28 February 2009

Cooking With The Bloggers, Part II: Four Vegan Blog Recommedations

The infamous, overblogged and, frankly, overhyped chickpea cutlets from the Veganomicon with braised fennel, roasted brussel sprouts and the last of this year's butternut squash from Freedom Farm's winter market. What stood out was the walnut sauce we made, which was inspired by a recent recipe from Tofu for Two.

Finding decent vegan cooking blogs is somewhat challenging if all you're interested in is food and you don't really care about other people's cats. There are a few that really raise the bar though. Even if you're not a vegan (for example we eat vegetarian, say, nine days in ten), it's worth adding these to your feed reader:

Vietnamese Night (First Attempt) and Two Cookbook Mini-Reviews

Up until the flu struck our household we were working our way through the vegetarian chapter of The Simple Art of Vietnamese Cooking and also some recipes in Corinne Trang's Authentic Vietnamese Cooking (both of which, I recently noticed, are in the Portland Public Library). These are both great books that caused me to spend a lot time in Friendly Market buying oddities like bean curd sheets, garlic chives, saw leaf and tapioca shreds.

Curried Tofu
Adapted from Binh Duong, Simple Art of Vietnamese Cooking (1991)

  • 1/2 Cu. veggie stock (I used some left over from a recipe in China Moon)
  • 1 lb. (more or less) firm tofu cut into 1/2-inch slices then cut into triangles
  • 1 red or orange bell pepper, sliced into bit you would stir-fry
  • 1 medium onion sliced or cut into wedges, connected at the root end
  • 1 tsp. curry paste (the Indian variety, not the thai curry paste you buy in little cans)
  • 1 can of unsweetened coconut milk (mixted well before hand)
  • 1 handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 or 2 handfuls penuts, chopped with a blade (not destroyed in your food processor)
You'll want to serve this with rice, so get that started first. White Jasmine rice would be apropriate, but we mostly east brown rice here. Fry the tofu in a pan with enough vegetable oil to nearly cover the slices. Fry only a few slices at a time, turning once, until they are golden brown and then remove them to a towel or some other suitable place for draining. In a wok or a suitably large frying pan, heat some oil and saute the onion and peppers for a minute or two, without burning them. Add the curry paste and cook for another minute or so. Add the stock and half of the cocunt milk and stir. Add tofu and cook for a few minutes to make the curry. At this point you need to decide whether it's saucy enough for you. You can swirl in some more coconut milk to make more sauce if you want. I think a lot depends on your tofu and the type of milk you have. Garnish with the cilantro and penuts and maybe some sriracha.

We also made this saute of green beans, tofu and bamboo shoots, which seems less authentic or perhaps just draws more heavily on the french influence with its sauce of dry white wine, soy sauce and tomatoes. It was excellent, or would have been had I properly reduced the sauce at the end.

Simple Art of Vietnamese Cooking feels a bit old school for world cookbooks of its time, but it's one of those cookbooks you can sit down and just read. The vegetarian chapter was fairly good, but is a bit of a one trick tofu pony at times. The vegetarian springrolls we made, which were a bit of a hybrid of recipes from Simple Art and Trang's book, were the best I've ever had.

Trang's book is a bit heavier on the details of the author's life in ways that I didn't find that interesting, but the photography is mostly useful—what there is of it. What makes the book probably the better of the two for omnivores, however, is that she discusses a lot of big picture tips and tricks like how long curries should sit to let their flavors develop. [Also, Corinne Trang, in the picture on the book's jacket: yowsa!]

26 February 2009

Cooking as Humanity's "Killer App."

From an article in The Economist (via 3QD where the comments are more insightful than the original article).

01 February 2009

Restaurant Mini Review: Asmara

There aren't that many places in Portland where one may find an entirely whole food vegetarian meal, but Asmara is certainly one of them. I knew about this place a few years ago, but never found the time to go. What a mistake. If it's your kind of thing, it certainly hits the spot. The owner, Asmeret Teklu, serves up a variety of Eritrean stews on a teff flour pancake. These are good, simple stews and veggie dishes with just enough chilis to make you slightly euphoric when you leave. You need to know what you're getting into here, so I'll take it from the top.

Everything one orders is served on a light, spongy, almost sourdough-like pancake made from teff flour—an "injera." Teff is far too small to hull, so it's always eaten as a whole food. The batter sits for three days, fermenting—hence the sourdoughness—and is then cooked like a crepe. The menu has a selection of chicken, beef, lamb and vegetarian stews. Pick one and you'll also get an extra veggie or bean stew to accompany it. Everything comes with a simple green salad dressed with an excellent vinaigrette. The heat in the dishes comes from berbere and, in some case, green chilis. There are no utensils; one eats everything in the Indian style by grabbing bits of food using the bread. She brings you a hot towel to clean your hands just before she brings the food.

Everything I had was excellent. It's simple food, done well, which is always a treat. Some highlights: the red lentil stew is exceptional, as is the spicy kale. By means of a "vegetarian sampler," I've since tried all the vegetarian stews and they are universally excellent with the possible exception of the spinach, which had a vaguely unpleasant flavor I couldn't identify.

Ms. Teklu is really nice. She taught me how to make the spicy kale and showed me how the injera are made and was generally excited to talk about her food.

Things I didn't try but hear are also wonderful: the lamb stews, mango juice and a powerful honey wine akin to mead.

Asmara: If you like simple, food with spice mixtures similar to, say, indian curries, and if you are searching for a whole food, vegetarian experience, this is highly recommended.

The picture doesn't do the meal justice, so don't let it put you off.