Miso Ginger Kale Salad

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Ode to Kale Salad

We eat you because we’re supposed to:
Your health benefits are vast, your calories few.
Your leaves, magical,
In their massaged wiltedness.
I tend to hate you raw,
But
(honestly)
do appreciate how well you hold up to a hearty, unapologetic dressing.

Every restaurant claims a version of you, but
I’ve never been that impressed.
Also, I’d rather pay $13 for a couple sushi rolls,
No offense.

The best way I know how to vouch for you, particular kale salad version,
With your salty miso base, spicy ginger accent, crisp sweet apples, and nutty peanutty finish,
Is this:
I looked forward to lunch leftovers today.
Like, counted down the minutes until I could inhale you again,
Kept checking if it was close enough to lunchtime yet,
And wouldn’t even share with Daniel.

Oh kale salad,
It is cliche to talk about you in January, and yet
Here I am.

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…and with that, perhaps I will stick to cooking and leave poetry to other folks. I wrote this “poem” while consuming said leftovers with abandon. Just glanced into my bowl and saw the last few leaves and cucumber slices and got sort of sad. Bye, salad. Until we meet again.

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kale salad, previously: kale caesar salad and mustardy kale, potato, and green bean salad
one year ago:
nothing of note, but this tofu and rice bowl is what I’m making for dinner and the marinade is amazing and I’m getting pretty pumped
two years ago:
 butternut tahini mash

Miso Ginger Kale Salad

dressing adapted from pumpkinandpeanutbutter

Dressing
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
At least 1 teaspoon honey
2 sparse tablespoons miso (I used white)
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 big squirt sriracha
Splash of warm water
Black pepper (but no salt! it’s salty enough from miso/soy!)
¼ cup olive oil

Salad
3-4 cups kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup thinly sliced cucumbers
1 cup thinly sliced red apple triangles
Big handful chopped peanuts

Mix together all dressing ingredients, except olive oil, in a small bowl. Mix with a fork until well combined. Slowly add olive oil, mixing with a fork, until well combined. Take a taste and add more honey, soy, sriracha, water as you see fit. 

Put kale leaves in a big bowl and pour in dressing (most or all, depending on how much kale). Massage with your fingers until kale shrinks and turns slightly greener, about a minute or two. Add cucumber and apple slices, mix together, and top with peanuts. 

Note: If making in advance, and in fact the salad is delicious after 24 hours in the fridge, combine kale leaves and dressing and refrigerate. Add apple, cucumber, and peanuts the next day, when ready to serve.

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Black-Eyed Pea New Year’s Stew

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The day before New Year’s Eve, my co-worker told me she had so much prep cooking to do that night. Not someone I had pegged to be a big cook, I asked what all she needed to do. She told me that every year she has a tradition of making black-eyed peas, greens, and noodles (from her Southern and Chinese heritage) for the new year. I love this idea of canonized end of the year traditions, but the furthest I ever get is rereading last year’s list of goals and usually rewriting many of the same ones. (“Restring guitar”, “get better at yoga”, and “think about grad school” have all graced each list from the past three years…) Inspired by her lead, I decided to play around with these simple ingredients.

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I’d heard of the black-eyed pea tradition before; supposedly it is lucky to eat them on New Year’s Day because the spotted peas look like coins (and who wouldn’t want a little more of that in the coming year). According to this article, looks like the Jews started this tradition over 1500 years ago, eating the peas on Rosh Hashanah. (Don’t know if I buy that, though.) It may have come to America in the early 1700s with the Sephardic Jews or (seemingly more likely) as part of the slave route; regardless, it has evolved into a classic Southern soul food tradition.

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I’ve also heard of noodles being lucky — I’ve repeatedly been tempted by the “longevity noodle” dish at Biang! that looks like a whole platter of noodles but is in fact just one very long one that comes with a pair of scissors. Long noodles represent a long life, as long as you slurp them up in one mouthful and don’t chop them off partway. Makes sense to start a new year with an ode to long life.

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And the greens I’m a little confused about. I think they also represent wealth (greens=the color of money?), but for me, they will represent a pledge to eat healthfully in the coming year. Combine these three together, and I give you… quick and simple black-eyed pea stew! Perfect for New Year’s, or really any time you need a quick meal. The peas are traditionally cooked with some sort of pig product; I added smoked paprika and liquid smoke to replicate some of that flavor. (Although Daniel did put bacon on top of his bowl and was pretty happy about it.) To be honest, we both enjoyed this more with rice, but if you want the lucky triple whammy, spaghetti away! Nothing like a symbolic meal to start this uncertain year off on the right foot.

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one year ago: …I was in Guatemala and didn’t update the blog, BUT let me take this moment to let you know I JUST updated my Recipes page! check it out! 
two years ago: Bengali egg curry 

Black-Eyed Pea New Year’s Stew

a Swanky original

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped small
1 bell pepper (preferably red but other colors work fine), chopped same size as onion
1 rib of celery, chopped same size as onion
1 jalapeño, some seeds removed, minced
2 big cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 small tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup veggie broth
1 can black-eyed peas (don’t toss the liquid!)
½ teaspoon liquid smoke (optional, but adds nice smokiness)
2-4 cups kale, ribs moved and torn into bite sized pieces
Fresh parsley
s&p

Heat olive oil in a medium large pot over medium heat. Add onion, pepper, celery, and jalapeño and sauté for 6-8 minutes, or until veggies have softened and onion has become translucent. Add garlic, smoked paprika, thyme, and a bit of salt and pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until garlic is fragrant and veggies are evenly coated in spice mixture.

Next, add in the chopped tomatoes and their juices, broth, black-eyed peas and the liquid in the can, and the liquid smoke, if using. Add a bunch of salt here too. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until peas soften and most of the liquid evaporates.

Right before serving, still with pot on medium, add in your kale and stir until it wilts, about 3-5 minutes. Serve with rice or spaghetti and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

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Mizuna Miso Soup

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I made this soup while listening to the 2003 All American Reject’s self-titled album (“Swing, Swing“, anyone?). Man, if there were ever an album to bring me back to a specific time, this is it. I remember choosing it for myself at a CD store, not knowing who they were but wanting to find an “indie” band that none of my friends liked yet so I could be cool. (Was indie a word in 2003?) My 8th grade bestie sat next to me on our field trip to Montreal, me listening to my beloved All American Rejects and her listening to Simple Plan. We both thought ours was the way better option. I was devastated when their next album came out, a total pop-y cop-out in my mind; why oh why did beautiful Oklahoman blue-eyed bassist/lead singer Ty have to get so mainstream? Ugh.

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The album popped into my head today because of a wily connect-the-dot narrative. Last night some friends and I went to see the brilliant ‘70s movie Dune (please read: not-so-brilliant) at the actually brilliant bar Syndicated in Bushwick, where they show old movies in a beautiful space for just $3 and you can order food and drinks while you watch) (this time I do actually mean brilliant). And “syndicated” rhymes with “vindicated” which leads me to that Dashboard Confessional song, which was a pretty big deal during freshman year student council, so obviously I had to listen to it to remind myself of the words (all I could remember was “I am, vindicated, I am la di da di dahhhhh,” which Daniel got fairly tired of hearing on repeat), and so one thing led to the next and voila, All American Rejects-underscored soup-making.

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Which is all a way to say, this soup is easy. Really easy. You can make it while floating down memory lane and singing song lyrics you haven’t encountered in over a decade (shudder). This sort of soup been a go-to around here lately, with me throwing in any veggie odds and ends that I find in the fridge. The only necessary bits are the miso, something green, and some sort of noodles (although I think the tofu really makes it and would never miss an opportunity to add toasted sesame oil to my food).

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one year ago: that time I made a wedding cake (also) tomatillo peach salsa
two years ago: spicy micheladas

Mizuna Miso Soup

Inspired by justhungry
Makes a very hearty lunch for 2, but probably should be closer to 3-4 servings.

5 cups water
2 packets dashi stock  (or try with a simple veggie broth)
1 carrot, peeled and ribboned with your peeler
1 scallion, minced
¼ c firm or extra firm tofu in small cubes
80 g soba noodles (one bundle)
½ bunch mizuna, chopped into thirds, abt 2-3 cups, divided (or another tender green)
2 tablespoons miso
Soy sauce, a drizzle

Optional toppings
½ a sheet of nori, torn into strips
Lime wedges
Sesame seeds
Toasted sesame oil
Sriracha

Bring water to a boil in a medium-large soup pot. Add dashi stock powder and stir until it dissolves. Lower heat to medium-high. Add carrot and scallion. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add tofu and soba noodles and cook for another 4 minutes. Add most of your mizuna and immediately bring heat to low.

Put miso in a small bowl and add about a tablespoon of broth from the soup pot. Mix with a spoon or chopsticks until an even paste forms (no clumps!). Pour miso into soup pot and stir to disperse. Heat for another 2 minutes on medium-low heat. Don’t let soup come to a boil once you add miso or it will kill all its beautiful health qualities. Give soup a try — depending on your miso it may be plenty salty. If not, pour in a healthy glug of soy sauce.

Spoon soup into a bowl and top with nori, lime, sesame seeds, and reserved mizuna, chopped small. If you’d like, drizzle in sriracha or a tiny bit of toasted sesame oil.

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Spaghetti Squash Lettuce Wraps, Asian-style

 

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Fair warning: this post brought to you by “Blogging and hunger don’t go well together”. Welp, unfortunately that’s the only time I’m ever blogging, as trial runs and free mornings with unlimited light aren’t really part of my vocabulary right now.

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Oh well. Don’t look at the pictures, consider this instead: Super healthy! Vegan! Gluten free! And somehow… really really tasty. Like wolf down 4 in a row without coming up for air. Daniel attacked them it like it was a plate of cheeseburgers (remember, vegan, gluten free!)! After your first bite you’ll glance down at the rest of the pan and wonder if you can polish it off without judgement and then realize YES! I CAN! Vegan! Gluten free! Really really tasty!

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The impetus for this recipe was a) the spaghetti squash I totally impulse-bought last week (why oh why can’t I have normal impulse buys like fancy cheese or chocolate??) and b) the influx of lettuce from our CSA(!!!). I love cooking me up some greens and eating them with toast and eggs for breakfast, with rice and beans for lunch, and mixed with pasta for dinner, but lettuce is another beast altogether. Lettuce-based salads just don’t give me the same amount of joy (*usually). Hence, lettuce wraps. Yum. The filling can be flexible, but this had the perfect texture and umami combination, so deviate at your own risk. This is a bit spicy, but goes so well with the sweet chili sauce! (I have this one and it’s great for marinating or stir-fry!)

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one year ago: …crickets…
two years ago: 
roasted beets and their greens with yogurt and simple rhubarb cake AND tofu banh mi

Spaghetti Squash Lettuce Wraps, Asian-style

a swanky original

1 spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon olive oil + extra for drizzling
½ an onion, diced
2 big cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano chile, some seeds removed, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
5 white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
½ red pepper, in thin strips
3 oz baked teriyaki tofu, in matchsticks
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Half a lime
Lettuce leaves of choice (I used romaine and it was tasty but messy!)
s&p
Cilantro, lightly chopped
Peanuts, lightly chopped
Sweet chili dipping sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut spaghetti squash in half, drizzle with olive oil and s&p, and place cut-side down on roasting pan. Roast for 35-45 minutes. When done, scrape squash with a fork to create noodle-like squash segments.

Meanwhile, heat up 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, add garlic, serrano chile, and ginger. Cook for another 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, peppers, s&p and cook for 3 more minutes. Add tofu and squash strands and cook for another 2 minutes. Add sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and big spritz of lime juice.

Wash lettuce leaves well. Spoon squash-tofu-mushroom filling into leaves, and top with cilantro and peanuts. Dip into sweet chili sauce (or make a fancy-shmancy sauce on your own.)

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Rice Noodle Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing

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Let’s go on a little cause-and-effect journey here. I went to Guatemala last fall to feel confident enough with my Spanish so I could lead theater classes in Spanish. (PS Guatemalan food here and here!)

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I got my current job teaching theater at senior centers because someone decided I knew what I was doing in Spanish, never having heard me speak, at least enough to facilitate theater-related conversations. (They weren’t wrong, but that was a pretty lucky leap of faith on both of our parts.)

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And so this is how I’ve come to spend the last couple Fridays at a mostly Dominican and Puerto Rican senior center, listening to salsa music and getting down with the seniors. Who all think I look like their 17-year-old granddaughters. Ay dios mio.

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And this is how I get pretty tired on Friday evenings, and end up wanting easy and filling dinners made of stuff I already have in my fridge. Especially when they combine into something more than the sum of their parts, creating an exciting and uber-fresh quick spring meal. This want is true of pretty much every week night, but it, uh, leads pretty nicely into my fabricated segway, which is…

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…and so going to Guatemala last November is basically responsible for this recipe.

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…obviously. 🙂 Rice noodles bulk up everyone’s favorite salad dressing recipe, you know, the ubiquitous orange carrot-ginger situation that always causes a serious headache, cause HOW DO YOU CHOOSE between it and miso soup??! Let’s be honest, you could dip literally anything in your fridge into this dressing and be happy about it. Even radishes. Blech, I so dislike radishes. Thanks, Guatemala! 

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Served with this awesome hot&sour soup for a better-than-takeout feast!

one year ago: black bean, mango, and corn salad-alsa

Rice Noodle Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing

Dressing adapted from pure wow

For salad
4 oz rice noodles
Toasted sesame oil
2 cups lettuce, shredded (I’ve used iceberg and green leaf)
½ a cucumber, thinly sliced (or mandolined)
1 ripe tomatoes, cut in wedges
Handful cilantro leaves

Dressing
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ of an onion, roughly chopped
½ tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
¾ cup neutral oil (like vegetable or canola)
Salt

Dressing

In a food processor, pulse carrots, ginger, and onion until they become tiny, uniform pieces. Add sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, oil, and a dash of salt and process until smooth. Taste to see if you need more salt. Set aside. Dressing will last at least a week in the fridge, and likely longer.

Salad

Cook rice noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cool water, and toss with toasted sesame oil to keep noodles from sticking to each other.

Using tongs, mix together noodles, shredded lettuce, and a 3-4 big spoonfuls of dressing in a big bowl. Top with cucumber and tomato slices, cilantro leaves, and extra dollops of dressing.

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Charred Chipotle Broccoli Tacos

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The Swanky household unfortunately has two extremes for weeknight dinner options. 1) Scour the internet for a perfect recipe, buy every ingredient from the market down the street, and make a big mess in the kitchen. This almost always ends in delicious meals, but isn’t the most practical for everyday eating. The 2) option is, without fail, take-out Thai food.

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I’m very aware I need to incorporate more 1.5s into my life. You know, meals from neither extreme. Dinner you can throw together from whatever is in the fridge, without spending time searching for a recipe or doing a million dishes — ideally, food good enough to encourage others to make too. (And when we get down to it, I have other 1.5s I should incorporate into my life more: just doing yoga on my own without needing to go to a class or following a podcast, or being content to mosey on down the street behind a hand-in-hand couple without internally blasting them for taking up SO MUCH SIDEWALK.)

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I mean, that’s basically why I started this blog in the first place. I needed a space to consolidate recipes, experiments, and ideas from bookmarks on multiple devices, forever-opened tabs on my computer, and recipes torn from magazines. (And, uh, not to rant about slow moving pedestrians.) This is my little online corner of 1.5s and memory joggers and inspiration, regardless of what foodgawker thinks.

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Tacos fill that “1.5” category pretty darn well, and as Daniel craves gringo tacos like his mom made in the ‘80s at least once a month, they make a frequent appearance. He refuses to stray from his beloved ground beef and taco seasoning packet (although the meat this time was locally raised and purchased at the farmers market – small win?). I’ve become pretty good at the art of the non-meat taco. This chipotle broccoli is one of my favorite fillings, with a smoky spicy kicky punch. Also it’s dummy-proof easy: a cutting board, one roasting pan, and 20 minutes later, you’ve got yourself seriously delicious homemade dinner (and don’t have to bat an eyelash over the embarrassing amount of plastic take-out dishes in your recycling this week).

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other swanky veggie tacos: roasted sweet potato, peach, and black bean tacos and grilled pineapple and baked bean tacos

Charred Chipotle Broccoli Tacos

a swanky original
Serves two (or one dinner and adequate leftovers*)

For the filling:
1 head broccoli
2 small sweet yellow or red peppers, sliced into rings (or 1/2 a red or yellow bell pepper, sliced into bite sized pieces)
1 scallion, finely sliced
2 chiles in adobo (from a can*)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Juice from half a lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
s&p

Non-negotiables:
Tortillas (I prefer flour but your call)
Shredded cheese
Diced tomatoes

Optional Toppings:
Cilantro
Lime
Sliced black olives
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Sour cream
Salsa or hot sauce
Avocado (if that’s your kinda thang)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prep broccoli: Cut florets into bite-sized pieces. Peel the stalk to remove toughest part. Cut stalk into thin slices.

Make filling: Combine all ingredients on roasting tray and mix well. Roast for 18 minutes, stirring once, until florets are charred and stalks are tender. Let cool a bit.

Prepare tortillas by placing them directly on the open flame of a gas burner, about 5 seconds per side. (Or char in a hot dry pan.) Pile on broccoli, cheese, tomatoes, and whatever else your heart desires. Serve with rice and beans.

*two notes:

  • If you want to mix it up the next day, the filling was pretty dreamy stir-fried with leftover quinoa and spicy BBQ sauce, with a fried egg on top.
  • I love chiles in adobo sauce. They’re smoky and spicy and add a burst of flavor to just about anything. Once you open a jar, you can keep the rest in a sealed container in the fridge for a very long time and use one pepper at a time as necessary.
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Daniel’s Plate Number 1 (of, uh, 3?). Boy likes his tacos. 

Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts and Tofu

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I loved the food in Azerbaijan (which is where I’ve been for the last month, hence no posts). Granted they had very few vegetarian options, but it was all so flavorful! We regularly had a smoky grilled eggplant spread on freshly baked seeded bread, lentil soup with lemon and piles of fresh herbs, and handfuls of greens cooked in between bread like a flaky quesadilla called qutab. Breakfasts were extravagant affairs, as the hotels we were put up in had unnecessarily but deliciously large buffets every morning, and I’ve never shaken my habit of needing to try everything that looks good. And I didn’t have the same extreme cravings I had in Guatemala, as we had a decent Chinese place around the corner, a drunken encounter with dang good nachos on Valentines’ night, and passable pizza places on every block. Let’s just say, I certainly never went to bed hungry, despite long days of physical theatre trainings and project planning.

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There was just one, tiny, moronic culinary detail that was met by questioning eyes — Hot Sauce. I just attempted asking for it twice — the first time I received a little bowl of sweet Thai chili sauce (not so good with scrambled eggs) and the second time, mustard. One pizza place we went to did have incredibly-spicy pickled peppers as garnish on the table, though. Spicy as a concept is known and (occasionally) appreciated! Just not in sauce form.

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I don’t claim to be a hot sauce fanatic, and in fact until very recently I wouldn’t consider myself a “spicy things” person. I could take the “low-medium” Indian curry level, but I didn’t appreciate it. Pure spice doesn’t add anything. (And I still hold to that — spice for spice’s sake is still just meh.) But when the spice has flavor and that flavor comes from real chilies or really good hot sauce, I am so game. For low-medium and beyond! I am proud to say I no longer find Cholula spicy (although it will always remain a devoted fan to my gateway drug). Our fridge and cabinets are overflowing with bottles purchased at our local store The Heatonist and from the annual hot sauce convention. We always have dried and fresh chiles around to add to any dish.

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This brussel sprout dish, however, was head-sweating, milk-gulping, obscenity-inducing spicy, especially when you got a surprise chunk of red pepper. If you want it less sweat-inducing, reduce the number of chilies, take out all the seeds, and maybe just cut them in half and then remove them at the end. Also, the Spicy Tofu I ordered at our friendly neighborhood Chinese restaurant in Azerbaijan didn’t hold a candle to this. But don’t let that scare you! The flavors are so much stronger than the My Mouth in on Fire feeling. Promise.

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one year ago: butternut tahini mash, mango mezcal margarita, and lemony fregola with artichokes and caramelized onions (I still dream about this…)

Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts and Tofu

Adapted from Bon Appetit
serves 2-3

about 4 cups brussel sprouts (more or less 1.25 pounds)
4 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
½ a 14-oz pkg. of extra-firm tofu
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons sambal oelek (spicy chili paste)
⅓ cup soy sauce
2 ½ tablespoons sugar
6 dried serrano chiles, some seeds removed, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
s&p

Slice tofu in half so you have two thin rectangles. Place in between layers of paper towels, and cover with something heavy to get the excess moisture out. Leave like this for at least half an hour.

Preheat oven to 425F. To prep brussel sprouts, slice off ends and then cut in half. Toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with s&p, and place on rimmed baking sheet. Roast until browned and softened, about 20 minutes, tossing once halfway.

Combine cornstarch with one tablespoon water. Stir to make a slurry. (This will help thicken our sauce later.) Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium-high. Add garlic and ginger and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently, until garlic has lightly browned. Add sambal oelek and cook for two more minutes, continuing to stir frequently. Add soy sauce, sugar, chiles, rice vinegar, and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil and then stir in cornstarch slurry. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until sauce has thickened and reduced a bit. Set aside.

Remove tofu from paper towels cut into cubes about 1 cm by 1 cm. Coat with salt and pepper. Heat a large saute pan to medium–high heat and add 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add tofu cubes and don’t stir; let cook until crispy. Flip to another side of the cube and cook without stirring until crispy. Continue until cubes are crunchy on all sides. This should take about 10 minutes total. Resist the urge to stir!

Combine sprouts, tofu, and sauce in a bowl and mix to distribute evenly. I didn’t use quite all the sauce, since it was very thick and really spicy! Use your judgement. Top individual portions with chopped peanuts and serve with brown rice.

 

Kasha Bowl with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

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It’s always the small things you miss most when traveling. Mealtime independence (and people always respond “poor you, having to eat out three times a day”. But REALLY people, I like scrambling my own eggs and eating cold leftovers for breakfast sometimes!). Having reliable wifi in the bathroom so I can check Facebook while…brushing my teeth. Being able to flush toilet paper directly down the pipes instead of depositing it in the trashcan next to you. Cheese.

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I came home craving every trendy healthy thing in New York, aka things in bowls. Healthy grain bowls, veggie soup bowls, fruit-adorned breakfasts in bowls, tahini-y mushy eggplant in a bowl, lots of brown rice and Asian flavors and roasted veggies and toasted seeds and crunchy raw vegetables and pickled things, preferably in bowls. I am a walking stereotype of instagrammable food culture. #sorrynotsorry.

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Since my NYC return, I’ve met up with many friends who have greeted me with, “Looks like you ate so well on your trip!” I look at them, confused, wondering where they gleaned this information. Because, yes, I literally don’t know how to Not eat well (and by well right now I really just mean plentifully), but I wouldn’t say my time in Guatemala was the epitome of this. They respond that my Instagram food pictures looked amazing (which I just attribute to the beautiful woven tablecloths that adorned every table), what great vegetarian options there were, etc. What they don’t know is that Every Meal I Didn’t Post on Instagram consisted of corn tortillas, overscrambled eggs, mayo-y boiled vegetables, and bean mush. Hence my excitement in returning to the world of Extreme Bowl Culture.

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And hence this very simple lunch I’ve been dreaming about since approximately one week into my trip, or you know, since before Thanksgiving. This meal riffs on a snack I used to assemble for lunch during long shifts at Bakeri, comprised of easy ingredients we always had prepped. I bought my kasha at a Polish deli for very cheap, but I’m sure you can find it in the bulk section at any health store. Kasha is a fancy name for toasted buckwheat, which it’s a bit nuttier than the untoasted variety. Kasha is brown; if it hasn’t been toasted yet it will be green. You can assemble everything beforehand; the salad is just as good warm as it is at room temp. Feel free to add parmesan or feta to de-veganize this. A handful of baby salad greens would also be a nice addition.

one year ago: hot honey pizza with roasted broccoli and red onion and bengali egg curry 

Kasha Bowl with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

a Swanky original
serves 1 hungry person at lunch

scant 1 c kasha, uncooked (this will make more than you need; cooked kasha keeps well when covered in the fridge)
2 cups water
1 cup cherry tomatoes
3ish tablespoons olive oil, separated
1 onion, sliced thin
handful of kalamata olives
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
hot sauce if you’re feeling it
s&p

To make buckwheat: Bring water to a boil. Add kasha. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Strain.

To roast tomatoes: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place tomatoes on a baking pan and cover with a healthy drizzle of olive oil, plus s&p. Roast for 12 minutes, stirring halfway through. Tomatoes will be crinkly, puckered, juicy, and blistered when done. Mmm.

To “caramelize” onion: I am no expert on this, as I always get impatient and try to turn up the heat. But do as I say, not as I do: Heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet on medium heat. Add onions and a big pinch of salt. Cook on medium-low at the highest, stirring occasionally, for EVER, or until tender and sweet. Or don’t, turn the heat up, and embrace the charred onion bits, just like me. 🙂

To assemble: Mix together about ½ cup cooked kasha (or more) (or less), cooked tomatoes, caramelized onions, and olives in a BOWL (or a platter first cause it’s pretty). Mix together about 1 tablespoon olive oil and the balsamic vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over salad. Add hot sauce if you want a kick. Commence eating.

 

Mayan Quichon de Verduras, Take 1

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Our cooking classes at PLQ are taught by a friendly, explosive, and hilarious lady named Oti. She is friends with my host family, and has occasionally shown up at lunch time, bearing fruits or baked goods. She is well-liked by all, and, it seems to me, a bit of a gossipy yenta. She likes to tell stories in her incredibly fast Spanish, complete with imitations and reenactments. She turned to me after one of them and asked if I understood. (I had gotten maybe 30%.) She began the story again, in slower Spanish, but as the story progressed and she got excited, her Spanish continued to speed up. Maybe that time around I got 50%. Her upbeat attitude extends to her class, where she spends half an hour “while the chiles soak” telling us about her family drama and her visiting grandson and naughtily suggesting I need a Guatemalan boyfriend in addition to my American one. She’s an uplifting presence and I’m always glad when our paths cross.

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I’m daily thrilled by the generosity and kindness of the people I meet here. People are so willing to strike up a conversation! Yesterday, for example, I went on a trip to Laguna Chicabal — a sacred Mayan lake set in the crater of an old volcano. On the microbus on the way there, the guy next to us began to ask, in slow and measured Spanish, about where we were going, where we were staying, our jobs, language skills, etc. He was eager to figure out who the four gringa ladies in the back of the bus were and excited to tell us a bit about himself too. (I think he’s a traveling alternative medicine salesman who speaks Spanish and Mayan Mam but that job part was a bit tricky to understand.) Right before we got off, he asked if I had “the face” — we realized after a moment he meant FaceBOOK and wanted to be friends, but at that point it was too late to exchange any info (no sleep lost). I’ve had similar conversations with cafe employees, guys I’ve salsa danced with, and other people waiting for their tostadas at the stalls in the market. It’s a fun, informal way to practice Spanish, although in some cases I fear the conversation is initiated because they’re vying for that nonexistent, elusive position of Guatemalan boyfriend. Lo siento, amigos. 

IMG_3118IMG_3125The recipe below is written exactly how Oti (with our ample slicing and dicing assistance) made it for our graduation dinner last week. No tweaks or improvements. It was certainly tasty — the sauce was good enough to eat with a spoon and I had a moment of annoyance that there were so many vegetarians this week and so not enough for seconds. It’s deep and musky and chile-heavy, with a slight spiciness cut by the tomatoes. I love that this is an extremely old and simple(ish) Mayan recipe. People have been making some form of quichon, which is only found in Quetzaltenango (a brief internet search showed surprisingly little internet evidence of this dish) for centuries (albeit with chicken). But I have some ideas about how I’ll update this recipe to give it just a bit more varied flavor — the chiles really do dominate — roasting the veggies instead of boiling, adding more garlic and perhaps a second type of chile, thickening the stew with something other than white bread mush, adding something green. But alas these will have to wait until the day of kitchen return. In the meantime, it will be vale la pena (worth it) to bring the smells and techniques of the Mayans into your kitchen, although I’m pretty sure they didn’t process white bread in a blender in the pre-Spaniard period. See Notes below recipe for ingredient tips.

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one year ago: Buttermints and Mushroom, Olive, and Farro Stuffed Acorn Squash

more from Oti and Guatemala: Rellenitos de Plátano

Traditional Mayan Quichon de Verduras

feeds 4-6

4 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
6 small potatoes, peeled and in bite-sized chunks
1 or 2 guisquil (aka chayote – or use sweet potato or any other squash)
*5 dried paso chiles (aka ancho chile) – can find in a Mexican grocery store
6 cloves of garlic
1 large or 2 small onions, cut in strips
12 small plum tomatoes
*6 pimientos gordos (aka big pepper) 
*8-ish slices of pan frances
salt

Boil the carrots, potatoes, and guisquil in ample water until tender. Strain and reserve the water. Now you have veggie broth!

Meanwhile, toast up your spices. We used a comal, or a thin tortilla grill that you put right on the flame of your stove, but a regular cast-iron or ribbed skillet would work just as well (and you could probably roast them in the oven too). Heat the pan up nice and high, and then toast the chiles, garlic, onion, tomatoes, and black pepper until they have char marks on all sides. Turn frequently. Depending on the size of your pan, do this in batches so you don’t crowd the pan. The black pepper balls only need a minute or so.

Next, soak the chiles in plenty of warm water until soft and easily pliable, about ten minutes. Remove and discard the seeds and inner membranes of the chiles. Tear each chile into 2-4 pieces. Meanwhile, tear bread into small pieces; put in a bowl with a bit of warm water. Mush with your fingers until it reaches a paste-like consistency. Only use enough water to make it like — the only comparison I can think of is matzah ball soup dough. Not so wet.

Next, we blend! First add to your blender the chiles and a bit of the veg broth from earlier. Blend until totally smooth. Add to boiled vegetables. Next, add the grilled onions, tomatoes, garlic, and black pepper with more broth. Blend until smooth and add to veggies. Finally, add the watery bread paste and blend til smooth, adding to veggies when done. Add more salt than you think you need and stir well.

Return vegetables to heat and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes to thicken. Feel free to add more bread or more broth to reach your desired consistency. Our final product was like a thick Indian-style curry. Serve with tortillas and/or rice.

*Ingredients Notes

Chile paso is more commonly called the ancho chile in other parts of Central America. They’re dark brown in color and fairly large — more wide than skinny and long. As Oti says, “Solo pica un poco” — they’re a pretty mild pepper with a very small kick at the end. They’re commonly used throughout Mexico and could be easily found at a Mexican or international market.

Pimiento Gordo is a type of black pepper. These black orbs are slightly larger than our regular pimiento negro (normal black pepper) and have a slightly different flavor. I asked Oti if you could use regular black pepper and she basically said absolutely not, they give a completely different flavor to the final dish. But I don’t think the Mayans would care too much if you gave it a try…

Re pan francés: I was looking through a typical Guatemalan cookbook and was surprised many recipes included pan frances as a thickener for sauces. And indeed, Oti used a whole bag of day-old stale bread between this and the meaty-version (if you’re curious — replace the veggies with boiled chicken parts and voila). The breads she used were about three inches long and an inch wide, and very airy. This was not a dense delicious baguette, it was more akin to Wonder Bread. The bread lends no flavor to the dish, only texture. I’m going to experiment with other options when I have my kitchen back — I think corn starch, peanut butter, or a simple roux could all do the trick without all the unnecessary white bread starches.

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From the veggie-loaded rice we made — no recipe, just posting cause I’m impressed by our dicing skills with that sorry excuse for a knife.

Guatemalan Rellenitos de Plátano

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…aka mashed plantains stuffed with slightly sweetened black bean paste, deep fried until caramelized and satisfyingly crunchy. The jury is out on when you’re supposed to eat this delicacy–I was served it at dinner with scrambled eggs and black beans, but felt it may be more appropriate for dessert.

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For those of you who have, in a passing moment, considered the swanky sweet potato and contemplated the absence of recipes lately, I supposed it’s only polite to let you know — I’m in Guatemala! Two months sans kitchen, reliable internet, or good showers. (My apologies if the third part is of no importance to you.) I’ll have five weeks of intensive Spanish lessons and living in a home with an incredibly lovely family but where I’m not exactly welcomed in the kitchen. As decadent as it is to be given three meals a day without needing to wash a single dish, I miss autonomy. I love mornings experimenting with the perfect scrambled eggs, or daydreaming about what to make for dinner during the late afternoon stretch. I miss being inspired by whatever appears in my CSA, at the farmers’ market, or perusing my favorite blogs for ideas. It’s a funny feeling never knowing what to expect at a meal — when is the last time you had so little say in what you ate? For me, it was probably early high school at summer camp. Strange. (Don’t get me wrong, dear reader, I am Loving my time here! Every day presents a new aspect of the regional culture or the immense natural beauty or the fraught political atmosphere. My Spanish gets stronger daily, and I’m meeting curious new minds, both local and the traveler-variety.)

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However when the opportunity presented itself to take a cooking class last Friday, I jumped at the chance! Turns out “cooking class” was a subtle ploy to have students help make the traditional dinner we were to be served that night at the weekly graduation festivities, but I jumped on board just the same. The above-mentioned rellenitos were a great hands-on, tactile project. I definitely recommend making these with kids—you treat the plantains like play-do! All four of us attending the “class” certainly took some frustrations out on these fried pillows of plantain-goodness. There isn’t much of a recipe for these love bundles, so feel free to adapt as you see fit. Please forgive this bare bones recipes. It is not sophisticated (and in fact I use the word “mush”), but it combines two important Guatemalan staples and is worth the effort.

 

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The first batch of the little buggers… this is me patiently waiting the requisite minute so I don’t completely burn my face off.

Note: Guatemalans are super into pre-cooked refried black beans. You can get them at every grocery store and cornerside tienda in an astonishing variety of package shapes and cooking-methods (boil in a bag! microwave! grill!). The consistency is very paste-like — I believe the beans have already been cooked with spices and oil and then blended. I’d try this recipe with refried beans out of a can, or make your own bean mush with a some cooked black beans, savory spices, and a blender. You don’t need so much for the recipe though, so make sure you choose something where you can use the leftovers.

Additional Note: In the spirit of “seize the day” and trying to soak in my Guatemalan environment, these photos are unedited and straight from my phone. Apologies to anyone who may be offended by this.

Just a smattering of the pre-cooked bean options available at your local Guatemalan supermarket… Mmm mmm, look at those silky black beauties.

one year ago: honey and cinnamon apples, cheesy bulgur risotto with broccoli, and Indian-spiced cabbage and onions

Rellenitos de Plátano

as remembered from my PLQ cooking class

medium-ripe plantains (no black spots but not green)
black bean mush of choice (see note)
ground cinnamon
sugar
flour to coat
oil to fry
powdered sugar (optional)

Peel plantains and boil in a big vat of water. When they’re very soft, scoop out with a slotted spoon onto plates. Use forks to mash the plantains into a paste like consistency. Set aside.

Place bean mush in a bowl. Add cinnamon and sugar to taste. You want a slightly sweet final product, not an approximation of Asian-style red bean paste. For the giant vat of plantains we used, we probably added about 1 t cinnamon and a bit more sugar. Taste as you go.

Take a small handful of plantain “dough” and flatten it into a patty or pancake a bit bigger than the palm of your hand. The patty should be about a centimeter thick, maybe a bit less. Scoop 1/2 tablespoon or so of bean mixture into the center of plantain patty. Fold sides up and around bean paste and fold ends in, forming a cylinder-esque bundle about two inches long. Coat generously in flour by rolling on a plate with a shallow layer of flour and using your hands to pat it gently in. Wash your hands throughout the process as necessary.

In a deep frying pan, bring about a half-inch of oil to a simmer. Gently add rellenitos and fry until golden brown. Don’t overcrowd the pan. I would try about 10 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. I ate these as part of a dinner, but if you want them for dessert, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

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From yesterday’s hike up Volcan Santa Maria. We started climbing in the dark at 1 am and made it to the top (above the clouds!) for a chilly and incredible sunrise.