28 October 2009

Gado Gado, or the Miracle of Peanut Sauce

The recipe for Mollie Katzen's peanut sauce must have been whispered directly into her ear by a divine messenger. It is utterly delicious. If you want it, you will have to look it up in her "Gado Gado" recipe in the New Moosewood Cookbook. Anyway, you can drizzle it on any savory entree and it will undergo a sea change into something rich and…tasty.

Tonight we ate our third iteration of the gado gado George had cooked Monday night, but this time we didn't make turmeric rice. After George had made the beautifully yellow turmeric rice on Monday, our rice cooker had turmeric juice all over it, and by the time dinner had ended, the juice had turned into sun-yellow sludge. I don't know if you're aware of turmeric's magical qualities, but I bet a regular bottle of tumeric could turn my entire house a nice shade of lemon yellow—permanently. So I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. But the turmeric reacted with both the metal and plastic of the rice cooker and now parts of it are definitely yellow for good. Sigh.

George and I love gado gado, and we both highly recommend it to you, anonymous strangers, but beware the turmeric! I will give you a recipe without turmeric:

Gado Gado

Fluffy hot basmati rice (or rice of your choice)
Steamed broccoli or green beans
Red cabbage, thinly sliced
Warmed cubes of drained tofu (you can stick them into the warm pot after steaming the broccoli)
Eggs, hardboiled and chopped (optional)
Brightly colored bell pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
Pineapple (optional)
Chopped handful cilantro
Lime wedges for squeezing on fresh juice (optional)
Optional other stuff
Peanut Sauce, preferably Mollie Katzen's

The most important component of gado gado is the presentation. You'll want a nice wide bowl or plate. First lay down the rice in a thin even layer. Now add a ring of broccoli/ green beans, then a smaller ring of the crunchy red cabbage. After that, opt for various optional options. End with the tofu cubes piled up attractively, possibly with chopped egged, a bunch of cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice or hot spice. Luxuriously drizzle the peanut sauce over the whole concoction. Serve with dark chopsticks.

You can envision for yourself the combinatorial qualities in this dish. Experiment!

27 October 2009

Little Eggplants

Ironically, 70 posts into the Goofy Gourmet, I offer you one of the very first recipes I learned. My homestay mother in Japan, Nishino-san, taught it to me out of sheer pity because all I knew how to make was 1) lentils on toast 2) tofu lasagna 3) split pea soup and 4) rock-hard whole wheat bread. I told Nishino-san upon arrival that I didn't much like eggplant, and the next thing I knew she was preparing eggplant for me in a different way each night until I capitulated and admitted that actually it could be quite tasty. We found some cute lavender-colored eggplants at the farmers' market the other day and I cooked 'em right up. George loves everything I make that Nishino-san taught me. The cooked eggplants have a somewhat smoky, sweet flavor.

Recipes don't get much easier that this! It tastes nice with rice and side of fresh-cooked greens. (If you're gluten-free, use wheat-free soy sauce or just salt and pepper).

Nishino-san's Little Eggplants

some little eggplants, with shiny smooth skin
soy sauce (low sodium is best)

1) Cut off the green stems and caps of the eggplant. Wash thoroughly and dry the eggplant.
2) Heat up oil in a small fry pan. When sizzling hot, add the whole eggplants. Cover with a lid (so that the eggplants cook all the way through).
3) When they're brown and soft on one side, turn them over to the opposite side. Cooking chopsticks help here. Cover with the lid again.
4) When they're soft all the way through, remove from heat and drain/ pat off the oil with paper or cloth towels.
5) Slice them lengthwise, 2 or 3 slices per eggplant. They will be hot, so hold them in place with chopsticks or a fork.
6) Drizzle soy sauce (or salt and pepper) over them and serve hot.

18 October 2009

Curry Lentil Stew

Sometimes a person like me, who adores spicy food, has trouble compromising with a person like George, whose stomach revolts if the food is too spicy. Usually I just spoon a little ichimi togarashi onto my own dish and that's the best I can do. But it turns out that we have a dish that has all the warm Asian spicy flavor I desire and all the mild creaminess George desires—and it barely takes any effort to cook!

This recipe is very close to Mark Bittman's recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, but I've found that certain interpretations of his recipe allow for much less satisfaction. So this is my version that works every time.

Curry Lentil

1 Cup lentils, washed and picked over
1 (15 oz.) can coconut milk
Imagine No-Chicken broth
1 Tablespoon Madras curry powder
2 medium or 3 small boiling potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks

1. You want 3 1/2 Cups of liquid. First use all of the coconut milk, which should be about 1 3/4 Cup, and make the rest up of broth.
2. Combine lentils, liquid, and curry powder in a pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer, partially covered 15 minutes. Stir to keep from sticking.
3. Add potatoes. Cook another 10 minutes.

Serve over hot basmati rice.

12 October 2009


Last night George and I saw a large black shadow with legs running around our kitchen. It was a cockroach. George whacked it with a broom. Now it's gone. It's weird how cockroaches can survive a nuclear holocaust but not a broom, the exact reverse of us.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that as a result I don't feel like using the kitchen much for a while. This same exact thing happened to me once in Japan while I was on the JET Program. In August all of the (Western) JET teachers found cockroaches in their apartments and had similar reactions: spend as little time in the apartment as possible, or thoroughly clean and/or spray the apartment and then spend as little time in it as possible. During my previous stay in Japan, there was a cockroach in my spotless homestay mother's home. She fearlessly whacked it with a broom. Later on her friend proudly showed off her "gokiburi hoi hoi," a cardboard trap with a sticky floor that cockroaches (gokiburi) climb into (hoi hoi) and get stuck in and then starve to death. This friend already had 2 dead cockroaches inside. I was grossed out, but the bugs didn't seem to both my homestay mother or her friend at all. I guess distress over bugs is something learned, not inborn. I just don't feel secure in my kitchen for the moment.

Anyway, if you're in Japan and it's August and you have seen a cockroach in your kitchen, don't panic. Cockroaches always show up in August at least once. Then they leave. But go to the nearest Target/ TJMax/ KMart type store and say to someone, "Gokiburi hoi hoi." Buy one and put it under your kitchen sink. Then you can sleep in your futon on the floor again in peace.

Good times.

10 October 2009

Lox n' Bagels, Or Why I Sometimes Eat Animal

Oh, I know: lox is not vegetarian. But one thing you should know about vegetarians is that many of us can keep going because we've got the occasional exception. I personally eat fish about once a month, and I started this because I just didn't feel healthy otherwise. I try to eat fish that isn't overfished or dangerous, and I also try to eat from a large fish so that I am not responsible for the entire consumption (and in my mind, death) of the animal. But I don't eat just any fish. Since I became a vegetarian, my tastes have changed radically and the only fish I enjoy are very, very fresh—think sushi—or nova lox.

Nova lox is not just another food to me; it's a symbol of my cultural heritage as a Jew and a link to a childhood of festive Sunday brunches. That's why I also eat the gefilte fish Mopsy makes by hand (my great-grandmother's recipe, I think) for our Passover seder. Giving up lox and bagels would feel to me like giving up a part of myself, and I just wasn't able to do it. But I never buy lox myself. Since I am around Jews fairly frequently, it just shows up. And I don't have to eat lox every single time lox n' bagels is served; I do have a vegetarian alternative that deeply satisfies me, which I will share with you.

These are not the only "allowable" ways to eat lox n' bagels; when I lived in Berkeley, California, I went to an event that served bagels with red pepper tofu spread, cucumbers, and alfalfa sprouts. To me, a Midwestern Jew, this seemed a flagrant violation of all that is good about lox n' bagels, but many Californians seemed delighted, so more power to you if you like your bagels with a topping of Hippy.

Original Lox N' Bagels

bagel, sliced in half
cream cheese (chive cream cheese OK)
optional slice of cheese (Muenster is most traditional)
slice of tomato
slivers of red onion
some nova lox

fancy optional extras: capers, grind of fresh black pepper

Jews eat these open faced and not like a sandwich.

Vegetarian Lox N' Bagels

same as original without lox and make the tomato slice thicker

Jews in my experience prefer to have each topping spread out nicely on a platter so that it feels more like a banquet. They like to have chub (NOT de-boned) on the side, also sometimes potato salad or slices of fruit and vegetables. And keep the coffee and tea coming. For an extra touch of authenticity, start a conversation about Maimonides or your gallbladder.

07 October 2009

How and Why to Buy Fresh Eggs

When you think of fresh eggs, what image comes to your mind? A hen in her nest plopping out a brown egg and then attacking your hand if you try to steal it? Those blue robin's eggs nestling under the eaves of your roof? Or perhaps rows of mass-produced and sanitized cartons of uniform white eggs in the refrigerated section of your supermarket? Yeah. I didn't think so.

This isn't one of those vegetarian blogs that chastises you for not purchasing and eating food 100% conscientiously, although I respect the mission of those bloggers. The Goofy Gourmet is about enjoying food—or enjoying the inadvertent wreckage of food, whichever happens—and I'd like to appeal to your inner glutton.

Last week I purchased my first dozen fresh eggs from the farmers' market in Durham, North Carolina. The eggs were brownish, but not all the same size or color. They cost $4.50 or, as my mother averred, twice what she pays for eggs at the supermarket. Obviously they'd better be twice as good as those eggs.

They are. The shells are thicker, the egg whites are thicker and more viscous, and the yolks are brighter and hold together much better in the fry pan. Fried or poached, they look and taste fantastic. Let's explore the process that makes for top-notch fresh eggs:

Non-genetically-modified hen wanders happily around with other hens in a non-pesticide-treated field, pecking bugs and eating grass seeds and grain and whatever else she finds. When she lays her eggs, they are immediately sold locally that day or the next day no matter what color, size, or shape they happen to be.

Now let's look at how supermarket eggs are made. This site has a comprehensive explanation, but don't go there if you don't want to be majorly grossed out. The International Vegetarian Union explains why they advise against eating eggs. Suffice it to say, hens are squashed together inside in cages with no room to run around, no sunlight, and no fresh air. Their beaks are cut off so that they don't peck each other. They live right above their own filth, and because conditions are so unsanitary, they are flooded with antibiotics. They are genetically modified to produce 250 eggs a year instead of 12 like their wild cousins. They have to reach their necks across wire fence to eat mash from a trough. And then God knows where those eggs travel from or how long they've been sitting around in trucks or warehouses.

Do those eggs sound tasty? No.

At supermarkets you can often find eggs labeled "cage free" or "vegetarian fed." These are obviously a better choice than eggs from hens caged and fed recycled chicken, but you should be aware that they still aren't what you probably have in mind. Even cage free hens are usually genetically bred to be fat, often don't leave the shed because the food and light are inside, and are sometimes encouraged to eat their own waste. Gross!!! Vegetarian fed hens, could still be caged, fed a heavy, monotonous diet of grains, and not get any exercise. And how come all the "enlightened" supermarket eggs are a uniform size and color? That is not normal, my friends.

To sum up, the tastiest, highest-quality eggs will generally come from local farmers. If you can see their hens out roaming in the fields or at least see a picture labeled "our chickens" with chickens out pecking happily, then you're good to go. Indeed, pretty much all farmers' markets eggs come from a small and automatically better hen-raising system.

Happy hunting!

05 October 2009

Vegan Miso Soup

I adapted this miso soup from The Voluptuous Vegan, by my hero, Myra Kornfeld. And wouldn'tcha know, it's souper easy! Har har.

When picking some miso paste for yourself, read the ingredients carefully to make sure that there isn't anything suspicious lurking in there. In my miso paste lurk nothing more suspicious than soybeans, rice, salt, and water, but if you have MSG sensitivites you should watch out for "aji no moto," which is MSG. You also have options on the color of the miso; generally you can buy white, golden-brown, or red. White miso is sweeter and lighter in flavor while red miso is earthier and intense. After some experimentation, I decided to just buy the yellow-brown miso because it serves more of an all-purpose function; recipes that call for white or red miso do just fine with a substitution of yellow miso, but the reverse is not always true.

I've also found that bags of miso are a pain for me to deal with because miso is so sticky, so I always buy miso in a box. Currently my favorite brand is Honzukuri Genen Shinshu. You probably don't want as much miso as you're going to have to buy, but if it's any comfort, I've never seen miso paste go bad. It lasts at least 3 years in the refrigerator, so if you like miso soup, you're pretty much set with just one box.

By the way, shiitake mushrooms make you bleed gold doubloons in American grocery stores but they're quite affordable at Asian grocers. The same goes for almost all of the ingredients in the miso soup, so why not support a local business and save a little more towards retirement?

Miso Soup

1 piece of kombu kelp about the length and width of your hand, rinsed
8 or so dried shiitake mushrooms, medium size, rinsed
1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped, quartered, or sliced
2 Tablespoons mirin
2 Tablespoons low-sodium or usukuchi shoyu/ soy sauce (gluten-free brands are San-J, Eden Organic, Hy-Vee, or Walmart's Great Value)
8 Cups water

3 Tablespoons miso paste

Put all, except for miso paste, together in a pot. This combination of stuff is a vegan dashi, or Japanese soup base, and you can use it in a lot of recipes that call for dashi. Bring to a boil, then simmer 45 minutes or until 1/4 of the liquid has evaporated. Turn off the heat. Strain out the solids, stir in the miso paste. Serve while the miso still billows in golden clouds.

Before adding solids to your miso soup, check out this post at Just Hungry, a great blog with lots of information about Japanese home cooking. For authentic day by day variations go to Yasuko-san's [daily] menu and read her miso soup additions for breakfast and lunch every day. You won't be sorry.
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