Anytime Tofu

I just sat down to share my Rosh Hashana menu from last month, but then had second thoughts because that was 12 dishes, plus three desserts. I will say this about that meal: The unsaid goal of the meal I set for myself was to build up to such a crescendo that by the time dessert was served, the vegans would want to eat the all three cakes served. Mission accomplished.

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Making Chocolate Granola.

But I worry I would bore you with all the details. I will instead, in honor of the vegans who were willing to eat the honey, share this tofu dish which I now have to keep in a Google Doc because people keep asking me for the recipe. It started, as it does quite frequently, at a Tot Shabbat. A little boy enjoyed the tofu so much that he declared that tofu was now his favorite food in the world and demanded his mom track down the recipe. I tripled the recipe at Rosh Hashana and have been pleasing folks right and left, since.

It’s from Saladish, which I wrote about last time I found my way here, and I’m OK still talking about this cookbook because it is such a good one. I marinate my tofu in a gallon-size Ziploc bag for a good three days before roasting and serving it. It’s actually part of a salad that I’ve never completed because I’m so stuck on the tofu.  

20181008_104047.jpgI always skip the sambal oelek to make sure young mouths won’t find it too spicy. I also cut up my tofu before putting it in the marinade, although the recipe is written to soak it whole.

Tofu (From a recipe called “Vietnamese-Style Tofu Salad” from Saladish by Ilene Rosen)

Marinade

2 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons sambal oelek (skip this because I skipped it. Too spicy for little ones.)

3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

4 ½ teaspoons flavorless vegetable oil

1 tablespoons tamari

1 tablespoon honey

Directions

Marinate the tofu: Whisk all the ingredients for the marinade together in a bowl. Transfer to a covered container or plastic storage bag. Add the tofu and turn it over several times so it is well coated. Cover or seal and refrigerate for at least 1 day, and up to 5 days – the longer the better – turned the tofu (or bag) occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Set the tofu on a sheet pan, reserving any excess marinade. Swipe the tofu around to grease the pan. Cut the tofu horizontally in half, then cut the still stacked halves into quarters. Cut the quarters in half to form triangles and spread them out on the pan. [Or, you can cut the tofu before marinating.]

Baste the tops with the reserved marinade and bake for 10 minutes. Then flip the tofu over and return the oven for another 10 minutes. Let cool, then serve.

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Setback

Well, gosh. First and foremost, thank you so much for all your kind comments last week, on the blog, in person and over e-mail. You really know how to make a lady feel loved. Second, sorry for not coming back sooner to share good food. See, remember how I complained about my back? It turns out it wasn’t a pulled muscle, but a tear in the cartilage in my lower back. To answer the two questions you are now asking: Yes, it does hurt; quite a bit, and yes, they gave me some excellent pain killers. I’m also going to an acupuncturist twice a week and am being treated with Chinese herbal medicine. I’m seeing the surgeon on Thursday.

I’ve also been working on another project which I hope to share with you soon…

Anyhow, I stayed home from work for a better portion of the week with a heating pad pressed against my back. It hurts to sit for too long, so then I stand for a little bit, until that hurts… you get the picture. All this back pain has kept me out of the kitchen. This afternoon I stood by the counter and prepped some roots for roasting, and about 5 minutes in I had to call it quits and Rich kindly took over the project.

So the recipe I have for today has been vetted by me, but has been prepared by my sous chef Rich. (I know, I tell people all the time I won the husband lottery.) This morning I woke up to the scent of household cleaning supplies as he had spent the morning cleaning the kitchen, the bathrooms, and was onto his second load of laundry.

It had been very cold last week, and this recipe would have been perfect if I had made it then. Of course, we are now experiencing the “January thaw” Old-Time New England Cookbook talks about, although there’s been nary a snowflake to melt.

Now, about this recipe: It’s a mushroom barley soup from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, which I feel is one of those desert-island cookbooks. The first time I used this recipe was in my early twenties, when a guy I had a crush on off-handedly mentioned he loved mushroom barley soup. I “coincidentally” showed up the next day with a gallon Ziploc bag full of it. Good stuff.

When most people think of mushroom barley soup, they think of something thick and porridge-like.  This is more of a broth with chewy bites of barley and mushrooms. I’ve altered the recipe a little bit for the reflux: removing the sherry, and changing the soy sauce to tamari to create a second layer of umami, as both the mushrooms and the tamari are chockfull of it. The result is almost meaty, even though the dish is completely vegetarian. (It could also be made vegan by substituting oil for butter.) The mushrooms used here are white button; nothing fancy. The onions are slowly sautéed in a separate pan until they are translucent and have lost their bite, as was done to the garlic. I’ve also eliminated the fresh black pepper Katzen calls for. If someone at your table finds it lacking, just make sure the grinder is nearby. But honestly, this soup doesn’t need it.

With a slice of leftover challah, this made a very nice lunch. I used a small, handmade bowl, which was about 1/3 smaller than a regular soup bowl. You have to be careful not to eat large portions with the reflux; an overstuffed stomach can cause a lot of discomfort.

Mushroom Barley Soup Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook

Preparation Time: 1 ¼ hours

Ingredients

½ cup uncooked barley

6 ½ cups water

1-2 Tbs. butter

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. mushrooms, sliced*

½ to 1 tsp. salt

4 Tbs. tamari

Directions

Place the barley and 1 ½ cups of the water in a large saucepan, or a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, over, and simmer until the barley is tender. (20 to 30 minutes).

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the onions and sauté them until they are completely translucent but not browned. Add garlic, mushrooms, and ½ tsp. salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is very tender. About 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in tamari.

Add the sauté with all its liquid to the cooked barley, along with the remaining 5 cups of water. Simmer, partially covered, another 20 minutes over very low heat. Taste to correct seasonings, and serve.

*I realize that the packages of button mushrooms are 10 ounces, so if you’re using one of those, reduce the water by a cup, and the tamari by 1 Tbs.

Iron Chef: CSA

A few summers ago, I had the privilege of judging a local Iron Chef competition. The secret ingredient was not some creature off the ocean’s floor or an exotic fruit flown in from a far off island. Instead, it was the contents of the contestants’ Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, to highlight New England’s incredible summer bounties.

The teams used different farms and were assured that they didn’t need to use their entire boxes. To make sure the competition was fair, a list of standard vegetarian ingredients was issued, to be used in moderate quantities to enhance the vegetables: eggs, butter, up to 24 oz of soy products, 1 can beans/chickpeas or up to 2 lbs dried legumes, vegetable broth, garlic, onion,  nuts, flour, rice, quinoa or couscous, cornstarch, cocoa, sugar, up to 6 oz of cheese,  salt, pepper, milk, extra-virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, mustard, vinegar, soy sauce, lemon/lime juice. Contestants were allowed to use any spices but got extra points for fresh herbs.

Some teams really stepped up for the competition and produced terrific dishes, including a refreshing tomato granita served in a hollowed-out cucumber and fresh, homemade pasta. Others, I am sad to report, did not. “A quiche?” I asked one team. “You bring me quiche? Do you want to win?”

(Side note: Before I get a dozen comments from people defending quiche, I just want to say, I get it. In fact, I keep a package of frozen Orinoco pie shells in my freezer, just in case I need to show up at a potluck at an hour’s notice: some eggs, some milk, a softened onion, a jar of roasted red peppers kept in the pantry for this specific food emergency, a fluffy pile of grated cheese. Yes, I get it. But there’s a contest going on, people!)

“Hey,” they responded, “We were at the Springsteen concert last night. It got out late. We didn’t have enough time. The crust is homemade, if that helps.” It helped, a little. Duly noted.

After the parade of dishes, we, the judges huddled upstairs comparing notes, where, a la Twelve Angry Men, I may have provoked a “spirited” conversation about which team should win. My favorite was the first team, which kicked off the competition with fresh summer rolls stuffed with ripe mango, served with a side of peanut dipping sauce. “But Molly,” my judges pointed out, “they broke the rules. There’s no such thing as a mango in a CSA box. There’s no such thing as a local mango, period. It’s New England! And rice papers? Peanut butter? Those things just aren’t allowed.” “But they were my favorite!” I argued. “I loved the mango in the summer rolls; so refreshing in this heat.”

I was outvoted ultimately, and realistically we couldn’t award the CSA Iron Chef competition to fresh mango summer rolls. I relented and begrudgingly shaved points from their score. The winner, I guess I should just mention at this point, was the tomato granita team, which was captained by my sister. Hey, I’m nothing if not impartial.

The fresh mango was such a treat for me. I never buy them, exactly for the reason why my fellow judges felt they had no place in the competition. But here’s the thing: It’s mango season, really and truly. As Melissa Clark wrote last month, springtime is mango season in India and all the hot steamy places mangoes grow. My Facebook feed is now full of photos of friends’ mango trees in Miami, brimming with the orange gems. Considering that we seem to have skipped from winter right into summer (complete with thunderstorms and tornadoes) the time is right for fresh mango summer rolls.

I bought my rice papers at H-Mart in Burlington, but I’ve also picked them up at Super 88 (now Hong Kong Market) at Packard’s Corner. The Thai basil and fresh mint are what makes it taste like a summer roll. I picked up my bunches at Russo’s this time around, but I know H-Mart and Hong Kong Market sells them as well.

If you’ve never made a summer roll before, don’t fret, it’s very simple. Think burrito. Some of the rice papers will rip, but just keep going. And please don’t worry if they don’t all look gorgeous; they’ll still taste delicious. Make sure you have all your ingredients laid out on the counter assembly-line style, starting with a pan of warm water for soaking the rice paper.

To prepare the mango: I peel mine with a peeler, then I stand it up and, with a sharp knife, cut the flesh right up off its pit. For this dish, I slice everything very, very thin, the length and width of two matchsticks.

Most recipes I’ve read for summer rolls call for Napa cabbage, although I’ve never actually been served them that way in a restaurant. After ranch dressing, this is the best use of iceberg lettuce.  I thought that some crisp, sweet red pepper would be nice with the mango, and it was. I also used some fresh tofu, and I’ve seen some restaurants use grilled meat in theirs. I say go for it, if that’s your thing. Otherwise, hello, vegan yumminess!

Fresh Summer Rolls

8 rice papers, but keep more around because some will rip

One head iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced. Use a plastic knife if you’ve got one handy; steel knives will cause the lettuce to brown.

¼ cup Thai basil, julienned

¼ cup fresh mint leaves, julienned

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl.

Half a red pepper, cleaned and sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

One mango, sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

One block tofu, sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

Directions:

Fill a large pan with warm water and set on counter. Next to that, place a large plate. If you have room on your counter, place the herbed lettuce directly in back of the plate. If not, place it right next to the plate. Next to that, set your plate of mango, tofu and red peppers.

Take one sheath of rice paper, gently lay it into the water, swish it between your fingers for about 15 seconds, until it softens.

Remove it from the pan and lay it on the plate.

Place about ¼ cup of lettuce near the bottom of the paper. Add a slice of mango (or two), red pepper and tofu.

Fold up the bottom, then the sides, and roll up to the top.

Repeat.

And please don’t get frustrated if the first two or three, or even the seventh, rips. It will happen.

Peanut Butter Sauce

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 tablespoon grated ginger

Juice of half a lime

Mix all ingredients in bowl and give it a taste. Maybe you’ll realize it needs more sugar. Maybe you’ll think it needs more ginger. Definitely fine tune it to your own tastes. Also, this makes a ton of sauce. It will keep in the fridge for a few days. My suggestion is to find yourself some steamed broccoli and some noodles. Maybe brown rice. I promise you at no time will you throw your hands up in the air and shriek that you have too much peanut sauce on hand.

Hello, Old Friend

I’m a big proponent of the well-stocked pantry, but there is one staple that has until recently been banished from my larder: tamari.

You see, tamari and I have a history. When I was in college, I went on a bit of a tamari bender. The darker, thicker, wheat-free cousin of soy sauce found its way into nearly everything I cooked. Back in the day I was a pretty strict vegetarian, and tamari is as flavorful as a piece of meat or hunk of cheese. It enhances the flavor of everything from rice to tofu to steamed vegetables. Tamari is umami incarnate: a concentrated blast of that “fifth taste” that makes meats and hard cheese so mouth-watering.

It took an intervention from my friend, Ben, to get me off the sauce. After eating endless tamari-spiked dishes from my kitchen, Ben began to comment on the tamari addiction. Considering that Ben is finishing up a Psy.D. in counseling, I am glad I took his observations seriously. Under Ben’s watchful eye, I finished up my last bottle and went cold turkey. I haven’t had it in the house for about a decade.

All that changed last week. How I came across this recipe is a fine example of social media. I am Facebook friends with my sister’s sister-in-law, Sarah, and a few weeks back, Sarah posted a question about purchasing some vegetables, and her friend, a perfect stranger to me, responded with this recipe.

It looked good. So good, in fact, that I wrote on Sarah’s wall, to her friend, that I was going to steal the recipe. I did not mention the part about posting it to my blog, but her friend encouraged me to do so, telling me it was the best salad dressing. Ever. The secret? My old friend, tamari. So, judging myself a decade older and wiser, it was off the wagon and off to the market.

Tamari, meet Tahini

And let me tell you, WOW, this dressing is fantastic. Rich hasn’t stopped eating salad all weekend long. I think I’ve counted him eating 7 separate servings of salad in a two-day period. Since I have never served Rich tamari before, he was blown away by the smooth, rich flavor of it. He could totally see why I had the addiction; low in calories and animal-free, tamari is pretty darn remarkable. Now I have a fresh bottle of it in the house, and I will work hard to make sure I don’t abuse it.

This is a pantry recipe if I’ve ever seen one. You really should have everything here on hand at all times in the house. I’m not very particular about my tahini brands; I’ve tried maybe 3 or 4, and there’s no one that really jumped out at me or I didn’t like. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t have nutritional yeast on hand, most people don’t, but it’s good idea to have a hunk of parmesan hang out in the fridge to top off pastas, risottos or in this case, for dressings. You can whisk this altogether in a bowl, but I wanted the smoothness of a blender. Either will work.

Ingredients

2/3 cup good extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup tahini
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (or finely grated hard cheese)
1/4 cup tamari
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients in a bowl or blend together in a blender. I served this with some crunchy romaine and crisp discs of cucumbers and radishes, simply because that’s what I had on hand in the fridge. I have a feeling this dressing will work with just about any vegetable, but use a stronger lettuce than say, mesclun.

For now, the leftover dressing is in a jar in the fridge. I’m not sure how long it stays, but I don’t think it’s going to be around for more than couple more days.