Sunday, May 22, 2011

Silk Road Cooking...

This is just  a quick post about some stuff I've been up to lately. First up are a couple of dishes from Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey, by Najmieh Batmanglij. I've had this cookbook for a couple years and have cooked from it only a few times. It's one cookbook that I really want to use more, so I spent some time with it this weekend.

Pages from Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey

The book is full of beautiful photos, historical narration, and intriguing recipes. It's vegetarian, not vegan, but many of the recipes are vegan, and the others are veganizable of course. Here's a link to some sample recipes to give an idea.

The Balkh Brown Lentil Soup (above) calls for fewer herbs and spices than I would usually add to lentil stews and soups, but it is so tasty in its simplicity. The recipe calls for toasting cumin seeds in oil, adding onions and garlic, then lentils and water to simmer. Towards the end you add some fresh orange and lime juice (it calls for Seville oranges, but if you don't have those, you can use a combination of orange and lime juice) and also angelica powder. According to the book, angelica powder is used as a souring agent in Persian cooking. I didn't have any, so I used a teaspoon of tamarind paste instead. From what I've gathered, angelica is nutritious and has many healthful properties; I really want to get my hands on some. Seasoned to taste, and topped with fried onions and parsley, the soup is more than the sum of its parts. 

The next recipe I chose was a Bulger and Mung Bean Pilaf.  It's another winner, seasoned with cumin seeds, shredded ginger, turmeric, and chili peppers, it's so yummy topped with fresh lemon juice and fresh herbs. The mung beans and bulger go well together and create a great texture. I ate two bowls of the leftovers for breakfast this morning. 

The whole meal was a bit of a feast actually, we had the soup as a starter and then the pilaf with a spinach, mushroom, carrot salad and a tofu tart with roasted summer squash and tomato:

The tart turned out just "ok". The tofu filling was tasty enough, I added miso paste, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, almond milk, pine nuts, garlic, onion powder, kala namak salt,  and some ume vinegar, but it didn't cook through how I wanted it...I'm still trying to get a feel for the calibration of my new oven. 

For other news, the garden is thriving. I've been harvesting fresh greens galore.

So far, we've been munching on mustard-spinach ( a hybrid of the two and a less spicy than pure mustard greens), baby kale, spinach, and radishes. I'm waiting a little longer to harvest the dandelion greens and the lettuce. The chard and collard greens will be another few weeks before they grow into nice big plants. It's a bit overcrowded at the moment, but as we harvest, space will open up.

I keep the greens under a poly tunnel at night and on cloudy days, and it makes a phenomenal difference in how fast things grow. Here's the same bed about a month ago:

It's easy to make a poly tunnel. All you need is some rebar stakes, some pliable tubing that you can get in a hardware store, and some opaque painters' plastic. You can attach the plastic to the tubes with large binder clips. This works great in climates where the temps are cool in spring and fall.

Green juice from the garden: radish tops, parsley, mustard-spinach, celery (not from the garden) and sorrel:

Radishes are one of my favorite vegetables, and for any newbie gardeners out there, I highly recommend giving radishes a try. They grow quickly and easily...and, you get double for your efforts; harvest the roots for salads and what not (you can cook them too) and eat the greens in stir fries or juices. The greens are a bit stickery, but if you steam them or juice them it's not a problem. Radishes are just little turnips, so I wager that the greens are super nutritious like turnip greens. The radishes themselves are pretty nutritious too.

My tomato and pepper starts are some of the slowest growing little guys I've ever seen! Come on guys...get growing!

And finally, in some family news: my mom adopted a little dog from a K-9 death row rescue:

Her name is Lula, and she's super smart and sweet.  She adores my mom, and we all love her. I've been visiting a lot to get in on the walking action. I hope to post a video of her soon doing one of her happy dances, which are really adorable.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Shirataki Noodle-Mushroom Broth...and Kitty Cohabitation!

I swear I'm not a crazy noodle lady or anything like that, but here comes yet another post about noodles...I haven't posted in a while, but my last was about kelp noodles. This time, I branched out to try some shirataki noodles, and I can say unequivocally that I'm a fan.

I've seen people posting about them on various blogs for quite some time, and I bought a package that sat in my fridge for a couple of months...not sure why it took me so long to dive into them other than that through the package, they looked like they would be soft and mushy, which is not an appealing characteristic of noodles in my opinion. Looks can be deceiving though, because these cook up nice and firm.

They're made from the fiber of the Konjac plant, and like the kelp noodles, they're very low in carbs and calories. They smell bad when you take them out of the package, but once you rinse them and cook them the smell goes away.

I've made them a few times now. The first time I tried them in a stir fry with lots of veggies and a peanut-miso dressing...I wanted to post about that, but I accidentally deleted the photos. So, here's another dish I made with them; they're great in soup, just like ramen noodles.

This is a brothy, gingery, sweet and sour soup with Thai flavors. The measurements are approximate... I didn't measure everything precisely, but can serve as a guideline:

12-inches worth of lemon grass, with tough outer leaves removed and chopped into fine rounds
3 or 4 kaffir lime leaves ( I use dried ones)
4 or 5 good slices of fresh ginger
1 hot chili pepper sliced
About 1/2 - 3/4 of a pound of mushrooms: I used shitake and alba clamshell
~ 5 cups rich veggie broth or mushroom broth ( I used a combination of veggie broth and mushroom broth)
1 package of shirataki noodles
carrot and/or other veggies of choice, thinly chopped 
1/4 cup tamari
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar (if you don't use seasoned vinegar, you'll need to add some agave syrup or brown sugar to balance out the acidity)
1 generous teaspoon tamarind paste, or to taste
green onions
toasted sesame oil
fresh lime juice
daikon radish and sambal oelek to garnish

Put the lemon grass, ginger, chili, and lime leaves in a large sauce pan  and let them simmer in a little broth for about 5 minutes.

When the herbs are beginning to soften and become aromatic, add the shitake mushrooms and the rest of the broth and let it simmer gently for about 30 - 40 minutes.

The broth becomes flavorful from the mushrooms and the herbs. 

Next, add the tamari, seasoned vinegar and tamarind and stir through. 

Bring a small pot of water to the boil and par-cook the shirataki noodles for about 2 minutes. Drain the noodles and toss them into the simmering broth along with the clamshell mushrooms and some thinly sliced carrot and let it cook for another 4 - 6 minutes. 

Right before you serve it, stir in some cilantro (baby spinach would be good too) and the green onions. Drizzle a few drops of toasted sesame oil  over the top (not too much, or it will overpower the other flavors), and finally add a couple generous splashes of fresh lime juice. It's nice served with shredded daikon and some sambal oelek.

Now, on to some really exciting news: our kitties are beginning to like each other!  We adopted Lucky, the tabby cat, last September (I know that's a naff name, but it was his shelter name and it just stuck), and it has been a bumpy road in catville around here since then. Our longtime family member, Cheeky, didn't like the idea of having him around at all.  If Lucky came into a room where Cheeky was, she would leave and hiss at him every time she passed by.

We did everything to ensure that they each had their own space and places to sleep and eat...but it seemed like the best we could hope for is that they would ignore each other.  Well, over the weekend, I caught them napping together:

And more than once too...the sunroom is a favorite napping spot:

I'm delighted and hoping for the day when they actually snuggle together.  
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