Sometimes, it’s the simple things

When cooking for my clients, I often end up picking a favorite dish of the week. It could be something complicated, with lots of steps, or something requiring a lot of time. It could be a whole meal I love, or something as simple as a sauce. Every once in a while, it’s a humble side salad. Such was the case this week.

I was making a southern-style meal, with biscuits, a black-eyed pea stew, white asparagus, and cole slaw. Cole slaw is easy, and while I used to think I needed a recipe, I’ve realized that I don’t. It’s mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper, and I generally use a cheat of pre-shredded cole slaw vegetables, because that’s all it is: just the veggies.

Today, as I was reaching into the fridge to grab the mayo, I spotted the tahini. So I grabbed both. And this simple cole slaw was born.

Tahini cole slaw

1/4 cup mayonnaise (veganaise)
1/4 cup tahini
Juice of one lemon
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp smoked paprika
Salt
Pepper
3 cups pre-shredded cole slaw vegetables

Place the mayo and tahini in a large bowl, and whisk to blend. Add the lemon juice, sugar, paprika, salt, and pepper, and whisk until smooth and well blended. Toss in the vegetables, and mix well with a big spoon. Garnish with extra smoked paprika (because it’s awesome).

The END!

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If I had a hammer

Coconut tools

It happens frequently that I make a meal for a client of which I’m particularly proud. I enjoy creating dishes, but what I really love is pulling recipes together – whether they be my own or someone else’s – to make a meal that turns into something magical. This week, that meal was inspired by the works of Madhur Jaffrey. Close to 2 decades ago, a friend gave me his used copy of World of the East Vegetarian Cooking. I’ve used it some. Not as much as I’d like. For various reasons. Since I started my work as a personal chef, I’ve used it a few times, because my first client has an adventurous palate and likes lots of vegetables. Still, I find that I often don’t end up using the cookbook, even when I’ve pulled it out.

My newest client has some particular dietary requirements necessitating meals low in carbohydrates and kid-friendly. And the family has requested a rotation of various cuisines, including Indian. And so, enter Madhur Jaffrey.

My favorite Indian dish – and the one I’ve been pining for for two years since going vegan – is saag paneer. I don’t know why it took me so damn long to veganize it. I made it three times in two days for three different clients, all with different needs. This is the Platonic ideal of vegan saag paneer. But don’t miss the sides of this meal. The salad – in which the above coconut makes its appearance – is OUTSTANDING and well worth the tools and manual labor (just for the coconut; the rest of the salad is SUPER easy and fast).

Saag paneer, turmeric-scented quinoa, sesame green beans, and Gujarati cucumber and peanut salad

Saag paneer

  • 1 14-oz tub firm tofu
  • 3 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapenos, minced
  • 2 lbs baby spinach, well washed (not dried) and pureed in a food processor
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk

Press the tofu between layers of paper towels and place something heavy – like a cast iron pan – on top.  Let it sit for about 20 minutes, and then cut it into about 1/2″ cubes.  Heat the oil in a large cast iron pan over medium heat, and add the tofu.  BE PATIENT.  Don’t touch the tofu until it’s good and golden, otherwise you’ll lose the best part to the pan.  Turn it with a thin metal spatula.  Let it get golden on a couple sides, then remove to a plate in a single layer, and sprinkle with the garam masala, cayenne, and salt.  Set aside.

Turn the heat on the pan to medium-high or slightly lower, add a little oil, if necessary, and add the garlic, ginger, and jalapenos.  Saute for about 30 seconds until fragrant.  Add the spinach and kosher salt, and toss and saute for about 2 minutes.  Turn the heat to medium, and let the liquid evaporate for about 10 minutes.  Add the tofu back to the pan, scraping the plate into the pan to get all the yummy bits of oil and spices.  Add the coconut milk, and let simmer until creamy.

Turmeric-scented quinoa

  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups quinoa
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 2 tsp freshly grated turmeric root

Boil the water in a medium saucepan.  Rinse the quinoa in a sieve and add it to the boiling water, along with the salt and turmeric.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer until all of the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Sesame green beans

  • 2 lbs fresh green beans, cut into 1″ pieces
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 6 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tsp freshly grated turmeric
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • Zest of half of a lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add the green beans and a healthy handful of kosher salt to the pot.  Let the beans boil for about 4 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water.  Set aside.

Heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat, and add the mustard seeds.  After about 30 seconds, add the garlic, ginger, and turmeric, sauteeing until the garlic is golden, then add the green beans, sesame seeds, cilantro, and the zest and juice of the lemon.  Toss until heated through.

Gujarati cucumber and peanut salad

  • 1 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 lb Persian cucumbers, diced into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup freshly minced coconut meat
  • 1 fresh jalapeno, minced (I omitted this for my clients, but I think it would only make it more awesome)
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Juice of half a lemon

Put the peanuts, cucumbers, sesame seeds, coconut, jalapeno, and cilantro in a bowl.  Place the coconut oil in a small cast iron pan over medium-high heat.  Add the mustard seeds, and fry for about 30 seconds, then add them to the bowl, along with the salt and lemon juice.  Try to not eat it all before serving it to your guests.