Saturday, April 27, 2013

Red Lentil and Cauliflower Curry

Henry and I took our first trip to the Spice House in Evanston last weekend, and had ourselves a little shopping spree.

I was in the market for a hot curry powder, but mainly I wanted us to browse and explore, to get inspired in the same way you get inspired in an art-supply store, and to remember that shopping for food need not always be an exhausting rush through the store, chucking the same old things into a cart. Shopping for food can be a delight.

Shopping at the Spice House was a total delight. It smells amazing, they have free samples of candied ginger (Henry's favorite), and just being there was inspiring in exactly the way I'd hoped it would be. Those overflowing shelves of herbs and spices would make anybody want to rush home and rustle something up.

I found my hot curry powder, but we also nabbed some Himalayan Pink Salt (not sure what to do with it, but it is so pretty), double-strength vanilla ("favored by bakers") and bright red paprika, smoked AND hot, how could I resist? 

Here's the thing we rushed home and rustled up. I'd made a batch of Red Lentil and Cauliflower Curry earlier in the week, using spices from the supermarket, and it was good, but our freshly ground, expertly blended curry powder pushed it right over the top. 

Red Lentil and Cauliflower Curry
Serves 3-4

2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
1 tablespoon hot curry powder
1/2 cup dried red lentils, rinsed and drained
1 cup water
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
1 13.5 ounce can coconut milk
5-6 ounces fresh spinach, washed and chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
optional: coriander, parsley, or additional spinach to garnish

Heat coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger, and curry powder and stir constantly for 1 minute. Pay attention - you don't want the garlic to brown and you don't want the curry powder to burn.

Add lentils and water, turn heat up to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.

Add cauliflower, carrots, and coconut milk, bring back to a gentle simmer, and cook covered  over medium-low heat, 10-15 more minutes, until vegetables are tender. 

Add spinach and salt and cook, stirring, 3-4 minutes, until spinach is wilted and bright green.

Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice, taste and adjust seasoning, and serve hot with optional garnish.

Would be nice on basmati rice, but we ate it on its own out of bowls and it was totally satisfying.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Vegan Mexican Chocolate Shake: Have it your way

I thought that this week's cooking lesson was going to be a throw-away, basically a week off, but it ended up being fantastically instructive, a chance to teach Henry both how to follow a recipe and how to tweak a recipe, and a chance for the two of us to spend a little time at the feet of food writer Mark Bittman - alway time well spent.

It started a couple of weeks ago with Bittman's feature in the New York Times Magazine, Yes, Healthful Fast Food Is Possible. But Edible? A great article that asked if conditions are finally ripe for affordable, healthy, fast-food. He was after my heart with this topic. When I was an actively touring musician, a vegetarian trying in vain to eat well on the road in 1991, I used to sit in the van and dream about walking into a Burger King and ordering a veggie burger with sweet potato fries. But my heart really jumped when I reached Bittman's sidebar, "Welcome to McBitty's," a collection of three recipes right out of my road dreams: Bean Burgers, Sweet Potato Fries, and a Mexican Chocolate Shake.

"Henry," I said, "LOOK at THIS."

"Let's make that," he said. "All of it."

Everybody knows that student-led learning is the best of all, so it was settled; Henry had determined the curriculum for our next lesson, not to mention the menu for our Saturday family lunch. I had modest expectations for the cooking lesson, but high expectations for the burger and fries.

I should have had high expectations all around. I hadn't realized how valuable it would be for Henry to follow a published recipe carefully, to see how spectacular the results can be when you do, particularly when it happens to be a well-tested one from someone who knows his stuff. Henry tends to be minimally interested in recipes, much more interested in technique, so this was eye-opening. We followed the recipe for sweet potato fries to a T and they were perfect. We did the same with the bean burgers, except we substituted parsley for the cilantro since Henry is one of those mutant cilantro-haters, and again, amazing results.

But we took some liberties with the milkshake, opting for a deeper, darker chocolate treat, in keeping with our family's taste, and adding a homemade coconut whipped topping. In the end Henry gained new respect for good recipes as well as the confidence to take a good recipe and have it his way.

Vegan Mexican Chocolate Shake
adapted from Mark Bittman's recipe, see link above
Serves 4-6

2 cups almond milk
1 lb silken tofu
12 ounces dark chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Blend ingredients well and chill in freezer for 30 minutes or so. Top with whipped coconut cream and chocolate shavings or chunks, optional.

Whipped Coconut Cream
serves 4-6, depending on how much you eat with a spoon out of the food processor

2 cans coconut milk (not light)
1-2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Put unopened cans of coconut milk in the freezer for 2 or 3 hours. It takes this long for the cream to separate from the water. Scoop the cream out and into a food processor, add sugar and vanilla, and process for a few minutes until it's whipped and light.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Chard with Soba Noodles and Lemon-Tahini Sauce

"Hmm," said Henry. "Yeah." He was chopping a ton of chard, I was making tahini sauce and telling him all about seasonal eating, about how it's healthy to eat heavier food in the winter, more fat and protein, and healthy to eat lighter in the spring and summer, more in-season fruits and vegetables. I was extremely interested in what I had to say. He was dead bored.

Oh well. It was a good reminder to ease up on the pedagogy during our cooking lessons, and take more cues from my son. When I have too much of an agenda, a planned spiel, things tend to fall a little flat.

On the bright side, our meal was a success - we started with three plates on the table, overflowing with noodles, chard, green onions, parsley, and a zingy sauce that sang of spring all on its own, without my yammering, and we ended with three empty plates and three happy livers (your liver loves lemon and bitter greens in the spring. There I go again...).

Chard with Soba Noodles and Lemon-Tahini Sauce
Serves 4

8-ounce package soba (buckwheat) noodles
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3 huge bunches of chard, washed well and sliced thinly, stems and all
generous pinch of salt
1 clove garlic, minced finely
1/2 cup tahini
5 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup warm water
2 scallions, sliced
big handful parsley leaves, chopped

Cook soba noodles according to package directions, drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

To make sauce, combine tahini, lemon juice, salt and cayenne in a small bowl. I like to use a fork to mash/whisk these ingredients together. Add water, a tablespoon at a time and whisk well. Tahini can vary in consistency - if sauce is very thick add another tablespoon or so of water.

Heat large wok (or any pot that can contain your mountain of chard) on high heat, add coconut oil and swirl to coat wok. Add chard, a few handfuls at a time, add a nice big pinch of salt and cook, stirring, 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and stir-fry one additional minute. If chard releases a lot of water, pour it off or dump chard into a strainer to drain and return to wok. Reduce heat to medium, add almost all the tahini sauce (save a little to drizzle on top) and stir well for 1 minute.

Divide noodles between plates or bowls, top with chard, scallions, parsley, and the rest of the sauce.

Happy spring!!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Greens with Peanut Ginger Sauce

Sometimes, when I'm on my own as a parent for an extended period of time, I feed my kids cornflakes for dinner.

There, I said it.

I have many friends and family members who are single parents, who get dinner on the table night after night on their own, and I think they're amazing. I do my best, but usually by my third or fourth evening of working, parenting, and managing the household solo it's all I can do to slap bowls, spoons, milk, and cereal on the table. Someday soon, my kids will be accomplished enough cooks that I can curl up in bed with a novel and a glass of wine while one of them makes dinner, but for now, with one kid away in college, one just fourteen and still learning the cooking ropes, and my partner out of the country for two weeks, it's pretty much up to me.

So when I realized that it had been over two days since Henry and I had eaten a vegetable, I tried to cut myself some slack, but the guilt overwhelmed me. I assume that guilt is a universal product of parenting, whether you're partnered, single, or one in a righteous team of sister wives. We all often feel woefully inadequate to the task.

There wasn't much I could do about the guilt, but I did the best thing I could think of in the moment - I stir-fried greens, vast amounts of greens, putting approximately three days worth of vegetables into one meal. 

It takes a little time to prep this quantity of vegetables (I taught Henry a neat technique for cutting collard greens), and to make the scrumptious sauce, but once the wok is hot the thing only takes a few minutes, not all that much longer than pulling cornflakes out of the cupbord. You could serve the stir-fry with rice and baked tofu for a more rounded-out meal, or you could let it be dinner on its own; a heaped plate of greens with a small side of guilt.

Greens with Peanut Ginger Sauce
Serves 2 as a main dish

2 medium - or 3 small - bunches of greens (I like a mixture of collard greens and kale), stemmed and sliced thinly.  To cut collards: stack stemmed leaves, roll up tightly, and slice (see photo at top)
2 cloves garlic minced as finely as possible
2 tablespoons coconut or peanut oil
1 scallion, sliced, optional
3 tablespoons smooth, unsalted peanut butter
2 teaspoons garlic chili hot sauce
1 tablespoon ginger juice (Grate 3 or so inches of ginger, gather into a ball, and squeeze to extract juice. Worth it, I promise)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/3 cup hot water

Prep vegetables: Wash and chop greens, garlic, optional scallion, and set aside.

Make the sauce: In a small bowl, mash together peanut butter, hot sauce, ginger juice and soy sauce with a fork. Add a little of the hot water and stir or whisk to blend well. Whisk in remaining water. Set aside.

Heat a wok over high heat, add oil and swirl to coat wok. Add greens, in batches if necessary, and stir-fry 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and stir-fry 1 minute. Add sauce, pouring down the side of the wok, stir well, and cook 1 minute more.

Serve immediately, with optional scallion sprinkled on top.

Now be happy: you ate your greens, you fed your kid, and you are probably not really the world's worst mom!