Friday, May 20, 2011

Open Sesame Couscous

I love couscous: it's versatile, easy, and super quick, which makes it especially nice during the warmer months, when you don't want to steam up the kitchen too much. The warm weather has yet to reach us here in New England (we're currently on the eighth in a series of cool, rainy days), but this one-dish meal arose from one of those all-too-familiar situations when both time and supplies are in limited supply. The sesame seeds added a nice touch to an otherwise pretty standard empty larder, "make a virtue of necessity" dinner; in fact, this
turned out so well that it deserves to make regular appearances. I happened to have smoked tofu on hand, but you could subsititute plain, or use cubed tempeh, or just leave it out altogether; the best part is that the whole thing comes together really quickly, so whether you want it for a main dish or alongside something else, you'll be out of the kitchen in about fifteen minutes. Open sesame, doc!

Open Sesame Couscous
~ 1-2 tbsp. vegan margarine (or oil; I just like the "butteriness" of EB here)
~ 1 tbsp. sesame seeds
~ 1 small onion, diced
~ 2 stalks celery, diced
~ 1 carrot, diced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, dill, marjoram
~ A few grinds black pepper
~ 6 scallions, sliced thinly
~ 8 oz. smoked tofu, cubed
~ 1 cup couscous
~ 2 cups vegetable broth

~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over medium-high heat, and stir in the sesame seeds. Cook for about two minutes, until they turn a pale golden color, and start to give off a yummy aroma (don't let them brown!).
~ Add the onions, celery, carrots, and dry seasonings; cook about 5 minutes, until vegetables are getting soft.
~ Add the scallions, tofu, and the couscous; stir to combine.
~ Raise the heat to high, pour in the vegetable broth, and bring just to a boil.
~ Cover the pot, remove from heat, and allow to stand 5-7 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Fluff with a fork and serve hot.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Crispy Oyster Mushrooms

“But wait a bit,” the Oyster [
s cried,
“Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!”
“No hurry!” said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed—
Now if you’re ready, Oyster [mushroom]s dear,
We can begin to feed."

One of our favorite places to get a non-home-cooked meal these days is a terrific vegan restaurant in Somerville called True Bistro (and since I'm doing my PhD right around the corner at Tufts, they'll be seeing a lot more of us in the upcoming; coincidence?!). Among their many offerings is an appetizer of cornmeal crusted oyster mushrooms, which is exactly the sort of thing with which I'd like to be left alone with an
an inexhaustible supply
. Failing that, I'd be perfectly happy to get several orders and make a meal of them (except that it might be embarrassing for my dining companions when I refused to share. At top volume).

Anyway, I love those things with a burning passion, so imagine the excitement when - several days after celebrating my birthday at TB, with fond memories of crispy, shroomy goodness dancing in my head - I spotted some fresh oyster mushrooms at the local health food store. S
uffice to say that a little impromptu dance was performed as into the cart they went. Upon getting home, I started looking for recipes that might approximate TB's approach, and this is what I came up with. Obviously, my home kitchen lacks some of the accoutrements of a professional establishment, but if you happen to have a deep fryer, by all means go for it and report back (as it was, I used
a deep skillet with excellent results). And in the end, it must be said that our oyster mushrooms had a pleasant run; although when asked,

Shall we be trotting home again?”
answer came there none.
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d [been] eaten every one.

The Mushrooms
~ 1 lb. oyster mushrooms, cleaned
~ Egg replacer for 5 eggs, prepared according to package directions (I used Ener-G)
~ 1 cup chickpea flour
~ 2/3 cup fine cornmeal (not the coarse, polenta-style stuff)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, chili powder, garlic powder
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ Pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes (optional)
~ Oil for frying

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit, and place a nonstick baking sheet inside.
~ In a mixing bowl, prepare the egg replacer.
~ In a separate bowl, sift together the chickpea flour, cornmeal, and dry seasonings.
~ Dip each mushroom in the egg replacer, shake off the excess, then dip into the flour mixture. (It helps to have a "wet" hand and a "dry" hand during this part of the process.)
~ As each mushroom is coated with flour, shake off any excess and place on a platter. Repeat with remaining mushrooms until they are all coated and ready to fry!
~ In a large, deep skillet, heat about an inch of oil (I used canola) over medium-high heat, until a mushroom placed in the pan sizzles and rises to the top.
~ Working in batches, fry the mushrooms for about 2 minutes on each side, removing to the baking sheet to keep warm as each batch is completed.
~ Transfer the mushrooms from the baking sheet to a platter lined with paper towels (an old brown grocery bag works just as well). Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and some extra red pepper flakes if you like, and serve, accompanied by...

The Sauce
~ 1 cup vegan mayonnaise (I used Vegenaise, but use whatever you prefer)
~ 1 tsp. each: dill, hot sauce
~ 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
~ A few grinds of salt and pepper
~ Plain, unsweetened soy milk, as needed

~ In a small bowl, mix all of the ingredients. If you want a thicker, more tartar sauce-like consistency, omit the soy milk; if you prefer something more akin to a salad dressing, add about 1/4 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk until you get the texture you want.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tofu Scramble Royale

Intellectually, all good liberals know that as an institution, the monarchy is an outmoded, exploitative, archaic, imperialist throwback with no meaningful place in a modern democratic state. That said, to a person who spends a fair bit of time reading, writing, and thinking about "Englishness" in general, and about Shakespeare in particular (a writer who spilled his own share of ink on the subject of his homeland), the subject remains compelling, if only for its limitless dramatic potential. More viscerally, as the daughter of an English GI bride and a WWII veteran, there's something oddly stirring about the ceremonial occasions at which the British so excel. Especially since my mother's passing last year, I confess to feeling an emotional thrill at the sense of cultural continuity evoked by a coronation, a wedding, or even a state funeral. (To say nothing of the hats!)

That being the case, I was more than happy to enter into the spirit of the recent nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton, at least insofar as it entailed switching on the television and cracking open a bottle at an hour when most people are readying themselves for more virtuous endeavors. To ensure that we were properly fortified for the length and breadth of the spectacle that lay before us, I whipped up this rather fancy tofu scramble, along with some steamed asparagus, toasted crumpets, and our own home-made marmalade. Washed down with a few glasses of cheap champers, it was the perfect wedding breakfast. In fact, it was better than being there: all the pomp and circumstance, without ever having to get out of our pajamas. Cool Britannia!

Tofu Scramble Royale
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan butter
~ 3-4 large scallions, chopped 
~ 1 pkg. firm tofu, drained and mashed
~ 1 tsp. each: black salt, dill, marjoram
~ 1/2 tsp. each: turmeric, dry mustard
~ A few grinds of fresh black pepper
~ 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
~ 2 cups baby spinach, chopped
~ 1/4 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/2 cup vegan cream cheese (I used Tofutti)
~ A sprinkle of veggie "bacon" bits (optional)

~ In a large skillet, melt the butter and saute the chopped scallions over medium heat until soft; about 2-3 minutes.
~ Add the tofu, dry seasonings, and nutritional yeast; cook another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. If things start to stick, you can add up to 1/4 cup of plain, unsweetened soy milk to keep things moving.
~ Add the spinach and stir until wilted.
~ Stir in the soy milk and cream cheese; mix until combined. Continue cooking another few minutes and serve hot, sprinkled with veggie bacon bits, if desired.