Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tandoor-ish Tofu

If you ever find yourself tempted to immerse yourself in the magnificent world of food studies, prepare yourself for an inexhaustible journey into the nature of “authenticity.” Seriously, people can't get enough of it. Who eats what and why and for how long and since when – these are the questions we ask to chip away relentlessly at someone's personal or cultural identity until we either figure out why they do what they do, or, more realistically, until we just start asking different questions. These are issues I love to explore, but ones that have rendered me incapable of just sitting down for “ethnic” food without deconstructing every menu item, every ingredient. I find this to be particularly the case with Indian food (though it applies just as much to “Italian,” “Mexican,” or – god help you - “American”). The bottom line is that there is no national cuisine of India, but an amalgamation of regional specialties. Even what is arguably the most “Indian” dish around – curry – is borne straight out of the womb of colonialism.

Despite my hyper-analytical brain and pseudo-scholarly cynicism, I still found myself yesterday taking stock of the ingredients I had on hand and deciding they spelled I-N-D-I-A-N. And hey, if an American-borne white girl can't marinate some Chinese-invented fermented soy in a mix of flavors that she calls Indian, then, shoot, we might as well take the curry away from the Brits.

Tandoor-ish Tofu

1 package extra-firm tofu, drained

¼ cup plain yogurt

1 tsp tomato paste

1 jalapeno, finely diced

1 tsp cider vinegar

1 inch grated ginger

pinch of brown sugar

1 clove of smashed garlic

2 tsp-ish of garam masala powder, or an audacious mix of cumin, cinnamon, fennel, nutmeg, black pepper... combined with a mortar and pestle

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cut the tofu into strips, cubes, or steaks. Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a small bowl, whisking together and adjusting the seasoning (I emphasized the cumin, just because I thought it was “safe”). Pour the marinade over the tofu in a small baking dish and marinate for twenty minutes or so. Bake for about ten minutes, or until the tofu is slightly browned, turn, and bake until the other side is browned. Serves 4-6.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Optimist Prime

Sometimes the best things happen when we suspend our conventions. In love, and life, and the kitchen, there really are no recipes, no rules – just a continuum of trial and error. Quoth the lady Julia, after expertly flipping an omelette square onto the side of a saute pan: “you just have to have to courage of your convictions.” And how she stands to embolden us all.

So today I spare the recipe. Though I'm flattered that my mom requested that every page of this modest blog be printed out so that she may try these silly recipes (!), I really can't claim to know many of the rules. I'm just finally in touch with what feels right. I will, with that in mind, share this bangin' breakfast sammy I made today, one that last year's vegan-leanin', dogmatic locavore would have only dreamt of, and never realized. In completely non-structured format, I suggest you toast a couple pieces of bread, brush one with a touch of spicy mustard, fry or scramble an egg, slice up an apple, shred some Wisconsin sharp cheddar, heat up a couple Morningstar veggie patties, stack it all up, and go to town. Life is too short and too rich with potential to worry rules, be they self-imposed or otherwise. And I was too hungry to care that London-cat walked into the frame the instant the shutter turned. 'Cause this little glass of o.j. is half-full, y'all.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

¡Ay Ay Arepas!

Since incurring moving costs, darting between jobs, and spending several weeks without a paycheck, the food budget's been pretty tight. But I remembered how I avoided starvation in my early 20's on a thrift store employee's salary: ethnic = cheap. Find yourself an Indian, Chinese, or Latin market in your neighborhood and put your grocery savings towards bills, beer or, ahem, a new tattoo.

Enter my new affair with Hi-Lo, the Latin supermercado up the street. I'd rather go there than to the Stop-and-Shop in Jackson Square; it's closer and cheaper, and as long as I stay clear from the creepy meat aisle, I'm all set. No, it's not organic, not local, but it's what I got. And shopping there always inspires me to cook Latin. I wanted to do something with the Goya corn flour that my sister gave me awhile back. It's just been chillin' in my freezer, so for inspiration, I went straight to the back of the bag: arepas! They're a Columbian/Venezuelan griddle cake made from corn flour, sometimes milk and butter, or just water.

Polenta, mush, hasty pudding, grits, hominy - folk culture has a long history with similar dishes, as corn was often the only grain available to poor or disenfranchised groups. Most of our ancestors probably ate a steady diet of corn and cured meat, and we can be thankful if they were spared from pellagra. Which is why I'm always amused when a polenta dish shows up on a menu. Peasant food becomes haute cuisine and the green grass grew all around...

Anyway! ¡Back to arepas! I threw in some additions based on this Times recipe and had enough batter to make 'em twice. The first time I fried them, as tradition dictates, and found them to be crispy, yes, but too greasy even for this lover of all things deep-fried (potatoes, clams, oreos...). The next day I baked those babies, and while they were more palatable with less oil, I was missing the crispy outside. So, I'll lay out both ways and let you be the judge. Also, I wussed out and removed the seeds from the jalapeño, and I got no heat, which was not my plan. And let me just say that while I don't love cornmeal dishes (I've never had a polenta dish that I like), I see oodles of possibilities with these guys. I first tried them with flash-cooked cherry tomatoes. I ate my leftovers with sauteed kale and onions. With some sort of gravy, these would be a bangin' breakfast item.


1 cup cornmeal

1 cup water, milk, or perhaps soy milk (which I just thought of!)

½ cup queso fresco o queso columbiano, crumbled

1 jalapeño, seeded if you're shy about heat, and finely diced

¼ cup cilantro, finely minced

possible accompaniments (not all traditional, but tasty): salsa, black beans, cooked greens, quartered tomatoes, chopped scallions, gravy...

For the dough: Combine the cornmeal and queso, then slowly add the water or milk and stir to combine. Allow the dough to rest for about 15 minutes. Form the dough into a golf-ball sized ball and flatten with your palm.

To fry: Add 3 tablespoons of mild oil (corn, grapeseed, or canola) to a a fry pan with a sturdy bottom. Heat the oil and when it's good and hot, add the arepas, cooking until crisp and browned on one side (about 3 minutes). Flip and cook the other side. Set on a paper bag or paper towel to drain.

To bake: Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a baking sheet or pan with oil. Add the arepas, bake until brown on one side (about ten minutes), flip and bake until the other side is browned.

To serve: You can slit a cooled arepa through the middle like a pita and stuff it with your choice of yummies. Or you can serve them sandwich-style, with two arepas subbing in for bread. Or you can serve them griddle-cake style, with some sort of veggie on top.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Operation: Rescue Soup

Try though it might, my poor little body just can't seem to get over last week. Maybe it was working 32 hours in two days. Or that, for six days straight, every meal I ate was some combination of bread and cheese (I am not making this up). Or the excessive drinking that seems intrinsic to the life of a swingin' culinarian. All I can say that it is with great irony that I am staying home sick the day after being officially offered the job I've been unofficially doing for nearly two months.

Enter the botanical rescue squad! Ginger, miso, and local honey for immunity, and good god, anything vegetal. Nothing has to be prepped for looks, and there's something so earthy and wholesome going on here that it can't not make you feel better. At least, I hope that's the case for me.

Carrot-Miso Soup

3 cups water or stock

5-6 carrots, scrubbed and roughly chopped

1 large onion, roughly chopped

I medium potato, peeled and chopped

1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1 heaping tablespoon miso paste, preferably white (I used brown, which I don't actually love, but it worked.)

1 tablespoon honey

olive oil for saute

Heat the oil in stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and stir until translucent, about five minutes. Add the ginger and carrots and cook for a couple more minutes, until the carrots start to soften. Add the water or stock, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about twenty minutes, or until the carrots and potato are softened. Remove from heat, then stir in the honey and miso paste (it's important to add the miso at the end – boiling miso kills its happy little microbes that lend it its healthful quality). Puree with an immersion blender or food processor and season with a few grindings of black pepper. Serves 2-3.