Tofu Chard Coconut Lime

Tofu and Chard in Coconut-Lime Sauce

My CSA farm share has started and it is nice to see those deep, dark greens in the farm shed once again, fresh from the fields and ready to take home and cook!  This week we received chard, arugula, bok choy, kale, and radishes.  Opening the refrigerator and contemplating the possibilities brings great joy to my daily “what are we having for dinner?” decision.

It’s fun to share this recipe with you, which has been part of my repertoire since 2003, when I first made it with friends.  Minor modifications have crept in over the years.  The original recipe was for a soup, but for us it works much better as sauce served over rice or millet.  Here I add chard, but any hardy, mild green would work well with the coconut and lime, the dominant flavors in the sauce.

Chard is a subspecies of the common garden beet, Beta vularis and its wild ancestor, the sea beet. Sea beets are native to much of the Mediterranean region and southern Asia.  Unlike beets, which have been selected to produce flavorful roots, chard is selected to produce large tender leaves and thick, meaty stalks.  Some heirloom varieties available today go back to the 16th century (Harold McGee). I find that the more colorful the chard stalks, the more the flavor resembles that of beets.

chard

ingredients

Tofu Chard Coconut Lime

Tofu Chard Coconut Lime

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Chili Garlic Sesame Pasta Tofu Sugar Snap Peas

Chili, Garlic, and Sesame Pasta with Tofu and Sugar Snap Peas

Only recently was I introduced to this five ingredient sauce, but I already know this sauce and I will be together forever.  Why you ask?

  1. It is versatile.  The first time I was introduced to it, it was being served with scallion pancakes as the dipping sauce.  Here I pour it over pasta.  And of course I look forward to marinating some chicken with it one of these afternoons to throw on the grill.
  2. It is so simple to make and if you frequently cook with Asian flavors, it is likely you already have all the ingredients on hand.
  3. The flavor combination is just perfect! The garlic, chili, and sesame work wonderfully together.

What gives chili its characteristic pungency or burning sensation in the mouth is a lipohilic chemical called capsaicin.  There are two theories on why capsaicin may have evolved in chilies: 1) as a defense from mammals, and 2) as a defense against fungi.   When mammals eat the chili fruit, the seeds are ground up by molars, and after passing through the digestive tract the seeds are no longer able to germinate.  Birds do not have the necessary proteins to respond to capsaicin and generally swallow the seeds whole, which are then still able to germinate after passing through the avian digestive tract.  In this manner, birds are a mechanism through which the plant disperses its seeds.  With respect to the second theory, there is a fungus, Fusarium, which can infect chili plants, resulting in wilting of the plant, which in turn affects fruit production and reduces viability of the seeds.  This fungus is deterred by capsaicin.

Chili plants were domesticated over 5000 years ago in South America (Harold McGee).  After Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, the plants quickly spread throughout the world, and today are common in traditional cuisines all over the world.  Chilies belong to the genus Capsicum and there are 5 species within this genus which have been domesticated, although most chilies that one can find at the supermarket are derived from only a single species, Capsicum annuum.  Through breeding, the pungency of chilies can be altered, and some have been bread to be mild enough to eat as vegetables.  All unripe chilies are green, and during the ripening process they obtain their characteristic colors from yellow to red, orange, and purple.

 

ingredients

tofu

scallions

sugar snap peas

Chili Garlic Sesame Pasta Tofu Sugar Snap Peas

Chili Garlic Sesame Pasta Tofu Sugar Snap Peas

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Black Bean Tempeh Tacos with Slaw and Cilantro Lime Dressing

Black Bean Tempeh Tacos with Slaw and Cilantro Lime Dressing

Even to regular readers (thank you!) it may not be apparent yet that I love beans and eat them frequently in Mexican-inspired dishes.  From a nutritional standpoint, there is little argument that beans are good, and from an enjoyment standpoint, they score high with everyone routinely eating my cooking.  Most weeks I cook a big pot of beans sometime during the week and then use the beans throughout the week for a variety of lunches and dinners.

Now when I think beans, cheese is usually involved, and so is sour cream for that matter. This recipe was inspired by an effort to diversify our sources of creamy, rich goodness that can appropriately be added to bean-based dishes.

The sauce on these tacos incorporates ground cashews to achieve a rich creaminess, with the lime juice and cilantro adding a crisp, fresh taste that compliments the black beans and cabbage beautifully.

Cashews are frequently used in vegan dishes to add creaminess and to thicken water-based dishes such as sauces and soups.  Among the various common nuts, cashews are particularly good at thickening liquids because of their high starch content (Harold McGee).  As an interesting aside, cashews are in the Anacardiaceae family, which also includes poison ivy, poison sumac and mangoes.  The chemical irritant, which is also present in other members of this family, is located in the cashew nut shell and has to be carefully removed to avoid contaminating the nuts.  This is the reason that cashews are always sold shelled.

ingredients for black bean tempeh taco

A Leek Supreme

Taco seasoning

Slaw

Slaw

Cilantro lime dressing

Black Bean Tempeh Tacos with Slaw and Cilantro Lime Dressing

Black Bean Tempeh Tacos with Slaw and Cilantro Lime Dressing

Black Bean Tempeh Tacos with Slaw and Cilantro Lime Dressing

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black beans fried egg vegetables

Black Beans and Fried Eggs

Among the many things that complement rice and beans, few things are as satisfying to me as a fried egg on top.  The crispiness of the egg white edges adds a pleasing crunch to the otherwise soft meal and the richness of the yolk makes it satisfying and filling.

When you first crack the egg open and let it run into the skillet, the egg white is transparent and runny.  Then, as it cooks, the egg whites turn opaque and solidify.  This occurs because of a change in the structure of the proteins during the cooking process.    According it Harold McGee, egg whites contain roughly 1 protein for every 1000 molecules of water (but each protein can contain as many atoms as 1000 water molecules or more).   Initially the proteins are folded up on themselves, independently floating in the water.  In fact, their sticky parts are hidden inside holding on to other sticky parts within the same protein.  Heat opens the proteins up, exposing their sticky parts, and they start holding on to other nearby proteins.  This occurs throughout the egg white creating a solid mesh that reflects light.  The water is now trapped within that mesh and is responsible for the gelatinous quality of cooked egg white.

ingredients

vegetables

black beans rice fried egg vegetables

black beans fried egg vegetables

An interesting note since we are talking about eggs:  have you heard of aquafabaThis NY Times article is the first time I have run across it.  I am very intrigued.

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french lentil salad lemon vinaigrette

French Lentil Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

According to Harold McGee, a vinaigrette is a water-in-oil emulsion, which means that tiny vinegar droplets are dispersed within the oil, while the oil is the continuous phase, meaning it coats each droplet and fills the empty space between the vinegar droplets. Compare this to, for example, mayonnaise, which is an oil-in-water emulsion with oil droplets suspended in water.

A vinaigrette is usually made by first adding the salt and vinegar to a bowl and allowing the salt to dissolve. Next, the oil is added.  According to Michael Ruhlman in the book Ratio, the manner in which the oil is added determines the texture and longevity of the emulsion.  If oil is added all at once and briefly whisked with a fork, the vinegar droplets in the oil remain relatively large and only temporarily combine.  Adding the oil in a thin stream while the vinegar is being blended continuously with an immersion blender results in droplets of vinegar that may be as small as 3 thousandth of a millimeter across (Harold McGee) forming a thick and stable emulsion with a consistency similar to mayonnaise (depending on the water content).

lemon peel

lemon vinaigrette

vegetables

vegetables

vegetables

The ideal ratio for a vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or other acid such as citrus (Michael Ruhlman).  3:1 is roughly the ratio I use in this lemon vinaigrette, which also has the lemon peel added for additional flavor.  I use a fork to briefly blend the lemon juice and olive oil, creating only a temporary emulsion.  Alternatively, an immersion blender could be used to whisk the lemon juice while slowly incorporating the oil.  When I make this vinaigrette with an immersion blender, I often add the herbs to the vinegar and salt mixture, creating a lovely pale green (and delicious) dressing.

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