Tempeh with tomatoes and eggplant.

tempeh with tomatoes and eggplant

If you like ratatouille, I think you’ll be into this. It’s got all that deep tomato flavour, but with a touch of smoke and a bit more texture, thanks to the tempeh, and the flavours are sweet and sour and spicy all at once. It also comes together in about half an hour, so it is in many ways a perfect cloudy summer day dish, nourishing and flavourful but not a huge pain in the ass to pull together on a weeknight.

Tempeh is a fermented soy product that originated in Indonesia, where it’s very popular in Bali – the soybeans are bound together by a mold that sort of resembles the white rind on a wheel of brie. It’s a living food that’s very high in protein and fibre, and it’s got a mild flavour and firm texture that has allowed me to pass it off as chicken nuggets to some of our less discerning family members. Tempeh is often found near the tofu in the market; if you can’t find it, you can use extra firm tofu.

If you’re in Vancouver, check out Tempea Foods tempeh, which is made locally and often available at the Vancouver Farmer’s Markets. I am in love with this product (I don’t get paid to say that, so it’s earnest).

For the recipe that follows, if you’re not able to find tamarind paste, use cooking molasses. If you’re not able to find lime leaves, use the zest and juice of an additional lime. Look for fresh lime leaves in Asian grocery stores or in the Asian ingredients section of your market’s produce section; you can often find dried or frozen lime leaves in Asian markets as well.

An aside: Why The Name ‘Kaffir Lime’ Is Wildly Offensive To Many.

IMG_6540Tempeh with tomatoes and eggplant

(Makes four servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 6 garlic gloves
  • 1″ (2.5 cm) piece ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. sambal oelek
  • 1 tbsp. tamarind paste
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 lime leaf
  • Zest and juice one one lime
  • 7 oz. (200 g) block tempeh, cut into inch-wide squares
  • 1/2 lb. (225 g) Japanese eggplant, halved lengthwise and cut into inch-wide pieces
  • 1 1/2 lbs. (680 g)  tomatoes, quartered lengthwise and then widthwise into 8 pieces
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup toasted cashews
  • Finely chopped scallions, for garnish

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass, and cook – stirring occasionally – until browned and slightly charred in places, about three minutes. Pour this mixture into a blender.

To the blender, add brown sugar, sambal oelek, tamarind paste or molasses, fish sauce, ground turmeric, lime leaf (if using), and lime zest and juice. Blend until pureed. Set aside.

Add the pan back to medium-high heat and add another tablespoon of oil.

Cook the tempeh for about two minutes per side, until browned and charred in places. Remove tempeh to a plate lined with paper towel.

Add the final tablespoon of oil to the pan. Cook the eggplant in a manner similar to the tempeh – until browned and charred in bits. Another two minutes.

Add the tomatoes to the pan, and add the tempeh back. Reduce heat to medium. Add the reserved blender mixture. Add salt and pepper. Stir the mixture together and cook – stirring occasionally – until the tomatoes and eggplant have expressed most of their liquid and the sauce has thickened, another 10 to 12 minutes. The mixture should resemble a chunky tomato sauce.

Stir cashews into the pan, and then sprinkle with scallions. Serve over rice.

 

 

Rhubarb sauce with rosemary.

My parents have always had a rhubarb plant in the backyard; I think the plant originated with my grandparents, but I can’t be sure. I like the idea that it might have, but it could just as easily have come from Art Knapp’s Plantland, a nursery we’d sometimes go to where you could ride in golf carts to pick up infant cherry trees and the stubby shrubs that divided every suburban home from the one beside it.

We always had rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb and dumplings, and, if we were lucky, rhubarb sauce, which was best over vanilla ice cream, but also worked pretty well as a pancake topping.

I don’t know why we had rhubarb; it’s not an easy fruit to feed to kids, and yet I recall eating it from the beginning, or as close to the beginning as I’m able to remember. It’s sour and stringy, and some years are worse than others, but every spring it turned up in my mom’s pots and pie plates, sweetened with white sugar and apples, and sometimes with strawberries. It didn’t matter if the rhubarb wasn’t good that year – Mom just added more sugar. Maybe that’s what I saw in it?

There’s less rhubarb in my life now, as I can’t just pop into the back yard and pull a few stalks out of the garden as I need them, though I did scope out my mother-in-law’s plant on the weekend with moochy intent – it wasn’t ready. Now if I want rhubarb, I need to pay for it. Fortunately, they had it at the farmer’s market this past weekend. I didn’t buy quite enough for pie or cobbler or crisp, but I did grab enough to stew into sauce; this one is a little sweet, a little savoury, and great with rich, fatty Greek yogurt and a few flecks of black pepper and bee pollen, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The rosemary is what makes this; a little goes a long way, and the end result tastes the way spring feels, especially those first few warm rays of morning sunlight through your kitchen window after it’s rained for weeks and weeks.

Rhubarb sauce

(Makes about 2 cups.)

  • 1 lb. rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1/2 cup honey*
  • 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

In a covered pot over medium-low heat, simmer rhubarb and honey for ten minutes, or until rhubarb has expelled most of its liquid.

Remove lid, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until sauce has thickened to the consistency you desire; I like a slightly chunky sauce.

Add rosemary and pepper, and simmer for a minute or two, and then spoon it into a jar and use as needed. Keeps for about a week in the fridge; if you end up making extra, it’s wonderful baked into muffins instead of applesauce.

*You may have to sweeten this to taste, depending on the rhubarb you get. Taste as you go, but keep in mind you may need up to 2/3 cup of sweetener per pound of rhubarb and this will vary from plant to plant and year to year. 

 

Maggi meatball soup.

Maggi meatball soup started out as “groentesoep met balletjes,” or Dutch vegetable soup with meatballs, which I guess it still kind of is? It kind of is. Maggi, the shorthand name for Maggi-Würze, is a sweet, soy-based seasoning sauce Dutch people (and not just Nick) use in abundance, whether a dish needs it or not. It’s actually a rather international thing – Maggi sauce spans continents, and is used everywhere from the Netherlands to the Philippines, from Germany to Pakistan. It’s sweet, very salty, and keeps forever without needing to be refrigerated, and it’s great for seasoning meatballs.

This soup is somewhere between Italian Wedding and plain old chicken soup, with soft, tender meatballs, noodles and veggies in a clear chicken broth. If you are like my mother-in-law, you would serve this with soft, buttered buns and thin slices of deli ham and Gouda; if you are like me, you will retrieve half a loaf of grocery store garlic bread from the depths of your freezer and then burn it under your broiler while you eat half a bag of pre-dinner chips and lose 15 minutes Googling Maggi’s origin story. If you are like my four-year-old, you will drown three handfuls of goldfish crackers in the broth and claim it is too hot to eat long after your small bowl of soup has gone cold.

Anyway, this is good with whatever you want to serve it with, but it’s best with soft white bread in some fashion.

IMG_1872Maggi meatball soup

Meatballs:

  • 1/2 lb. extra lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. Maggi seasoning sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Soup:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 carrots, quartered lengthwise and then chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, quartered lengthwise and then chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 2 tsp. yellow curry powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup fine egg noodles
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped

In a large bowl and using your hands, mush together meatball ingredients until well mixed. Form meatballs about half an inch (1.25 cm) in diameter; you should end up with about 40. Set these aside.

In a large pot over medium-high heat, add oil, carrots, celery, shallot, and garlic, and cook for about two minutes, until colours have brightened and everything’s coated in oil. Add salt, curry powder, and the bay leaf, and cook for another minute or two, until the curry is fragrant and starting to stick a little bit to the bottom of the pot. Add stock.

Bring the pot of soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Drop the meatballs into the pot, stirring gently, and let these simmer for 10 minutes.

Add egg noodles,. and cook for another five minutes or until noodles are al denté.

Taste the soup. Adjust salt to taste. Add lemon juice, and parsley, remove the bay leaf, and then serve.

Gezellig, and a spot of mustard.

Mosterdsoep (Dutch mustard soup)

January is always a month of catch-up, a chilly, cloudy month when all of a sudden the bills are bigger than you thought they’d be and the deadlines you ignored in December are here, now, with projects not as straightforward as you assumed they’d be when you hastily agreed to them during the holiday season’s drinky haze. January is uncomfortable, a time for confronting excesses of every kind, including enthusiasm. Which is why we need gezelligheid.

Gezellig” is a Dutch word that doesn’t really have an English translation. Similar, in ways, to the more well-known Danish concept of “hygge,” what it means, sort of, is something along the lines of warm coziness or comfortable happiness. Pouring yourself into a pair of fleece pajamas and slumping into a heap of blankets and pillows with a cup of milky tea and a book? Gezellig. The way your favourite café or bookstore or brewery glows warm and golden against the black dampness of a January evening? Gezellig. Thick socks and Wes Anderson movies and knit scarves and slow dancing and Rufus Wainwright and the way that vanilla sugar cookies make your kitchen smell as they bake? Gezellig.

A bowl of homemade soup in the yellow light of your dining room with a small person whose hands dimple when his fingers flex to tear a hunk of bread apart, and who pauses after every third bite to get up from his seat and hug you? Gezellig.

It’s the little things that, when taken in sum, are everything. It’s that feeling where you can’t imagine going anywhere, because why would you leave? Gezelligheid is the exact right thing to embrace when it’s January and you just can’t even with any of this other stuff.

The recipe that follows is for Dutch mustard soup, a thing that is wonderful in the way that Polish dill pickle soup is – until you try it, you won’t understand why it should even exist. Traditionally this is thickened with both flour or cornstarch and egg yolks. To make it just slightly healthier, I’ve replaced the flour with a potato and added a couple of extra yolks; the result is something between vichyssoise and avgolemono, but with mustard, and it’s delicious.

Mosterdsoep (Dutch mustard soup)

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 2 slices bacon, sliced into lardons
  • 2 cups sliced thinly sliced leek (from about two leeks, white and light green parts only)
  • 1/2 pound starchy potato, (such as Russet) peeled and diced
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. grainy Dijon mustard*
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow curry powder

In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat, brown bacon until crispy, about four minutes. Scoop the bacon from the pot and onto a plate lined with paper towel. Pour off all but two tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat; if less than two tablespoons remain, make up the difference with a bit of butter.

Add leeks and quickly stir to coat in the fat. Add the potato and garlic, and then the chicken stock, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon as you do. Add salt, and bring the liquid in the pot to a boil; reduce to medium, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together sour cream, egg yolks, mustard, curry powder, and two tablespoons of cold water. Set aside.

Remove the pot from the heat and purée using an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, let this cool for about ten minutes, and, working in batches, blend until smooth in a regular blender.

Return the mixture to the heat and bring it all back up to a boil.

Remove the mixture from the heat, and, working quickly, pour the sour cream mixture into the pot in a thin stream while whisking constantly, so as not to allow the eggs to scramble. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed; you may not need to add additional salt, as mustard is generally salty enough on its own.

Serve topped with reserved bacon, a dollop of additional sour cream, Maggi seasoning (if you’ve got it), and chopped fresh chives or scallions. Crusty bread for sopping is essential.

*If you can find it, use Zaanse Molen Dutch mustard; if not, Maille’s Thick Country Mustard (or something like it) is a good substitution. In Canada, get President’s Choice Old Fashioned Dijon mustard at any Superstore or Loblaw’s – it’ll run you about two dollars. Can’t find any of these? Mix one tablespoon of grainy Dijon with one tablespoon of regular Dijon. 

Swarni’s tofu bhurji.

Between right now and the last time I posted here, I wrote 32 drafts of posts I either forgot about or decided were terrible and then sort of thought “whatever, I give up, I AM TERRIBLE,” and then ate my way into a new pants size. The timing of the new Adele record was ideal because it hit me right at peak-wallow, and let me tell you, you do not want to read the Hello-inspired blog post I considered somewhere around the third week of December.

(For your and Nick’s benefit, I ate every last one of those feelings, many of them on crackers and with glasses of very cold white wine.)

But things are looking up. I’ve reignited my relationship with MyFitnessPal, which means I – once again – have a handy, non-human place to direct my contempt. I haven’t eaten cheese in four days, which has been hard but necessary. And I got a few work-appropriate sweater-dress/leggings outfits for Christmas and they’re making the bloat a lot easier to hide in this lumpy post-holiday interim.

And I have a few new recipes, including this one from my lovely, wonderful friend Swarni whom I bother every day at work. Swarni is an essential member of the office potluck team, and a harsh critic of any Indian food brought into the office that isn’t up to her exacting standards. She brought a big dish of her tofu bhurji in for a holiday potluck in mid-December and it was so good that I spent the rest of last month haranguing her for the recipe.

I ended up adapting the recipe a little bit, as Swarni gets her spices ground fresh when she’s in India and so they’re more potent than mine; I also use a bit of turmeric for more of an eggy colour. It’s a very mild dish and good for children (even mine, praise Swarni!), but if you like things spicy, a little (or a lot of) hot sauce works well here.

Tofu bhurji is perfect for weeknights, and January when we have no money and pretty much just fridge scraps with which to feed ourselves. I’ve used butter here, but you could easily turn this vegan by simply replacing the butter with a bit of oil. It’s a bit like scrambled eggs, in the end, but with none of the fart taste that so often accompanies a poorly scrambled egg. It’s magic, and it’s not cheese which, just this once, is a very good thing.

Swarni’s Tofu Bhurji

(Makes two to four servings.)

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Madras or other yellow curry powder
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 lb. (454 g) medium-firm tofu, drained and patted dry
  • Cilantro

In a large pan over medium-high heat, melt butter and stir together onion, jalapeño pepper, and ginger. Cook for about a minute, until the pepper brightens in colour, then reduce heat to medium-low. Stirring regularly, cook for seven to 10 minutes, until veggies have softened and turned golden.

Meanwhile, mash tofu with a potato masher, or use your hands to crumble it until it resembles curds of scrambled egg. Set aside.

Add tomato, garlic, curry powder, salt, garam masala, cumin, and turmeric to the pan and cook for another three to five minutes, until the liquid from the tomatoes has mostly disappeared and the contents of the pan resemble a soft paste.

Add frozen peas, and cook for another three to five minutes, until the water from the peas has mostly disappeared.

Add the tofu to the pan, and mix well. Partially cover the pan and cook for another five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally. The pan should be mostly dry on the bottom, and the tofu should be evenly coated in spices.

Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Stir in chopped fresh cilantro, and serve with a blurp of your favourite hot sauce and rice or warm roti bread. Would even be good on toast, come to think of it.

And Happy New Year! I hope your 2016 is delicious and everything you hope and want and need it to be.

 

Taco fried rice.

The first time I ever heard about taco rice I didn’t have much information to go on other than “yeah, duh, that sounds amazing. I would like to have that now, please.”

As usual, I wasn’t entirely paying attention and when it came time to try making it for the first time, I missed a few essential details.

Taco rice is one of those magical, confusing dishes that results from a bunch of ideas all jumbled up and served on one plate. It’s origin is Japanese – Okinawan, specifically – with influence from a bunch of taco-craving American GIs based on the island. It came up in the most recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, and it was only then that I understood. Says Bourdain: “This unholy, greasy, starchy, probably really unhealthy delight, a booze-mop-turned-classic, caught on big time.”

Taco fried rice baseIn short, what I thought was taco rice was not taco rice at all. Taco rice is a layered thing – spiced, fried ground meat on top of white rice, with lettuce and tomatoes and cheese on top of that. Taco fried rice is unholy in its own way, the kind of thing you would make if you were drunk in your kitchen late at night, or if it was the 1950s. It’s exotic! Except it’s not.

It’s comfort food and you should be comfortable when you eat it.

So, here’s my misinterpretation of taco rice. What is authenticity anyway?

Taco fried rice

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, halved lengthwise and then diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 2 cups prepared salsa (either homemade or store-bought)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat, saute onion, celery, bell pepper, jalapeño pepper, and corn until colours have brightened, about two minutes. Add garlic and cook for another two minutes, stirring occasionally until veggies have just begun to soften.

Crumble the ground pork into the pan. Add chili powder, cumin, paprika, black pepper, coriander, and oregano to the pan, and stir, breaking up the pork with a wooden spoon as you go. Cook for about five minutes, until pork is cooked through and the pan appears dry on the bottom.

Add soy sauce and rice vinegar, and stir to combine. Add rice. Stir again.

Add salsa, and stir. Cook for another three minutes, until most of the liquid in the pan has disappeared. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Stir in cilantro and serve with accompaniments.

Taco fried rice with toppingsAccompaniments:

  • Shredded cabbage
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Diced avocado
  • Thinly sliced jalapeño peppers
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Hot sauce, such as Tapatio or Cholula

EarthBites and Spaghetti alla Carbonara

atung

Last week, the folks from Rocky Mountain Flatbread, one of my favourite local pizza places (and a kid-friendly spot to boot!) invited me to sit in on a cooking class with Alex Tung, a Vancouver-based chef with international credentials and a flair for all things Italian. Given that it was a rainy Thursday and there were plates of pasta a chef would make for me while I watched, it didn’t take much convincing. Chef Tung made three dishes: a luscious pomodoro sauce over a fresh pasta he likened to Italian udon, a fregola dish with clams and fresh tomatoes, and Spaghettoni alla Carbonara, a version of which is described below.

The class was part of a fundraising initiative on behalf of EarthBites, a local program that teaches children in schools about food and nutrition. It’s an issue that’s timely and particularly pressing for urban kids who may not have access to gardens at home.

Every year, EarthBites goes into schools to teach thousands of kids how to grow and cook their own healthy meals. The children are instructed by a dedicated team of urban growers, nutritionists and entrepreneurs who are passionate about engaging children with the food they eat.

You can support EarthBites (and maybe learn something new!) by participating in one of their “watch and learn”-style cooking classes with local chefs, including Top Chef Canada contestant Dawn Doucette, and Chopped Canada winner Alana Peckham. Classes run through the fall; visit their website to learn more. I love getting a few chef-tested recipes to play with at home, so between that and the food and the cheffy banter, this was a winner for me.

To whet your palate, here’s a recipe for Spaghetti alla Carbonara from the class I took with Alex Tung (pictured above), an award-winning French-trained chef with a passion for Italian cooking. If you can’t find guanciale, available in Italian delis and specialty stores, use pancetta or bacon. If you can find smoked hog jowl, it’s comparable (but smoked, which guanciale is not), and generally a bit cheaper. In Vancouver, Buy Low Foods often has smoked hog jowl for around $3.50 per, which – at about a pound per piece – I generally can make work for two meals.

While we’re on the topic of kids and food, you might like to know that this dish was picky-eater approved. The kid practically inhaled it, and requested it for lunch the next day, even though he hates cheese and everything else that is savoury and delicious. Dear Alex, I love you.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

(Adapted from a recipe by Chef Alex Tung. Makes 4 servings.)

  • 1/2 lb. guanciale (or pancetta or bacon), diced
  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • 3 whole eggs plus 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese (slightly cheaper grana padano also works well here)
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste

In a large pan over medium heat, cook diced guanciale until crispy and until fat has rendered, three to ten minutes depending on the size of your dice.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Chef Tung insists that it must taste like sea water; he is right. Cook pasta according to package instructions, about seven to nine minutes until al dente. Between the salted pasta water, the pork and the cheese, it’s likely that you will not need to season the dish with any additional salt.

While your pork and pasta work their magic on your stove, beat eggs and egg yolks in a small bowl. Add cheese, and whisk to combine. Set aside.

If your guanciale cooks quicker than you expected, remove it from the heat but leave it in the pan to keep the rendered fat liquid.

When pasta is ready, scoop out about a cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot but do not return the pot to the stove. Add the guanciale and its rendered fat (like, all of it), stir, then add the egg mixture, stirring well and quickly. Stir in the water, about a quarter of a cup at a time, until the pasta is coated in an satiny sauce.

Taste. Does it need salt? Add salt.

Scoop the pasta into bowls, then sprinkle liberally with black pepper. Serve immediately.

Learn more about school programs and adult cooking classes at earthbites.ca.


EarthBites_logo_header_200This post wasn’t exactly sponsored, but I did get to take the cooking class for free. No one told me what to say, but I think the assumption was that I would say something good? I don’t know. Maybe no one should ever assume that of me. I can be a real jerk.