Thursday, August 28, 2008

Quasi-Caribbean Feast

I'm going to start this post with a shout-out for a great restaurant in my very own hometown. The One Love Cafe is a tiny storefront place that serves Jamaican food in a warm, homey atmosphere, usually with Jimmy Cliff or Bob Marley in the background. Best of all, they have a whole page of vegan options, and for anyone who has ever fallen in love with Caribbean food, finding an animal-free interpretation within 10 minutes of your own kitchen is pretty sweet.

That said, we don't get to eat there (or anywhere!) as often as we'd like, because we have kids, work, school, animal companions, crazy families and all the other stuff that informs modern life. On the other hand, I love cooking gigantic meals, especially when there's a's kind of like a costume party for food, you know? So it was that a recent craving for sweet/hot/spicy food resulted in a really excellent dinner; what follows is a litany of several dishes, some original, some adapted, that complement one another beautifully. As ever, you should feel free to tinker with seasonings, quantities, etc., (to my mind, the fun of cooking is all about experimentation), but I can honestly say that all of these recipes kick some serious butt just as they are.

So. We have a few things going on here, but let's start with what I'm calling "Quasi-Caribbean Marinade for Tofu and/or Veggies." This is basically an adaptation of the Jerk Seitan marinade in Vegan With A Vengeance, except I’ve added some coconut milk and upped the onions and sweet spices. I’m not too crazy about seitan, so I used tofu instead, and it turned out fine; the key is to press the tofu for at least 30 minutes, so it will soak up the marinade. One batch will easily marinate a pound of cubed, extra firm tofu and a whole mess of veggies: an eggplant, a huge zucchini, a yellow bell pepper and two sweet potatoes took a bath in this after the tofu had its turn, and they were all great. With some rice or millet (recipe follows) on the side, and a generous application of jerky coconut sauce (ditto), this is the perfect dinner for when you want something that tastes warm and sunny. A few rum drinks wouldn’t come amiss, either, so make sure to lay in some ginger beer for dark & stormies.

Quasi-Caribbean Marinade
~ 2 tbsp. oil (I used hot chili oil, but use whatever you like)
~ 2 tbsp. maple syrup
~ 2 tbsp, minced garlic
~ 2 tbsp. grated ginger
~ 1 cup finely chopped onions
~ 2 tbsp. tamari
~ 3 tbsp. fresh lime juice
~ 1 tbsp. good curry powder
~ 1 tsp. cinnamon
~ ½ tsp. each: cayenne, nutmeg, allspice
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 1 cup lite coconut milk

~ In a large-ish mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients and stir well to combine.
~ Add 1 lb. extra firm tofu, pressed and cut into 1/2" cubes, and marinate at least 2 hours; I leave it all day if I can get sufficiently organized in the morning.
~ Remove the tofu cubes from the marinade and place on an oiled baking sheet. Cook for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees, turning once halfway through.
~ Serve with rice or (even better!) the millet recipe below; in a perfect world you’ll have some sautéed collard greens on the side as well.
~ NB that you can use the remaining marinade for whatever vegetables you plan to have alongside. Just rub it all over them, add a little coarse salt and pepper, then roast them on an oiled baking sheet at about 450 degrees until they’re all brown and lovely. The time will vary according to the vegetables; I think sweet potatoes, red bell peppers and zucchini lend themselves particularly well to this treatment.

Onion and Scallion Millet
~ 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
~ 1 cup finely chopped onions
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, curry powder, coriander
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 1 cup millet
~ 2 cups vegetable stock

~ In a dry skillet, toast the millet over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the grains begin to brown and give off a toasty scent. Remove from the pan and set aside.
~ In a saucepan, heat a little broth and add the scallions. Saute over medium heat about a minute before adding the onions and cooking another 2-3 minutes.
~ Add the millet and seasonings; continue cooking another 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
~ Raise the heat, add the stock, cover, and bring to a boil.
~ Reduce the heat to low and cook for 20-25 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed.
~ Fluff with a fork and serve alongside marinated, baked tofu and roasted vegetables, topped with...

Jerky Coconut Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tbsp. ginger
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 2 tbsp. maple syrup
~ 1 tsp. each: curry powder, allspice
~ ½ tsp. each: cayenne, nutmeg, salt
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 1 cup lite coconut milk
~ 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
~ ¼ cup peanut butter

~ In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the garlic and ginger. Saute for about 3 minutes, adding some water if necessary to prevent sticking.
~ Reduce heat to low, and add the maple syrup and seasonings.
~ Add the flour and about ¼ cup of the soymilk, stirring constantly to make a roux.
~ Raise the heat to medium, and gradually add the remaining coconut milk, soymilk and peanut butter, stirring constantly until it thickens (this could take 5-10 minutes; be patient, already!).
~ Serve over tofu, millet, roasted veggies, or whatever else you like; seriously, this stuff would be good on anything.

Wash it all down with my preferred version of a cocktail that claims to be "Bermuda's national drink." Be that as it may, it's good with Jamaican food, too...I think this is what the better class of pirates would drink at a cocktail party.

Dark & Stormy
~ 6 oz Gosling's Black Seal rum
~ 8 oz high quality ginger beer, such as Barritt's
~ Juice of 1 lime
~ Lime wedges for garnish

This is a drink that you "build." Divide the rum between two ice-filled glasses (highballs, if you've got 'em), then top with the ginger beer and lime juice. Give the most perfunctory of stirs, and serve garnished with lime wedges. Aarrgghh; bottoms up, maties!

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