Sunday, April 20, 2008

Tofu Burji, Pohay and Raisin Scones


Be forewarned: This is a long one.

My friend Hide (Hee-day) recently flew in from Japan to defend his dissertation (congrats, Dr. Miura). He had to fly back to Japan yesterday, and I wanted to send him off with a nice breakfast for his horribly long journey. Hide is always open to trying new things, so I thought I'd make a seemingly odd combination of some Indian dishes and some good, old scones.

Yes, that sounds like a weird breakfast. I never said I wasn't weird.

The two hot dishes, tofu burji and pohay, are some good examples of Indian home-cooking that were taught to me by my dear friend Aishwarya. While visiting Aishwarya and her husband Ashwin in L.A., we did a fair amount of breakfast cooking and I've been hooked on Indian breakfasts ever since.

Tofu burji is my own version of the typical egg burji, which is kind of a tangy egg curry. Ok, so I'm not that original. I just did a web search and lots of people make tofu burji. Well, the three people who have read this blog will still think I'm cool...RIGHT???

Ahem.

So Tofu Burji: It's a bit fussy if you don't have Indian spices in your kitchen already. I guess you could make it with packaged curry powder, but I haven't tried that. So if you ever want to make this you'll need the following:
ground: cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili, asofeotida
whole: brown mustard seed, cumin seed, curry leaves

You should be able to find the ground spices and whole cumin seeds in a regular grocery store, but you may have to go to an Indian market to get the mustard seed and curry leaves. In fact, the Indian store I go to often doesn't even have dried curry leaves so...good luck with that. Asafoetida (aptly name because it has a very pungent odor and smells like foetid a.. well, you get the picture) should be available in any Indian grocery store.

Techniques:
Indian cooking (at least the way I learned it from Aishwarya and her mother-in-law, Mrs. Shah) uses a specific sequence of roasting spices that is easily repeated for different dishes. Once you have it down, it's easy to prepare a lot of different vegetables or grains this way.

Tofu Burji

1/2 brick of extra-firm tofu, mashed well with a fork
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
1/2 inch of ginger, minced
1 medium tomato, diced
1/2 lemon
one handful of fresh coriander (cilantro), washed and chopped
3-4 tbsp vegetable oil

Spices (that's my Indian spice box on the side there):
1 1/2 tsp. whole brown mustard seeds
1-2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chili (or however much you prefer)
a pinch of dried curry leaves (about 4-5 dried leaves)
salt

Method:
1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan on med-high heat.
2. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds.
3. When the mustard seeds sputter and begin to pop, turn the heat down to medium and add the cumin seeds.
4. Once the cumin seeds brown slightly, add the asafoetida and curry leaves and fry for a minute.
5. Add the onion and cover to let the onion cook. Once the onion is transparent (not browned), add the garlic, ginger, other spices and tomato and cover again.
6. Once the oil begins to separate out from the onion/tomato/spice mixture (about a minute), add the tofu and mix well. Cover and cook until the tofu firms up and absorbs a lot of the spices.
7. Salt to taste and add the coriander.
8. When you serve it, have a lemon available. It's very nice with fresh-squeezed lemon juice sprinkled over the top.

Now, for the pohay (poe-hay).
This is a miraculous thing. I'm told by Aishwarya and Ashwin that this dish is/was used as the test of a young woman's cooking ability. She would prepare this dish for her potential future in-laws and husband to show that she could cook. Take that as you will. If my little red-haired man doesn't like my pohay, tough biscuit.

Pohay is made from what's called 'parched rice'. As rolled oats are to regular oats, parched rice is to rice. It's flattened. No, seriously, it's paper-thin and flat as a dirty joke at a tent revival. I think it's also pre-cooked or par-boiled in some way because it cooks very quickly. You can only find it in an Indian grocery story. Sorry.

You need to get the pohay damp. That's right, damp. Not soaked, because then it becomes mushy and unpleasant. You really want to strive for 'damp'. So I typically take two and a half handfuls and throw it into a mesh colander. I then spray it with my faucet while tossing it with my free hand, to make sure all of it gets a little wet. Then leave it to sit in the colander in the sink for about half an hour. I usually have pohay with tofu burji, so I'll prep the pohay and while it's doing its damp thing, I'll make the tofu.

After half an hour, play around with it and see if there are any dry bits. If so, spritz it with a little more water.

The preparation is essentially the same as for the tofu burji. I use the same spices in the same sequence with one exception. I don't add the tomatoes until it's nearly cooked. I like the contrast of the fresh-tasting tomatoes with the drier pohay.

So I'm going to cheat a bit on the recipe by saying:

Pohay

Same ingredients as the above tofu burji, but replace the tofu with 1-2 cups of pohay.

Repeat steps 1-6 (but not adding the tomato just yet)
7. Add the dampened pohay and make sure to mix well with the onions and spices.
8. Cover and cook on medium-low until the pohay is tender. If it seems too dry, add a little water, stir and cover again. My friend Aishwarya never added water and it was great. Mine is always on the verge of becoming crispy confetti, so I usually add 1/4 c of water after it's been cooking a bit (5 minutes or so). Go figure.
9. Add the coriander, tomatoes and salt and let it cook a little longer.
10 Serve with lemon.

I'm sure there are lots of things you could do with this. I even mixed in a little regular basmati rice we had left in the fridge from some take-out. You could add dried fruit and ground nuts and make a nice pilau. I have a feeling that pohay would make a great stuffing, though I haven't figured out what to stuff with it yet.

So there, two somewhat fussy dishes (for us American girls, anyway) that really bring joy into my Sunday mornings. I'm even starting to feel that pohay/tofu burji might be neck-and-neck with pancakes...

Scones

I have always been disappointed by the leaden fat-sugar doorstops that are sold as scones around here. I think I even ranted about it in my biscuit post. By 'around here' I mean in the U.S.. You know those 3-lbs triangles at Starbucks that are 460 calories, have 18 grams of fat (7 of which are saturated) and 20 grams of sugar? (If you're skeptical (and if so, good for you), look it up on their website, I just did.)

That's a whole meal, folks, and once you look at the ingredient list, you should feel a bit queasy.

So I make my own scones. I'm cheap and they're easy. I only spent a brief time in Scotland, but I had many baked goods there (made by very friendly women in hairnets who called me 'hen'), and none of them tasted like fat-sugar doorstops.

Plus, scones are essentially sweet biscuits (the American sense, not the British, for those caught up in the Scotland thing above), so if you've read an earlier entry on this blog, you should no longer fear biscuits.

I'll admit now that I prefer dates over raisins, but raisins are cheap and they were in my cupboard.

Raisin Scones

2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp vegan margarine (Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
1/2 c raisins, chopped into tiny bits with a sharp knifes
2/3 c soy milk (Silk Original Creamer)
extra soy milk and sugar for dusting

1. I'm going to be extra-lazy and just tell you to follow the directions for biscuits that I posted earlier in this blog. The methods are the same except that between steps 3 and 4, do the following:
3.5. Add the raisins, mashing them into the flour mix with your fingers to separate them and coat them each with flower.
You can now continue with steps 4-12. I use a larger cutter for scones so I end up with 7.
12.5. For scones, I take a little soy milk on my fingers and brush the tops, then sprinkle sugar over each one.
Ok, go back to step 13 and please don't do step 14. Garlic raisin scones? Eew.

So these scones aren't exactly health food either, but they're a better choice: 238 calories, 8 g of fat, (2 saturated), and 11 g of sugar. It's about half of one of the gourmet coffee-shop scones. So maybe if you could just buy half a scone at Starbucks...bah. Just make some...and put down that $6 cup of coffee!!! Shouldn't you be using that money to fuel your SUV?

So I guess the combo of Indian food and scones makes this an oddly British meal, eh? Which made it a perfect choice for my Japanese friend's going-away breakfast...

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Chickpea Noodle Soup


My little vegan red-haired man had the flu a few days ago, so in a desperate attempt to keep myself from catching it, I wanted to make some garlicky, gingery, noodlely soup.

Ok, that's only half the story. The other half is that I was grading papers and I desperately needed some kitchen time or I was going to lose my mind.

People shouldn't be afraid of homemade noodles/pasta. It's easy and you don't end up with cardboard boxes to recycle. I'll apologize ahead of time for the vagueness of this recipe. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing a few days ago and I didn't write anything down...

Homemade Soup Noodles

1/2 c flour
2 tbsp soy flour
1 tbsp vital wheat gluten
3 tbsp powdered vegetable soup base/bouillon
pinch of salt
water

1. In a largish bowl, mix the flours, wheat gluten, veggie base and salt.
2. Begin adding water a tablespoon at a time while mixing until the dough forms and hold together.
3. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, adding little bits of water if needed to make a smooth ball.
4. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or an upturned bowl and let it sit for 1/2 an hour.
5. This gives time to start the soup.

Chickpea Soup
2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into thin slices
3 big cloves of garlic, sliced into slivers
1 large carrot, shredded or in matchsticks
3 cups shredded savoy cabbage
1 Rapunzel Vegetable Bouillon (sea salt and herbs) (mashed/broken up)
1 Rapunzel Vegetable Bouillon (low salt)(mashed/broken up)
1/2 can of chickpeas
water

1. In a large stockpot, I heated the garlic and ginger a bit before adding about 6-8 cups of water and the vegetable bouillon cubes.
2. I let the garlic and ginger boil for a few minutes (maybe 5).
3. Add the veggies and the chickpeas, cover and turn the heat down to simmer.
NOW FOR THE NOODLES

4. Take your ball of fully-rested dough and begin to roll it into a rectangle.
once it's quite thin (less than 1/4 inch, maybe 1/8), fold it into thirds, turn it 90 degrees and roll it again into a rectangle.
5. Repeat this folding and rolling 4 times. This develops the gluten and makes the dough nice and stretchy, which is what you want for noodles.
6. After the 4th fold/roll, let the dough rest for a minute or two while you stir the soup.
7. Now roll out the dough very very thin. You can make long noodles by cutting strips, or, if you have a cute little cutter or some kind, you can cut out shapes just as you would with cookie dough. I have a cute little flower-shaped cutter that works very well for this.
8. Make sure the soup is actively simmering and toss the noodles in as you cut them out. They're cooked when they float to the surface.

Some people might not like the big pieces of ginger, or might think that they're just for flavoring. When trying to fight off the flu, just eat them. Don't be a sissy.

Puy Lentils and Tofu


This is now my second lentil post. You should be getting the picture that I have many food-related obsessions. While my pancake fetish stems from my pancake-filled youth, my deep yearning for lentils was acquired in my early 20s, living in Glasgow, Scotland and having to spend very little money on food.

Ah, those were the days: Rain, porridge, lentils, rain, amazing Indian food, rain, beer you could eat with a fork, rain, Red Dwarf and some rain.

My lentil horizons have widened since those musty days and a few nights ago, I decided to cook the Puy lentils that my dear friend Yuki brought to me. The photo doesn't do them justice. They're really pretty lentils- a kind of blue-green with grey mottled bits.

I'd read online that this type of lentil is best served as a 'salad' as opposed to a mushy or pureed glop. I'm a fan of lentil glop, but I'm always open to new things.

So I decided to combine the lentils with tiny little bits of fried tofu. My mom bought me a vegetable chopping gizmo where you shove your chunk of veggie through a grid-blade and it comes out in tiny cubes. So I sliced half a brick of tofu in wide, 1/4 inch slices and shoved it through the gizmo (maybe I'll post a photo later). I was left with tiny 1/4 inch bits of tofu that were nearly as small as the lentils.

Puy Lentils and Tofu

1 cup Puy lentils (washed, rinsed and picked over for little stones)
1/2 brick of tofu, diced into tiny bits
2-3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp. dried minced onion
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp dried tarragon
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper

1. I typically like to soak lentils in hot water for an hour before I cook them, but I didn't want these to get mushy, so I just stuck the lentils in a little pot with 1 tsp of the garlic powder, the minced dried onion and enough water to cover everything by half an inch. I then cooked them, covered, on medium heat until tender (not mushy).
2. Meanwhile, I sauteed the tofu in 2 tbsps of the3. olive oil with 1 tsp of the garlic powder and a good bit of black pepper and salt. I wanted them to be quite cooked and chewy, bordering on tough. This was to have a difference in texture between the tofu and the lentils.
3. When the lentils were almost done, I added the tarragon, lemon juice and 1 tbsp of olive oil. I then added the tofu and added salt and pepper to taste.

I served this with some mixed whole-grain rice, pickled turnips and a green salad. The lentils kept their shape, and were a nice contrast to the chewier tofu bits.

Puy lentils are supposed to so great because they only grow in this one region of France blah blah blah. They're good, but I honestly doubt that I could pick them out of a lentil line-up if they were standing next to brown or green lentils. I'm not disparaging anyone who feels differently, but for me, I will probably still buy the $0.69 lentils at the supermarket.

Of course, I will always accept gifts of interesting pulses, legumes and grains, so thanks, Yuki!

If I can help just one more person develop his or her lentil obsession, it'll all be worth it...