Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lemony Glazed Tofu

This came about because a lot of my vegan foodie friends were posting on blogs and FB about the delicious dinners they were making for Chinese New Year. This made me A. hungry, and B. inspired, and it just so happened that I had several different glazed tofu recipes bookmarked. Unfortunately, I didn't have all of the necessary ingredients for any one of them, so I decided to just head into the laboratory - um, kitchen - and experiment with what was on hand. And if I say so myself: YUM. This was seriously as good as anything you'll find in a restaurant, with the added virtues of packing a lot less fat and sugar and being much cheaper. Best of all, you don't have to go anywhere to enjoy it: just steam some brown rice, stir fry a few veggies to go alongside, and you can welcome the year of the dragon without ever having to put on pants! Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!

Lemony Glazed Tofu
~ 3/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
~ 1/2 cup each: vegetable broth, white wine
~ 1/4 cup each: soy sauce, agave syrup
~ 1 tbsp. hot sauce, or to taste (I use Sriracha)
~ 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
~ 1 tsp. prepared mustard
~ 2 lbs. extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
~ 1/2 cup cornstarch
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, ginger, chili powder
~ Oil for frying
~ 2 tbsp. each: minced garlic, grated ginger
~ 1 cup chopped scallions (about 4 big ones)
~ 2 tbsp. sesame seeds

~ In a bowl or beaker, whisk together the first 6 ingredients (lemon juice through mustard) and set aside.
~ Slice the tofu in half horizontally, then slice into approximately 1/2-inch strips.
~ In a shallow bowl, combine the cornstarch, salt, ginger, and chili powder. Add the tofu and toss to coat.
~ In a large skillet, heat about 1/4 cup oil (I used canola), and fry the tofu over medium-high heat until crisp; about 3 minutes each side. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and set aside.
~ Discard all but about a tablespoon of the oil, and add the garlic and ginger to the skillet; cook over medium heat for about a minute.
~ Add the scallions and sauté briefly and begin adding the the lemon juice mixture, stirring constantly. Once all the liquid is added, lower the heat and let the sauce cook another twenty minutes or so, until slightly thickened and reduced.
~ Add the reserved, fried tofu to the sauce, flip a few times to coat, and continue cooking another 5 minutes.
~ Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds over medium heat in a dry skillet for about 2 minutes, until golden but not too brown. Stir the toasted seeds into the tofu mixture, combine thoroughly, and serve hot over short grain brown rice.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bihari Green Beans and Spinach Masala

This is a very free adaptation of a recipe I stumbled on while looking for something to do with a metric craptonne of green beans; I think of it as a sort of South Asian green beans almondine. It was originally made as a side dish, but it would be a perfect dinner on its own with some spicy pickle, a pile of basmati rice, and maybe a handful of chickpeas thrown in if you're looking for some extra protein. The spinach was a last-minute addition because I wanted something properly green to balance the tempeh dopiaza it was accompanying, and the results were so pleasing that I highly recommend you do the same. (As for the cilantro, I find that it adds a certain "something," but haters can feel free to skip it or substitute something less objectionable.)

Bihari Green Beans and Spinach Masala
~ 1/4 cup thinly sliced almonds
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, ground cumin, ground coriander, sweet paprika, garam masala
~ 1/2 tsp. red chili pepper flakes (more to taste)
~ 1 14 oz. can coconut milk (regular or "lite," but I suggest going for the gusto here)
~ 1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
~ 1 10 oz. package frozen spinach, thawed
~ 2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro, or 2 tsp. dried (optional)

~ In a dry skillet, toast the almonds over medium heat until light golden. Remove from the pan and set aside.
~ In the same skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onion, garlic, salt, cumin, coriander, paprika, and chili pepper flakes over medium heat about 5 minutes, until the onion is tender and begins to brown.
~ Stir in the coconut milk, the green beans, and the spinach. Mix well, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in the toasted almonds, cover the pan, and cook until the beans are tender and the sauce thickens a bit, about 10-12 minutes.
~ Serve hot, garnished with the cilantro (if not a hater).

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cullen Skink

The idea for this recipe came from one of my most beloved sources of culinary inspiration: the food section of The Guardian. Over the years, this has been the source of many of my most perverse veganizations of traditional British foods, but this one - courtesy of what Felicity Cloake claims is her "perfect" interpretation of a classic recipe - probably has the most awesome name. When my first son was little, he inherited a bunch of those National Geographic wildlife cards from an older cousin, and his favorite animal was the stump-tailed skink. Obviously, this was because it has pretty much the funniest name ever, and for awhile there it took nothing more than the words "stump-tailed skink" to ensure a storm of hilarity. Fortunately for my herbivorous agenda, Cullen skink has nothing to to do with the Tiliqua rugosa (a member of the Scincidae family of lizard native to Australia, featuring a heavily armored body and - you guessed it - short, stumpy tail), but is instead a thick, delicious soup of Scottish origin.

Traditional Cullen skink is made from smoked haddock, potatoes, onions, leeks, and milk or cream. According to that renowned brainbox, Wikipedia, it is "a local speciality from the town of Cullen in Moray, on the north-east coast of Scotland...described as 'smokier and more assertive than American chowder and heartier than classical French bisque.' The name is partly (and indirectly) derived from Gaelic. The first element refers to the town of Cullen in Moray (a place name of Gaelic origin). The second element, 'skink,' is a Scots word for a shin, knuckle or hough of beef which has developed the secondary meaning of a soup, especially one made from these. The word skink is ultimately derived from Middle Dutch schenke 'shin, hough,' also the root of the English word shank. Others have hypothetized that it comes from the Middle High German word for a weak beer respectively liquor or essence." All this is very well and good, but how this "shank" became a smoked haddock remains - at least to Wikipedia - a mystery.

Basically, Cullen skink is like a multi-cultural ménage à quatre between bouillabaisse, English cockaleekie, New England clam chowder, and the old-school potato leek soup I used to make from Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest. My version incorporates elements of all three - minus the animal products - to produce a thick, creamy, smoky soup that is perfect on a cold winter evening when the snow is falling, the wind is howling, and (at least in our house) the dog is snoring under the kitchen table, and the cat has once again stolen your chair. The fresh parsley stirred in at the end adds a nice "green" note to this podgy bowlful of starchy goodness, and makes one completely justified in having a big slab of crusty bread alongside. (NB that the original recipe includes flaked, smoked haddock, and if you're interested in recreating that, you might try freezing some smoked tofu and then flaking it into the soup late in the process. I didn't have any on hand, but might do it that way another time for curiosity's sake. If anyone tries it, please let me know what you think!)

Cullen Skink
~ 5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 4 tsp. bouillon (I swear by Better Than Bouillon's No Chicken Flavor)
~ 2 large bay leaves
~ 1 tbsp. Liquid Smoke
~ 1-2 tsp. dried dulse or other seaweed
~ 2 tbsp. vegan margarine (Felicity calls for a "knob" of butter)
~ 2 large leeks, cleaned and chopped
~ 1 large onion, diced
~ 1 tsp. salt (less depending on the saltiness your stock)
~ A few grinds of fresh black pepper
~ 4-5 potatoes, diced
~ 1/2 cup chopped, fresh parsley

~ In a large beaker, combine the soy milk, bouillon, bay leaves, Liquid Smoke, and dulse. Cover and microwave on high about 4 minutes, then set aside for at least an hour for the flavors to infuse. (You can also do this in a pot on the stove, obviously.)
~ In a large, deep pot, melt the margarine over medium-low heat and add the leeks and onions. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper, cover the pot, and allow to sweat (without coloring) until softened, about 10 minutes.
~ Add the diced potato and stir to coat. Pour in the soy milk mixture and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot again and cook about 20 minutes more, until the potatoes are tender.
~ Remove from heat, fish out the bay leaves, and allow to cool slightly. With an immersion blender (or in a food processor), partially puree the soup - you don't want it too chunky, but neither are we going for a completely smooth puree.
~ Reheat the soup, stir in the chopped parsley, and serve hot with crusty bread.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tempeh Dopiaza

This is my new BFF, Lord Ganesha: he's a Hindu deity who represents the power to remove obstacles and ensure success in human endeavors. Part human and part elephant, his hybridity signifies qualities useful and important to both: his large head symbolizes wisdom, understanding, and a discriminating intellect, his wide mouth represents the human desire to enjoy life in the world, and his big ears remind us that the wisest person is one with a great capacity to listen and to assimilate ideas. Among my gifts this past holiday was a splendid statue that - along with his accompanying incense - is a most welcome addition to our home, and as I head back for my second semester at Tufts (whose mascot just happens to be an elephant), it's nice to feel like Ganesha has my back.

I decided to feature him in this post because it's a new year, and this is my first curry of 2012! Ordinarily, we cook a lot of Indian food at our house, and after the barrage of traditional podginess that informs the whole Thanksgiving-Christmas juggernaut, it's nice to get back to popping up some mustard and cumin seeds. Dopiaza is a South Indian preparation meaning "(having) two onions," and it often features meat or prawns. Obviously that is never going to happen in my house or on my blog, but the dense, chewy texture of tempeh is particularly well-suited to stewy dishes like this, so when my partner returned from a trip to Toronto with several packages of the best commercial tempeh on the planet Earth ( it was time to have a go at it.

As is usually the case, I took a few traditional recipes and bent them to suit my personal will/taste/cupboard ingredients, and I also opted to chop the onions that form the sauce rather than puree them, for a bit more texture. But if you should prefer a smoother sauce, rock on: the time to do so is after adding the ginger and mint, and before the lemon juice. As with many curries, this gets better the longer it sits and the leftovers are even better than that first plateful, so it's fortunate that this makes a lot. We had it with Bihari green beans masala (recipe to follow) and saffron rice, and it made two ample dinners for 3-4 people and a couple of lunches besides. Yum.

Tempeh Dopiaza
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil, divided
~ 2 large onions
~ 1 small red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, cayenne pepper
~ 1 tsp. each: cumin seeds, mustard seeds
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, fenugreek powder, ground coriander
~ 1/2 tsp. each: asafoetida, turmeric
~ 1 tbsp. sugar
~ 1 tbsp. grated ginger
~ 1 tsp. dried mint
~ 1 tbsp. lemon juice
~ 1 tbsp. vegan margarine
~ 1/2 cup water (more as needed)
~ 1 8 oz. package tempeh, cubed

~ Chop one of the onions into thin crescents. In a skillet, add 1 tbsp. of the canola oil and fry the onions for a minute or two over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper, the cayenne, 1/2 tsp. of salt, and continue cooking about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
~ Cut the second onion into small dice. In the same skillet, heat the remaining tbsp. of canola oil over medium flame and add the cumin and mustard seeds; cook for about a minute, until they just begin to pop (be careful - don't shoot your eye out!).
~ Add the diced onions, the fenugreek, coriander, asafoetida, turmeric, sugar, and the remaining salt. Cook over medium heat with occasional stirring until the onions are very soft (about 10-15 minutes).
~ Stir in the ginger and the mint; cook for another minute or two.
~ Add the lemon juice, 1/2 cup water, the margarine, and the cubed tempeh.
~ Mix well to coat, cover the pan, and continue cooking for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and browns a bit.
~ Add the reserved fried onion and bell pepper and mix throughly. Taste for seasoning and cook another 5 minutes.
~ Serve hot over rice and/or with naan bread.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Black Pepper Biscuits

Happy new year! Here we are in the future - ain't it grand? Today's illustration is brought to you by the dual influences of the Sci-Fi Channel's annual Twilight Zone marathon and the lingering memory of the black pepper biscuit I had last week at Veggie Galaxy. "I'm Talkie Biscuit, and you're going to eat me!"

Anyway, a few days after Christmas, we finally got around to checking out this new addition to Cambridge's Central Square: a diner with a classic, old-school chrome and formica aesthetic and an all-vegetarian/vegan menu, and we were only sorry we hadn't done so sooner. I wanted breakfast (tofu omelet w/portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, and homefries), while my partner opted for a black bean burger. The burger arrived topped with two of the most epic onion rings I have ever stolen from another person's plate; so good were those onion rings, in fact, that I need to go back for dinner so I can have the house-smoked tofu fried in the same batter.

But, as noted above, what I really want to talk about is that biscuit, which may have been the most delicious one I have ever tasted. Considering my devotion to the herby specimens at True Bistro, this is saying' summat, and I've been excited to try my hand at recreating them for a week now. So I fired up the Google, cast about in my usual way, and decided that Bobby Flay's recipe looked plausible with a few substitutions. Within the hour we had a ginormous batch of flaky, baked goodness cooling on the counter. I dialed back Bobby's pepper a bit since my youngest isn't the hugest fan, but you should obviously adjust such things to suit your own personal taste. Not only did this recipe produce great biscuits, it is ridiculously easy; it had never occurred to me to use a food processor for biscuit dough, but I'll definitely do so from now on. So what are you waiting for? Get those fiery biscuits in the oven!

Black Pepper Biscuits
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
~ 4 cups all-purpose flour
~ 4 tsps. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, baking soda
~ 1/2 tsp. sage
~ 4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (more if you like)
~ 12 tbsp. cold vegan margarine or shortening, cut into small pieces

~ Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
~ In a beaker, combine the soy milk and the vinegar, mix, and set aside for about 10 minutes.
~ In a large food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sage, and 3 tsp. of the black pepper and pulse to combine.
~ Scatter the margarine or shortening over the top of the flour mixture and pulse a few times, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
~ With the food processor running, add the soy milk/vinegar mixture in a thin stream, until the mixture just begins to come together.
~ Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured counter, and roll into a 10 by 12-inch rectangle about 3/4-inch thick.
~ Use a 3-inch round cutter - I actually use the floured rim of a water glass - to cut out biscuits, and place them on a non-stick baking sheet. Press together the scraps of remaining dough, and repeat process until you've used it all up. (I got 16 biscuits from this recipe; your mileage may vary.)
~ Brush the tops with a little soy milk mixed with the remaining teaspoon of black pepper.
~ Bake at 450 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.
~ Remove from the oven and serve hot as a side dish, with gravy, as part of Tofu Benedict, or (as I did), all by themselves.