Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tempeh it forward

Tempeh is a fermented Indonesian soy patty. That might not sound good, and the black spotted picture above might not make it look good... Trust me though, tempeh deserves a chance.

Because tempeh is made by fermenting whole soy beans, it retains much more protein and a higher level fiber, vitamins, and minerals than its other popular soy sister, tofu. Phytic acid is also worth considering. Soy beans have a very high level of the stuff, and it keeps your body from absorbing certain minerals and vitamins- not only those from soy products, but from other things you eat with the soy products. This is a large part of the soy controversy. Tofu and soymilk retain almost 100% of their phytic acids when processed because unlike other beans, you can soak and soak soybeans and still not get rid of the stuff. Tempeh, however, with its fermentation process, actually loses almost half of its phytic acid. This goes for Miso and tamari as well. I'll save the other benefits of fermentation for another time... perhaps I need to make something with sauerkraut soon... I have been craving it since I skipped out on eating it at the New Year like my other Northern friends. Oh- and that black stuff? Nothing to worry about. It's totally normal. I promise. As long as your tempeh is in date and isn't green, your good. Grey and black are just fine.

I used to make a bbq tempeh sandwich all the time. I'd used Amy's Maple Orgainc BBQ Sauce and it was good. I haven't made this dish in well over a year, though, and I decided to make my own sauce this time.

I cracked open my brand new Vegan Soul Kitchen cookbook by Bryant Terry that Scott so thoughtfully gave me for Christmas. I was positive I'd find a great recipe- and I was correct. I followed Mr. Terry's advice, other than I chose not to use chipotle peppers... I like them, but just a little... to me, it can often over power and I didn't want a super strong chipotle flavor all through my sandwiches, so I opted out. I also didn't have enough cumin... MUST MUST MUST get to Penzey's this weekend... so, instead, I used Arizona Dreaming- which is a spice blend Penzey's was giving away during my last trip. It worked perfectly. It's a blend of ground ancho, onion, garlic, paprika, lemon, jalepenos, chipotle, cocoa.... it's good stuff.
I had so much confidence in the hot vegan chef that I decided to double the recipe. That, and the can of tomato sauce I bought was about twice what I needed and I didn't want to waste it. Into a sauce pan went 1/2 cup EVOO, 1/2 fresh lime juice, 1/2 cup Bragg's Aminos (it's just tamari/soy sauce basically- but healthier) 1/2 cup aqave necter, 1/2 cup of red wine vinegar (oh, I used 1/4c red, 1/4c cider b/c I didn't have enough red...), a 15oz can of tomato sauce, 1 TBSP cumin, 1 TBSP Arizona dreaming, 2 tsp thyme, 1/4 tsp cayenne, and 1 cup water. A good whisk and medium heat would lead this to a nice simmer... it needed about 30-40 minutes to reduce down to about half its size. Doubling was a good idea. It's sweet, it's got a vinegary bite, a bit of heat, the lime juice in the background... I've made a few bbq sauces before and this was the best. Last night, I cooked Quorn meatballs and sweet potato fries and drizzed the sauce over the whole plate- yum.

I sliced a couple medium onions and a large green bell pepper. EVOO, salt, and low-medium heat for 40 minutes or so, and they would be caramelized heaven.

Time to prep the tempeh. Tempeh comes in a brick. There are many brands, but I really like LightLife. Tempeh can also be combined with rice, other grains, or veggies. I like them all, and actually, I can't tell a big taste difference. Once you get the tempeh out of the packaging- never an easy feat- I always do the same thing:
I think tempeh can have a bitter odd flavor... and I found that if I boil it, it goes away. So, regardless of what I am doing with tempeh, I always start out by cutting it into 5 pieces, butterflying it, and boiling it for 10 minutes. Then, I drain it and let it cool. After that, options are endless. You can leave it as is and create little patties, you can cube it and shallow fry it, you can slice it thinner and make fajitas or stirfrys, you can crumble it to make sloppy joes or a bolognaise... you can fry, saute, bake, grill... you get the point- it's a versatile little fermented brick.

From this point, it's just putting everything together. I crumbled the tempeh into the caramelized onions and green peppers, and added enough bbq sauce to give it a nice coat. The taste was on point. I gave it a bit of time to warm through all together while I toasted slices of Ezekial bread. I piled the bbq on top and drizzled a little ranch over the top. Wow... Thanks to that bbq recipe, these were, by far, the best bbq tempeh sandwiches I ever made.

If you've never had tempeh, pick up a brick next time you're at the store. You'll find it at most urban grocery stores near the produce with tofu, fake meats, non-cheese cheeses... you know where I mean. It lasts for a couple of months, so you'll have time to get your confidence up and find the perfect recipe- although I highly recommend this one.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

cabbage cravings...

I crave cabbage. Yesterday, I braised red cabbage for lunch. Today I wanted cabbage soup.

I recently purchased Love Soup by Anna Thomas. I checked this book out of the library a few weeks ago and have been reading through the recipes as though they were chapters in a book. Anna Thomas wrote The Vegetarian Epicure back in the day. If you're not familiar, it was before its time and is a classic. She wrote it when she was in college, which is only more impressive. Love Soup was published much later, after her children were grown. It's a beautiful book, and I ordered my own copy from Amazon before returning the copy I'd borrowed.

Much of her cooking is Eastern European inspired from her mother, and I adore Eastern European food. Growing up, my family ate a lot of cabbage dishes, goulash, pierogies, kielbasa... as did many of us reared in PA... so, her food speaks to me on a personal level as well.

I opened her book first thing this morning when cabbage soup was calling my name... I remembered reading a recipe for caramelized cabbage soup and I was pretty sure that was what I would have on the stove for dinner that night. A quick read through the recipe sealed the deal.

I quartered and cored a small green cabbage before slicing it thinly. The cabbage was probably about 2lbs. The recipe called for a pound, but I figured I'd cook it all. I'd give the soup all it could take and pack the rest up for a quick side dish later in the week. I threw it all in a large bowl and coated it lightly with EVOO. I spread it out on a cookie sheet, sprinkled it with some gray French sea salt and stuck it in a 375 degree oven. Every 10 minutes or so, I'd stir it around and in about 45 minutes or so, it was browned and about half its size. While it roasted, I had chopped an onion and a leak. I put about a a teaspoon of butter and a tablespoon of EVOO into my saute pan along with the two members of the Allium family and a sprinkle of the sea salt. The heat was medium low, and I knew it would be around 40 minutes of patience until they were golden brown and sweet.

I chopped a Yukon potato, 2 carrots, and the innards of a stalk of celery. I love a new stalk of celery when I am making soup. The inside leaves are so tender and sweet, I always go for those first. Scott washed up the entire stalk for me, and I cut them into smaller sticks. We ended up putting some sunflower seed butter on a couple of the cut up sticks as an appetizer. I packed the rest for quick snacks throughout the week. I put 5 or so cups of veggie stock into my Le Creuset along with the chopped carrot, celery, and potato and brought it to a boil for about 20 minutes before adding in the caramelized onions and leeks and the roasted cabbage. I used almost all of the cabbage, but what is left will be perfect for my lunch later in the week. Anna Thomas suggests seasoning this soup with fresh dill and finishing the soup with milk. I didn't want to do that, even though I am positive it would be delicious. Instead, I seasoned with a little kosher salt and Alleppo pepper, which is from Turkey. You can get it at Penzey's. It's smoky, but with some heat, and I have found I adore it with cabbage, eggs, rice... I let it all cook down for another 2o minutes and the result was lovely.

Scott compared it to the broth from a french onion soup. The caramelized onions and leeks had seemed to let go of the touch of butter I used on them, resulting in a rich and thick broth. We sopped it up with chunks of whole grain bread and each went back for a small second helping. It was perfect for this rainy day and cured my cabbage craving... at least until tomorrow.