Monday, May 16, 2011

Barbecue Tempeh and Cole Slaw Sandwich with Roasted Root Vegetables

My dad was born on Mother's Day, 1949, as the fourth child of what would eventually become nine. For his mother, this timing may have been unwelcome, but it also means that once in a while, my family gets to celebrate Mother's Day and Dad's birthday at the same time.

This year, I worked Mother's Day brunch at the restaurant, one of our biggest shifts of the year, then came home to cook dinner for my parents. I let them pick whatever they wanted from my cookbooks, and this is what they chose. It worked out pretty well, and would be easy to recreate any time you want a hearty summer lunch or dinner.

The root vegetable salad is delicious hot, room temp, and even cold. I served the meal with an iced blueberry green tea, which I made by my favorite method of putting a bunch of water and tea bags in a clear gallon jug and leaving it in the sun on the porch for a while. I have a great sun tea recipe from my mom that I'll include soon, in celebration of summer.

The recipes for the barbecue tempeh and cole slaw came from Vegan Soul Kitchen, and the roasted roots recipe is from The Candle Cafe Cookbook, both on my Favorite Cookbooks page. Unfortunately I can't reprint them, because they are the product of someone else's creativity, but I will tell you a bit about them, with my modifications.

Roasted Root Vegetables

Sweet potatoes

You can adjust the proportions of these however you like, based on what you like best, but my favorite combo is one beet, several sweet potatoes, and 3 each of medium parsnips and medium carrots. The beet is so dominant that one is enough for me, but feel free to add more. Personally, if I'm going to do beets, I'd rather just go all-in and do a baked glazed beet salad. I also want to try braising beets in Earth Balance and coconut milk, but that's just an idea, so proceed with caution.

Peel and dice all your veggies, making the sweet potato pieces larger than the others, because they will get softer than any of the others. Toss all with some oil of your choosing and plenty of fresh grated ginger (or not; surely you know by now how I love my ginger)

Bake in a shallow pan for about 45 minutes at 350, turning once about half-way through.

BBQ Tempeh Sandwich with Cole Slaw

There are so many wonderful barbecue sauce recipes, and to be honest this one is not fantastic, so use whatever sauce recipe you like best. Put 1/2-inch-thick slices of tempeh in the smallest baking dish that will allow them to fit comfortably in one layer, then pour the sauce over them. Cover and bake at 350 for about an hour.

You can bake for a bit and then grill, which is great if there's other grilling going on, but I don't know that it adds enough to make it worth firing up the grill just for this. If you were going to, though, you should do the sandwiches on focaccia and grill the bread for a moment, too.

Cole slaw is not difficult to make, and it is so flexible and delicious when it's made fresh, that you should never ever buy it pre-prepared in a store. At least that's my opinion. Also, a couple of heads of cabbage are undoubtedly going to be cheaper than a little tub of flavorless, mayonnaisey sludge. Yes, I do feel strongly about this, in case you were picking up on that. Here's what I used for this one:

Thinly-sliced green cabbage
Thinly-sliced red cabbage
Shredded carrots
Dijon mustard (you could use a whole-seed mustard or other, but avoid anything too smooth or too yellow)
Apple cider vinegar (use your favorite, but I would caution against anything too dark or strong, at least for this recipe)
Agave nectar
Olive oil
Sesame seeds (I am not a caraway person, but I think having little seed in there is nice, so this is a great alternative)

In creating your own slaw, you could include or substitute things like parsnips or jicama, use a little freshly-grated horseradish, or any number of other things. One theory would be to pick your spices, then let the oil, vinegar and veg elements fall into line behind it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Soup Wars: Tom Kha kicks Chicken Soup's Ass Kung-Fu Style

Okay, so I know kung-fu is Chinese, but "muay-thai-style" (Thailand's signature martial art and national sport) wouldn't have been as funny.

Tom Kha is a Thai (and Laotian, or Lao) soup that is warming, filling, a little spicy, and full of hearty vegetables and tofu - the perfect contender for the "I feel terrible and all I want is soup and old episodes of West Wing" crown. The fragrant lemongrass and galanga broth, with tons of coconut milk added to make it creamy and rich, is the perfect thing to engage the dulled senses of a couch-dwelling invalid, while spicy prik pao sauce (which gives you control over how much spice you want) will clean out a congested nose and chest.

Alternately, if you're at the peak of health and all of your senses are at their sharpest, tom kha is impressive - its flavor is complex and distinctive, the lemongrass and galanga give it a fantastic scent, and the slightly translucent creamy broth with tiny beads of red oil from the prik pao is visually satisfying. Can you tell that I'm in love? Here's the bowl that did it, from Taste of Thai in Knoxville:

Note that I ate about half of it before I remembered to take a picture of it.

Just before I discovered tom kha, my brother had been in Thailand for about a month, and when he returned, he brought me back what he knew I'd like best - Thai spices. He also brought my dad the dried ingredients for tom yam, which shares the broth base with tom kha. Read the directions; my favorite is step 4.

 He really loved his time in Thailand, and came back with so many wonderful stories and such a respect for the people there. He also happens to be a wonderful photographer, so stick around after the recipe for some of my favorite pictures from his trip. Here's a teaser:

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer
 Just a note - most tom kha recipes use fish sauce, which I've replaced with tamari, so if you are at a Thai restaurant, you'll want to check with them (though they'll almost certainly be using the fish sauce). This is the main reason I've made so many batches trying to perfect this recipe at home.

If you don't need this much, reduce the recipe. Leftovers lose some flavor, and though you can perk it up by adding some more fresh lime juice, it's much better fresh. Once you've made it a couple of times, this soup is extremely easy, and such a treat! Make some rice to go with it - my favorite way to eat it is by dipping a spoonful of rice into the soup so that it absorbs some liquid and then eating that. Extraordinarily good!

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer
Tom Kha
Serves about 6

6 c. coconut milk
3 c. water or vegetable stock
6 stalks of lemongrass
12 thin slices of galanga (a.k.a galangal or garlanga)
5 Tbsp. tamari (or other soy sauce, but you'll need a bit more - just use them to taste and watch the saltiness)
2 Tbsp. palm sugar or raw sugar
6 kaffir lime leaves, torn (these have been hard for me to find, so if you can't, just leave them out)
1/2 tsp. nam prik pao (Thai fried chili paste - really cheap at almost any Asian grocery, and very versatile)
6-10 cremini mushrooms or your favorite kind, sliced thinly
1 small carrot, thinly sliced (a mandoline would be ideal for this)
1 small crown of broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
12-oz package of fried tofu (again, easy to find at an Asian market)
1 small bunch of fresh cilantro (don't try to substitute dried seasoning; the wilted leaf is the goal)
2 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

 First, thoroughly rinse the lemongrass and galanga. If the outermost leaf of the lemongrass has any discoloration or moldiness, remove it and rinse the remaining stalk. The waxy skin of the galanga can get a little slimy, so rinse very thoroughly.
Lemongrass, pounded and cut

Cut off the very end of each stalk of lemongrass, about the last 1/4" or 1/2". On a solid surface, use a heavy object like a rolling pin to carefully pound the length of the lemongrass stalk to break up the fibrous inside layers and release the flavor. You don't need to destroy them, just soften them up. When that's done, cut the stalks into 2-inch pieces, ending when the stalk begins to get loose and grassy. Many recipes will say to use only the white bit, but it's not a clear transition and I think a good 4 inches more are perfectly usable.

Galanga, whole and sliced
The galanga is woody and fibrous, so be careful when you cut it because it is very tough. Cut about 12 thin slices, or the equivalent in smaller angular pieces, which you will undoubtedly have to cut because the galanga root is very knobbly and irregular.

If you're in doubt, use extra lemongrass and galanga. The only element of this soup that is difficult to correct as you go along is the broth, and if it is too weak, that will really affect the taste. Also,keep in mind that it will be heavily diluted by the coconut milk, so the first time you make it, you may want to go overboard a bit until you get a feel for how much you need.

Simmer the lemongrass and galanga in the 3 cups of water in a large pot with the lime leaves and sugar for about 15-20 minutes. While this is happening, prep your vegetables. Slice the mushrooms and carrots thinly, cut the broccoli into small florets. Slice the fried tofu into small strips, about 1/4-inch thick.

Add coconut milk, nam prik pao and soy sauce, and simmer another 5 minutes. When that's done, remove all the solids with a strainer or a slotted spoon. I forgot once, added all the vegetables, then had to pick out all of the stringy bits of lemongrass by hand - not fun, and likely to burn your fingers.

Add the carrots and tofu first, then the broccoli and mushrooms a couple of minutes later. Cook until vegetables are just becoming tender but are still crispy. Remove from heat, add lime juice and cilantro and stir. At this point, adjust seasonings as you need to - if it doesn't have that distinctive Tom Kha tang, you may need more lime juice. If you want more heat, add a little more prik pao.You may need to add more salt, though the soy sauce is likely enough. Serve hot.

Enjoy some travel photos while you dig in:

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

My brother and his fiancee, Lauren Moore, with monkey