rinse & dry the eggplant, then toss it in a bowl with the bell peppers, & mushrooms.  Drizzle in balsamic vinegar, salt, & pepper and toss the vegetables to coat.

Grill the vegetables (or use a grill pan, as I did) to achieve a bit of char.  Cool before  charred a bit on the outside and cooked through, then dice them all.

In a large soup pot, sauté the garlic and onions in olive oil until fragrant.  Add the grilled vegetables, tomatoes, black beans, broth, herbs, & spices.  Salt to taste and cook over low heat for at least 45 minutes or up to a few hours.

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GRILLED VEGETABLE CAPONATA

I like to play this game with my students at lunch.  I roam around from table to table, peeking into their lunchboxes or checking out their cafeteria trays to see what they’re eating.  My rule?  Your lunch has to consist of three distinct colors or it’s not a meal.

Dessert items & drinks don’t count toward the three, and artificial coloring of any kind is also verboten.  You have to consider color families when assessing—mashed potatoes and a roll are both basically beige, so they don’t count as two separate things.  As I’m sure you can imagine, many of my kids fail “the lunch test” on a regular basis…but then again, sometimes, so do I!

Last year, my students began to police each other—and me—at lunch.  “Ms. Mehra, lunch check!” they’d call out, peeking into the contents of my Tupperware to ensure that I wasn’t being a total hypocrite that day.  (Few things make teenagers as angry as adult hypocrisy; it’s something we have in common.)  This caponata, which is easy to throw together and makes a satisfying lunch or appetizer, is also terribly colorful, ensuring that you’ll have your bases well-covered when the food police come-a-callin’.

GRILLED VEGETABLE CAPONATA

adapted from Steven Raichlen’s The Barbecue! Bible

1 large or 2 medium-sized eggplant, cut into ½-inch rounds

4 medium tomatoes, diced or a good handful of cherry tomatoes, halved

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 green bell peppers, seeded & cut into flat strips

2 yellow onions, quartered

1 red bell pepper, seeded & cut into flat strips

1 fennel bulb, sliced thin (save a few fronds!)

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

¼ flat-leaf parsley, chopped

3 T balsamic vinegar

2 T green or black olives, pitted & chopped

1 T capers

1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa (yes, really)

olive oil

salt & pepper

Toss the eggplant, bell peppers, & onions with olive oil, then cook on an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan.  Set aside to cool a bit while you combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl.

When the grilled vegetables are cool enough to handle, chop roughly and add to the bowl.  Drizzle in olive oil generously & season with salt and pepper.  The caponata is best if it sits for at least an hour before serving and will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for a week.

I like to serve the caponata with thick slices of crusty Italian bread, but it also tastes delicious tossed with pasta.

CARAMELIZED ONION TART

Patience is not one of my particular virtues.

As evidence, I will cite my rather aggressive driving style, the way I get bossy and dictatorial with indecisive friends, the fact that I never make it to someone’s actual birthday before giving them their birthday present, my intolerance of chronic whiners, and the extreme distractedness I feel in the days leading up to a party or concert or other much-anticipated event.

There are two zones of exception for my impatience, my classroom and my kitchen.  With my students, it’s easy for me to be patient in a way that I just can’t muster with adults.  And when I cook, the patience comes without effort, whether it’s whipping meringue, tempering lemon curd, or caramelizing onions.  Something about the process of coaxing a chaotic jumble of raw ingredients into an elegant, composed, good-tasting dish calms me down and makes me feel much more patient than I actually am.

CARAMELIZED ONION TART

adapted from Food & Wine

for the dough:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

8 T unsalted butter, cold & cut into pieces

6 T ice cold water

¼ tsp. salt

Combine flour and salt, then use your fingers to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles wet sand.  Drizzle the water over the flour mixture and stir until it just comes together.  Press the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

for the filling:

2 lb. sweet yellow onions, peeled & thinly sliced

4 T unsalted butter

2 T crème fraîche, sour cream, or plain yogurt

2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp. dried

salt & pepper

In a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet (I like to use my coated cast-iron), melt the butter.  Add the onions and thyme and cook over medium-high heat until nice and soft, about 10 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low and cook until the onions become golden brown, another 20-25 minutes.  I find that covering the skillet for the first half of the 20 minutes, then leaving uncovered and stirring more frequently during the second half works well.

Once the onions are caramelized, remove from the heat and stir in the crème fraîche, sour cream, or plain yogurt, plus salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 375˚.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the dough out into a large circle (about 12” in diameter).  Spread the onion filling all around the dough, leaving a generous border (about 2”).  Fold the edges of the dough up and over the filling.  Brush the edges with egg wash (optional):

for the egg wash:

1 egg beaten with 1 T milk

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the crust is nice and browned. Cool for a bit on a rack before slicing the tart into wedges and serving warm.  Goes very well with a green salad for a simple dinner.

TOMATO BREAD PUDDING

I recommend you make this while the tomatoes are still good.

Labor Day brings with it all kinds of cultural restrictions and bounds: no more white, no more linen, no more talk of summer.  Corn loses its sweetness and the Farmers Market offerings begin to change.

Of course, if you live down South like I do, the idea that summer will end on Monday seems laughable, what with the 100 degree temperatures and all.  Still, I know tomatoes won’t last forever and the weather will turn cold eventually, bringing with it corduroys and long-sleeved shirts and excuses for making chili and baked goods with cinnamon and apples.  And chicken and dumplings, and…yeah.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, summer!

TOMATO BREAD PUDDING
adapted from Gourmet

It’s obscenely good.  That’s all that needs to be said.

ingredients:

3 lb. plum tomatoes, such as Roma, halved
1 whole head garlic
2 tsp. herbes de Provence
olive oil

oven: 400˚
pan: one or two foil-lined baking sheets

Toss the tomatoes with herbs de Provence, a few tablespoons of olive oil, and a bit of salt & pepper.  Arrange the tomatoes, cut sides up, on baking sheet(s).  Take the whole head of garlic and cut off the pointy tops, exposing all the cloves.  Wrap the garlic in foil & place on baking sheet with the tomatoes.

Roast it all for 45-50 minutes until the garlic is soft & tomatoes are wilted but still juicy.  Once the garlic has cooled, remove the cloves from their skins and mince it finely.  Alternately, puree the garlic in a blender or food processor.

10 cups cubed (1-inch) Italian bread*
8 eggs
2 cups grated Fontina
2 cups whole milk
1 ½ cups heavy cream
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

While the tomatoes & garlic are roasting, toss the bread crumbs in a bit more olive oil and spread them on another baking sheet.  Toast for 20-25 minutes and cool on a rack while the tomatoes & garlic finish.

Butter a 13 x 9 shallow baking dish.  Arrange the bread cubes, nestling in the roasted tomatoes.

In a bowl or large liquid measure, whisk together the eggs, milk, & cream.  Add the garlic and stir in the cheeses.  Pour the mixture over the bread and tomatoes.  Bake until golden brown and firm, about an hour.  Slice and serve with a green salad.

*I used about ¾ of a large loaf

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MUHAMMARA DIP

It seems I’m making nice with all kinds of former food enemies—first radishes, then rum, and now red bell peppers.

The alliteration is accidental, I promise, or maybe I’m just getting back to my English-teacher self, what with school starting back up this week.  !!!

Green bell peppers can be found in our backyard garden and then, subsequently, on our backyard grill, and I like them just fine that way, or chopped up as part of the Cajun trinity, or stuffed with Indian-spiced meat, the way my mom makes.  But red bell peppers always just seemed lame to me—especially given how expensive they can be—slimy when roasted, boring when raw—not a fan.

In the last few years, though, given Jill’s travels and the diverse Houston restaurant landscape, my exposure to Middle Eastern cuisine grew and I fell in love with muhammara dip.  Not only is it fun to say (much like halloumi!), it’s also quite tasty.  And so I decided to give a homemade version a whirl.

My fellow teacher & dear friend Courtney sampled my version of the dip a few weekends ago when we photographed it, and requested that I post the recipe ASAP—because we’re both trying to be good about what we eat these days and this is just the type of thing that works perfectly for weekday lunches.  Make it over the weekend and stash it in the work fridge.  Pack some type of bread product, throw in some fruit & vegetables, and viola!  Instant healthy lunch.


(I made some flatbreads to go along with this dip, which I promise to post later in the week—provided the new crop of 8th graders don’t do me in.)

MUHAMMARA DIP

We found that the dip tastes even better a day or two after you make it.  So plan accordingly!

ingredients:

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 cup walnuts, toasted
1 yellow onion, diced
3 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, & diced
¼ cup unseasoned bread crumbs
2 T pomegranate molasses or homemade grenadine
1 T harissa
2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp cayenne (optional)
juice of 1 lemon

While the nuts cool, process the onion, peppers, pomegranate molasses, and harissa in a food processor or blender until smooth.  Strain the mix over the sink, pressing down to release excess moisture.  Dump the pepper/onion paste into a mixing bowl.

No need to clean out the blender/mixing bowl—just dump the nuts right in and pulse until coarsely ground.  I like the texture of the nuts at this point, but if you want a smoother dip, keep on going.  Add the nuts to the pepper/onion paste and stir in the bread cumbs, salt, lemon juice, & cayenne, if using.  Taste for salt and other flavorings and adjust as needed.

Serve, garnished with a little extra cayenne, with crackers, pita, crudités, naan, etc.

TOMATO-CORN PIE

I’m from the South.  I’m a Southern girl.

I love this song like I love a biscuit crust.  It’s the soundtrack for today’s post.

Check my Southern-fried style
And my Southern flow

(Southern girl)

I share my life with another Southern girl—and if you missed her beautiful okra post from last week, I dare you not to fall in love with her fried & pickled versions.  Jill and I both have a sense of what it means to be a badass Southern woman, banging around in kitchen, with a cast-iron skillet and a will to match.  We model our vision on our mothers, her father’s sisters, women I knew in my Memphis childhood.

They are brash and busy and hilarious.  They do not coddle, or mince words.  Their praise does not come easily, making it even more valuable. They look as good in hunting cammo as they do in cocktail dresses.  They can be as frightening as they can be gracious.  Their respect, once lost, is difficult to earn back.  They are loyal and they don’t take any shit.  They cook everything well.

Southern Girl, and I’ll rock your world
Fly as a bumble bee
Can’t nobody f*** with me

Man, I sure hope I’m worthy of a lyric like that someday.

TOMATO – CORN PIE
adapted from Gourmet

This recipe made the internet rounds last summer, but you might have missed it.  AND THAT WOULD BE A SHAME.  Because this pie is crazy-delicious.  A wee bit time consuming but not all that difficult to put together.  And totally worth it.

While you’re going through the trouble, I highly recommend making two pies, so you can eat one and gift the other to some lucky soul.  Know any new parents?  Grieving friends?  Vegetarians?  Coworkers who can’t cook to save their life?  They’ll love you forever if you give them one of these.

for the filling:

1 ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

½ cup mayonnaise, with the juice of 1 lemon stirred in

4 large summer tomatoes, diced & squeezed gently to release seeds and juices

2 ears corn, kernels cut off the cob

handful of basil, chopped

palm-full of chives, chopped

salt & pepper

Combine the tomatoes, corn, herbs, salt, & pepper in a bowl.  Toss gently and set aside.

for the crust:

2 cups flour

¾ cup buttermilk (regular milk will work, too)

6 T unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1 T baking powder

¾ tsp. salt

Whisk together the dry ingredients, then cut in the butter with your fingers, pressing and crumbling until the mixture looks like a cross between gravel & sand.  Pour in the milk or buttermilk and knead the dough lightly with your hands until it just comes together into a ball.

pan: 9 or 10-inch pie plate

oven: 400˚

Divide the biscuit dough in half.  On a floured surface, gently roll or press out one of the halves until it will cover the bottom & sides of your pie plate.  Drape it in the pie pan, snugging it in and adjusting where need be.  If there’s overhang, leave it there for now.

Time to fill your pie!—and be warned, this baby’s gonna be FULL when all is said & done, but fret not—all will end well.

Cover the crust with half of the tomato/corn mixture.  Sprinkle half the cheese on top.  Layer the rest of the tomato/corn mixture atop the cheese, then pour the lemon mayonnaise on top of everything.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Now, roll out the other half of the biscuit dough until it’s big enough to cover the behemoth of a pie you just constructed.  Gently drape it over everything, pinching it together with the bottom layer around the rim of the pie plate.  Don’t worry if you have to patch & cobble the top crust—I’ve done this before and the pie still tastes delicious.

Use a sharp knife to cut four vents in the top of the pie, as if you were drawing a cross or a compass-N, S, E, W.  Melt a little butter on the stove or in the microwave, then brush it all over that biscuit crust.  Awww yeah.

Bake the pie for 30-35 minutes, or until the crust is nice and golden.  Cool for at least 10-15 minutes on a rack before serving.  Serve hot or warm.

You can also cool the pie completely, refrigerate it, and then reheat it the next day, in a 350˚ oven for 20-25 minutes.

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TOFU WITH SOBA NOODLES

People often assume I don’t eat meat.

Lots of Indian folks don’t, of course, and given that I am rather brown and wear a bindi on my forehead every day, it reflects more cultural sensitivity than insensitivity when people say “You’re a vegetarian, right?”

Wrong.  Anyone who’s ever read this blog or gone out to dinner with me knows that I love to eat pretty much everything, and that I live with an unabashed meat eater.  There are, however, a lot of vegetarians in my life, including my mom and some of my closest friends.  It’s always funny (albeit a little annoying) to go out to eat with these folks, only to have the server inevitably plunk the vegetarian dish down in front of me.  I do so enjoy contradicting assumptions.

Enter tofu.  It suffers from far more false assumptions than I; people assume that it’s bland, mushy, and utterly unappetizing.  On the contrary—when prepared well, tofu can be delicious.  Does it taste like meat?  No, but I don’t think that’s the point.  Eating vegetarian shouldn’t be about compensating for missing meat, but enjoying a complete meal without it.

TOFU WITH SOBA NOODLES

The method here is what’s important—pressing the water out of the tofu before marinating it before cooking it over high heat.  Play around with the marinade and feel free to substitute different vegetables like bok choy.

Soba noodles are an obsession of mine.  I love how quickly they cook and how hearty they are; they stand up well to the peanut sauce I’ve included here.  You could easily swap in some brown rice, though, if that’s what you’ve got in the pantry or if it’s simply what you prefer.

ingredients:

1 package extra-firm tofu
1 package soba (buckwheat) noodles
1 head broccoli, crowns cut off stem
3-4 carrots, peeled & sliced into fat diagonal pieces

To prepare the tofu, first drain it from its packaging.  Slice lengthwise into 6 slabs.  Arrange the tofu atop a layer of paper towels, supporting underneath by a kitchen towel.  Lay more paper towels on top of the tofu, followed by another kitchen towel.  Press firmly to force water out of the tofu.

Pour the following marinade into a shallow baking pan.  Lay the tofu slices in the pan to absorb the marinade for at least 20 minutes, flipping them over halfway through.

for the marinade:

½ cup soy sauce
2 T sesame oil
2 T fresh ginger, peeled & chopped
2 T garlic, chopped
splash of Mirin or rice wine vinegar

To cook the tofu, bring a grill pan or nonstick skillet to high heat.  Coat with a bit of vegetable oil, then remove the tofu from its marinade and cook it until it colors, about 7-8 minutes on each side.

While the tofu is cooking, bring a small pot of water to a boil and cook the soba noodles, which take only 2-3 minutes.  Drain, then rinse with cold water.  Steam or sauté the vegetables, then add to the noodles.

Serve the hot tofu on a bed of soba noodles & vegetables, topping with peanut sauce if desired.

for the peanut sauce:

1 cup chunky peanut butter
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup brown sugar
1 T minced garlic
1 T minced fresh ginger
1 tsp. Sambal Olek chili paste or chili flakes
juice of 1 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, breaking up the peanut butter with the back of a spoon until it forms a sauce.  Thin with water to desired consistency.  Taste check & add soy sauce for salt/chili paste for heat, if necessary.

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