Monthly Archives: September 2015

Tofu Eggplant Stir Fry

tofu stir fry

Another weeknight, another stir fry. Sam Sifton of NYTimes Cooking recently re-pointed out his list of Asian essentials to make weeknight meals more easily delicious, and I am in utter agreement. Buying sesame oil, miso, and rice vinegar is well worth the initial investment.

There are a few important components of a stir fry—although if you’re in a hurry and neglect one or the other, sometimes good quick food is better than the best food (not a philosophy I generally subscribe to, but no one likes being hangry, and the beauty of stir fries is that they can still be damn good)—how you chop the ingredients, the order you put everything in the pan, and the amount of seasoning.

1. Chop everything so it’s all the same size. I tend to like long rectangular pieces.
2. Cook on high or medium high (and keep watching and stirring!), but make sure to put in the harder vegetables, and tofu, in the pan first. That way they can cook a bit before the flash-cooked ingredients, like green beans.
3. Season well! Add a variety of sauces, taste as you go, keep adding, let it cook down a bit, taste more, try something else… have fun!

I’m sure this would be better in a wok, but I don’t have one so I shall continue to praise my lovely cast iron.

An update re: life on Mars (thanks, Modern Farmer): apparently we should be able to grow crops there! But they’ll be missing some key nutrients that we may have to import, and could be lethal if we don’t rinse the soil. Wash your dirt and save your poop, kids. 

In keeping with the end of eggplant season, this particular stir fry (and another similar one the next week) made the vegetable a star, with a few chunks of crispy tofu and other veggies thrown in too. Add whatever veggies you want. I’ve been enjoying sweet potatoes recently, and onions of course, and something green like broccoli or beans or kale.

Tofu eggplant stir fry
8 oz tofu (or whatever you'll eat)
1/2 large eggplant, or 1-2 smaller ones
Sweet potatoes, or carrots
1/2 onion, or more if you like onion
Hot peppers or red pepper flakes, if you feel like it
Green beans, or other green vegetables
Vegetable oil
Sauces! Sesame oil, fish sauce, soy sauce, maybe miso
Scallions, parsley, cilantro if you want

Start by chopping all the ingredients, at least roughly the same size (carrots I cut in half lengthwise, then in slivers, so you get thin half-moons that will cook quickly). Peel the ginger and mince, along with the garlic (large pieces are fine). If you have time to marinate the tofu in soy sauce, do so.

Heat up oil in the pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add tofu and a little soy sauce and fry for a few minutes on each side until slightly golden, flipping around a few times. Add the eggplant and sweet potatoes or carrots and cook for a few minutes, stirring often (you stir and it fries). At this point, start putting in a few other sauces, tasting, and adjusting. If you use miso, dissolve it in soy sauce or something else first, or you’ll get little potent chunks. Add the onions, ginger, and garlic and cook a little more, then the beans (I like my beans remaining nice and crisp). Taste and make final adjustments, then turn off the heat and add the scallions and any other last additions.

Serve over rice. Or become full picking right from the pan.

bean tofu stir fry

P.S. You can grow fruit on tiny tiny (bonsai) trees! Sounds like my dream.


Italian Eggplant Salad

eggplant salad

I have been fixated on eggplant of late. It doesn’t help that my roommate is also obsessed, so I’ve been buying it more frequently than I would otherwise. I used to not even like it at all—the texture, mostly—but like many childhood aversions, I am quite over it these days.

Over the moon about it, actually (had to throw in a moon pun after yesterday’s activity). Although not everyone is, since it is one of the less nutritious of the vegetables. I suppose on top of an actual salad (well, I made it on a kale salad, so it’s full of good kale nourishment) makes it a double enemy for those seeking nutrition and fooling themselves by eating mostly water. However, it’s far better than chicken nuggets, or whatever else one might be eating, so I am quite content. Plus, eggplant. Delicious.

This is one version of eggplant salad. You could also prepare it similarly but top with an Asian dressing (say, miso, ginger, and rice vinegar, or fish sauce, garlic, brown sugar, and sesame oil) instead of balsamic, basil, and goat cheese. Something to try for next time (better make it quick, eggplant is on its way out).

How long before we can grow food on Mars, now that we’re almost certain there’s water there? Sooner might be better than later—we are becoming dangerously war-torn here on Earth, to the point where seeds had to be extracted from Norway’s seed vault for the first time, due to the Syrian war (yikes), but, we should probably figure out our own problems before messing with another planet.

Maybe the aliens will befriend us if we feed them eggplant.

Italian Eggplant Salad
2 Italian eggplants
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Basil, or pesto
Goat cheese, in olive oil if you can swing it (Appleton Creamery is the best)

Cut the eggplant in half, prick vigorously with a fork (don’t stab yourself), and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Broil for 20 or so minutes, until the skin is blistered and the inside is very soft—an entered fork should meet no resistance. Remove and let cool.

Meanwhile, wash and chop up the kale. Drizzle with olive oil, then massage with your hands until it softens, achieving a salad consistency.

Take the peel off the eggplant and discard. Separate out the inside and break it apart into chunks with a fork.

Place the kale on a large platter, and top with eggplant, then basil. Drizzle with balsamic, then crumble goat cheese and olive oil on top. Peppercorns (in my goat cheese) are a good plus too, for aesthetic and flavor piquancy.

I made this for a potluck and was having difficulty not stuffing my face before leaving. Easy to eat an abundance.

eggplant salad

It looks pretty, and I love taking pictures of my food. Just don’t forget to enjoy the company, place, and time of your food as well (a beautiful article, written by a college friend of mine).

Roasted Beet Potato Salad

beet potato salad with toasted pumpkin seeds

Yes, Isabel, I have been enjoying potato salad of late.

There was a time when I hated potato salad, but I kept trying it again, and finally had to remind my dear friend Isabel to tell me not to eat it. Not the case now, I have met a number of potato salads that I rather like (one in particular that is closer to classic than this, but with raw fennel and a light creamy herby dressing. One for another time).

“Let’s cook beets” turned into dinner here through a little cream cheese, a few extra herbs, and some toasted pumpkin seeds. Not bad for an open-the-fridge-and-see-what-we-find meal. Sour cream would also be acceptable.

In other news, fall!

Additionally, I am planning a trip to Germany at the end of November. I imagine I shall be taking a two-week hiatus from Dancing Tree as well, but promise to have plentiful food photos from my travels!

Beet potato salad
5 or 6 medium beets, or fewer large ones
5 or 6 small potatoes
Olive oil
1/2 red onion
1/2 cup cream cheese
Chives and parsley
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted (roast in oven with salt for a few minutes)

Roast the beets first. This may take a while, and can be done in advance. Chop, put in a pan with some oil, and roast at 350-400º for at least 30 minutes. Roast the potatoes the same way, although I recommend a separate pan if you can swing it, since beets have a little more water and it’s nice to let the potatoes get a bit crisp. Once they are soft (stab them with a fork or knife to determine pliability), remove from the oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, chop up the red onion and other herbs. Place the onion in a large bowl and add the semi-warm beets and potatoes; mix. This will take the bite off the onion just enough to add a little kick without being overwhelming. Mix in the cream cheese, allowing it to melt a little in the warmth, and then the rest of the herbs. Taste and salt and pepper as needed. Top with toasted pumpkin seeds, and enjoy with a side of toast (not required but recommended).


switchel in mason jar

Before the hot weather entirely disappears, whip yourself up a batch (or two. Or four) of this to swig in the morning, post-exercise, or after work mixed with a little whiskey.

Look for raw apple cider vinegar with the mother, because a) it has more probiotics and b) it might continue to ferment a little and get a little fizzy on its own. No need for seltzer after all!

Also known as haymaker’s punch, switchel is a classic colonial farmer drink (because you need another reason to thank our agrarian heritage), starting to be popularized by homegrown hipsters. There are so many good qualities to this beverage: it’s full of electrolytes and probiotics, can be made entirely with local ingredients, and is also super delicious. I’m not really a drink person, except for tea, wine, beer and the occasional fancy cocktail (not soda or juice, is what I really mean I suppose)—but this is a fabulous exception and one I would like to see proliferate. Bring this instead of lemonade to your next grill session.

Speaking of (sort of) historical dishes, restaurants are increasingly trying to convert traditional cuisines to a modern palate. Inspiration, not replication, they say. I’m most excited about a reinvention and popularization of Native American cuisine, because I think we still have a lot to learn from the people who created dishes directly from this place we now live, instead of bringing in our immigrants techniques and ingredients.

That being said, some of the thing those settlers came up with are fabulous too. Case in point:

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (raw if possible)
1/4 cup honey (maple syrup, molasses, or sugar is also acceptable, but I like honey best)
A thumb of raw ginger, or 1 tsp ground ginger, or a combination
A few cups of water (as much as will fit in the jar—you can add more later)

Mince the ginger—large-ish chunks are fine. Combine everything except the seltzer in a mason jar (or other container, but you achieve a retro coolness factor with the mason jar). Shake and refrigerate for a few hours. Strain before serving if you don’t like eating chunks of raw ginger (I find it a little exciting), mix in some seltzer (depending on how concentrated it is), and some whiskey if you want to go the cocktail route, and imbibe at will.

Other additions: mint, basil, elderberry juice, blueberries, or anything you might add to lemonade. Would probably be excellent mixed with kombucha too.

Disclaimer: Photo from Instragram. Taken by me, but has been filtered. 

Fresh Tomato Essence Sauce

fresh tomato sauce

There is something quite magical about a fresh ripe tomato.

Sweet, acidic, juicy, and maybe umami (which I admittedly don’t quite fully understand yet, but tomatoes have it). Occasionally I find dishes missing a certain satisfaction; adding a tomato frequently fills that void.

There’s all sorts of interesting science cropping up in the news lately about grocery store tomatoes, from ripening them in a hot bath before chilling them to developing hardy tomatoes with Actual Flavor (what a concept!). But, I would much rather eat heirloom tomatoes, despite their long and convoluted history. Plus, I can grow those in my own garden (!), collect them from friends when they are perfect, and freeze the ones I can’t use for winter soups and sauces.

Currently, however, it is still summer (yes, I realize it’s September), and I want to be eating fresh tomatoes. But I also want sauce. Something to slurp up with pasta and absorb that rich tomato flavor, but keep some of the freshness.

Friends, there is a solution. It happens to reduce prepwork too, as long as you don’t mind skins and seeds (helpful when you still want to be swimming all day). By flash cooking the tomatoes, you get them to release their juices; then strain out the chunks and put them aside; boil down the juice to get the thick, deep, orangey essence of tomato. Stir back in your barely cooked tomatoes and you are good to go (there’s garlic in there somewhere too).

I would use your medium-grade tomatoes for this. The fresh fresh perfect ones you eat on the spot. The rough and tumbley ones you blanch, peel, and make into freezer sauce or can (or, just freeze whole and when you take them out and start heating them, the skins slip right off). Somewhere in the middle are fresh sauce tomatoes, that require minimal processing but still aren’t quite perfect—maybe a little too soft on some sections, or unevenly ripened. From this you distill your essence.

tomato essence

Fresh tomato essence sauce
1.5 lbs fresh tomatoes, any variety (a mix is good—some juicy ones, some paste, even a few cherry tomatoes)
4-5 cloves garlic
4-5 tablespoons olive oil

Mince garlic; large-ish chunks are fine. Heat oil in a large saucepan over high heat until slightly shimmery, then add garlic and fry briefly, watching carefully so it doesn’t burn. Meanwhile (or ahead of time if you want to make sure to have a proper mise en place), chop the tomatoes into large chunks, removing any areas that are extremely soft, and large cores. When garlic is slightly golden, add your tomato chunks and stew for a very brief minute or two, just enough time for the tomatoes to release most of their juices. With a slotted spoon or a strainer, or most likely a combination of the two, remove the tomato pieces and place in a strainer over a bowl, to catch the rest of the juices. You will probably end up collecting most of the garlic chunks too, that’s good, since you don’t want them to boil too much (although any that you miss won’t be a problem).

On high, boil the tomato juice until you run out of patience, or it gets very thick; add in any additional juice from the draining tomatoes every so often. When thick, turn off the heat, and add back in the tomato chunks.

Stir, and serve. I recommend a few torn basil leaves, and a little cheese if you feel so inclined. Excellent, of course, with pasta, or on toast, or just eaten by the spoonful. It’d be worth making fresh pasta for this—once you have one fresh component, may as well go for the whole meal, right?

fresh tomatoes draining