Tofu Curry with Bok Choy and Peanuts

All day long it looked like it was dusk. Low gray clouds straddled the mountain tops and the fields virtually disappeared in fog. It had been a long week, I was tired, and I wanted a home-cooked meal, but one that didn’t take a lot of effort. A vegetarian meal with a spicy sauce that uses mostly kitchen pantry staples was the perfect recipe!

I love Thai food and always order red curry sauce as opposed to green curry, but now I’m not sure why. I’m a convert! While comparing the bottles of red and green curry paste I have in the fridge (I buy Thai Kitchen brand), the only difference between the two is red and green chilis, everything else is the same. Though I think the green curry is a bit milder (note to non chili heads!), I found it gave just the right amount of warmth I wanted. Paired with coconut milk, the blend of lemongrass and tangy lime made a flavorful sauce. I don’t know how to cut a baby bok choy into a “wedge,” so I just chopped them. And no need to fry the tofu in advance, put everything in a Dutch oven and stir. That’s all the effort you’ll have to do.

I made a pot of brown rice, and had thought about making it fancier, adding some coconut milk, flaked coconut, and chopped fresh ginger, but decided against the extra effort, but that would be a great addition. And this received a rousing thumb’s up from The Eater of the House; upon his second helping, he declared this the BEST dish I’ve EVER made! “You better write about this!” he said. And so I am.

This warm, bright emerald-green sauce took the day’s gray color away and was the perfect end to the week and start of the weekend!

green curry

Tofu Curry with Bok Choy and Peanuts

This recipe first appeared in the September 2015 issue of Cooking Light magazine.
Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: 3/4 cup rice and 1 1/2 cups curry)

1 1/4 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves, divided
3 tablespoons green curry paste
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 (15-ounce) can light coconut milk
1 (14-ounce) package firm water-packed tofu, drained and cubed
12 ounces baby bok choy, cut into wedges
1 (8-ounce) can sliced bamboo shoots, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce, divided (use tamari for gluten-free)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 (8.8-ounce) packages precooked brown rice (such as Uncle Ben’s)
1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped

1. Combine 1 cup cilantro and next 4 ingredients (through coconut milk) in a blender; process until smooth.

2. Bring curry mixture and tofu to a boil in a large Dutch oven over high heat; stir gently. Add bok choy, bamboo shoots, 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, and salt to pan. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer 4 minutes.

3. Heat rice according to package directions. Divide rice among 4 bowls. Top evenly with curry mixture; sprinkle evenly with peanuts and remaining 1/4 cup cilantro. Drizzle servings evenly with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce.

MVK’s Like of the Week: The Doughnut Project, West Village, New York City
doughnuts 2 I had made plans way back in June, and the time had finally come to meet my girlfriends in New York City on Halloween. We didn’t have much on our itinerary, lots of walking, bookstores, and doughnuts were at the top of the list; Jana’s friend, Troy Neal, recently opened The Doughnut Project in the West Village and we were going to check it out!

Now, anyone who knows me well knows that doughnuts and pie are my weaknesses; offered a nice fluffy glazed doughnut I have a hard time saying no. But walking around the city for the day allowed me to feel a little bit better about having a late afternoon indulgence!

I admit I was skeptical having my first test bite of an Olive Oil and Pepper doughnut. Who would have thought it would be delicious, but it was! We decided to sample three: Beet Stuffed with Ricotta, a Maple-Bacon Bar, and Salted Chocolate.

doughnuts 1I love beets and wondered what those who don’t like these ruby reds thought, but they seem to be their most popular doughnut. I can see why; the rich ricotta with a bright red sweet topping was my favorite. The dough itself is very nutmeggy so it actually has flavor as opposed to other bakery sweets. Do you know what a maple bar is? I didn’t, but I do now as I was educated on Seattle’s maple bars, which is a doughnut shaped like a bar. We don’t have anything like that on the East Coast (it’s not a cruller), but The Doughnut Project has them! A thin layer of a maple frosting with a piece of bacon, it was decadent! And the chocolate doughnut was out of this world. And it was real chocolate glaze, not like a cake frosting you find on some other doughnuts. Paired with the nutmeg dough it was SO good.

Coffee is the only hot drink sold, but they have a non-compete clause with the tea shop next door, so I was able to buy a cup to have with my sweet snack. You can find them on online in all the usual places, http://www.thedoughnutproject.com/, on Facebook, Twitter (#TDP_NYC), and on Instagram. I have plans to go back to New York in the spring and I know I’m going to take a long walk so I can stop off for another visit!

The Doughnut Project
10 Morton Street
New York City

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Yellow Bean Salad

Even though fall is one of my favorite seasons, I am not ready to give up summer yet, so I’m extending it as long as I can. I turn an eye when I see a swath of golden leaves, I ignore the winter squash I see overtaking the zucchini at the farmer’s market, and I pay no attention to flicking on the lights when I get up in the morning. Still, the sign for the apple orchard is now up, it’s nearly dark when I get home around 7:30, and I’ve pulled out my knitting for future winter projects. But I’m still going to do what I can to extend summer just a little bit longer. And when I received this recipe in my email a few weeks ago, I knew it was just the tonic.

Heidi Swanson began her blog, 101cookbooks.com, a few years back, which in turn has become two cookbooks, Super Natural Every Day and Super Natural Cooking. Her photographs are beautiful and her recipes are healthy, easy, and exotic but without the fuss. When I read through the recipe, I had my doubts as to how the flavors would meld together, but there was no need for worry; the garlic, cilantro, and coconut milk mixed together blend well with the yellow beans and tofu. There seemed to be a shortage of yellow beans in the past few weeks, but I luckily found some at the last vendor I checked at the farmer’s market. Try making this with the last round of this season’s yellow beans, or save the recipe for next August. It will be worth the wait!

Yellow Bean Salad
From Heidi Swanson’s, 101cookbooks.com

1 pound yellow beans
1 serrano chili pepper
5 green onions, green parts reserved
A big handful of cilantro
1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
¾ tsp. sea salt
1 TBS sunflower oil
1 c. coconut milk
1 ½ TBS lemon juice
½ c. toasted pepitas
1 ½ c. tiny pan-fried tofu

1. Cut the beans into 1 inch segments on the bias. Add to boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Run under cold water, drain, and shake off all excess water.

2. Place the chili pepper, onions, cilantro, garlic, salt, and oil in the blender and chop. Add the coconut milk and lemon juice to taste.

3. Place beans in a bowl with tofu. Toss with the dressing. Sprinkle with the reserved green onions.

Cook’s Notes:
• 
I left out the pepitas and it was still tasty.
• Instead of a serrano chili, I used a jalapeno, which gave it a bit more heat and zip.
• This is one of those instances where less is more; I had a lot of leftover dressing for another use. Just a little bit over the beans and tofu was perfect.
• I was told by the eater of the house that the beans were too “raw.” They didn’t bother me, but if you want them a bit on the soft side, but boil them longer than 30 seconds. A minute or two should do it.
• And of course, if you have tofu-loathing people at your table, you can always serve it on the side, or not at all.

The Wonders of Miso

When a friend and reader asked me to do a post on miso paste, I happily obliged; miso was on my grocery list and miso soup was on this week’s menu!

Miso paste is used in Asian cooking that is made from rice and/or soy and can be used as the base for soups and dressings. A 13 ounce tub can be on the pricey side, I paid a little more than $6, but I buy a tub one about every two years, so you never have to worry about it going bad. It adds a nice nutty flavor to whatever you are cooking. It is fairly salty, so be sure to taste before adding any additional salt. You can buy it in white or brown rice; I usually buy white or yellow, but this time I bought brown, since the only difference on the label was a lower sodium content.

I used miso in my recipe for Asian Chicken Salad, found here. It adds a really nice flavor to the chicken, pasta, ginger, and scallions.

Another recipe I make with it is salad dressing. Many a summer evening when we’re starving and need to eat NOW, I place some cooked steak or chicken on top of some greens with tomatoes and scallions, and whisk up the dressing to put on top. Mince some garlic and place in a bowl, add about a teaspoon of miso paste, and the juice of a lemon until it is thin. Add freshly grated pepper and taste test to make sure the flavors are all balanced. Serve and eat!

But of course, the most popular way to use miso is to make soup. Here is a recipe given to me by a co-worker years ago. It’s always been my go-to recipe when I’m in the mood for this soup. This recipe is incredibly inexpensive, flexible,  and forgiving; I usually mince my ginger, and frequently leave out the seaweed. You can add other veggies if you want or leave out the veggies and just add onion and tofu. Or leave out the tofu completely and just have veggies. Any way you make it, it’s going to be delicious and warm on a cold December’s day! And this is the last soup recipe, at least for a couple of weeks!

Miso Soup
Place two or three strips of wakame (or other kind of seaweed) in very hot water to soak. Gently simmer 6 cups of water and two tablespoons of tamari (soy sauce can be substituted. Use gluten-free tamari if needed). Add 1 carrot julienned (you can cut baby carrots into fourths), 1 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger, and 1 cup thinly sliced onion. Add diced tofu, if desired. Drain wakame, chop, and add to broth. Gently simmer for 30 minutes.

Using two tablespoons of miso, make a paste with a small portion of the broth. Add the paste to the soup and stir. Continue to simmer gently for a few more moments. Added touches: chopped fresh scallions, roasted sesame seeds just before serving.

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Any of you who have read the page about my favorite cooks know I adore Mark Bittman. So imagine my surprise when I read he was in Vermont on Black Friday! He was in Burlington with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at the Intervale, a community supported farm. He writes about his experience here. A dream of mine is to cook for Mr. Bittman, so maybe next time he’s in town, he can come south about 30 minutes!

Mushroom, Peanut, Tofu Stew with Greens

While the name of this recipe and the photo both yield something to be desired, the stew does not. This was warm, tasty, nutritious, and with 12 cups, made a week’s worth of  leftovers for lunch and dinner!

This recipe comes from the cookbook, Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health, which was published in 2009. I turn to this when the weather gets colder, as there are lots of delicious and healthy soups, stews, and casseroles, and most everything I’ve made has been a success!

I made this on a lazy Saturday night for dinner, but you could easily fix this after work. I felt the stew was satisfying and rich on its own, so it didn’t call for serving it with rice or bread, but you could definitely have that on the side if you desired. I set out a green salad dressed simply with olive oil and vinegar.

Mushroom, Peanut, Tofu Stew with Greens
From Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health, 2009, page 256
Serves 4-6, yields about 12 cups • Time: 45 minutes

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 ½ cups chopped celery
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups sliced mushrooms (cremini or white) [Note: I used baby bellas]
2 Tablespoons grated peeled ginger root
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 cups water
1 cake or firm tofu (about 16 ounces) diced
3 cups chopped fresh or frozen collards or kale
½ cup peanut butter (Note: Next time, I will cut down on the peanut butter, starting with ¼ cup and working my way up. I find peanut butter rich, and for my palate, ½ cup was too much, the flavor was overpowering.)
¼ to ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. In a soup pot on medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onions, celery, and salt, cover, and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and ginger and cook covered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

2. Add the tomatoes, water, and tofu and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Add the greens, cover, and cook, stirring now and then, until the greens are tender, about 10 minutes

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the peanut butter and about 2 cups of the hot broth until smooth. When the greens are tender, stir the peanut butter and cilantro into the pot. Add more salt to taste.

Variations: For a delicate sweetness, add a 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple when you add the tomatoes and water.

Add Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce to taste. Note: I used about 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne. This added just the right amount of heat with no other added flavor.

Chinese Five Spice Tofu with Black Bean Noodles

A few weeks ago, following a couple of nights away from home with the girls, my sweetie took me out to dinner. We went to our usual, The Bobcat Cafe, a mere seven miles from home, where they brew their own beer and have a rotating menu based on what’s in the garden that season. I hadn’t been in a while so one menu item popped out at me, Chinese Five Spice Seared Tofu served on a bed of black bean noodles with sesame cabbage slaw and cashews. I was imaging noodles made of black beans, but when it arrived it was even better. Crispy triangles of spicy tofu atop a bed of noodles doused in just the right amount of black bean sauce and spice. I studied it carefully and I knew I had to make this at home. And the other evening I did!

I admit, my version wasn’t as good as the Bobcat’s, probably for the mere reason I didn’t use as much oil as they did. The noodles (which got really sticky and probably needed some oil or water before adding the dressing) got a thumb’s up from my audience; the tofu, not so much. Chinese Five Spice resembles more of a cookie spice than one you’d find in an entrée; it has a variety of compositions, but some of its main ingredients are star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and ground fennel seeds. It worked for the Bobcat, maybe next time I’ll use even less of a dusting. If you’re interested in trying the spice, get a little bit at your coop, that’s where I buy all my spices; bought in smaller amounts, your spices will stay fresher–and you’re saving money than buying a whole container of a spice you’ll use for one dish. At $16 a pound, I paid 65 cents, and I have a little bit leftover for another dish.

I liked this dish, and will probably make this again with some tweaks, like adding a tiny bit of oil and cooking water to the noodles. It was easy to put together on a work night, took about 30 minutes from beginning to end, and served with a quick saute of summer vegetables, dinner is ready!

Chinese Five Spice Tofu with Black Bean Noodles
• 2 cubes, fresh tofu, cut horizontally, so you have four pieces
• Chinese Five Spice (found in an ethnic grocer or your coop)
• About four cups cooked noodles (I had leftover lo mein noodles in my cupboard, but any mild, thin noodle will do)

Black Bean Dressing
• 2 teaspoons black bean sauce
• Rice vinegar to thin the sauce
• 1 large teaspoon sambal oelek (fresh chili paste), or to taste (if you don’t have that on hand, chili flakes can be substituted)

Heat some mild oil in a skillet and when hot, add the tofu, turning from side to side until crispy. Place on a plate when they are done and when they are cool, add a sprinkle of the Chinese Five Spice on each side. Cut into triangles and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the dressing together. Add more sambal oelek if you like things spicy! Set aside.

Cook the noodles in a large pot according to directions. Drain and place in a large bowl. (**Add a little bit of mild oil and/or cooking water if you don’t want the noodles sticky!**) Add the dressing and mix until all the noodles are covered with sauce. On a plate, add about a cup of noodles and two tofu triangles. Eat! Serves four.

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I listened to Alice Waters of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, on a podcast to and from work the other day. The restaurant is celebrating its 40th anniversary this week! Listening to her talk about food, the flavor of how eating in season is best, and her vision of having a restaurant where people ate good food around a table together was wonderful and inspiring. You can listen to it here, http://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/ or pick it up on iTunes.