The old New World

In my dreams, I live in Oaxaca, Mexico. I cook alongside my neighbor mamas with our earthen pots set over communal fires, roasting chilies and cacao beans for grinding…. I can feel the coarse chocolate between my fingers, smell the smoky warmth of ancho chiles, and taste a big pot of something dark and delicious simmering all day over hot coals. Our children play in the fields, boots muddy from nibbling tomatoes off the vine. And for a snack, we serve them pupusas with refried beans and marinated tofu.

Perhaps not. It’s my dream.

Pupusas with refried beans and marinated tofu

Marinated tofu

  • Olive oil
  • Zest and juice of a good lime
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest of half an orange
  • 2 tbsp chile powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 lb tofu, sliced into steaks (1/2″ thick and 2×3″ wide/long)

Pupusas

  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1 1/3 cups warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 15-oz can pintos, drained and rinsed
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt to taste

Place the marinade ingredients and tofu in a large zip-top bag, seal, and toss from one hand to the other to distribute the marinade evenly over the tofu. Let marinate for about an hour, tossing every once in a while.

Meanwhile, place the masa, warm water, and salt in a large bowl, mixing first with a wooden spoon, then kneading with your hands for a minute or two. It should be soft, pliable, and not at all sticky. Cover with a damp dish towel and let sit for 10 minutes.

While the dough sits, heat a small cast iron pan over medium heat. Add the peanut oil and the onion, and fry for about 5 minutes. Add the cumin and stir until fragrant, about thirty seconds. Add the pintos, and stir until the beans are coated in onions and oil. Mash the mixture with a potato masher until well mashed and no whole beans remain. Add more oil if the mixture isn’t creamy enough. Taste for salt, turn off the heat.

Divide the dough into 8 balls, and poke a well in the middle of each ball. Add about a tsp of refried beans to the well, cover the beans with the surrounding dough, then pat between your hands to flatten the pupusas into about a 1/4″ thick disk. Place the raw pupusas on a sheet of wax paper.

Heat a large cast iron pan over slightly hotter than medium heat (medium-high was too high on my stove). Add about a tbsp of oil for frying the pupusas. You just want a thin coat, not a pool. Fry on each side for 2 or 3 minutes.

When you’re done with the pupusas, turn the pan up a little more, and add about a 1/4 cup of oil. Fry the tofu steaks for about 5 minutes per side, until they’re crispy golden. Sprinkle with a little salt.

To serve, top a pupusa with more refried beans and a tofu steak. Eat with your hands standing over your earthen pot.

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Channeling Nana

I love making soup. First of all, for some reason, it’s nearly always a hit with my kids, which means they EAT. Secondly, there is simply nothing better than a bowl of soup and a hunk of home-baked bread. But this soup, this soup is the soup my great-grandmothers made. And probably your great-grandmothers, too, regardless of where they lived, maybe flavored differently…or maybe not. There is nothing fancy or pretentious about this soup. It is hearty and delicious. That is all.

Split pea soup (with optional hot dogs)

  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 or 5 shallots, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 cups yellow or green split peas
  • 2 quarts veg stock
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 5 vegan hot dogs, sliced (optional)

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, shallots, garlic, carrots, and celery, and saute until softened and fragrant, about ten to fifteen minutes, stirring often. Add the split peas and veg stock, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for an hour or so, until the split peas are soft and fairly melty. Add the peas and hot dogs, if using, and heat through. Serve with (vegan) buttered and salted bread.

And thank your great-grandmothers.

How I learned to stop worrying and buy asparagus

I’m from California’s San Joaquin Valley. Growing seasons, orchards, farms as far as the eye can see…this is my homeland. I generally know when different crops are in season, and as much as I might have a taste for grapes in January, I won’t buy them on principle. I’m heartily committed to buying local whenever I can, and I can’t bring myself to reward grocers for selling out-of-season produce that had to travel thousands of miles to get to me. Corn, figs, grapes, TOMATOES: summer. Apples, persimmons, pomegranates: fall. Oranges: winter.

My problem is that the produce I always thought came in the springtime, the vegetables that ARE spring to me – artichokes and asparagus – have been showing up in the fall. I don’t get it. And they’re cheap. And they’re gorgeous. And they’re from the places they’re supposed to be from in California. Well, I’ve given in, and have bought asparagus the last couple of weeks. Today, I turned it into a creamy soup that warmed me on a particularly blustery fall day, but also reminded me of the blossoms and puffy white clouds of spring. (And it’s low fat. No oil added!)

Cream of asparagus soup

  • 1 lb asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 2″ pieces
  • 4 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 red-skinned potatoes, shredded
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated turmeric
  • 4 cups veg stock
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, then add the asparagus and the shallots, spray with cooking spray, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Roast for about ten minutes.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat, and add the potatoes, garlic, and turmeric (1/2 tsp dried turmeric if you can’t get fresh). Stir regularly, and saute for about 3 minutes. Add the veg stock, cover, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sunflower seeds and the roasted vegetables, and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Place half the soup into a blender and puree until very smooth. Remove to a bowl, and puree the other half. Stir the soup to combine, and then add the lemon juice and zest. Heat if necessary, and add parsley.

Repurposed scraps (aka, lunch!)

My kids had eaten, and despite having gone grocery shopping yesterday, I have nothing in my fridge. I don’t want another sandwich, because I had peanut butter and banana on toast for breakfast. I’m bored. What’s for lunch?

Well, more than making everything from scratch most of the time, I’m also a huge fan of repurposing left-overs and scrounging scraps together to make something yummy and healthy in no time flat. The key for this concoction is that I had a cooked grain waiting to be used in my freezer. Without that, I would’ve had to resort to a tortilla or bread. Another important factor is knowing how truly variable this so-called recipe is. Today, I had a sausage, a red bell pepper, and 3 scallions in the fridge, and turmeric barley in my freezer. You could do this with any kind of onion (and/or garlic), most any kind of vegetable (e.g., summer squash, green beans, shredded cabbage, broccoli/cauliflower/Brussels sprouts, even handfuls of spinach or a few kale or chard leaves), any source of (vegan, ahem) protein (beans, cubed tofu, whatever),  a grain, and SIMPLE flavoring. Did you hear that, Mom? Keep it simple. I made a sort of Mediterranean dish, but you could swap out the za’atar and balsamic for some cumin and oregano and a splash of red wine vinegar or lime juice, and call it Mexican, or a pinch of curry and ginger, and call it Indian. Simple. This is a kind of stir-fry, but I don’t always want a Chinese flavored stir-fry. So, here you go. My afternoon masterpiece.

Mediterranean sausage over turmeric barley

  • Frozen cooked turmeric barley
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 vegan Italian sausage, quartered lengthwise and chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp za’atar
  • Kosher salt to taste

Defrost and heat the barley in the microwave, about five minutes. Heat a medium cast iron pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add olive oil, then add the sausage until starting to turn golden. Add the bell pepper until softened, then add the scallions. Let cook for another minute, then add the balsamic, za’atar, and the salt. Serve over barley. Enjoy!

Serves one in about 10 minutes’ time.

Carob waffles for dinner

Full disclosure: this is not, by any stretch, an original recipe. It’s a heavily modified recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s book Veganomicon. The original recipe is for chocolate chip brownie waffles, which is what my daughter asked me to make for dinner. Well, I’ve cut down on my chocolate consumption, so in order to make only one thing for dinner, I replaced the chocolate chips and cocoa with carob chips and carob powder. I LOVE carob. I really do. Regardless, these waffles are total decadence. Don’t think that just because you’re using carob and whole wheat that these are healthy. Go eat a carrot, if that’s what you’re looking for. A girl’s gotta have fun every now and again.

Carob waffles

  • 2 cups (10 oz) white whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup carob powder
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 1 3/4 cup vanilla flavored unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 very ripe mashed banana (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup carob chips
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat your waffle iron. Whisk the flour, carob powder, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl until completely combined. In a medium bowl, whisk the almond milk, water, banana, coconut oil, sugar, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and whisk until just combined. Fold in the carob chips and pecans.

Pour about 1/3 cup of batter into each quadrant of your waffle iron, and bake until your waffle iron tells you it’s ready.

Makes 3 4-square waffles.

Nachas and tomato soup

Why is it that summer is over, and NOW I can’t get enough tomatoey things? I love a fresh tomato, sliced, sprinkled with a little salt, and popped into my mouth. Or drizzled with a little olive oil. Done. Delicious. But as the weather cools down, what I’m craving is the tomatoey warmth of cooked tomatoes. Enter stage left: San Marzano tomatoes.

Yes, they’re more expensive than regular canned tomatoes, but when you’re making something in which the tomatoes have been cast in the starring role, spending a little extra is worth it. Costco sells them in a four-pack, which brings the price down a little, and they are so rich and tomatoey. Do it.

Today, my daughter was named student of the day for the second time. She had a substitute teacher. I asked my daughter what she did to deserve the honor, and she didn’t know, so I asked the sub. She said she enjoyed having her in class: she was quiet, attentive, and happy. I was SO proud. I asked my girl what she’d like for dinner in light of her honor, and she requested tomato soup.  Here ’tis.

Dreamy creamy tomato soup

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1 1/2 cups veg stock
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 15-oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 28-oz can whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • Pinch of sugar, if necessary

Place the cashews in a small saucepan with the veg stock, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove from heat.

Meanwhile, place a Dutch oven over medium heat and add the olive oil. When hot, add the tomato paste, and saute, stirring frequently, until the tomato paste has melted into the olive oil. Add the onion and carrots, and saute until softened, about five minutes. Add the herbs and salt and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the canned tomatoes, squishing the whole toms with the side of a wooden spoon to release their juices. Let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Taste for flavor, and add a pinch of sugar if you find it necessary. I generally do not.

Place the cashews and veg stock in a blender and puree until smooth. Add half of the tomato soup and puree. Pour the contents of the blender into a bowl, and then ladle the rest of the soup into the blender, pureeing until smooth. Pour all of the soup back into your Dutch oven, stir well, and reheat, if necessary. Enjoy!

Middle Eastern tomato stew with creamy tofu

I had one small ball of pizza dough in the fridge that needed to get used. I have a family of five to feed, and one small vegan pizza wouldn’t cut it. Didn’t want to make pasta (with pizza?). And I’ve been craving shakshouka, the delicious Israeli stew of tomatoes and red bell peppers, rich with olive oil, served with a poached egg on top.

And so this simple stew was born.

Middle Eastern tomato stew with creamy tofu

  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 8 oz green beans, chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced
  • 1 lb firm tofu, sliced into 1″ squares/1/4″ thick
  • 1/3 cup red wine
  • 1 28-oz can San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, chopped
  • Salt to taste

Heat a large cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup oil, and when hot, add the green beans. Let fry, stirring often, for about three minutes, then add the red onion. Fry until the green beans are blistered and the onion is browned, about three more minutes. Remove the green beans and onion to a bowl and set aside. Add the rest of the oil and the tofu to the pan. Be patient. Don’t touch the tofu until it comes up easily from the pan. Then flip it with a thin metal spatula and brown it on the other side. Once it’s good and brown, turn the heat down to medium, and add the wine to deglaze the pan. Add the rest of the ingredients and the green beans and onion. Stir well to coat everything in the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and turn the heat to medium-low. Let simmer for about ten to fifteen minutes, until the sauce is reduced and thick.

Enjoy with focaccia, roasted potatoes, rice or another grain, or just a spoon. Delicious!