Sunday, March 27, 2011

International Curry Off: Caribbean Black-Eyed Pea Curry with Plantains

Okay. I might have to admit right now that this curry-off is a bit of a failure. I don't think there can be a winner. Both curries are so incredibly good that I don't think either can official beat the other. They are very different and so would respond well to completely different moods or cravings, but over all I loved them both so much that I will be making them both many many more times in the future. I'm pretty excited to have two new curries to add to my repertoire...maybe I'll have to do this again and go searching for more curries!

This curry, unlike the other one, does not use a pre-blended curry paste. The spices are very different and include cinnamon, star anise, bay leaves and a yellow curry powder. These spices were a bit unusual for me, but I easily found them in bulk at my natural food store. Also, this curry does not have nearly as many vegetables as the other, so I felt that serving it with a side of jerk flavored asparagus was appropriate. I'll have to blog about those another day. Let's just get started and make the curry. Gather the ingredients:

1/2 chopped shallot
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
2 bay leaves
1 star anise
2 tsp. mild yellow curry powder
pinch of cinnamon
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup light coconut milk
3/4 cup water
1 16 oz can of black eyed peas or 1 1/2 cup black eyed peas cooked from dry
1 tsp. agave nectar
juice from 1/2 lime
2 very ripe plantains, split lengthwise and cut into 1-inch chunks
brown rice or other grains, for serving

Heat a large skillet and spray with cooking spray. Saute the shallot, red pepper and jalapeno for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic, ginger, whole bay leaves and whole star anise. You will take these guys out later after they impart their deliciousness. Cook about 2 more minutes then add a splash of water and the curry, cinnamon and thyme. Stir for about 30 seconds to toast the curry.

Add the salt, coconut milk, water and peas. Cover and heat through for about 5-8 minutes. Add the agave and lime and taste for salt and seasoning. Turn off the heat and let the curry sit about 10 minutes for the flavors to meld, then remove the bay leaves and star anise.

Meanwhile, heat up a steamer basket over an inch or two of water. Heat the water, then steam the plantains for about 6-7 minutes. You will know they are done when they are bright yellow and a little bit puffy. Serve the curry over rice and garnish with a hearty scoop of plantains.

I had never prepared plantains in my life when I made this recipe. They were easy enough to find at my local Safeway, but I had never ventured to try them before. If you are like me and haven't experienced plantains, I have two pieces of advice: #1. Try them, you'll love them! #2 Do NOT expect them to taste like bananas. They don't. Expect something like a steamed cube of sweet potato. Very starchy but with a hint of sweetness. They are a delicious and luxurious addition to this dish. The final product tasted rich and filling while still being light and tropical. It brought me way out of my normal curry rut and I can't wait to make it again.

I hope that some of you will be inspired by these new curry recipes and the opportunity to try something a little out of the box. Oh, and buy Isa Chandra's book!!! I'm in love with it!

Monday, March 7, 2011

International Curry-Off: Roasted Root Vegetable Thai Curry

It's a curry-off! I love all curry. Red, green, yellow, potato, pumpkin, Thai, non-Thai...whatever. My love of curry is best explained by my single favorite dish served in a San Francisco restaurant: Traffic Jam Curry from Be My Guest Thai Bistro. If you've never heard of the place, I'm not surprised. I am seriously worried that this place may go out of business soon because it's pretty much empty every time we go there. Sure, it has a stupid name and it does look kind of strange and the emptiness of the huge corner location definitely does give the place a weird vibe, but once you eat the curry, you will overlook all of that, I promise! The Traffic Jam Curry is exactly what it sounds like: THREE curries in one dish! You get a cute little plate with three small bowls, each filled with either red curry, green curry or yellow curry. Vegetarians can choose a combination of tofu, gluten and plain veggie for the three curries. I love them all, but mostly I just love that I can have them all in the same meal. If you live in SF, please help keep Be My Guest in business by visiting them at the corner of 11th and Clement.

Now onto the actual reason for this post. I love to eat curry at restaurants, but in my attempts to be healthy, save money etc. etc. I of course try to make my own healthy versions from time to time. None have ever turned out badly exactly (coconut milk + anything = delicious) but none have ever been able to replicate the deliciousness of restaurant curries. I decided this week to try two brand new and unusual sounding curries from my new favorite cookbook (have I mentioned my new favorite cookbook enough lately?) to widen my curry repertoire and to see which one is better. It's a curry-off!!

Up tonight: Roasted Root Vegetable Thai Curry.

What? Roasted root vegetables in curry? Now this I would never ever have thought of. My curry staples usually include a variety of things along the lines of red bell peppers, onions, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, tofu... you get the picture. Root vegetables of any kind, much less roasted, seemed like an odd idea for a curry, but I gave it a whirl anyway. I'm just telling you now: Tomorrow's curry better watch out because this curry just blew my mind with delicious awesomeness. Here's a list of all the ingredients:

1 lb. rutabagas, peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
1 lb. parsnips, peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
1 lb. brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
1 tsp. canola oil
3 Tbsp. green curry paste (Thai Kitchen)
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 cup carrots, cut into large-ish chunks
1 cup sweet potato, peeled and cut into small-ish chunks
3 cups vegetable broth
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch
3/4 cup light coconut milk
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. agave nectar
1 cup fresh
cilantro, chopped

First roast the vegetables. Can you believe how many incredible delicious veggies are packed into this dish? Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Toss the rutabagas, parsnips and brussels sprouts with 1 tsp. canola oil and lay them on a sprayed baking sheet (or two) in a single layer. Yes, they only need 1 tsp. of oil. Roast the veggies for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and tender. Remove them from the oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, make your curry. Preheat a large pot, then add the curry paste and onions with a pinch of salt. Stir constantly so that the curry paste doesn't stick too much. After a couple minutes, add a splash of water and the garlic and ginger. Saute another couple minutes, then add the broth, soy sauce, sweet potato and carrot. Cover the pan and bring it to a boil. Cook for about 20 minutes until the sweet potato is soft and mushy but the carrot is not quite mushy. Once you reach this point, take a fort and try to mash as many of the sweet potato cubes as you can. This will thicken up the broth a little. Mix the cornstarch with a little water or broth and add it to the pot while still simmering. Stir until the sauce begins to thicken, then add the coconut milk, lime juice, agave and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in all the roasted veggies and the cilantro last and tada, you are done!

I know the ingredient list is intimidating, but trust me making the actual dish is not hard at all. It doesn't even take long. This ends up as 4 large hearty servings of delicious goodness. I would never ever think of parsnips, rutabagas or brussels sprouts in a curry, but that's exactly what makes me like this so much. It's so unique that I've never tasted anything like it, and I doubt I will - which means I have to make it myself :)

P.S. The night I made this dish, I shopped at Trader Joes for various items including brussels sprouts. They happened to be out, but instead had this bizarre mix of brussels sprouts, snap peas and asparagus they called "roasting vegetables." I bought it because I was desperate, which is why you see peas and asparagus in my photos. It was fine, but not as good as it would have been with just brussels sprouts. And, FYI Trader Joe's: brussels sprouts, peas and asparagus do not take the same amount of time to cook and therefore should not be sold as a mix. Thanks.

Nutrition Facts: 1 serving = 1/4 recipe. 230 calories; 4.4 g fat (2.5 sat); 0 mg cholesterol; 620 mg sodium; 46 g carbohydrate; 11 g fiber; 21 g sugars; 5 g protein; 184 % vitamin A; 145 % vitamin C; 12% calcium; 11 % iron.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tofu Scramble

Tofu Scramble. It's a dish that strikes fear into the heart of non-vegetarians everywhere. Honestly, I had never even heard of such a thing before I became vegan, so I don't really know what I would have thought, but ever since the first time I tried it, I have loved tofu scramble. Now, one of the main reasons I feel that my cholesterol got so out of hand when I was a young adult was because of my love for eggs. During my first couple of years living in tiny studio apartments in New York City, I don't think I can possibly count the number of nights when fried eggs on toast was my dinner. Or my breakfast. Or my leisurely brunch on a Saturday morning. It takes about 4 minutes to prepare, it's delicious, it's salty, it's filling. Honestly, it's not too bad for you nutritionally and so I thought I was doing a good thing by eating this meal so frequently. Better than a Big Mac and fries I figured. Needless to say, several years later when my doctor threatened to put me on Lipitor or something like it within a year if I could not lower my cholesterol, I looked back at those decisions with some regret.

Even later, as a vegan, I still crave the taste of eggs on toast. Frequently. Lucky for me there is something so delicious, so easy to prepare and SO healthy which more than satisfies my craving every time: tofu scramble!! If you have doubts about my claims, just look at the picture above (or below). Doesn't it look delicious?? Even sort of like scrambled eggs? Go on, give it a try. I've read a few different recipes for tofu scramble and eaten it at a handful of restaurants. This recipe pulls all of those experiences together into one perfect master recipe. The veggies I list here are my ideal combo, but you can adjust them to your liking...or more likely, adjust them to whatever you happen to have in your fridge when the inspiration strikes. Gather up the ingredients:

1 package extra firm tofu (Lite if you can find it)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1-2 cups fresh spinach leaves
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. paprika
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
salt and pepper to taste.

Start by draining and pressing your tofu. If you're new here, I explain in detail how to do this in this recipe here (which happens to be for another incredibly delicious tofu-based breakfast dish, Tofu Benedict). Crumble to tofu with your hands into a bowl and set aside. Chop your veggies and heat a large skillet over medium heat. Spray the pan with cooking spray and saute your onions and garlic for a couple minutes, then add peppers and mushrooms. Cook until the veggies are done to your liking, then add the crumbled tofu to the pan. Add all spices, and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the tofu is heated through and is bright yellow (thank you turmeric).

I find that this dish is best served with toast or bagels and with avocado and pico de gallo salsa. Sometimes I'll add a little hot sauce to my plate as well. I love this dish with all of my heart. It is pretty much a sure thing any time my husband and I have a lazy morning to sleep in and eat a big yummy breakfast. It also comes up quite frequently when we have overnight guests and I want to put out a nice spread. And I'm not ashamed to say that it makes it's way to the dinner table on more than a few occasions.

End note: the long vertical picture was taken by a good friend of mine who was visiting recently. She has a real camera (alas I'm still saving up) and snapped a few pictures of various things we ate that weekend. After a late first night catching up out on the town, we woke up the next day and made, what else? Tofu Scramble! Thanks, Holly, for the picture :)

Nutrition Facts: Serving = 1/3 of recipe. 133 calories; 3.2 g fat (0.1 sat); 0 mg cholesterol; 123 mg sodium; 13.7 g carbohydrate; 5.6 g fiber; 3.7 g sugars; 17.3 g protein; 110% vitamin A; 93% vitamin c; 29% calcium; 21% iron. If these nutrition facts seem too good to be true, welcome to the secret! This dish feels like a naughty (and large) breakfast but it's the healthiest thing ever. Feel free to eat a heaping serving and to indulge in some avocado and a've got calories to spare!

Buffalo Tempeh with Creamy Coleslaw

I have a new favorite favorite favorite favorite cookbook. That's four favorites. It's called Appetite for Reduction and you can go buy it on Amazon right now. Isa Chandra Moskowitz has long been one of my favorite vegan bloggers and her Post Punk Kitchen is both helpful and hilarious. I had the chance to meet her at a cooking demonstration/cookbook signing at the San Francisco Ferry Building a couple of weeks ago and I have cooked nearly exclusively from her new cookbook since that day. This book is creative, healthy and I seriously have loved every recipe I've tried so 25 at least. That's really saying something! I have a back log of a million new meals to blog about, so I'm just going to jump in and begin with one of my favorites, this Buffalo Tempeh. I'm not sure what made me try this one. I've never been a big Buffalo wing person, but I do like spicy food and I don't have too much variety in my repertoire of tempeh recipes so I thought I'd give it a try. I am, however, a big coleslaw person. I love it all from the horribly unhealthy stuff dripping in creamy fatty goodness all the way to light, healthy kale slaw or asian cabbage slaw. When Isa's book promised a delicious and creamy coleslaw that is both vegan AND low fat I had to give it a try right away. I'm going to start with the recipe for the tempeh because it needs to marinate.

If you aren't familiar with tempeh, don't feel bad. It's the much-ignored and less popular cousin of tofu and a lot of people (including my mom and sister) are afraid of it. I challenge you to give it a try sometime if you never have. I'm not sure if it's the name (How to say it? Temp-ay or Temp-uh??) or the strange discoloration sometimes visible on the outside of the block (ignore it, it's just part of the natural fermentation process) or the simple fact that people don't know what to do with it. If you've never seen it, just think about all the little edamame beans that are used when soymilk is made. All the juice is squeezed out of the beans and what is left? Lots of edamame shells. These aren't the big, furry pods, but rather the smaller outer layer of the actual beans. They take these shells, mash them up into a rectangular form and then ferment them, much like they do when making tofu. That is a much simplified explanation I'm sure, but it was enough for me and that's the extent of my tempeh knowledge. The key, I have found, to making delicious tempeh is to cook it in a variety of ways: steam it to make the inside tender and to allow it to open up and soak in flavor and then also pan-fry it to give it a little crispness on the outside and to highlight the nutty flavor. This recipe suggests exactly that, so I guess Isa thinks the same thing!

To make this dish, first cut the block of tempeh in half across the middle, then into 4 pieces and cut each piece into two triangles. Steam the tempeh pieces for 5 minutes, then put them in a shallow baking dish and mix together your marinade:

1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup cayenne hot sauce (Frank's Red Hot)
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp. dried oregano

Marinate the tempeh in this mixture for about an hour, flipping the tempeh once. Heat a large skillet and spray it with cooking spray. Add the tempeh slices and cook them for about 10 minutes, flipping often so that each side gets browned nicely. When the tempeh looks good and golden brown, add back in all the leftover marinade and simmer for 3-5 minutes until the liquid is mostly gone. You're ready to go!

The slaw is also a very simple recipe, so pull that together while the tempeh is marinating and your slaw will have time to sit in the dressing while you cook the tempeh and both will be ready to eat at exactly the same time! I made a few changes to her original recipe to make the slaw a little more tangy, the way I like it. First make the dressing:

1/4 cup cashews, preferably soaked in water for an hour or so
2 Tbsp. chopped onion
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. agave nectar
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
black pepper to taste

Whiz everything up in a blender for about 5 minutes. If you need to give your blender a break in the middle, that's fine but be sure to blend the entire 5 minutes. This is what it takes to blend the cashews with the other liquids to make a delicious and creamy dressing. Pour the dressing over an entire bag of coleslaw mix (or about 4 cups shredded cabbage and 1 cup shredded carrot). I like to also add a couple chopped green onions, but that's up to you. Mix everything thoroughly and let it sit in the fridge for a while until the flavors all meld.

Both of these dishes taste exactly how you would want them to and really remind me of the original dishes they are based on. The tempeh is the perfect texture and has just the right about of spice and heat. The slaw is creamy and cool but still tangy and crunchy. This was a big hit and I can't wait to make it for a football game or an appetizer for guests. Mostly though, it's the perfect lunch on a lazy Saturday or Sunday. Give it a shot!

Nutrition Facts: Tempeh Serving = 4 pieces or half the recipe. 250 calories; 8.5 g fat (1 sat); 0 mg cholesterol; 410 mg sodium; 20.2 g carbohydrate; 12.6 g fiber; 0.8 g sugars; 23 g protein; 19% vitamin A; 10% vitamin C; 16% calcium; 23% iron.

Slaw Serving = 1/3 recipe. 117 calories; 4.9 g fat (0.7 g sat); 0 mg cholesterol; 447 mg sodium; 16.1 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 9.4 g sugars; 4.1 g protein; 82% Vitamin A; 82 % Vitamin C.