3.30.2015

uzbek dinner! plov and tashkent salad

A while back, a friend linked to one of those buzzfeed posts--you know the ones, "the top 20 things you have to eat in [city name]" or "30 signs you're [insert age]." But the one my friend linked to was about food. And I often click the food ones. I don't even remember what the list was, but at the side, another recommended article was "16 Delicious Uzbek Dishes You Need to Try Immediately." I love delicious food, and knew NOTHING about Uzbek cuisine, so I clicked--and discovered a whole list of very non-vegan things. (There is actually one vegan thing: a tomato salad, which, since I'm allergic, was sad.)

For some reason, rather than deciding Uzbek cuisine was not my thing, all this started me on a quest to try to make some vegan Uzbek food at home.
Vegan Tashkent salad, "roasted" garlic (I'll explain later), and Plov!

The most obvious dish to start with: Plov, which is essentially a rice pilaf. After a long internet-rabbit-hole search, I decided to mainly stick with this recipe from Olga's Flavor Factory (ironically, the blog is Russian, not Uzbek, but I swear, this was the most promising recipe to start with). Traditionally, plov is made with lamb or beef, for which I substituted chickpeas. (Chunks of seitan would probably be better if you wanted it to be really authentic, but since I'm vegan and nightshade-free, I never really bother with authentic, and chickpeas are what I had on hand.) Her recipe is also enormous, so I halved it. So here are the ingredients I ended up with:

Chickpea Plov
Serves 3-4, depending on how hungry you are!

2 Cups (or 1 can, which is a little scant but fine) Chickpeas
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 carrots, shredded
salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves
1.5 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric (this was to substitute in color for the paprika she uses)
A generous shake of ground allspice
1.5 Cups rice (I used brown basmati for extra flavor)
3 Cups water
1 head garlic, most of the papery skin peeled away (as much as you can with just rubbing it)

I sautéed all the veggies and spices together first, until the chickpeas started to brown, to give everything lots of flavor:
From there I followed the directions from the original recipe: add the rice, stir to mix it all together, then add the water, lower the heat, and cover.
And here's the coolest part, the "roasted" garlic. In the last 10-15 minutes of cooking (so if you're using white rice, pretty much as soon as you cover it--if you're using brown rice, after about 15-20 minutes), you put an entire head of garlic right in the center of the pilaf, so it steams and gets soft and creamy on the inside--just like roasted garlic from the oven, but less messy and in way less time! I could not believe how cool this was, and have done it with other dishes now.
There it is! Hidden in the center of the plov! At the time I was really worried about the garlic burning or sloughing off its skin into the rice, but it all worked out just fine.

The tashkent salad (or is it supposed to be salad tashkent? I do not speak Uzbek so I have no idea) was a veganized version of this recipe from Tasty Arbuz. Tashkent salad is basically a creamy slaw made of radishes and tongue, which, you know, super not vegan. (Have any of you read Hugo Hamilton's memoir The Speckled People? There is a tongue-as-food-related scene in it that is incredibly well written... and it describes how gross the whole family found it. If I were still doing my "food from books" series, this would be such a good one!) But I had some leftover baked tofu from a previous dinner, which, thinly sliced, was a perfect tongue substitute. And I used vegenaise instead of mayo, and everything was fine! 

Verdict: I would definitely make plov again, and am so excited about this "roasted" garlic technique. As for the tashkent salad, it was fine, but essentially a radish slaw, for which I don't really need a specific recipe in the future.

Have you ever had Uzbek food? Is there any dish from that buzzfeed list you'd like to make/veganize? Keep me posted!

1.15.2015

aburaage, inari, and kitsune udon

I have decided to admit to myself that I am not good at blogging regularly. Admit it, get over it, and try to update at least more than one month a year. So hello again!

When I go out for sushi, my FAVORITE thing to order, hands down, is Inari. For those of you who haven't had it, it's fried tofu that has ben simmered in soy sauce, sugar, and mirin, then turned into thin pouches that are then stuffed with rice. It's sweet, salty, and filled with rice, so it has pretty much everything I love.

At various Asian markets, I have seen canned and refrigerated prepared aburaage that is just ready for stuffing with rice, but the ingredients are awful. Many have fish flakes, high fructose corn syrup, and/or MSG, all of which I avoid. (For the record, many restaurants make their own, so you can ask if you're concerned about these ingredients.) So I decided to try to make it on my own.

To prepare inari-style tofu, you "start" with aburaage, I say "start" because aburaage is deep fried, thinly-sliced tofu cutlets. You can make these yourself, but who wants to spend a bunch of time deep frying thinly sliced tofu? Not me. I bought it.
 I harbored secret hopes that the interiors would be pre-split, like pitas are, so that the "pouch" effect would be really easy to attain. This was not true. But also not something I had to worry about yet. I followed Just Hungry's methods for preparing inari, which first involves blanching the tofu, then patting it down with towels, to help get rid of some of the extra oil.

The next step was to slice them in half, then simmer them for a little while in a broth made of dashi (mine is always made from boiling kombu and wakame for a few minutes), tamari, mirin, and sugar. I don't have sake, so I just doubled down on the mirin. The thing I liked best about making this myself was being able to cut back on the sugar; I like it a little sweet, but some inari is too sugary for my taste.
 After they simmered and cooled in their own broth, I separated the insides (using the method recommended by Just Hungry--poking around in it with a chopstick) and stuffed several of them with rice. (Another thing I liked about being able to make it at home: brown rice!)
 I served the inari with nimono made primarily from butternut squash, more rice, and some sesame-garlic collards. This is Kevin's bowl; mine had a heck of a lot more inari pouches, but his looks daintier so we're going with that.

BUT I didn't use ALL the prepared aburaage for inari sushi. I saved some of it to make kitsune udon! "Kitsune" means fox, because in Japanese folklore, the trickster fox loves fried tofu. I agree with the fox. I followed this recipe from Just One Cookbook almost exactly, except no fish cake, obviously. And, as usual, gluten-free tamari instead of soy sauce.
I know the cropping is a little weird, but I wanted you to be able to see how our cat Molly creeped into the corner of the picture, lurker that she is. This udon was AMAZING, and we both went back for more.

9.19.2014

dessert friday: apple cider jellies

A while back, I read and bookmarked a recipe on the kitchn for "spiced apple jellies." This is a classier way of saying make-your-own apple juice jello (with agar). I loved jello-esque things, but I don't like apple juice, so I decided to try the recipe with apple cider once when I had family coming to visit.

It was a success!
I topped it with whipped coconut cream. Because I used apple cider, it was tart, but in a good way. It was also so light that I had the leftover cups for breakfast the next couple of days.

I always find agar to be firmer than I want it to be; next time I might try less (so a scant teaspoon). Also next time, I'm going to take a tip from them and serve it in cute little mugs; I just didn't own cute little mugs at the time of making these.

9.18.2014

Restaurant Thursday: Root

Root is an all-vegan restaurant in Allston, a Boston neighborhood that is very close to my heart (and used to be close to my home, when I first moved out to Boston). It had big shoes to fill when it opened: its location was previously home to Peace o'Pie and before that, to TJ Scallywaggles, both vegan pizza places that almost all of us Boston vegans were sorry to see go.

Root has healthy, surprisingly inexpensive meals with a cafe feel. Kevin and I have been for dinner twice and brunch once. Dinner there was great!
Kevin got the sweet corn and jalapeno hush puppies with the Thai peanut salad (in the back), and I went with the sweet potato quesadillas and warm kale salad. The employees were transparent and accommodating when it came to my unusual food allergies.

While we were underwhelmed by the brunch (not a lot of flavor in the tofu scramble or the breakfast burrito), we'd be willing to try again, considering how good (and enormous) the pancakes looked.

A couple notes: for lunches/dinners, you order at the counter and choose your own seat, but brunch is a be-seated-and-waited-on affair. Also, Root doesn't offer desserts, but is conveniently located two doors down from Fomu, Boston's vegan ice cream shop. (The two businesses even share a bathroom.) If you don't want something as upscale as True Bistro, but want something a little less dingy than Grasshopper, I strongly recommend Root.

9.16.2014

Isa Does It pesto risotto

I have made several recipes from Isa Does It, and I have liked them all. The tastiest so far is actually what I would have thought of as one of the simplest: the Pesto Risotto with Roasted Zucchini. (Recipe available here.)

I have roasted a lot of zucchini in my time, but there is something about the proportions called for in this recipe that make it THE BEST ROASTED ZUCCHINI EVER. I almost always use brown rice to make risotto, and it always turns out just fine (it just takes a little longer).

(PS do you like my red depression glass dishware? I don't have a lot, but what I do have, I have achieved through constant monitoring of ebay sales for reasonably priced dishes. I love it.)

9.14.2014

sunday brunch: chicken-fried tofu and waffles

I don't really understand why "chicken and waffles" became a thing in the Boston area recently, but it did--lots of friends on facebook were posting about how this or that new restaurant was offering chicken and waffles. I think it's a Southern thing that only recently made its way up north? ANYWAY, this inspired brunch a while back:

Chicken-fried tofu and waffles (with gravy and spinach). The waffles are a strange purplish color because I used blue corn meal (and the cornmeal waffle recipe from Vegan Brunch). It tastes the same as yellow/white corn meal, but doesn't sell as well at my parents' natural food store, so when it goes past date, I sometimes end up with an abundance. ;) I couldn't quite bring myself to deep fry in the morning, so the tofu isn't too heavy, either.

So final thoughts on the chicken-and-waffles thing? It was a lot of work for a morning brunch, so I see why people get excited about it being available at restaurants rather than making it at home... but the flavors together are delicious. I'd do it again!

9.13.2014

agedashi tofu!

I've always wanted to order agedashi tofu in Japanese restaurants, but I know that bonito (fish flakes) is a large part of the dish. It is usually sprinkled on top, so it may be possible just to leave it off, but notice the word dashi in the name of the dish--a word for a fish-based broth. It's possible the restaurants could make a completely vegan agedashi tofu, but it's usually easier to just safely order veggie sushi.

HOWEVER. Who would pass up deep-fried tofu if they got the chance? NOT THIS GIRL. So I decided to make my own!

I looked up a lot of different recipes online, but it turns out I didn't need a recipe, just a method. Cube silken tofu (I used the boxed kind, but I recommend using the water-packed kind, because the boxed kind is really slippery to work with--hence the broken one on the bottom of the pile). Lightly coat each side of each piece with cornstarch. Deep fry. Done!

The broth that you pour over is a mixture of dashi (for a vegan version, seaweed simmered in water for a little while), soy/tamari, and mirin. I looked up various recipes for it, but just settled on a to-taste version: salty, savory, and a tiny bit tangy. Topped with chopped scallion and kelp flakes. Served with (in the back) brown sushi rice and teriyaki-flavored chard.

In general, I find deep frying tedious; it's hot, it's messy, it requires a lot of oil, and I sometimes end up burning myself (as I did while making this). I'm not likely to make this dish often, but I will definitely make it again, and I am really happy I got to try it!