Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sichuan Tofu and Broccoli Rabe with Garlic Sauce

I've been neglecting tofu lately, I have to admit. But these beautiful batches of broccoli rabe- budding with tiny yellow flowers- caught my eye at the farmers market, and as I equate a successful broccoli rabe dish with serious garlic, Sichuan Tofu and Broccoli Rabe with Garlic Sauce was born. 
I normally leave cooking with Asian sauces to the pros, but keep rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic chili paste in my fridge for an easy go-to stir fry marinade. This recipe incorporates all of these ingredients, but came out as SO much more. The sauce was thick and decadent, the perfect mixture of sweet and spicy while minimal oil kept it true to its healthy source, Fat Free Vegan.
So what made this recipe so special that I kept ogling at my bowl in disbelief that it wasn't take-out from my favorite Chinese restaurant? Dry sherry and vegetable broth contribute a rich depth to the marinade, while chili garlic paste and a generous portion of fresh ginger deliver some serious spice. Finally, cornstarch thickens the sauce into an almost caramelized consistency, which simmers the flavors to blend perfectly.  Since the tofu marinates in its own sauce while you prepare the other ingredients,the sauce is soaked up seamlessly. No more bland oops-I-forgot-to-marinade-in-advance tofu here; which I suspect was the reason for my recent distance to the ingredient.
I basically stuck to the original recipe, but have a few things to note: I would half the garlic next time, as the combination of garlic cloves and chili garlic paste were enough to keep all the vampires in the world running for the hills. (However I am also aware that this recipe is titled garlic sauce, so maybe I just have a weak garlic tolerance.) Second, I would nix the agave nectar or sugar, as the sweet wine was ample for the dish. Lastly, I doubled the sauce per the Susan's suggestion, but despite mixing it with a generous portion of rice and extra veggies found the increased quantity a bit overpowering.
The original recipe is made with water chestnuts, which I think would be spectacular in both taste and texture- I just didn't have any. Always a fan of adding extra veggies when possible, feel free to make your tofu with broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, and/or bok choy as well.

Sichuan Tofu and Broccoli Rabe with Garlic Sauce (from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen)
Serves 4

1 pound firm or extra-firm tofu*
1/4 cup warm vegetable broth 
1 tbsp. Shao Hsing wine, or dry sherry
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce 
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (up to one tablespoon) 
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons black rice vinegar (use regular rice vinegar if you don't have) 
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce 
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing wine, or dry sherry 
2 tablespoons agave nectar or sugar (optional) 
1 teaspoon chili garlic paste (up to 2 teaspoons) 
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil 
6 large cloves garlic, minced (up to 1 head) (I suggest using 3) 
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger 
1 bunch green onions
8 fresh water chestnuts (optional) 
2 tsp. cornstarch dissolved into 2 tsp. water
1 bunch broccoli rabe
Optional: honey-roasted peanuts for garnish; brown rice, additional veggies

*To prepare tofu, wrap tofu block in a two layers of paper towel and microwave for one minute. This will dry up excess liquid, allowing your marinate to permeate the block and soak up more flavor.

  1. Cut the tofu widthwise into 1/2-inch slices. Then cut each slice widthwise into 1/2-inch by 1 1/2-inch sticks. Put the pieces in a ziplock bag and add the vegetable broth, 1 tbsp. wine, and 1 tbsp. soy sauce. Let it marinate, turning the bag every few minutes, while you prepare the vegetables and sauce.
  2. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together the vinegars, 2 tbsp. soy sauce, 1 tbsp. wine, agave nectar or sugar (optional), chili garlic paste, and sesame oil. Set aside.
  3. Peel and slice the water chestnuts and cut each slice into shreds, about three pieces per slice. Slice the green onions thinly, separating the dark green tops from the light green and white parts.
  4. Spray a large non-stick skillet with oil, and heat it over medium-high heat. Add the light-colored scallion slices, the garlic, ginger, and broccoli rabe (plus additional optional veggies) and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
  5. Spray the skillet again, and add the tofu and its marinade to the pan, making sure the tofu is in a single layer. When the marinade has evaporated, carefully turn the tofu (which should be light brown on the bottom) and cook the other side until brown. Add the green onion mixture/broccoli rabe back to the pan and cook, stirring for another minute.
  6. Add the water chestnuts and sauce and bring to a boil. Add cornstarch and water and simmer until thickened and glossy. Remove from heat and garnish with green onion tops.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Penne with Asparagus, Sage and Peas

With spring in full bloom this past weekend, I wanted to share a recipe featuring the seasonal produce we are about to see in bounty at the local farmers markets - locavores wait in eager anticipation as the root vegetables and leafy greens give way to spring onions, artichokes, asparagus, and peas. I chose this Penne with Asparagus, Sage and Peas recipe, inspired by Huffington Posts's Fresh and Flavorful Spring Pasta Recipes.

The key to this recipe is finding fresh veggies as the dish is designed to feature them; consequently the sauce is very mild. Although subtle, the white wine-vegetable broth combination is flavorful and hearty, and eliminates the need for heavy cream or butter to create richness.

Another secret ingredient is the sage, which provides a wonderful earthy tone against the sweet asparagus and peas. This recipe can be treated like a primavera, so feel free to use whatever vegetables you want: I added mushrooms, onions and olives to mine too.  Of course, I used whole wheat pasta, and added in chickpeas for a protein boost. Cannellini beans would taste great too. Finish with a generous sprinkle of chopped parsley and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and you can almost taste the blooming flowers and budding trees in the first bite.
Penne with Asparagus, Sage and Peas
Yield: 4 servings

1/2 pound whole wheat penne
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound thick asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
1/4 cup sliced onion/scallions, or 2 shallots, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups English peas (10 ounces shelled) or frozen baby peas, thawed
1/2 cup canned garbanzo or cannellini beans
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving (fat-free feta works too)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Optional: 1/3 cup mushrooms, artichokes, or other desired vegetables; 1/4 cup sliced black olives; hot red pepper to garnish

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the penne and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. (this is very important because the pasta will finish cooking in the pan.) Drain.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and onion/shallot and cook for 3 minutes. Add asparagus and all other optional vegetables except the peas and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, peas and beans and increase heat to medium-high and simmer until liquid is reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to a simmer.
3. Add the pasta to the skillet and cook over low heat with the vegetables, stirring frequently with the top off, until the sauce has reduced; about 3 minutes.
4. Toss with salt & pepper to taste, grated cheese, parsley, and hot red pepper flakes (if desired). Serve immediately with extra cheese for sprinkling on the side.

    Thursday, April 5, 2012

    Chocolate Caramel Crack(ers)

    This is how this post was born: unable to bear the thought of facing a full 8 days without non-kosher desserts during Passover, I set out to make Momofuku Milk Bar's Crack Pie, but realized it contained oats. Then I got the brilliant idea to make Milk Bar's Compost Cookies and substitute matzoh for pretzels, but that recipe still called for flour. In a frantic Google search I somehow managed to combine the terms "matzoh" and "crack", and ta-da!!! I introduce to you your new addiction, Chocolate Caramel Crack(ers). Smitten Kitchen to the rescue, I should've known!

    This is literally one of the best things I've ever eaten. Each cracker is so perfectly crunchy yet chewy and the flavors evolve seamlessly- first matzoh crunch, then melt-in-you-mouth caramel, followed by sinfully rich chocolate with a burst of sea salt- then the nuts. Deb from Smitten Kitchen puts it perfectly: stored in a container, "it should keep for a week," she says, "but I've never seen it last that long."

    Why these crackers bear the addictive attributes of crack: 1. They combine sweet and salty. 2. Chocolate caramel sea-salt never fails- (I cite Butter Lane's sea-salt chocolate frosting shot here as evidence). 3.Smooth layers of caramel and chocolate are sandwiched between a matzoh base and crushed pecan/almond top to create a perfect harmony of chewy and crunchy.

    I think the caramel in this recipe deserves its own paragraph. I don't know if it was from toffee deprivation during my braces years, but I literally could not get enough of the delectable caramel gooeyness. Who knew butter and brown sugar yielded such an amazing result? Watching the caramel bubble as it formed (see pictures below) and then cool into the perfect thickened consistency sent me into a wide-eyed frenzy of excitement. My taste buds were in love.

    Chocolate Caramel Crack(ers) (from Smitten Kitchen)

    4 to 6 sheets matzo or approximately 40 Saltine crackers or crackers of your choice

    1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into a few large pieces

    1 cup packed light brown sugar

    A big pinch of sea salt

    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    1 1/2 cups semi- or bittersweet chocolate chips (or chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate)

    1 cup toasted chopped almonds, pecans, walnuts or a nut of your choice (optional)

    Extra sea salt for sprinkling (optional) but HIGHLY recommended!

    Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet completely with foil, and then line the base of the foil with parchment paper, cut to fit.
    Line the bottom of the baking sheet with matzo or crackers, covering all parts. [If using matzo, you'll need to break pieces to fit any extra spaces, which will be annoying because despite being perforated, it does not actually break in straight lines. I have some luck pressing a serrated knife straight down along a section between perforations, if that (hopefully) makes sense.]
    In a medium heavy-duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and stir it over medium heat until it begins to boil. Once it has begun boiling, let it bubble for three more minutes, stirring it well. It will thicken a bit as it cooks. Remove from the heat and add the salt and vanilla, and then quickly pour it over the matzo or crackers. You’ll want to spread it quickly, as it will begin to set as soon as it is poured.
    Bake the caramel-covered crackers for 15 minutes, watching carefully as it will bubble and the corners might darken too quickly and/or burn. You can reduce the heat if you see this happening.
    Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips. Let stand five minutes, and then spread them evenly across the caramel. An offset spatula works great here. If you’re using them, sprinkle the chocolate with toasted chopped nuts and/or sea salt. (The sea salt is great on matzo. On Saltines, it’s really not necessary.) Once completely cool - I sometimes speed this process up in the fridge, impatient as should be expected in the face of caramel crack(ers)- break into pieces and store it in a container.


    Monday, April 2, 2012

    Black Bean, Orange and Corn Quinoa Salad

    For most of us, the week before Passover consists of stuffing our face with every chametz product out there in preparation for the dreaded 8 days of matzoh overload.  Luckily, quinoa, my favorite protein-packed grain-that-isn't-really-a-grain, is considered to be kosher for Pesach!! (Chabad delves into the debate here.) So move over matzoh pizza and pb &j, because quinoa will be stealing the spotlight during my 8 days of leavened-grain abstinence!  I chose Black Bean, Orange and Quinoa Salad for this post because it is super easy to make and exceptionally filling for a lunch or dinner salad; a quality you don't always find in a green-leaf based one.

     I know I've already gone into extensive detail on previous posts about the health benefits of quinoa, but I have even more to report as the Whole Grain Council named quinoa its March grain of the month. The article starts off with this quote from Philip White: "While no single food can supply all the essential life sustaining nutrients, quinoa comes as close as any other in the plant or animal kingdom."  One of the only plant foods that is considered a complete protein, quinoa helps you feel full longer with its unusually high ratio of protein to carbohydrate.  Quinoa has been shown to help reduce the risk of diabetes and serve as a nutritious option in gluten free diets, plus its significant potassium content can help to control blood pressure.

    The highlights of this recipe are the tangy lime-cumin dressing and juicy orange chunks. The jalapeno gives the salad a nice kick, which when tossed with the black beans, cilantro and pepper exhibit a southwestern zest.  Make a large batch to hold you over for a few meals- I promise you won't get sick of it- and when its time to return to that matzoh, maybe it won't be so bad after all!

    Black Bean, Orange and Corn Salad (from The Little Yellow Kitchen)
    Yield: 4 servings

    1 cup quinoa
    1 can black beans, rinsed
    1 orange, segmented and cut into small chunks
    1 cup corn kernels
    1/2 red onion, chopped
    1 red or orange bell pepper, diced
    1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
    1 jalapeƱo, minced
    1/4 cup lime juice 
    1/4 cup olive oil (I used 1/8 cup)
    1 teaspoon cumin
    Salt and pepper to taste
    Optional additions: 1 cup baby spinach leaves, diced avocado,  feta cheese for garnish

    1. Cook 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups water for 10-15 minutes, according to package directions.
    2. Add the black beans, orange and the rest of the ingredients in the salad. Stir to combine.
    3. Whisk together lime juice, olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Drizzle over quinoa mixture. Serve.

    "Quinoa – March Grain of the Month." Whole Grains Council. Web. 2 Apr. 2012. <>.