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.

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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.