tempeh two ways

Besides the “stuffed” part, these two recipes have little to do with our Canadian Thanksgiving up in Ottawa this past weekend. Fermented soy beans don’t have much in common with turkey and pumpkin pie, but somehow, last week’s discovery of tempeh reminded me of all I have to be thankful for.

The weekend was a cornucopia of food delights. Friday we scarfed injera and doro wat at an Ethiopian restaurant with an old friend of mine. After a delicious brunch at my aunt and uncle’s, Mark and I indulged all afternoon in delicious home-roasted coffee and mile-high ginger cookies — this time, the old friends were his.

All that food fueled a good cause— the true highlight of the weekend. On Sunday morning I hit a personal best half marathon time at the Ottawa Fall Colours Marathon. With the hubby’s support and 8 weeks of hard training, I achieved a time of 1:51:35. Knocking 2 minutes a mile off my last half marathon time made me finally feel like a woman who doesn’t just finish. She races.

It was a great way to begin a day stuffed with turkey, cabbage gratin, and pie (of which there were multiple slices).

And there were other, non-homemade treats. Sunday, at one of Ottawa’s esteemed Bridgehead coffeehouses, we got to try Clover coffee for the first time.  A late lunch at Von’s Bistro in the Glebe chased down the luscious mugs nicely. Both get five Fresh Cracked Pepper stars.

As I got to thinking about what I’m thankful for, a few things came to mind. One, the incredible variety of food available to me here, today. I’m so grateful to be able to sample the abundance of the world so freely, and so relatively cheaply. This brings me to my latest discovery and the topic of this post: tempeh (pronounced temp-ay), my latest experiment with a new plant-based protein source.

Tempeh is an old food. It’s been made for centuries in Indonesia from fermented soy beans, and it’s more nutty and chewy than even the firmest tofu.

I tracked some down at the Syracuse Real Food Co-op, and quickly discovered that tempeh can be used just about anywhere: stir-fries, burritos, pastas, and sandwiches are all worthy vessels. It’s low in fat and high in protein, and best of all, it’s fermented. (Yes, I have a thing for fermented things. Case in point.)

I searched for a few tempeh recipes online, and taking a pinch of inspiration from this one, concocted fajitas that showcased tempeh’s satisfying chew (pictured above). The next day I mixed up the leftover filling and stuffed it into poblano pepper halves, one of my favorite ways to use up leftovers.

One dinner is often a door opening into another. Along the way, two fabulous new ingredients boldly introduced themselves: tempeh, and canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. As I face the lows that a cold and rainy, post-race week will bring, I look forward to new experiments in the cozy refuge of my kitchen.

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the chi of kimchi

If only there was something yummy and exotic that made itself. Something you could just quickly cut up, stir, and plop in a container, only to turn out 5 days later in a delicious new guise.

Wait! There is! It’s called kimchi, and for its tart and tangy goodness we can thank the Koreans.

I’m seeing Korean food turn up everywhere. On the pages of Bon Appetit, on food blogs, and even in the New York Times. It’s even gone fusion, with a Twittering taco truck that brings mobile eats to its loyal followers. Kimchi is so important that the Korea Aerospace Research Institute even developed space kimch. Why? To accompany the first Korean astronaut to the Russian space ship, Soyuz, of course.

I can’t remember when I first tasted kimchi, but it wasn’t too long ago. I then started buying some locally-made stuff, available at the Central New York Regional Farmer’s Market, in all sorts of shades and styles. Being the fermentation freak that I am, my next thought was  “OK, my turn.”  Anyone who’s been to my apartment has seen the various fermenting things lying around my house. And before you run away scared, know that each one of them is darn delicious.

Food that is fast, easy, healthy and given to leftovers is manna for me right now. Finishing up my masters leaves little time for poring over new recipes (sad face #1), therapeutic vegetable chopping (sad face #2), and Zen-like-stove-top stirring (sad face #3). To this sorry state came my new friend kimchi.

The fabulous ferment did not only arrive to a dire, time-crunched situation, but to a household with a brand-new mandolin. Picked up for a steal of a deal on Amazon with Christmas money, this Japanese slider-knife is a miracle in a drawer. With this little beauty and a far superior recipe, my second batch of kimchi turned out much better than my clunky, over-garlicked first batch.

What, you may ask, is kimchi? It’s a Korean side dish with an inimitable taste, yet a Korean proverb reads, “if you have rice and kimchi, you have a meal.” To me, it’s crunchy ribbons of daikon and carrot folding over each other between layers of ruffled Napa cabbage. It’s chilies melding with garlic and ginger, and crisp veggies fermented to perfection. Served at room temperate over fried rice or a plate of egg rolls, or just eaten out of a jar, kimchi is a great snack full of healthy probiotics.

Best of all, the do-it-yourself kind pretty much does it itself. Just make sure you don’t spill it all over your gym bag.

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spiced bangladeshi mung beans and rice

I didn’t intend to post on this, but it begs to be shared. Born from the need to make lots of healthy food to sustain us through a busy week, it materialized one afternoon between work sessions. The recipe is from a former roommate, and it’s the kind of thing you’ll almost always have the ingredients for.

Usually when I think of mung beans, bean sprouts jump to mind. But this showcases them as the meaty, chewy legume they were born to be. OK, maybe beans don’t have destinies, but we can pretend. You can find them dried in Asian grocery stores, and all they need is a couple hours’ soak.

You start off by frying some fragrant spices in oil, add your beans and rice, top it with some water and set it to simmer. It’s that easy, and it all happens in one happy wok. It’s incredibly low-maintenance, great for a busy work day.

It’s hard to get sick of this (even after day 5) because you can dress it up in so many different ways. By adding sweet caramelized onions, a sliced hard boiled egg, and a side of yogurt, it becomes like an Indian curry—a platform for all sorts of tasty additions. You could make fried rice out of it one evening, and wrap it up in some flatbread with slices of baked tofu the next.

Sometimes a bowl of beans and rice, redolent of mild chai, can remind you that it’s good to be alive. Perhaps that’s a stretch, but it makes me appreciate the simple things.

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jamaican yuca shepherd’s pie

Ketch up dih fire Ma’hta
Pass me dih gungo peas,
Rub up dih flour Sarah – Lawd!
Feel di evenin’ breeze*

I never thought I’d see the words “Jamaican” and “shepherd’s pie” together in one recipe title. The first conjures up tastes of fried plantains, coconut, and spicy jerk seasoning. The second? Tired ground beef suffocated by dry mashed potatoes stripped of their whipped garlicy glory.  

Sure I’ve had good times with shepherd’s pie. It can be done right, and when it is, it’s at least 10 iron chef points ahead of meatloaf. There is something satisfyingly simple about it that makes me want to put on a peasant dress and go out and milk cows. It’s the same way I feel about stews and artisan bread and wine served in thick, stemless goblets. Good shepherd’s pie can be staid and steadfast, served on a beaten-up harvest table, surrounded by joy. 


So when I saw this pie, all stripped of those old-fashioned ingredients, I was wary. But as it stared back at me from the pages of Veganomicon, I knew I had to answer its rainbow plea.

A recipe that’s multi-step enough to rise to any special occasion, yet everyday enough to stuff in wraps for lunches, this dish can wear many masks. With a curry essence that’s sweeter than traditional Indian curries, this stew can also be made without the cassava (yuca) topping, and served over plain rice. 

Let me warn you about one thing first. As with many vegetarian recipes, there’s a little more prep involved in this one than your average sheep-herdin’ pie. But that’s what husbands (or boyfriends, or girlfriends, or kitchen elves) are for, right? If you’re lacking in a second pair of hands, do it in stages to lessen the load.  

I guarantee this will get you out of your casserole rut. (Does anyone make casseroles anymore?) Or at least out of your one-pot rut. (That sounds much more modern.) And as the skies get grayer by the day here in Syracuse, it might help splash your table with some good Carribbean vibes, mon. 

So let out those dreads and grab the keys–this is one you’ll have to make a special trip for. But don’t worry: I made all the mistakes for you already. What’s left should be all straw huts and sunshine.

*Jamaican Folk Song

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mexican spiced chocolate sorbet

These days I barely have time to dream. If I did, I would dream about spending time in my kitchen as I used to do, stirring together wonderful things. But school has sucked me in and sucked me dry.

Just weeks ago I had the time for wonderful things. Books for pleasure, long and lazy conversations, hours on the yoga mat. I am happy where I am, but it has brought a sea change.

If I could find the time to sleep, perchance I could find the time to dream: an afternoon for dark chocolate, my very own ice-cream maker, kisses of cayenne. I would dream about this Mexican iced sorbet I made when days allowed for dreams. And maybe, just maybe, there would be a few minutes left to actually bring it to life.

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skippin’ jenny (vegan hoppin’ john)

I’m having a blast with Veganomicon, a cookbook that arrived on my doorstep one dreary afternoon from the sunnier climes of Berkeley. I had a bit part in helping its sender find an apartment in Syracuse, and I can’t wait to try more of its recipes out on her when she arrives. It’s my first vegan cookbook, and so far it is proving itself a mighty contender beside the omnivore-focused books on my shelf. Filled with recipes that are sure to stun even the most die-hard flesh eater, this book promises no end of fun with my favorite food group.

New York is the furthest South I’ve lived in North America, yet still miles away from the soul of Southern cookery. But since I’m a sucker for smoke (give me bonfire-perfumed sweaters, lapsang souchong tea, smoked cheeses and fish any day), Southern cooking seems right up my alley. So, wanting to branch into Southern cuisine a little more, the BBQ Black-Eyed Pea Collard Rolls jumped to the top of my list of things to try. I don’t know what exactly drew me to the recipe—something about it sounded smoky and satisfying, and different from how I normally cook.

My only contact with smoky food was purely of the accidental sort, up until landing a job at the Ouisi Bistro in Vancouver. There I was introduced to Cajun and Creole cooking, slinging their marinated Alligator, Andouille gumbo, and Jambalaya for eight months straight. And their cornbread? I left Vancouver carrying 12 extra pounds of it. Some souvenirs are tough to lose, even when they’re strapped right around your belly.

But onto the recipe: Black-eyed peas star in the famous Southern dish, Hoppin’ John. Eaten on New Year’s Day, the dish is thought to be lucky and is consumed widely. The beans’ characteristic markings are supposed to symbolize coins; when your plate runneth over your proverbial cup is said to follow suit. Collard greens, large cabbage-like leaves, are often served alongside Hoppin’ John. In this recipe, they star right alongside the beans, wrapping them tenderly like a rotund grandmother.

Now for the fun part. According to Wikipedia, on the day after New Year’s Day, leftover Hoppin’ John is called Skippin’ Jenny and shows a continuing frugality supposed to last throughout the year. Little did I know I had a namesake dish!

I happen to like Skippin’ Jenny much better than BBQ Black Eyed Pea Collard Rolls. My apologies to the cookbook’s authors Isa and Terry, but I might just have to re-christen your creation. After all, your lighter, greener, more vegged-out version is quite likely to make this Northern cook want to skip. I promise I’ll give you credit.

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mango-dillas

I’m sure it had already been invented, but my mom and I like to think we coined the special hybrid term pizzadillas — a cross between a pizza and a quesadilla, or simply an open-faced quesadilla. So I figure if we can coin a term like that, I can coin another one: the mango-dilla.

The other night when we became suddenly hungry at 8, we decided to see what we could “throw together” together in the kitchen. The result? What I often call “accidental gourmet,” something you’re really not expecting to taste that great but somehow just does.

It went kinda like this: Hmm, homemade whole wheat tortillas in the freezer. Hmm, leftover tropical fruit salsa. A chunk of blah cheese that just might go the distance. Cilantro, check. Green onion, check. Now for the protein. Cans of tuna? Can we do this? But wasn’t that salsa created to go with tuna (steaks) in the first place? So why not? I dug into the can, keeping the fish in chunks rather than breaking it up like you would for a tuna-salad sandwich.

Thanks to the Mexicans for inventing a cuisine that’s so flexible, colorful, fresh and easy. Barely any chopping, 5 minutes in the toaster oven (for me) and the frying pan (for the hubby) and off we were to Oaxaca. Or even Syracuse, where it’s at least as warm. Ole!

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