Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Tofu and Yellow Wax Beans with Chraimeh Sauce

What does cooking simple mean to you? It might mean something different to me depending on the day. Right now, I’m trying to make my Thanksgiving Day cooking as simple as possible this year, and that means getting as much done in advance as I can. I’m still making everything from scratch and shopping multiple times to make use of as many local ingredients as possible, but my goal is to pull it all together with less effort on the day of the feast. I was delighted to read the introduction in the new book Ottolenghi Simple: A Cookbook, of which I received a review copy, and learn of the intent to cover the bases for several different views of “simple.” The categories include recipes that work well if you’re short on time, if you prefer to use fewer ingredients, if you like to make things ahead, if you’d rather use pantry ingredients than shop, if you enjoy dishes that cook themselves with less hands-on time, and some that surprise with how easy they are to make. There’s even a code system to mark which category each recipe fits into, and most fit into more than one. It is an Ottolenghi book, and the style of cooking and flavors are just what we’ve come to expect. Here though, the ingredient lists are shorter, and there’s a bit less fuss with each recipe. The chapters cover brunch, raw dishes, cooked vegetables, grains, pasta, meat, seafood, and dessert. For brunch, I want to try the Scrambled Harissa Tofu and the Beet Caraway and Goat Cheese Bread. And, I’d love to sit down to a lunch spread of several of the vegetable dishes. Just because they’re simple, it doesn’t mean they lack big flavors. The recipe for Gary’s Stir-Fried Cabbage with Garlic and Chile sounds delicious with big, torn leaves of Napa cabbage, spicy chiles, green onions, and a squeeze of lime. Dishes with lentils kept catching my eye as well. There’s the Curried Lentil Tomato and Coconut Soup that I’ve made a couple of times, Roasted Butternut Squash with Lentils and Dolcelatte, and Puy Lentils with Eggplant Tomatoes and Yogurt. I could also happily work my way through the pasta recipes with Gigli with Chickpeas and Za’atar, Pappardelle with Rose Harissa Black Olives and Capers, and the Pasta with Pecorino and Pistachios. I got intrigued by a new-to-me sauce from Libya called Chraimeh and had to try the green bean and tofu dish in which it’s used. 

Clearly, making this dish was meant to be on the day I decided to make it. I was hoping I would get lucky and find some green beans at the Boggy Creek Farm stand. Instead of green beans, they had perfect, just-picked yellow wax beans, and I was thrilled to rush home with them and get cooking. To start, those fabulous beans were blanched, drained, and set aside. Next, the drained and cubed tofu was to be fried. I have an aversion to the mess that results from frying tofu on the stovetop, and I always use the broiler instead. I press the tofu to remove as much liquid as possible. Then, I cut it into cubes or whatever shape is needed. I toss the cubes with some oil on a sheet pan, and I place the pan under the broiler. Every few minutes, I turn the tofu to the next side and repeat until it’s browned and crisped all over. To make the sauce, minced fresh garlic, paprika, crushed caraway seeds, ground cumin, and cinnamon were combined. The spice mixture was fried in oil just briefly before tomato paste, lime juice, and salt were added. Water was added next to thin the sauce, and it was stirred until bubbling. The cooked beans were added to the sauce and warmed. Off the heat, the crisp tofu cubes and cilantro leaves were gently stirred into the mixture. 

I served the beans and tofu with brown rice to round out the meal. I also loved the suggestion in the head note to serve this sauce as a dip with bread. It was full of flavor but not too spicy. Now that I flip back through pages of the book, I see that this recipe has one of the longer ingredient lists. Still, it was quick enough to pull everything together, and the process was definitely simple. There will be lots more simple cooking like this in my near future. 

Tofu and haricots verts with chraimeh sauce 
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Ottolenghi Simple: A Cookbook.

This is a lovely veggie main, served as it is or with some rice. Chraimeh is a piquant sauce from Libya. It keeps well in the fridge for at least 1 week (or can also be frozen and kept for 1 month), so make double or triple the quantities. It also works as a sauce for chicken or fish or just as a dip with bread before supper.  

Serves four  
1 lb/455g haricots verts, trimmed  
1 tbsp sunflower oil  
14 oz/400g firm tofu, cut into 1-inch/2 1/2 cm cubes and patted dry  
3/4 cup/15g cilantro, roughly chopped  
6 garlic cloves, crushed  
2 tsp hot paprika  
1 tbsp caraway seeds, lightly toasted and crushed in a pestle and mortar  
2 tsp ground cumin  
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon  
3 tbsp sunflower oil  
3 tbsp tomato paste 
2 tsp sugar  
2 limes: juice 1 to get 1 tbsp and cut the other into 4 wedges, to serve  
1 cup plus 1 tbsp/ 250ml water  

1. Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and place over high heat. Once boiling, add the green beans and boil for 5–6 minutes, until they are cooked but still retain a slight bite. Drain, refresh with cold water, drain again, and set aside.  
2. Put the oil into a large sauté pan and place over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the tofu and a rounded ¼ tsp of salt and fry for 4–5 minutes, turning throughout so that all sides are golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.  
3. To make the chraimeh sauce, mix the garlic, paprika, caraway, cumin, cinnamon, and oil in a small bowl. Return the large sauté pan to medium-high heat and, once hot, add the garlic and spice mix. Fry for about 1 minute, then add the tomato paste, sugar, lime juice, and 3/4 tsp of salt. Stir to combine, then pour in the water to make a thin sauce. Once bubbling, stir frequently for about 2 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken. Return the green beans to the pan and continue to cook for another 1 minute, until the sauce is thick and the beans are hot.  
4. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the tofu and cilantro. Divide among four shallow bowls and serve, with a wedge of lime alongside. 

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Zucchini Noodle Bowl with Green Onion and Miso

Cooking with lots of different types of seasonal produce is exactly what interests me. So, when a book comes along that’s all about encouraging home cooking with healthful whole foods, there’s a very good chance I’ll like it. The Whole Foods Cookbook: 120 Delicious and Healthy Plant-Centered Recipes, of which I received a review copy, inspires nutritious cooking with unprocessed plant foods. The recipes here are created in collaboration with Chad and Derek Sarno who also wrote The Wicked Healthy Cookbook. There are tips for cooking big batches of beans and grains, suggestions for creating layers of flavor without added oils or too much additional salt, and overviews for steaming, sauteeing without oil, and grilling. The book gives you all the information you need for a fresh approach to cooking and stocking your pantry. For instance, I’m looking forward to trying the risotto. There are two different recipes in the book, one for spring and one with butternut squash for fall and winter. But, the approach for both is the same, and other variations are suggested. For these risottos rather than sauteeing rice and aromatics in butter or oil, the steps have been altered to result in a processed-oil free dish. Here, leeks or onion or other aromatics are sauteed in a dry pan, and vegetable broth is added to deglaze when the vegetables begin to brown and stick. Cooked rice is added and mixed with the vegetables, and the richness comes from a pureed cashew cream. Other interesting recipes include whole, roasted vegetables that look delicious like the Whole Roasted Spiced Cauliflower with a pureed tomato and red pepper coating and the Classic Celeriac Pot Roast that’s slow-cooked with potatoes and herbs. The guide to bowls includes options like a Citrus-Sesame-Glazed Tofu Bun Cha and a Chickpea-Nut and Broccoli Satay. There are also soups, sauces, salad dressings, dips, and sweets. I have some pears in my refrigerator that are now destined to become Riesling and Orange Poached Pears sweetened with orange juice and apricot paste instead of refined sugar. But first, I set out to make the Zucchini Noodle Bowl with Green Onion and Miso. My first instinct would normally have been to begin by adding oil to a pan to cook the vegetables, but here everything was cooked in vegetable broth with no added oil. 

To start, the big flavor of dried mushrooms was included to boost this dish. Dried shitakes were soaked in hot water while everything else was prepped. Grated fresh ginger was warmed in vegetable broth in a Dutch oven, and then miso, soy sauce, and rice vinegar were added and kept at a bare simmer. Chopped summer squash and zucchini were added to the simmering broth. Meanwhile, zucchini noodles were made with a spiralizer, green onions were chopped, and I had a pretty orange sweet pepper that I decided to add. The zucchini noodles were divided among the bowls, the rehydrated and drained shitakes were placed next to the noodles, and I added the sliced sweet pepper. The cooked squash was spooned into the bowls, and the broth was ladled over everything. Green onion, sesame seeds, and sliced hot chile garnished each serving. 

I’m delighted to report I didn’t miss the oil in this dish at all. The fresh flavors of the vegetables, the mushrooms, and the miso broth were fantastic just as they were. There are a lot of great ideas in this book that can be applied to other dishes. I love learning these little things to change up recipes I’ve been cooking the same way for years especially when the changes bring about a more healthful result.

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