Thursday, June 16, 2016

Indian Tofu With Lambsquarters

In the history of vegetables, never has one seen such drastic fall from grace than lambsquarters. In ancient times, this leafy green nutrient powerhouse was so highly revered for its vitamins, minerals, and plentifulness that settlements were named after it; colloquially, it was dubbed "all good." Dating back to the late-glacial period, the abundant edible plant remained a staple foodstuff of the Neolithic, Bronze Age, early Iron Age, and Roman peoples. In other words, almost every significant era of prosperity and growth in ancient civilization relied on a diet inclusive of lambsquarters.

And now? The prolific perennial grows rampant in household gardens, labeled an annoying weed to the chagrin of all who maintain them. To fully grasp the magnitude of dislike for lambsquarters, just look to its nicknames: pigweed, fat-hen, goosefoot, bacon weed, dirty Dick, and Much Hill weed are all monikers for the detested plant (officially named Chenopodium album). Oh dear. Lambsquarters, the latter centuries of the past 10,000 years have not treated you well. You are a pariah in a leafy green loving society, the antithesis of your leader, kale. Is there any possibility of redemption?

Here in New York, a small beacon of hope shines for lambsquarters thanks to the efforts of Lani's Farm. Located in New Jersey with a weekly spot at the Union Square Greenmarket, the farm grows popular leafy greens like spinach, broccoli rabe, and collard greens in addition to an abundance of lesser known potherbs such as mitsuba greens, ruby streaks, dandelion, and our runt of the litter, lambsquarters. The farmstand offers a weekly cooking demo to encourage acceptance of the more obscure varieties, sautéing most greens in nothing more than a hint of oil, wild garlic, salt and pepper. The fresh greens are always unequivocally delicious, and what pushed me to abandon my usual swiss chard purchase and dabble with lambsquarters last month.

"Use it exactly like spinach," the produce purveyor told me. While the preparation may be the same, the nutrient profiles slightly differ— lambsquarters actually outclasses its superfood cousin with greater amounts of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin C, A, and B2. One cup of lambsquarters houses 73% of your daily suggested vitamin A intake and 96% vitamin of C, elevating the leafy green to superduper status.

Per instruction, I did a simple swap of spinach for lambsquarters in Martha Rose Shulman's Indian Tofu with Spinach recipe, a quick and easy nutrient and flavor-packed weeknight dinner. The sturdy stalks and husky leaves didn't wilt as much as spinach, giving the dish a much-appreciate texture boost. The lambsquarters were fantastic; at first bite, I had totally jumped on the Neolithic bandwagon. Pesky weed, how dare you!? Lambsquarters is going down as a superduperfood in my book, with "epic comeback" written all over it.

Indian Tofu with Lambsquarters (from New York Times)
Serves 4

¾ pound firm tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ cup coarsely chopped shallot or red onion
4 lengthwise slices peeled fresh ginger (2 inches long, 1 inch wide, 1/8 inch thick), coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 whole dried red chilies, like Thai, cayenne or arbol
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, ground
Salt to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1½ pounds fresh lambsquarters, rinsed thoroughly, stems trimmed, and roughly chopped (or any other dark leafy green)
½ cup drained yogurt
¼ teaspoon cornstarch

1. Drain the tofu on paper towels. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat in a wok or a large, heavy lidded skillet and add the tofu. Stir-fry until golden brown and remove from the heat.

2. Combine the shallot or onion and the ginger in a food processor or mini-chop and blend until finely minced, almost a paste.

3. Heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat in a wok or skillet and add the cumin seeds, fennel seeds and whole chilies. Cook, stirring, for about 15 seconds, or until the spices are fragrant and reddish-brown. Add the onion and ginger and stir-fry until it is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the coriander, salt, cayenne and turmeric, stir for about 10 seconds and add the lambsquarters in batches, adding the next batch after the first batch wilts and stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze.

4. Stir in the tofu, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the lambsquarters is uniformly wilted and the tofu is warmed through.

5. Whisk the cornstarch into the yogurt. Remove the pan from the heat, remove the chilies, and stir in the yogurt. Taste, adjust salt and serve with rice or other grains.

References: 1. Blair, Katrina. "Wild Edibles: How to Use Lambsquarter From Root to Seed." Mother Earth News. Ogden Publications, Inc., Dec. 2014. Web. 15 June 2016. 2. Pollard, Jean Ann. "Lambsquarters: Prince of Wild Greens." Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, n.d. Web. 15 June 2016.