Thursday, September 27, 2012

Curried Udon Noodle Stir Fry

Well. I haven't posted on this blog for almost 2 whole years.

But that's not because I've given up on the project. Vegetarian cooking is the norm in our household, and vegan cooking is normal enough to be unremarkable.

But I have, as I think I may have remarked before, kind of given up on this cookbook. I'm totally on board with the general idea on the Veganomicon. But the technique just kills me sometimes.

This is all a long intro to saying that my beloved instructed me that I can make huge curried udon noodle stir fry any time. But that's only because I only barely followed the recipe.

But: do this recipe. Just follow the modifications I suggest.

1) I didn't have any udon around so I used some wide rice noodles.
2) I didn't have any curry powder. So I mixed cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, and black pepper. Plus some salt. Because this cookbook always forgets salt.
3) I didn't have any vegetable stock, so I used water.
4) I didn't have seitan, so I used tofu.

Here's where things get major. The stir fry method is a mess. Do it this way:
1) Get a wide pan or wok (I used a wok) HOT, add oil. Add the onion cook till it's slightly soft and definitely a bit brown, some with a bit of char. Add he ginger, stir. Remove.
2) Add a bit more oil. Fry the bell pepper and hot pepper till crisp-tender. Remove.
3) add a bit more oil. Fry the broccoli till parts of it are but brown. Add 1/2 cup water. Stir in the steam till the broccoli is bright green and crisp-tender. Remove.
4) Add a bit more oil. Fry tofu cubes with a bit of salt till slightly golden. Remove.
5) Add a bit more oil. Add the cooked noodles and 3 T soy sauce. Stir til the noodles start to brown a bit. The. Add all the vegetables and tofu, the sauce, 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup mirin. Stir till everything is hot and the sauce is thick, 1 minute tops.
6) serve topped with chopped green onions.

This was awesome. Make it. But the existing recipe will end up steaming most of your ingredients and muting the texture. Do it my way.
The mise en place

I didn't have any udon. I used half a package of these.
This is what the roux for the sauce looks like when the flour is ready for you to add the spices.
The finished sauce.
Stir fry the vegetables separately
Brown the broccoli just a bit, then add some water to steam it briefly. This will tenderize it just a bit, but leave it crisp.
Frying the noodles with soy sauce.
The finished product.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tomato & Roasted Eggplant Stew with Chickpeas

On the northeast side of Indianapolis, there's a restaurant called Kabob Korner, an Afghan restaurant that has some pretty good kabobs, but also a magical soup called Aush. It is neither vegan nor vegetarian, but I mention it because trying to figure out its ingredients has become a bit of a parlor game for my foodie friends and me. It has a complex but singular flavor that is very difficult to separate into its component parts. It is also addictively good, a wonderful winter dish that nevertheless hits the spot in summer.

Can vegan food deliver something with the same mysteriously delicious impact? Let's just give away the end right now. Yes.

I approached Tomato & Roasted Eggplant Stew with Chickpeas (p. 179) with a measure of suspicion. I loathed eggplant as a kid, and even though I like it now, I mostly prefer it in formats where it ends up pureed or melted away. But this one keeps the eggplant in relatively large pieces, so I had to cook this with some faith.

You start out roasting some vegetables. You cut some eggplant quite thickly (possibly I didn't do it quite thickly enough, as we'll see), but you also need to roast some red bell peppers (orange or yellow will do as substitutes, but not green), and some garlic. Here it is as it first goes in the oven:

Regarding the parchment paper in the picture above, when I put it on the baking sheet, I didn't realize it's not really necessary for the cooking process at all. I didn't notice in the recipe that Terry & Isa go on to say that you don't really need the parchment if you don't care about how your baking sheets look. To which I say, if you care about how your baking sheets look, perhaps you have misplaced priorities in the kitchen. Don't bother.

This is how everything looks when you bring the roasting vegetables out of the oven the first time (the red bell peppers get off at this stop--everything else goes back in).

While the vegetables are roasting, start cooking the base for the soup. You're looking at onions, tomatoes, white wine, garlic, and a magical, if improbable, spice mixture of tarragon, thyme, coriander, paprika, salt, and bay leaves.

My only complaint about this recipe is this: while you're getting the base going, the eggplant and garlic come out of the oven. What T&I don't warn you about is that their instructions are going to bring your eggplant to the brink of burning, and I ended up having to toss maybe 1/5 of my eggplant slices because they were charred husks. Which means either the oven was too high (the recipe calls for 450), or I needed to slice my eggplant more thickly, or I just needed to watch the whole thing closer. In any case, I had enough eggplant to keep going.

Keeping going basically means dropping the eggplant into the stew. Also, the recipe will have instructed you to put the roasted red peppers into a plastic bag to allow the skins to steam off. This process works. Once the stew is good and simmering, it looks like this:

It needs to cook 20 minutes. After that, you'll take the garlic you've roasted and squeeze each clove into the soup, and let it stand for a while. I also squeezed in half a lemon. Let it sit for another 15 minutes or so.

Finally, serve it! On the side, I just made some kale according to almost exactly the same method as the stir-fried greens from the last post, just switching the ingredients up a bit to make things a bit more Mediterranean (added olive oil, subtracted soy sauce, added tomatoes, extra garlic). Good stuff.

And here's the final presentation. This was really excellent. The flavor was unplaceable, but really compelling, and the greens were a great side. Iv and I each took it again for lunch the next day, and it was even better. I'm going to chalk the success up to tarragon -- it's an herb I've never felt totally comfortable using because it's so very closely associated with French cooking (which I don't know very well). But this flavor combo plus the nearly-burned eggplant? Awesome. This one may be the best recipe in the book so far, and probably the first one where I really learned something new. Make this one, kids, even if you don't like eggplant.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Still not vegan with a vengeance

I took a year and a half off from the blog for no reason other than the same reason there are so many other ghost blogs out there. I always roll my eyes when there's some media report or other that talks about how everyone is blogging. Sure, whatever. Everyone is blogging the same way that everyone is keeping a journal, going to the gym, or sticking to their diet.

But I've decided to give this another go, so we're back! Let's get going. We're doing a bunch of recipes together this time, trying to do a big delicious sushi bowl incorporating several elements. Kids, you'll want to open up your Veganomicons and mark these pages: 112 for Roasted Portabello mushrooms; page 113 for Easy Stir-Fried Leafy Greens; and page 128 for Baked BBQ Tofu. We're also going to use the sushi rice instructions from the Spicy Tempeh Nori Rolls on page 47.

Let's start with the Baked BBQ Tofu. I decided I wanted to do kind of a Korean take on this dinner. Not really sure why, given my previous experience with Korean Barbequed Tofu. Take a look at my impressions of another recipe I tried from the bizarre classic Tofu Cookery, which inexplicably has almost 5 stars on Amazon. I made and rejected this gem at the tender age of 12.

The first step of the recipe is to press the tofu. If you haven't done this before, let me tell you three things:
  1. Unlike other nuisance pre-steps like salting eggplant or preheating your oven, you really need to do this.
  2. It's worth it to do it, too. Squeezing the water out of tofu gives it a nice chewy texture. Nowhere near as meaty as seitan, but good.
  3. It's really easy.

To press the tofu, just cut your brick of firm or extra-firm tofu into four slices. Put it on a plate on top of a generous layer of paper towels.

Put another layer of paper towels on top of the tofu, and weight it down with something heavy. I used a casserole dish filled with marinating portabello mushrooms (more on that later), and topped that with a cast iron bacon pan for good measure. Let it all sit for 10-20 minutes or more. When you're done, you'll have some wet paper towels and some dry-ish, slightly flattened pieces of tofu. I cut them again through the middle to end up with eight flat tofu rectangles.

From this point on, I took huge liberties with the recipe. It ultimately turned out to be a hybrid of the Baked BBQ Tofu recipe, the Marinated Asian Tofu on the facing page, and a Korean marinade recipe I found on the web.
First I made the marinade, taking the random internet recipe, scaling it down to just one cup of marinade, and omitting the flour. I put the tofu in a small casserole dish and poured the marinade over it, and let it sit while I cooked the portabello mushrooms in the oven (we'll get to them in a sec). I think it was 30 minutes or so.

Then I went back to the Veganomicon recipe, putting the tofu on a greased casserole dish, cooking for 15 minutes on each side, and smothering it with the marinade at the end. It came out of the oven looking like this, nice and brown and fragrant.

As all this was going on, I was doing the roasted portabellos as well. I followed the recipe almost exactly on this one, except that since I was going for Asian flavors, I used mirin instead of the cooking wine, peanut oil instead of olive oil, and rice vinegar instead of balsamic.

They come out of the oven looking like this. What strikes me most about this picture is that even though veganism is supposed to be compassionate and all, it still looks like I killed something.

Whew! We're almost done. So finally, I did the Easy Stir-Fried Leafy Greens. You can use basically any kind of greens you want for this -- I used mustard.
I like to add a little extra fire to my food, so I added one step to this. Terry & Isa will have you fry the garlic and ginger first, but I put in two whole dried Thai chilis first, cooking them in the peanut oil till they were almost black. You can use this technique to add some subtle heat to just about anything. Remember to take the chilis out before serving or you risk being smacked by your boyfriend as he asks, "For the TWENTIETH time, are you trying to kill me?" It's happened a time or two friend.

The only other change I made was that at the end I couldn't find my sesame-chili oil, so I just toasted some sesame seeds and tossed them in instead. Mustard greens cook down a lot, by the way. The book indicates that this recipe serves 4-6, but especially as good as these are, they barely serve 2.
At last, we assemble the dish. Put the sushi rice in a bowl (the recipe Terry & Isa provide works nicely, by the way). Then top it artfully with a couple slices of tofu, some sliced portabello caps, and the greens. I also added some storebought kimchee.

This was delicious, and may become a dinner mainstay. I realize that with all the moving parts it sounds complicated, but it really only took just over an hour. These recipes are winners. I should also add that Iv said he'd just eat a bowl of the greens by themselves. They really were that good.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Vegan incidentals

So I've frankly been distracted and I haven't cooked anything from the Veganomicon for a little while, a luxury I have what with the not being vegan and all.  But it does occur to me that even when I'm not working on this project, I'm doing a fair amount of unforced vegan cooking.

Case in point, this recipe for bibimbap from last week's New York Times.  An easy recipe for the Korean hot rice salad that happens to be relatively low fat and vegan --- and did I mention not requiring any compromises on the palate?

The recipe is pretty forgiving.  I don't have the patience to julienne on a weeknight -- shredding in your Cuisinart will be fine.  I didn't have time to hit the grocery that stocks fresh shiitake mushrooms -- just soak some dried ones in hot water and you'll be all set.  No short-grain rice?  I used long-grain jasmine.  Trust me, you'll be fine.  Just remember not to regard the steps of the recipe as strictly sequential.  You pretty much do steps 2-6 while the rice is cooking.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Veganomicon Goes to Church: Mushroom and Walnut Pate

Iv has been dreading this day. In A Word of Introduction, I promised that I would be "exposing my social network" to the joy of vegan cooking, and one aspect of my social network I was eager to try was coffee hour at our church. "You're going to inflict this food on those poor people?!" Iv would exclaim every time I made the threat. But this time, there was no stopping me. It was going to be a vegan coffee hour.

(Or at least the stuff I made was going to be. Iv sought to undo the fallout by making cookies loaded down with cream cheese, butter, and eggs.)

Anyway, for my part, I made hummus (not the Veganomicon recipe, which is adequate but unimpressive) with carrots and celery, and the walnut and mushroom pate (page 64) with baguettes.

With this proposed menu began Iv's litany of objections:

Iv: Really? You're going to use that cookbook?

Me: You remember we really have had some good things from it, right?

Iv: Yeah, but pate?

Me: We're Episcopalians. Pate is normal.

Iv: For coffee hour? Without wine?

Me: Well we don't have to call it pate. We can call it a dip.

Iv: Well you can't call pate a dip. It's too thick for that.

Me: How about spread?

Iv: Fine. Whatever. At least my cookies will be there to rescue you when everyone spits your food out.

Having worn him down, I proceeded with the recipe. I started off toasting some walnuts on the stovetop. Keep a close eye on this, because I burned my first batch. Just do it over medium heat until the nuts are fragrant. Any longer than that and you'll have some scorched nuts on your hands.

You run the walnuts through your food processor till they're chopped finely. Just leave them there, we'll come back to them. Meanwhile, you saute some onion and garlic til the onions are translucent. Then add salt, pepper, thyme, and tarragon, and cook it for just a minute longer, till the herbs are fragrant. Dump in a pound of coursely chopped mushrooms and cook for a few minutes longer, until the mushrooms have released most of their liquid and they're really soft. They should go from light grey to a medium brown in this process.

Once that's done, let it cool slightly and add it to the food processor, along with about half a can of white beans (the recipe calls for cannellini, but I used great northern), and a little bit of balsamic vinegar. The recipe suggests using vegetable stock to thin the puree out a little bit, but it seemed like a waste of time to thaw a few tablespoons of stock for this purpose, so I just used water and the results were fine. The result is a nice thick puree, which you then chill till it sets a bit.

So how did the pate go over at church? Memo to Iv: I told you so.

While the pate comes out kind of a dull grey mush, it has a nice, layered flavor, with the mushrooms having the starring role, but with the walnuts providing some depth and the beans adding body. The balsamic vinegar adds sweetness and just a bare hint of acidity (incidentally, the recipe calls for one teaspoon. After tasting I used just a little more).

But who cares what I think? It was a hit at church, with more than a few coming back for seconds and one choir member coming back for thirds. When asked, I forthrightly explained what it was (though never advertising its vegan-ness), but it sure doesn't look like anyone felt deprived. The hummus sold well, too, and in all fairness, only one of Iv's 96 cookies was left over.

I totally forgot to take a camera to church with me, so photographically all I've got to show you is the little bit I managed to reserve and bring back home. I know it doesn't look that appetizing, but pate never really does. In any case, immediately after I took this picture, I hoovered it up with a stalk of celery. I didn't save any for Iv on account of his bad attitude. Serves him right.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Samosa Stuffed Baked Potatoes

Samosas may be the perfect food, what with the deep-fried crispness of the dough and the potato-and-pea filling. It's just a Bollywood dance number of starchy and fatty goodness. And if you're ever resourceful enough to get yourself to a place that will serve you samosa chaat (like my special boy Iv did for me during the early days of our relationship), you are in for some awesome saucy spicy crispy goodness. Making samosas always daunted me due to a lack of patience with pastry, but my patience has been improving in recent years, so I finally dove in on New Year's Eve, making cauliflower and pea samosas from Lord Krishna. They were not terribly hard, and the results were fantastic. Regrettably, the secret ingredient was yogurt in the dough, so let's check out what Terry and Isa have to offer us. A baked potato? Um...ok.

The samosa-stuffed potatoes (page 60) promise a quick and easy way to get at the flavor everyone loves about samosas without the effort or the deep-fried bad-for-youness, taking another form everyone loves, the twice-baked potato. With just 3 tablespoons of oil in the recipe, it's reasonably healthy, if a bit starchy.

You start out by baking four large potatoes, and letting them cool. What you'll do next is scoop out the flesh, and you cut them in half lengthwise for this purpose. I found that I had the easiest time scooping out the potatoes when I cut them on the narrower axis (so you end up with two relatively flat halves). T&I suggest holding the potato in your non-writing hand, and scooping with a teaspoon with your dominant hand. This worked pretty well, but it's still a little tricky. Ideally, you want to get out as much potato as possible while simultaneously keeping the skin intact. I mangled a couple skins before just deciding I'd leave about 1/4 inch of potato in each one, which worked pretty well. A little more practice might get me better results.

Once you've got all this done, you just mix a little water into the potatoes and mash them. Now the pretty easy work of the filling starts.

Here's the mise en place. You've got some black mustard seeds and crushed coriander plus three dried red chiles, onions and carrots, garlic and ginger, and a spice mixture of turmeric, cumin, salt, and pepper. The recipe doesn't call for the dried chiles or the pepper. I added the chiles in an effort to infuse a subtle spiciness into the mixture. It didn't work, so I wouldn't bother with them. As for the black pepper, it's a standard component of a lot of Indian spice mixtures, and I'm not sure why T&I didn't include it. I like pepper, so I'd keep it. You can do what you want.

The method's pretty simple, but the first step of pulling it together may throw some people who haven't worked with mustard seeds before. They pop like crazy, so take the suggestion to have a pot lid handy seriously. They fly all over the place, so be warned. You can just slam the pot lid down while they're frying till the popping subsides, about a minute. It's a lot like popcorn, but with really tiny corn where the seeds don't puff up so much as just turn kind of a dull grey color.

From this point, you just add the onions and carrots, cook till they're soft, then toss in the garlic and onion, and then the spice mixture. T&I say to add a little water with the spices, but I'd do it a little differently. Go ahead and add the spices and stir rapidly for about a minute. It'll look pretty dry, but that's ok, you really want to get the spices toasty. Once you're getting a pretty good fragrance off the spices, toss in the water, then add the potatoes.

For my part, the potatoes ended up a little underdone when I baked them, so I added a bit more water and went at them with the masher to get everything nice and mixed up. Then I dumped in some peas and lemon juice, and let the whole thing get heated through. I also tossed in about 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala. That's not in the recipe, but it adds a nice depth of flavor.

Then you just take the mixture and restuff the potatoes, and bake them for 20 minutes. They smell great while they're baking.

Once they were out of the oven, I squeezed a bit more lemon juice over them, and drizzled some mint and tamarind chutney over it, just to get a bit more samosa flavor in them.

The result was very good. A nice and easy Sunday lunch, and I wrapped up the leftovers to take for lunch during the week. Unfortunately, during the initial test, I just about killed Iv. I stopped by the Indian grocery to pick up those chutneys, and didn't really taste them before smearing them on the potato. So from Iv's perspective, the first bites were part samosa, part thermonuclear device. The potato itself was minimally spicy, so don't be deterred from the recipe for that reason. Just remember to taste your condiments.

So are these potatoes good enough to satisfy a serious samosa jones? Unfortunately, if measured on that score, this recipe continues the grand vegan culinary tradition of awkward substitutions and unsatisfying compromises. But judged on their own merits, they're pretty good and would play well as a side dish with just about anything. And I also think I know how to turn these into baked potato nirvana --I'm thinking a modification of Bittman's curried lentil and potato with coconut milk recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian could make this into a twice-baked potato for the ages.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Manzana Chili Verde

I don't speak Spanish. So my first exposure to the word manzana was on a trip to Mexico some years back when I discovered the delightful Manzana Lift, a carbonated apple soda manufactured by Coca-Cola. I drank it constantly while I was there, and on returning to the States, promptly started e-mailing Coca-Cola to see why it wasn't available here. I actually got a message back, stating that there wasn't sufficient demand to justify its distribution here, which just seems silly to me. After all, you have however many million people of Mexican descent in this country, yet only 50-odd thousand in Greenland. Greenland gets Coca-Cola, but we don't get Manzana Lift...what gives?

I digress. My point was that due to my positive association with Manzana Lift, I have always been drawn to the word manzana, so the Manzana Chili Verde recipe (p. 171) immediately caught my eye.

It's essentially a white bean and potato chili with tomatillos, poblano peppers, and apples. It's quick and easy to prepare, and has become one of my favorite recipes from the Veganomicon; I've made it a number of times.

So the method is this -- you cut up some potatoes and set them boiling in a pot of water to tenderize. While this is going on, you saute some onions, jalapenos, and your cut up poblanos together. T&I tell you that you can use green bell peppers in place of poblanos if you have to, and it might work, but I'd really work to get the poblanos instead. They're a mild pepper that lacks the bitterness green bell peppers would have.

So once all that is soft, you add some garlic and herbs, then shortly thereafter, some white wine and tomatillos. The recipe calls for fresh tomatillos, and it is better this way, but I've used canned tomatillos, too, with excellent results, so if you can't find fresh, you'll still be fine.

Then you add two sliced granny smith apples, which add a nice layer of sweet-tartness, scallions, and vegetable stock, along with plenty of cilantro, and let it simmer for a while. Then take out your immersion blender and puree it till it's just a little chunky.

Then toss in the potatoes and a can of white beans and heat for a couple more minutes till everything is nice and hot. Then just add some more cilantro and lime juice, and serve it with sliced avocado.

Don't skip the avocado! This stew is plenty good without it, but avocado adds a nice creamy texture that just makes this super-awesome. Obviously don't bother if you can't get ripe avocados, but if you can...oh man. No one will care that this is vegan. They won't even notice.