Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Autumnal Tofu Sweet Potato Curry

Today is the first day of fall, and it dawned coolish and gloomy. A bit of cloudiness is actually kind of nice after several days of warm weather, and it suits today's post, which features sweet potatoes, one my favorite autumn foods. I threw this together this past Sunday, after I'd been reading all day (which seems to happen a lot lately), and was at that point of zero ambition where popcorn seems like a perfectly balanced meal (ditto). On the other hand, it was one of those September evenings when there's just enough of a snap in the air to make you want something warm, comforting, and a little spicy that will make the kitchen smell nice.

In the end, I took the high road and decided to Actually Cook, but I had limited supplies and didn't feel like going to the store, which meant a menu determined by what was already in the house. A cursory inventory revealed tofu, two sweet potatoes, a bell pepper, some coconut milk, a jar of chili paste, and everyone's favorite ingredient: peanut butter! These struck me as the makings of a curry, and so they proved to be, with the added bonus of a bunch of leftovers, effectively keeping that whole popcorn idea at bay for a few days. (Please bear in mind that the whole point of this exercise is using what's already in the kitchen: pretty much any vegetables will work in something like this, and it's always fun to experiment with what's available.)

Autumnal Tofu Sweet Potato Curry
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1 tsp. hot chili oil (optional, or you can use a shot of hot sauce if you don't have any)
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 tbsp. ginger, grated
~ 1 tsp. Thai red chili paste
~ 1 tbsp. soy sauce
~ 1 tbsp. dried basil
~ 1 tsp. each: chana masala, curry powder, chili powder
~ 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
~ 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
~ 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
~ 1 bell pepper, sliced
~ 1/2 cup vegetable broth
~ 10 oz. mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
~ 3 cups lite coconut milk
~ 1/3-1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
~ 1 tbsp. cornstarch
~ 5 scallions, thinly sliced

~ In a large, deep pan or wok, heat the oil and saute the onion and garlic over medium heat for about 3 minutes.
~ Add the grated ginger, soy sauce and other seasonings; stir to combine thoroughly and cook another minute.
~ Add the cubed sweet potatoes, bell pepper and the broth; turn heat to low, cover the pan and cook about 10 minutes.
~ Raising the heat to high, add the mushrooms, tofu and 2 cups of the coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat again, replace the cover, and cook another 10-15 minutes.
~ In a cup or beaker, mix the remaining cup of coconut milk with the cornstarch until smooth.
~ Add the scallions, peanut butter and cornstarch mixture to the curry and raise heat to medium. Combine thoroughly, and continue cooking another 5-10 minutes or so, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened. (If you happen to have some chopped, fresh basil--which I didn't--this would be the time to sprinkle it on.)
~ Remove from heat and serve over steamed rice (short grain brown is my personal favorite).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lentil, Leek and Barley Soup

Isn't soup wonderful? On a damp, cold, rainy September Saturday that whispers ever-so-faintly of the wintry onslaught to come, few things can wrap you in a sense of safety and comfort better than a loaf of fresh bread and a big pot of hot soup. This past weekend was characterized by reading, reading, reading, and more reading; school is back in session, and it's time to reject the grasshopper as a role model and re-embrace that tedious ant. When there's less time and inclination for cooking, the hungries can appear at inconvenient moments, and this is when soup solidifies its title as "Best of All Possible Foods." Just make a huge batch on the weekend, and you can feed off it for days.

Today's offering is a pretty classic "use whatever's already in the house" recipe, and in such situations  lentils are an absolute godsend because they are versatile and packed with protein. I happened to have leeks on hand, but you could easily substitute onions; for that matter you could use pretty much any vegetables you like, because another of soup's many virtues is its endless adaptability.

So get your homework done and then head into the kitchen, put on some music, fire up the old cauldron, and make this soup; your day will look a lot brighter, even with 4pm sunsets on the horizon.

Lentil, Leek and Barley Soup
~ 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 1/2 cup diced celery (one rib)
~ 3/4 cup diced carrots (about one big one)
~ 4 cups chopped leeks, thoroughly washed (two good sized leeks)
~ 1.5 tsp. kosher salt
~ 1 tsp. each: thyme, dill, rosemary, parsley
~ 2 bay leaves, whole or (my preference, but whatever) crumbled
~ A few healthy grinds of black pepper
~ 1/2 cup cheap-ass white jug wine (well, that's what we had; go ahead and use something nicer if you like)
~ 1 cup green lentils, picked over and rinsed
~ 1/2 cup pearl barley
~ 8 cups vegetable stock
~ 4 cups chopped spinach leaves
~ 1 tsp. chipotle chili powder or a good shot of hot sauce (optional, but highly recommended)

~ In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil and saute the celery over medium heat about 2 minutes.
~ Add the carrots, leeks and dry seasonings; stir to combine and cook another 5 minutes or so, until the vegetables are juust threatening to stick to the pan.
~ Raise the heat to high, deglaze the pan with the 1/2 cup white wine, then add the lentils and barley. Stir until everything is coated.
~ Add the vegetable broth, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
~ Add the chopped spinach and chipotle powder or hot sauce (if using). Cover and simmer another 15 minutes, until the lentils and barley are soft but not falling apart.
~ Remove from heat and serve with some good, crusty bread.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Brunch of Champions

Okay, enough musing and introspection, let's get back to talking about food! By this point in our species' ongoing development, everyone knows that brunch is the World's Most Civilized Meal, right? And that Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan Brunch has made an important contribution to the acknowledgement of this universal truth. I've been cooking up a storm from this thing ever since it came out last spring, but one of the recipes it's taken awhile to tackle is the tofu omelet, because I was waiting to get my hands on some black salt, which every foodie I know has been raving about for the last year or so. Finally, while browsing in Williams-Sonoma about a month ago, I was seduced by a rather silly variety pack of fancy-ass gourmet salts, including the fabled black stuff (hey, my shoes cost $6.99 at Urban Outfitters, okay?).

Of course, the weather then turned too hot and humid to even think about entering the kitchen for anything but ice cubes, so there my indulgent purchase sat, waiting for me to bestir myself and discover its wonders. Finally, courtesy of Tropical Storm Danny ("Danny?" Are they serious?), we got a cool, wet weekend, and after a much-needed Saturday morning lie-in, I decided to give the omelets a try. And I have to say that they did not disappoint. Not only were they delicious, but beautiful, which isn't well represented by my crummy photo, alas. But trust me: they looked for all the world like the "real" thing, but refreshingly free of avian menstrual matter (sorry, omnivores!). As with the Fronch Toast from Vegan with a Vengeance, I think the secret lies in the chick-pea flour: an amazing substance with a texture somewhere between flour and corn starch that lends a unique and fascinating je ne sais quoi to any recipe that calls for it.

The black salt is undeniably interesting, and it does have a distinct taste, although not one I'd necessarily characterize as sulphurous or "eggy," which is fine by me. Sprinkling a little extra over the top of the finished product was a nice touch, but you really don't need to spend major $$$ on crazy gourmet salt to make this recipe; just get in there and do it. The good news is that it's quite easy, but one caveat I would offer is to follow the directions closely in terms of the amount of batter used for each omelet; more than 1/2 cup and they may spread out too much and be difficult to flip. I actually opted for the more traditional (in my family, anyway) approach of putting the filling on one side of the almost-cooked omelet and folding it over before transferring to a warm oven while I made the others, rather than stacking them and folding them over the filling afterwards. I filled my omelets with caramelized onions, and served them with roasted potatoes, steamed asparagus and Hollandaise sauce, which kept us full until well after dark. Next time, my cunning plan is to veganize the western omelets my Dad used to make when I was little; I'll report back on how that goes!

Tofu Omelets (slightly adapted from Vegan Brunch)

1. Prepare your filling. I used caramelized onions and garlic this time, but you can use pretty much any combination of sauteed veggies, vegan cheese and/or fake meat you like, just as you would with the egg-based variety. Just be careful not to overfill; about 1/3-1/2 cup is plenty!

2. Make the omelets!

~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 lb. firm silken tofu, drained (I followed Isa's suggestion and used Nasoya)
~ 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1/2 tsp. turmeric
~ 1/2 tsp. paprika
~ 1 tsp. black salt (or plain kosher)
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 1/2 cup chickpea flour
~ 1 tbsp. cornstarch

~ Lightly oil a non-stick baking sheet and place in a preheated 200 degree oven.
~ In a food processor, combine the garlic, tofu, nutritional yeast, olive oil and seasonings. Puree until smooth.
~ Add the chickpea flour and cornstarch and process again until thoroughly combined; it should be like a thick pancake batter.
~ Preheat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat; coat lightly with cooking spray or a thin layer of oil.
~ In 1/2 cup increments (seriously, don't use more than this!), ladle the batter into the hot skillet and gently spread out into a circle about 6" across with a rubber spatula.
~ Cook for about 3-5 minutes, then spoon about 1/-1/2 cup of your filling across one side of the circle.
~ Very carefully, use a rubber spatula or soft lifter to fold the empty side over the filled one, making a crescent shape. Cook another minute or two before transferring the finished omelet to the oven to keep warm.
~ Repeat the process until all the batter--and as much filling as needed--is used up. (I got 5 omelets from this recipe)
~ Serve with whatever brunchy sides make you happiest. We had ours with roasted potatoes (http://elizaveganpage.blogspot.com/2008/10/vegan-mofo-28-roasted-potatoes.html), steamed asparagus and the easiest Hollandaise sauce in the history of the world, the recipe for which I herewith append:

World's Easiest (read: laziest) Hollandaise Sauce

~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
~ 1 cup unsweetened soy milk, heated to almost boiling (microwave for a minute in a Pyrex beaker)
~ 1/2 cup cold soy milk, mixed with 1 tbsp. corn starch
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, dried tarragon, turmeric, dried mustard
~ Juice of one lemon

~ Over low heat, melt the Earth Balance in a saucepan. Add the nutritional yeast and stir with a wooden spoon to make a roux, adding about 1/2 cup of the soy milk gradually, to keep it from getting too thick.
~ Add the seasonings and remaining soy milk, stirring constantly.
~ Raise the heat to medium and cook for about 2-3 minutes, then add the lemon juice.
~ Stir in the soy milk/cornstarch mixture and combine thoroughly. Bring to almost boiling, and continue cooking another few minutes, until the sauce thickens and coats the spoon.
~ Remove from heat and spoon over your steamed asparagus, your tofu omelet, your roasted potatoes, and whatever else you would like to cover in sunshiny yellow goodness.

Bon appetit! (and if you eat all that, you have my permission to take a nice, long nap!)