Friday, January 29, 2016

VCTM (Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala)

Today's recipe is my take on the ubiquitous curry that has apparently supplanted fish and chips as Britain's "national dish." Most cuisines that achieve popularity beyond their native countries and cultures undergo some hybridization in the process (witness putatively "Chinese" American dishes like General Tso's Chicken, or Mexico's north-of-the-border culinary incarnation, Tex-Mex), and this is certainly true of the sub-continental cooking styles of former British Colonies.

In the case of CTM - as the cognoscenti call it - its origins are both murky and hotly contested, but the dish's status as a go-to, crowd-pleasing takeaway and/or hangover cure attests to its enduring  popularity, however shaky its pedigree may be. And for the purposes of this blog post, whether CTM was invented for a Mughal emperor, a Glaswegian restaurant menu, or Something Completely Different is wholly beside the point, since questions of "authenticity" are immaterial in a chicken recipe where no chickens are harmed or eaten.

I used Beyond Meat grilled strips for the "meaty" base because 1. that's what I had in the house, and 2. I knew from experience that they stand up to baking and to sauce. That said, I feel sure  TJ'sGardein, or May-Wah would work just as well, so go ahead and suit your own tastes and/or the contents of your larder. For that matter, well-pressed firm tofu would also be good, although I'd increase the marinating time so it could soak up more flavor. What I was really after was that particular sweet, spicy, tangy flavor balance you find in the best tomato-based curries, and if I say so myself, I nailed it on the first go. The inaugural batch was gobbled up with hardly any leftovers, and I've already had requests from two of my kids for the recipe and repeat appearances, so I call that a success!

VCTM (Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala)

~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, fenugreek, garam masala, chili powder
~ ½ tsp. each: coriander, turmeric, asafoetida
~ ¼ tsp. each: cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne pepper (more to taste)
~ 1 9 oz. package Beyond Chicken (or other vegan chicken), cut into 1” pieces
~ ½ cup plain, unsweetened soy yogurt
~ 1 tbsp. coconut oil
~ 1 tsp. each: cumin seeds, black mustard seeds
 1 tbsp. each: grated ginger, minced garlic
~ 1 yellow onion, diced
~ 1 red bell pepper, diced
~ 1 14 oz. can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes (including liquid)
~ 3 tbsp. tomato paste
~ 1 cup water
~ 1 cup lite coconut milk
~ 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
~ ½-¾ cup chopped, fresh cilantro

~ In a small bowl, mix together the dry seasonings until well combined. Whisk about ⅓ of the spices with the yogurt, and place in a bowl with the vegan chicken pieces. Stir well to coat, cover the bowl and set aside for at least 30 minutes.
~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and place it in the hot oven for about 5 minutes. Arrange the marinated vegan chicken in a single layer, and bake for 15-20 minutes, giving it a stir at the halfway point. Remove from the oven and set aside.
~ In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, melt the coconut oil and fry the cumin and mustard seeds over medium-high heat until they just begin to splutter and pop.
~ Add the ginger and garlic and cook about 30 seconds before stirring in the onion and bell pepper. Add the remaining dry seasoning mixture and a splash of water; mix to coat and continue cooking for a minute or two, stirring constantly.
~ Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and water, and mix well. Cover the pan, bring just to a simmer, and then turn the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, until you have a rich, fragrant gravy.
~ Stir in the coconut milk and the baked vegan chicken, mix well, and continue cooking another 10 minutes or so.
~ Stir in the lemon juice and the fresh cilantro, and taste for seasoning. Serve hot with steamed basmati rice and/or naan bread, and some spicy pickle and chutney alongside.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Wintry Mushroom & Barley Risotto

Well, after a freakishly warm and dry start, we find ourselves properly stuck into winter at last, complete with sub-freezing temperatures, punitive wind chill factors, and an honest-to-goodness blizzard on the horizon. In times like these, our best defense lies in carbohydrates, and today's recipe delivers them in the form of one of my favorite grains; with its warming combination of barley and mushrooms, this is a hearty dish that will help you feel better about Life, the Universe, and Everything even as you contemplate the frozen landscape outside and put on yet another layer.

Wintry Mushroom & Barley Risotto
~ 1 package dried mushrooms (porcini, oyster, shiitake, maitake; you choose)
~ 6 cups "no chicken" broth
~ 2 large bay leaves
~ 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
~ 1 lb. mixed fresh mushrooms, chopped (I used 50/50 enokitake and king oyster, but plain old portabellas would do)
~ 1 generous tsp. Marmite
~ 1 large onion, small dice
~ 2 cups pearl barley
~ ½ tsp. each: salt, sage, crushed rosemary
~ A few hefty grinds of black pepper
~ 1 cup dry white wine
~ ½-¾ cup fresh, chopped parsley

~ Several hours before you plan to cook the barley, combine the dried mushrooms, broth, and bay leaves in a large, covered pot and heat to almost boiling. Allow this mixture to steep for as long as possible to extract the maximum shroomness before straining out, chopping, and reserving the reconstituted mushrooms.
~ Coat a large, non-stick skillet with cooking spray and cook the chopped, fresh mushrooms in over medium-high heat, adding them in small handfuls to avoid crowding the pan. Once the mushrooms are all brown and fragrant (this should take about 10 minutes), stir in 1 tbsp. of the oil and the Marmite and make sure they are coated with umami goodness. Remove from heat and set aside.
~ In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat, add the chopped onions, and sauté for 10-12 minutes, until they are quite soft but not browned (add a splash of water or broth if necessary to prevent sticking).
~ Add the barley, salt, sage, rosemary, and pepper, and stir to coat. Continue to cook, stirring, for a few minutes, until the barley gives off a faint toasty smell.
~ Stir in the wine and cook, stirring, until it mostly absorbed.
Fish out and discard the bay leaves from the broth, and begin adding liquid by cupfuls, stirring until the barley soaks it up. This process takes a bit longer than it does with rice, but it's also more forgiving, so you can step away from the stove for a few minutes between stirs to refill your wine glass, throw together a salad, pet your doggie, or whatever. 
~ Continue adding broth every 5-7 minutes or so, until you have achieved a creamy, risotto-like texture that retains just a little bite. This should take about 35-40 minutes in total, but - as with most things - your mileage may vary.
~ Stir in the cooked and reconstituted mushrooms and the chopped parsley. Combine thoroughly, taste for seasoning, and serve hot.