Cookbook Adventures: Week 2

On Monday I set out to do as OmbudsBen suggested in his comments on my Stuck in a Rut post last week.  In case you forgot, here is his suggestion:

Pick out a cookbook with an index, open the index without looking, and point to find the nearest recipe.

With M and I being mostly vegetarian, I decided it would be best to use a vegetarian cookbook, and I went for the behemoth of vegetarian cookbooks:  Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food.

Cookbook chosen, I opened to the index without looking and pointed to find the nearest recipe.  My finger landed on:

Cooking.  See also Equipment and tools; Ingredients

“Well,” I thought, “that’s no good.”

Next try brought me:

Enchiladas, cheese

I obviously needed a different approach.  I did what any good support-your-local-farm person would do.  I checked to see what Hilgert’s had to offer.  Since they are now on Facebook, this was easily accomplished.  The results:

Strawberries are done now, but the red raspberries and English peas are now prime picking. If it rains, call about field conditions before you come.

Peas!  I like peas but only if they are fresh peas.  And these are as fresh as you can get.  I looked up peas in the index of Bittman’s book and decided on Braised Tofu and Peas in Curried Coconut Milk.  All I needed were the peas and that was easily remedied with the short trip to Hilgert’s.  (If we had berms/shoulders on our road, or those old-fashioned things called sidewalks, I would walk there.  I think it’s only about a mile or two down the road.  There are some curves that are dangerous for walkers because the drivers come zooming around them and there’s no place for a walker to go since you have to walk almost on the edge of the road itself and the road narrows there.)

To start this adventure off, I needed to press the tofu.  I meant to try the freezing method that Bittman recommends, but forgot so the next best thing is pressing it.  The purpose of preparing the tofu is to vary the texture, to make it drier and firmer (in the case of pressing) so it is easier to handle and cook.  Pressing involves cutting the tofu in half (at its equator), placing it on paper towels, covering it with more paper towels, and then putting something heavy on top to squeeze (or press) the water out.  I put the cutting board on top but it didn’t seem heavy enough.  As I looked around for a heavy object, I spotted Bittman’s book on the counter.  Perfect.

I let that sit for a couple of hours, then started the rice.  We eat white rice occasionally but brown rice is the standard around here.  So much so that, as you can see, I buy it in bulk.  Brown rice takes a while to cook (if it hasn’t been soaked first).  I usually start it cooking before I begin the rest of the food prep and cooking.  That gives it time to sit a little after the required cooking time, something that finishes it off nicely in my rice-cooking experience.  It’s almost always perfectly cooked.

With the rice cooking, I set out to make the sauce or “gravy” for the dish.  It consisted of onions, tomatoes, and a lot of spices.  It’s an Indian-style curry.  The recipe calls for curry powder and garam masala.  I made my own mixture of spices for the curry powder and used the garam masala I had in the spice cabinet.  I wanted a hot and spicy dish so I also added chili flakes.  I would like to have used whole, dried chiles but had none on hand.  (Note to self:  Remember to add those to the grocery list.)  At some point I also added a spoonful of garlic-chili paste as I wanted more heat and the flavor went well with the rest of the spices and sauce.

Once the sauce was puréed and the spices were fried in a little oil, I added the sauce to the spices, cooked it as directed and then tossed in the fresh peas.  The recipe calls for adding the tofu to the sauce at the same time.  Since I was using fresh peas, I wanted to let them cook for a little while before adding the tofu as that only needs a few minutes to heat up.  Once the tofu and peas were cooked, I added the coconut milk (I used a light variety), heated it up to almost boiling as directed, and then garnished with the cilantro.

I served it over the brown rice.  It was spicy and delicious without taking anything away from the fresh peas which retained their fresh flavor and a little crunch.  They were not crunchy-crunchy as in undercooked but crunchy as in just cooked.  I do not like mushy peas.

The photo above does not do it justice.  Not enough light, obviously.  The peas were a pretty shade of bright green in a sea of reddish-orange sauce (the color coming from a combination of the turmeric in the spice mixture and the tomatoes).  I’d like to try this again with a few more vegetables added.  Perhaps some potatoes and carrots.  Or cauliflower.

10 Comments on “Cookbook Adventures: Week 2”

  1. anhinga says:

    Yummy. Looks great. I have not cared for tofu the few times I have tried it. Must experiment more. This looks great!

    • Robin says:

      I didn’t care for tofu for a long time, Anhinga. Some of our friends went vegetarian years ago and it seemed like tofu showed up in every dish. It almost landed in the slimy food group for me at times.

      I’ve had some wonderful tofu dishes at Thai restaurants over the past year or two and that convinced me that tofu is possible. It’s just a matter of getting the texture right (as tofu takes on the flavor of whatever you marinate or braise or fry it in). This is the first tofu dish I’ve made since deciding to try it again at home. The dish as a whole was delicious but I wasn’t completely satisfied with the texture of the tofu. The next time I’m near an Asian market I’m going to buy some fresh tofu and try freezing it. It’s supposed to be chewier that way.

      The other thing is that I stopped thinking of tofu (or other protein substitutes — which usually means “meat substitutes”) as a meat substitute. The closest thing (and I love this stuff) to a meat substitute are Quorn products which do have a meat-like texture. It’s best to approach tofu (and other “meat substitutes) as another protein source and stop trying to make it seem like meat.

      Good luck with your experiments. 🙂

  2. jenna says:

    Must look that one up and acquire some peas!

    I like tofu to be pressed AND frozen. Not at the same time, of course.

  3. Joanne says:

    I’ve only tried tofu once, and I don’t know how the person cooked it, but it could have passed for a piece of meat! I liked it.

    This dish sounds absolutely delicious and I love the serving bowl you have used. 🙂

  4. Bo Mackison says:

    Sounds like your cookbook experiment is moving along nicely. I think the dish does look quite pretty, too. Yum yum – fresh peas! What a sumptious luxury!

  5. OmbudsBen says:

    Looks like delicious results, Robin! I’m with you on brown rice, too. Also wild rice, which is technically a grass, but I like doing a blend of wild and brown.

    Tofu is more my wife’s department, although I know it’s a good idea. Still, for the 4th of July I got out my slim Weber cookbook and opted for Pepperonata — sauteed red, yellow & orange bell peppers, red onions, and garlic in olive oil, with some basil and oregano, while the turkey italian sausages grilled. Not the healthiest of meals, I suppose, but it’s a holiday!

    As for the ruts root of this post–I have several cookbooks in pristine condition but for the grunged pages they are always opened to — it’s time to make use of that index myself.

    • Robin says:

      Your 4th of July feast sounds delicious, OmbudsBen.

      Can’t wait to see what you find in your pristine-condition cookbooks. 🙂

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