Masala Chai Spiced Tofu and Coconut Kale

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I used to work in an office with one of my best friends. We didn’t actually work together much, but we worked in the same office. We started a daily ritual of having tea every afternoon around 2:30, taking a quick five minute break to steep some tea and check in to see how things were going. I really enjoyed the ritual of taking a break to patiently wait four minutes for the tea to steep before bringing it back to my desk. It calmed and refocused me to have a productive afternoon. In the culture of instant gratification in which we live, there is something special about the daily ritual of forcing yourself to wait for the tea leaves to work their magic in your mug.

So lately I have been thinking a lot about patience and slowing down. And, naturally, as my thoughts often drift to food, I have been thinking about tea and crockpots and marinades and slow roasting. I had this idea to marinate tofu in very strong tea to infuse my cooking with the same flavors that I usually reserve for my mid-afternoon tea breaks. It took two attempts to get the method right, and the end result is a masala chai spiced tofu that is bursting with flavor.

Either I am more attuned to the tea popping up all around me, or there is a similar trend going on in the craft beer world, because the same weekend I made my first attempt at chai spiced tofu, I tasted this delicious brew:

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Local Richmond brewery Ardent Craft Ales released its Earl Grey Brown Ale to a packed tap room last month, and it instantly became one of my new favorite beers. I’m happy to see so many craft breweries playing with this style, because while I love a good IPA, how many IPA’s do you need on your menu? I’ve seen some great creative brown ales in the last couple of years, including this tea-inspired one.

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Ardent Craft Ales Tap Room

Then a couple of weeks ago, Kyle and I picked up Japanese Green Tea IPA, a collaboration beer from Baird, Ishii, and Stone Brewing Company. It tastes exactly as you would expect it to. An India Pale Ale infused with the taste of matcha green tea powder. Citrusy, bitter, floral, herbal. . . it’s a lot a flavor in a glass. If you like green tea, please try it.

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So, enough about what we’ve been drinking. Back to what we’ve been eating. I found some purple kale at the farmers’ market, and I made a coconut curry kale recipe to go along with my chai spiced tofu. It turned out beautiful and tasty, so I jotted down the recipe and included it below. So let’s get cooking!

Masala Chai Spiced Tofu

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Ingredients:

  • 6 masala chai tea bags
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 – 14 oz. block of firm tofu
  • 2 Tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Preparation:

  1. Drain and press tofu. Cut block into six slices.
  2. Heat water almost to boiling in a teapot. Combine tea bags and 2 cups of hot water in a jar or bowl. Steep for 4 minutes, then remove tea bags.
  3. Arrange tofu slices in a glass dish. Pour concentrated tea over tofu. Marinate tofu for one hour at room temperature, turning tofu once halfway through marinating.
  4. Drain tea from tofu, and reserve 1/2 cup of tea marinade.
  5. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of tea marinade, soy sauce, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and honey. Stir to mix the sauce thoroughly.
  6. Heat 2 Tablespoons of sesame oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.
  7. Add tofu slices to hot pan and cook until browned, about 5-6 minutes per side.
  8. Add sauce to pan and cook until reduced by at least one half. Suggestion: serve tofu while hot, over basmati rice and cooked greens like Coconut Curry Kale.

Coconut Curry Kale

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Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 bunch of curly kale
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons madras curry powder
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut or unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Remove stems from kale. Chop stems in bite-sized pieces and tear leaves into a separate bowl.
  2. Heat coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  3. When coconut oil is melted, add chopped kale stems and garlic to pot. Saute for five minutes.
  4. Add kale leaves, ginger, and curry to the pot. Saute until kale is bright green and slightly wilted.
  5. While kale is cooking, in a small pan, heat shredded/flake coconut over low-medium heat until toasted. Remove pan from heat.
  6. Add lime juice, toasted coconut, and salt and pepper to the kale. Toss and serve immediately.

Moroccan Kamut Salad

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I was recently perusing the grains at the grocery store and came across one that I had never seen before: KAMUT®. It looked like wheat berries, which I love, and it came in pretty packaging, an attribute for which I will eternally be a sucker, so I tossed it in my basket to try at home after a little Internet research. The brand I bought was Bob’s Red Mill Grains of Discovery series.

Ancient grains are supposedly hot this year (who decides these things?), so I have completely bought into whatever marketing scheme placed the attractive bag of wheat on the shelf and subsequently into my cart. . . then into my kitchen, onto my dinner table, and. . . within this blog post. Should I have named this post “Meta Kamut® Salad?”

I can guarantee you I am not being paid by the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Grains to write this post, so let’s learn something, shall we? First, KAMUT® is the trademarked name for a certain type of Khorasan wheat (turanicum variety Q-77). The exact origin of Khorasan wheat is unknown, but it is believed to have been originally cultivated in the Fertile Crescent. According to one legend, Khorasan wheat was once near extinction until an American airman mailed some seeds found in Egypt back home to his family in Montana in the late 1940’s to cultivate, thus reintroducing the grain to modern cuisine. It’s a nice story that I don’t think I believe, but it does make for good dinner conversation. If you are blessed with a table full of dinner guests who believe in dining without smart phones, you could really embellish this tale into a great story, without fear of someone fact-checking you halfway through the main course.

Khorasan wheat grains are roughly twice the size of the common wheat kernel which makes them very attractive in salads. They have a nutty flavor with a pleasant chew when cooked properly. They can also be milled into flour for use in baked goods. One clear advantage of Khorasan wheat over common modern wheat is that it has a much higher protein content; at seven grams per serving, it has up to 40% more protein than common wheat. Khorasan wheat also contains a higher percentage of selenium, zinc, magnesium, and amino acids. Full nutritional information is available on the Bob’s Red Mill website.

Would all of these spices marry up with this ancient grain, feta cheese, kale, carrots, and pomegranate arils anywhere in the world besides my kitchen? Who knows, but the combo tastes pretty awesome. This salad is tasty served warm or cold. Plus the salad is a nutritional powerhouse that would make for great make-ahead lunches that would leave you satisfied all afternoon.

I enjoyed the flavor and texture of the Khorasan wheat so I think I will use it again. However, this ingredient does require a little planning, as the wheat berries have to soak in water overnight. Not a quick go-to pantry ingredient, but one that is worth the wait if you plan meals better than I do most nights.

Moroccan Khorasan Wheat Salad (serves 4)

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup KAMUT® brand Khorasan wheat berries
  • 3 cups low sodium vegetable stock
  • 4 threads saffron
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided (2 + 1)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 large carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 bunch of kale, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Cover wheat berries in water and soak overnight, or at least six hours.
  2. In a medium pot over medium heat, bring vegetable stock to a boil. Add saffron and wheat berries and simmer, covered, for 50-60 minutes or until tender.
  3. In a large pan, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and carrots and saute until onion is translucent. Add spices (ginger through cayenne) and saute for 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat.
  4. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add garlic and kale and saute until wilted. Add lemon juice and turn heat to low.
  5. Add carrot-onion mixture and wheat berries to large pot with kale and cook until warmed throughout.
  6. To serve cold: remove from heat to refrigerator, chill this mixture for at least one hour, then add feta, pomegranate, and salt and pepper to taste.
  7. To serve warm: remove from heat, add feta, pomegranate, and salt and pepper to taste, then serve immediately.

Farmers’ Market Haul 05.26.12

Although I got to walk around a bit at the farmers’ market this week, Kyle did most of the shopping again. I was too busy shopping for the SOJ Market Chef Demo to pick up everything we needed at home. Check out recaps of the demonstrations on my Market Chef page. We jam-packed this week’s demo time with a ton of dishes and samples! Richmond market shoppers really benefited from the abundance of colorful, delicious produce this week. I chatted with visitors to the demo tent and even met a blog reader who stopped by to say hello (hi Alex!). While I socialized and helped out, Kyle got some great loot this week. I think he’s really getting the hang of this!

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This week at the market and into my kitchen:

  • Kale
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow squash
  • Beets
  • Asparagus
  • Red potatoes
  • Red spring onions
  • Bombolini black pepper linguine

I used the kale and onions that very night when we hosted Adrienne from hippie itch and her husband for dinner. On the menu: dragon bowls! I set up a create-your-own-bowl bar, just like a salad bar or burrito bar, and I think it worked out pretty well.

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We had so many ingredients and toppings to choose from:

  • steamed brown rice
  • baked five spice tofu
  • braised kale with rice wine vinegar, sautéed onions and fresh ginger
  • stir fried broccoli slaw and baby carrots
  • toasted sesame seeds
  • crushed wasabi peas
  • tiger sauce
  • sriracha
  • hoisin sauce
  • soy sauce
  • fresh cilantro

We ate outside on the back porch and enjoyed a few craft beers while we chatted. It was the perfect way to relax after running around at the market and on errands all day. Saturday Success!

Veggie Redux: Caldo Verde

I recently found myself in a very chilly situation.

To warm up, I made a hearty kale and potato soup. The first time I made this humble soup, I feared that it would seem too boring for my dinner companion’s taste. So I spiced it up with a fancy name and an intriguing story. I introduced the soup as “Caldo Verde, the National Soup of Portugal.”

Kyle said, “ooooooooh,” as I had anticipated. He was pretty excited to try the beloved stew of a foreign land. Hook, line, and sinker. So when I took my first slurp of this easy, hearty soup, I was surprised to find that the bowl didn’t need a worldly title to grab your attention. One taste was all it took for me to realize that caldo verde is special in its own right. Thanks to spicy, chewy soy chorizo from Twin Oaks and tender leafy kale from Victory Farms, this soup fills your stomach, warms your heart and excites your tastebuds.

This was a new product to me and I definitely recommend it. Found at Ellwood Thompsons.

I suggest you make a batch before winter gives way to spring and hearty soups play second fiddle to fresh grilled veggies. There is a time and place for everything, and right now, while there is still a little chill in the sunrise and sunset, is the time for thick potato soup with leafy greens and spicy soy-rizo. No smoke, no mirrors, just soup. Caldo. Caliente. Yum.

Caldo Verde (6 hearty servings)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds white or russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 quarts vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 pound soy chorizo, crumbled
  • 1 pound kale, shredded
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until tender, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add potatoes, stock, and crushed red pepper. Stir to combine and cook, covered, over medium heat for one hour.
  3. Remove from heat and use an immersion blender to puree some of the potato into the broth. Do not blend until smooth; leave some small potato pieces in the broth for texture is desired.
  4. Return to heat, add soy chorizo and cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Add kale and cook an additional 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve hot with crusty bread and the flair of a world traveler who is insecure about the humble beginnings of her potato soup.

MexiKali Wraps

One thing I love to eat when the weather warms up is Mexican food. The weekly taco night is a must in the summer, and Kyle and I usually enjoy tacos, burritos, or burrito bowls outside with a cold beer. Sometimes I struggle to get a serving of vegetables in for this once-a-week meal. I started adding steamed broccoli or sauteed zucchini to our burritos and they were a major hit. This week, I decided to get a little more creative and I developed the MexiKali wrap.

Inspired by Brittany’s Vegetarian Zucchini Boats over at EBF, I included a little kale in these tasty wraps. My only regret was the white flour tortillas – the store was out of whole wheat and I think I would have preferred the heartier wheat wrap. Otherwise, they were a great summer meal.

MexiKali Wraps

I filled these wraps with:

  • black beans
  • cilantro-lime rice
  • crispy sauteed kale strips
  • tomato salsa
  • diced avocado (sprinkled with lime juice)

Cilantro-Lime Rice

  1. Cook one cup of brown rice according to package directions (yields 2 cups cooked rice).
  2. While rice is still warm, add 3 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lime juice.
  3. Stir in a handful of chopped cilantro and serve warm.

Crispy Sauteed Kale Strips

  1. Wash one half a bunch of kale. I used Red Russian kale for these wraps for its mild flavor. Dry leaves in a salad spinner or air dry on paper towels.
  2. Remove stems from kale. Stack 6-8 leaves and roll them lengthwise like a cigar. Starting at one end, slice the leaves into thin strips. This is how I chiffonade basil, and it works really well for chopping kale into bite-sized pieces for sandwiches.
  3. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil to a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic or 1/2 cup thinly sliced onions to the pan for flavor.
  4. Toss in the kale and saute, stirring with a wooden spoon, until tender. Continue to fry the kale until it becomes crispy. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Canned Tomato Salsa

This salsa is good for when you want fresh-tasting salsa but the tomatoes aren’t in season yet. Bonus points if you canned these yourself from last year’s crop!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced (use gloves!)
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely diced
  • 3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Salt

Preparation:

  1. Pour the tomatoes out onto a large cooking board and chop with a large, broad knife to make sure they are uniformly chopped to a fine dice.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, cilantro, lime juice, and garlic. Add salt to taste.

I hope this one finds a place on your table this summer. I’m sure it will be returning to mine. Have a great week!

Ready for 2011

I have had quite a year, and to tell you the truth, when midnight rolled around, I was happy to kiss 2010 goodbye. While attending a lovely party last night, my dearest friends and I toasted to life, to luck, to friends, to family, to the end of 2010, and to the start of 2011. While I’m being honest here, I’ll admit that there was a whole lot of toasting going on.

Because it is in my research-y nature to read up on various subjects that interest me, I spent a bit of time over the last week learning about New Year traditions and superstitions from around the world. Previously I had a limited knowledge of what practices were believed to bring luck in the coming year. Basically it was limited to the practice of putting on a party dress and glitter mascara, drinking a gallon of champagne, and hoping to get lucky, along with something about eating twelve grapes at midnight. Clearly I needed a little culture.

We’ll start in the Southern United States since that is where I currently reside. People from here traditionally eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Eve and Day because they are thought to bring you luck in the next year. When I was asked to bring an appetizer to the New Year’s Eve party, I knew I had to incorporate a little superstition into my dish. I had not heard before that black eyed peas held the keys to luck and wealth, so I was skeptical as to the prevalence of this superstition in modern times. However it was apparent that there are still plenty of believers when I picked up the last can of black eyed peas off the grocery store shelf. They were already out of dried peas, and I was able to snatch up the last can just in time.

I discovered a lot of lucky foods that are eaten to ensure wealth and prosperity. Many of them are round foods that symbolize coins. This brings us back to the grapes I mentioned earlier; Spaniards eat twelve round grapes at midnight. This custom is found in various South American countries as well. I personally took my midnight grapes in bubbly liquid form this year. Does that count?

Other round foods that are believed to be lucky are lentils, round cakes (Greece and Mexico), and dough fritters called ollie bollen in the Netherlands. Greens are also eaten due to their resemblance to folded cash. Stewed kale is eaten in Denmark and collard greens are eaten in the southern U.S. The Japanese eat noodles for luck, and the belief is that you must not break or chew them until the entire length of the noodle is in your mouth. Pomegranates are eaten for luck in Mediterranean countries. I have already shared a ton of ways to enjoy pomegranate seeds here in case you want to try them out yourself.

I personally created two dishes this year, not necessarily because I believe in the superstition, but because I like to be festive and I believe in good foods. I think you will find both of these recipes to be good in more ways than one. And if you aren’t into eating your way to good luck in 2011, you could steal a page from the Mexicans’ book and express your superstition via your undergarments. In Mexico and many other countries, red underwear is worn on New Year’s Eve to bring the wearer luck in love, and yellow is worn to guarantee wealth and prosperity.

As for me, I think I’ll stick to the legumes and the greens. They have yet to fail me.

Lucky Black-eyed Pea Dip (serves a small army)

Ingredients:

1-15 oz can black-eyed peas

1-15 oz can black beans

1-15 oz can white beans (Great Northern or Cannelini)

1-15 oz can white corn

1 cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup finely chopped parsley

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp hot sauce

Preparation:

1. Rinse and drain black-eyed peas, beans, and corn and combine in a large mixing bowl.

2. To the bean mixture, add onion, garlic, and parsley and stir to combine.

3. In a separate small bowl, combine oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard, basil, and hot sauce. Add dressing to bean mixture and stir to combine.

4. Refrigerate 4 to 24 hours and serve with tortilla chips.

And for New Year’s Day. . .

Potato, Kale, and Lentil Stew (serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 cups mirepoix (any combination of diced onion, carrots, and/or celery will do – use what you have on hand)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup red wine

4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, diced in 1/2-inch cubes (or whatever you have on hand, seriously, this is like peasant stew)

6 cups vegetable broth

1 cup small green lentils

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

4-5 cups kale, torn into 1- to 2-inch pieces

Preparation:

1. Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add mirepoix and garlic and saute until onion is almost translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

2. Add red wine to the pot and cook for 2 minutes.

3. Add potatoes, vegetable broth, and lentils. Add cumin, coriander, and cayenne and stir to combine. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes or until lentils are not quite al dente.

4. Add salt, pepper, and kale to pot. Cover and cook for 15 minutes more.

5. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve in large bowls to your gaggle of hungry and slightly hungover friends, who are yearning for health and prosperity in the new year.

Cheers anyone?

Green Smoothie

I like to keep things interesting by writing about the ingredients and preparations that I try for the first time. While I enjoy reading other people’s daily food blogs, writing about oatmeal every day just isn’t my cup of tea. This is not the first time I have used kale, and it is not the first time I have made a smoothie.

But it is the first time I’ve put kale in my smoothie, so let’s talk about it!

Kale is a super ingredient that is great for your health. It is a descendant of the wild cabbage, which originated in Asia and is thought to have been brought to Europe around 600 B.C., where it was a popular food among peasants. Kale is an excellent source of vitamins K, A, and C. One cup of kale contains over 85% of your recommended daily value of each of these vitamins. It is also a great source of calcium, fiber, and iron. I found some great information about the health benefits of kale at this site: World’s Healthiest Foods.

I have used kale in stir-fry alongside ginger marinated tofu atop brown rice, and in potato and kale soup. I hear it is the cabbage of choice for use in Colcannon, an Irish dish that incorporates cabbage, potatoes, and sausage. I’ve been meaning to make a vegetarian version but right now it’s just too hot for that. There are three popular varieties of kale: curly, ornamental, and dinosaur. They are all slightly different, and most of my experience is with curly kale.

I used just one large leaf of curly kale for two smoothies. One leaf yielded about a cup of kale, and each cup packed plenty of vitamins and other nutrients for my healthy little smoothie for two. Here’s how it went down.

I added to my blender: one cup of frozen sliced bananas, one cup of frozen pineapple chunks, one leaf of kale (torn, stem removed), and one cup of vanilla soy milk (to sneak in a little more calcium, and because I was out of juice).

Yes, that is a wine glass in the background. It was Saturday morning, post-farmers’ market and pre-dishwashing. There is an empty wine glass (or two) on my kitchen counter after almost every Friday night. This is a fact of life which I am okay with and you should be too.

I blended this for a few minutes, and added a little more banana for consistency and a little more pineapple for flavor, then poured myself a large glass and Kyle a small taste. I wasn’t sure how he would feel about the grassy green concoction. Turned out he loved it, so he enjoyed a large glass too.

I think I’ll try this one again with pineapple or orange juice. It was delicious the first time around, but I would have liked a little more fruit flavor to mask the kale. The pineapple chunks did a great job infusing the smoothie with fruitiness so I’ll punch up the citrus next time for an even more enjoyable jolly green smoothie.

I wonder what will go in my smoothie next?