VDP: Homemade Tofu

Monday, March 25, 2009

I tried making tofu a few months back and it was a total failure. I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from his vegetarian cookbook. He offers several options to curdle the soy milk and produce tofu including vinegar. I chose to use Epsom salt. It is used in a very small quantity and leaves no taste. Well, the soy milk was heated and the Epsom salt was added and…nothing. Not even a single curd! I was pissed and though maybe the recipe was just this bad, then it occurred to me to review the ingredient list of my “all natural”, Organic, “Plain” flavored soy milk. Well, it included stuff like stabilizers, sugar and preservatives. Stabilizers! I did not need the dam thing stabilized and I sure did not want it to be sweet. I needed it curdled.

Fast forward to this week. I picked up a gallon of real soy milk from a local Asian grocery store. Ingredients: Soybeans, water. This one worked great and in no time produced more than a pound of fresh tofu. I had no proper mold (aka an old cube shaped Tupperware with holes in it) ready, so I just used a regular strainer with cheese cloth. Then I weighed the tofu in the strainer with a round Tupperware top and some heavy cans.

The resulting dome of tufu was stored in a pot of cold water in the fridge. What did I do with it? The tofu was what I would call semi-firm and delicious, a bit nutty with a smooth texture. I made a small simple salad with some of it to taste the fresh flavor (cilantro, sesame oil and soy).

For dinner I braised some with a mixture of soy, caramel sauce, ginger, garlic, herbs and Thai eggplant. I served it with soba noodles sautéed with cabbage. Very good stuff.

VDP: Soft Zucchini with Pasta

Monday, March 16 , 2009

Easy and very tasty way to cook green zucchini courtesy of  The River Cottage cookbook. I tossed in some mushrooms for good measure too. The process amounts to sautéing thinly sliced zucchini in olive oil with garlic till they turn very soft. Toss in some Parmesan cheese, a couple of spoons of cream and season to taste. You can use it as a topping for Bruschetta or as I did here, toss it with some pasta.

VDP: Tomatoes, Olives and Meyer Lemon Salad

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Olives. I try to never run out of them. Whenever the jar is almost empty I make sure to buy some more from my local middle eastern store. I like to buy the ones labled “Lebanese Green Olives” from a giant plastic barrel These taste the closest to the ones I remember from back home. If I’m lucky, they have a new batch and they have amazing “green” slightly bitter taste. When I get my olives home, dump them in a bowl and season them. Normally I use some fresh ground coriander, dried oregano, chilli flakes, sliced lemons and if I have them, some sliced chilli peppers. These all go into the jar and are topped with olive oil.

What to do with the handful of olives leftover from the previous batch? The ones that were strained out to make room for the new olives. They are never wasted of course. Here I tossed them with sliced tomatoes and Meyer lemon slices in an impromptu salad for dinner. A word about those lemons. The few remaining on my tree have gotten very big with thick skin and are utterly delicious simply sliced and mixed with stuff or eaten with a sprinkle of salt out of hand.

VDP: Tofu with Yellow Peppers

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Here’s another very easy last minute tofu dish. I had a couple of yellow bell peppers on hand a nice block of soft tofu. I sautéed the peppers with onions, ginger garlic, a good dose of chilli oil, homemade pickled ginger and soy sauce. This makes for an awesome base for almost any meat or fish or in this case a good flavorful dressing for a block of tofu.

To serve it, I sliced the tofu and transferred it to a plat then “artfully” arranged the yellow pepper sauce on top. Some cilantro leaves and Chinese black vinegar finished the dish.

VDP: Black Bean Enchiladas with Tomatillo Salsa

Tuesday, January 13 , 2009

I love Mexican food but I do not cook nearly as much of it as I should. That’s probably because I live in Houston, and good real Mexican food or it’s descendent, Tex-Mex, is very easy to find. I’ve been planning to make Mole some time soon because that is one dish that is rare to find well made at your run of the mill Taqueria. Most of them use a paste that comes in a jar instead of making their own from dried peppers, nuts, herbs, raisins and chocolate among many other things.

No Mole this time though (which probably will not be vegetarian anyways), instead I made some zippy black bean enchiladas with tomatillo sauce. This green sauce is probably my favorite of the dozens of Mexican salsas. It is tart, from the little tomatillos which are NOT green tomatoes, but a sort of large berry. It is fragrant with cilantro and flavored with garlic and a little jalapeno. All the ingredients except for the cilantro are roasted and then pureed with the chopped cilantro. That’s it. I made it the day before and also cooked the beans.

To make the filling, I mixed the cooked black beans wit gently sautéed sweet peppers and chili powder. I heated the store-bought tortillas (It’s a weekday after all) in the oven after brushing them with a bit of corn oil then started rolling. The other ingredient in the filling was some plain melting white cheese. The rolled tortillas were placed in a baking dish that was smeared with some of the salsa and then topped with the rest of the green sauce. After baking till bubbly I crumbled some white farmer’s cheese on top. Served with Mexican tomato-y rice and sour cream.

VDP: Farinata (Socca)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Another Americanized name for this pie is Chickpea Pizza. However, I just posted about pizza. Real pizza. Farinata my friends is not pizza. It does not taste like pizza nor look like one. It has no cheese, no sauce and no topping. Farinata is more like a pancake, or crepe really. It is simple, rustic, Italian and French (where it is known as Socca. Click here for David Lebovitz’s account of the best Socca in Nice) and very delicious if you eat it within minutes of baking. After that it tastes like what I imagine soggy cardboard would taste.

Farinata originates from the Italian region of Liguria. It is a street food and locals are very passionate about it. The proper way to make it is to cook it in a special type of pan that makes a large thin pancake. In my home I’ve made it successfully in a baking sheet and, with better results, in my seasoned cast iron pan. Other than salt and pepper, all a Farinata needs is chickpea flour, water and olive oil. I used to have to go to a specialty ethnic store to buy the chickpea flour, now my local supermarket carries it in it’s Ethnic foods section, more specifically the Indian/Pakistani section. The flour is very powdery and has a heady smell of chickpeas. By adding water and olive oil to the flour, I made a very loose batter using the recipe from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ “The Essential Mediterranean” as a guide. Following the recipe, I baked the pie (divided into two) in lightly oiled cast iron pans in a very hot oven. The Farinata a bit crispy on the edges and the bottom, but soft on the inside. It needs to be seasoned with a good hit of black pepper as soon as it comes out from the oven, sliced and eaten to be appreciated. I love this as is and ate most of it all by itself. I did make a tomatoey lentil stew as a supplement to the Farinata as well though.

VDP: Pizza – Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms and an Egg

Friday, November 28, 2008

It’s been a while since I’ve added some updates to this particular journal. It’s not much due to laziness as much as redundancy. I’ve been trying to cook my vegetarian meals, but over the last month or so, I’ve not made many interesting or new dishes worth posting about. Also this was Turkey month, so veggie meals were not top on my list. So, after this long hiatus, why pizza? I’ve posted at least twice about pizza already, here and here. Well because it’s pizza! I’ve made it so many times and it never gets old or tiring. The act of making the dough early on, maybe the day before, picking the right sauce (cooked tomato, raw, just use a white cheese based sauce,..), picking the simple toppings to go on the delectable pie and of course shaping and baking the pizza on a hot oven stone. It is a relaxing and delicious family tradition.

This time I also decided, the last minute, to add an egg to my pizza. I’ve done this before, I even sometimes add an egg inside calzone, but I have never posted about it here and this is something worth recording. Trust me, it is. The idea is very simple, after making the pie and adding the toppings, make a “well” of sorts in the middle. My pizza this time, included a bit of cooked tomato sauce, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and a couple of types of mozzarella cheese. In the mushroom onion “well” I cracked a fresh free range egg and slid the pizza onto my very hot pizza stone. Barring any mishaps or leaks (never happened so far, fingers crossed) you should end up with a perfectly baked pizza and a lovely over-easy egg in the middle. Just slice  the pie or use a knife and fork and use the runny yolk as the most perfect sauce. Now I am craving pizza again.