Having worked in restaurants of all levels and types for a number of years, I can tell you with absolute certainty exactly what most 20 to 50-something year old ladies gravitate towards on a menu at lunch time without fail. Ready? It’s a leafy green salad with a big old piece of (usually animal-sourced) protein on top cooked in a minimal amount of fat, served with an oil and vinegar-based dressing, other vegetables etc. And if that option isn’t on the menu, there are inquiries that hint around the possibility of one being made anyway. If answered in the (very accommodating) affirmative, the next question/demand is usually along the lines of “Oh but I need the dressing ON THE SIDE **woman’s hand expressively pushes imaginary carafe of dressing to the side for clarification**.” Right, got it.
Fancy lady salads.
As much as I despise dealing with peeps ordering this kind of thing, I actually adore those make-it-a-meal-kind of affairs in a bowl (totally conflicted over a salad–I know, I know). Lots of green leafies, beans, nuts, seeds, a handful of cooked grains, vegetables, good pinches of salt and pepper, maybe some pecorino or crumbly goat cheese for a salty tang. And in this version, some lightly charred and garlicky balsamic tofu on top. Oh yes.
I always kind of forget about tofu and come back to it, wondering where it had been for the last little while. It’s not something I buy/cook frequently. I’m pretty particular on the preparation methods I apply to this protein and even more persnickety on what brand/types I’ll buy. So here are some things I’ve learned through trial and error and a fair bit of reading.
Buy organic and local. I mean it on this one.
Choosing organic soy foods does point to one obvious thing: you’re avoiding pesticide consumption and radiated foods. This practice also points to one much larger thing: you’re saying no to a largely genetically modified crop with your dollars, snubbing the efforts of agro-giants like Monsanto. What efforts? Well there’s a lot pertaining to deforestation in the amazon, putting decades-old family farms out of business, instilling fear into the economically sensible act of seed-saving, dousing those roundup-ready crops in pesticide, depleting soil quality… I could go on and on. I hate being preachy, but a simple course of action means a lot here. Worthy of note: the price difference is marginal when switching from conventional to organic tofu.
Is tofu even healthy?
There’s been some hoopla surrounding soy-based products and soy in general over the last few years. I’ve read a lot of alarmist literature on this particular food, but the reality is that it has been consumed for hundreds of years in many parts of the world. Studies are frequently conflicting (soy foods cause hot flashes, no wait soy foods prevent hot flashes etc) and there is always a new, very strong opinion. I’m no authority on whether consuming soy is right for you or anyone for that matter, but Dr. Weil (way more of an authority than me) provides a good summary here as well as some other links within his website. At its core, tofu is made from a coagulated fresh soy milk. The curds produced from this process are pressed into blocks of varying firmness. If you have access to good, locally made tofu without any junk in it, I don’t see any problem with consuming it on a weekly basis. Ingredients should include (organic) soybean curd, whatever acid/salt/enzyme the manufacturer chooses as the coagulating agent, and water. That’s it.
If you are applying high heat (sauteing, grilling, roasting etc) to this wondrous substance, pressing it beforehand is going to help you enjoy it so much more. In effect, you’re removing the flavourless packing water, which makes way for a more enjoyable, chewy texture and a higher likelihood of golden brown-happiness once cooked. Also! Removing the no-flavour packing water leaves room for (duh) really delicious stuff in the form of a marinade or just a quick spice/flavour rubdown. Subtract water. Add tasty stuff. That’s easy math.
Or freeze it.
Very cool things happen to tofu when you freeze it in some sort of liquid (either the packing water or a marinade). The first time I tried it like this was when we were making a “thousand layer” tofu green curry during a vegan cuisine-focused lab in culinary school. The curry itself was amazing, but the tofu! It blew me away. Once you thaw and cook it up, it develops this layered interior. The texture is insanely agreeable, leaning towards chewy and meaty, but still soft/almost unctuous on the inside. For such minimal effort, it’s a really cool little tactic to try.
Are you afraid of making tofu at home? Or do you cook it often? Are your cooking methods super specific or tried and true? I would love to hear about your reasons for aversion or outright love of this stuff.
Hope you’re all enjoying these beautiful and long end-of-summer days. Big love, sunshine and bean curd to yas :)
high protein salad with garlicky balsamic tofu
notes: According to my non-scientific nutrition calculations, this salad has approximately 28 grams of protein per delicious serving. Let’s. Get. Pumped.
1 454g block of firm to extra firm tofu, pressed (great instructions for pressing here)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 big clove of garlic, minced
handful of chopped herb of your choice (I went with basil)
salt and pepper
salad greens for 4 people (about 2-3 cups per person)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 cup cooked quinoa
2-3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
big handful of pine nuts (toasted if you like)
Cut the pressed tofu into 4 slabs: cut it in half down the middle on the smaller, rectangular side. Then proceed to cut those 2 slabs in half in the same manner. You should end up with 4 big squares of tofu that are about 1/2 inch thick.
Place the slabs of tofu into a large dish. Pour the balsamic vinegar and oil on top. Season with salt and pepper. Scatter the chopped garlic and herb all over the top. Marinate for 30 minutes or so, gently flipping the pieces of tofu around here and there.
Preheat the grill to medium-high. Place the tofu pieces onto the grill. Wait for about 4 minutes or until good char marks appear. Flip the pieces over. Cook until char marks appear on the reverse (about another 4 minutes) and tofu is browned to your liking. Remove from the grill and set aside. Don’t have a grill? You can always roast it.
Toss the salad greens with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Divide greens evenly among 4 plates. Distribute the chickpeas, quinoa, pine nuts and tomatoes amongst the 4 plates as well.
Cut tofu slabs into triangles if you like and arrange on top of salads. Serve.
My friend asked me if I had any ideas for a simple, raw, vegetable-heavy dish (that wasn’t a salad) to make in the heat of summer. I had some things in mind, but they involved a bit of blending, or use of a food processor, a spiralized vegetable, or maybe a dehydrated component. Adding a sprouted grain was tempting, but would prolong the process of having the actual meal by a day or so. My mind went to work is what I’m trying to say. It moved too fast for the simple task at hand. I needed to step back and reconsider it all.
I take a few things for granted when I post recipes on here. I always get such lovely feedback and kind words from many of you and I’m grateful for that, fully. There are a lot of directions here, however, that call for blending, mandoline-slicing, ice-cream-maker-churning etc. These are assumptions about accessibility, something I strictly set out to avoid when I created this space.
My kitchen has a few bells and whistles, sure, and I approach recipe development from that privileged stance. The very hard reality is that you can never assume too much when assessing the task of making food at home. I have access to a car/bike that can take me to at least 15 purveyors of healthy and fresh food in my area at any time. This is unusual for many. Same goes for the kitchen I work in. We have functional plumbing, hydro, a 2+ HP blender and a host of other (possibly unnecessary) devices that simply make food. That’s all they do. This state of dwelling is surprisingly common and overwhelmingly “other” at the same time. I sense that duality every time I approach the food and the tools and the task at hand.
I know that so many of you just want to eat well and feel as good as possible, but may not have a spiralizer slicer or a mortar and pestle or whatever. Or maybe it’s just too hot to crank out a meal with a heat-based cooking method right now. Whatever the case, we all have that same basic goal in mind I think, and there are infinitely varied ways to get there that are within all of our reach. This vibrant, simple and delicious recipe is my offering, a way of trying to get to that place.
This dish is beautiful and healthy, but my favourite part? You only need a knife, a vegetable peeler and your own two hands to make it happen. It’s perfect for balmy end-of-summer days. Use whatever nuts/seeds you like in the cauliflower “pilaf.” Same goes for the elegant lime, spice and mustard-cured vegetable tangle on top. It’s an honest and filling plate of goodness built up very simply. And it’s within all of our reach.
vegetable ceviche with pepita & almond cauliflower “pilaf”
notes: The peeler isn’t even totally necessary here. Just small or thin cuts/dices is all you need to get the job done. Also, as noted you can use whatever veggies you have around that you like, but I will highly HIGHLY recommend the corn while it’s in season. So good.
2-3 cups cauliflower florets, most of the stem removed
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds + extra for garnish
handful of chopped almonds
1/2 tsp dried chipotle powder
salt and pepper
2 sprigs of mint, leaves chopped
1/2 zucchini, peeled into ribbons
1 carrot, peeled into ribbons
2 radishes, thinly sliced
1 large cob of corn, kernels removed
1 small red bell pepper, stemmed and julienned
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
juice from 3 limes
2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp raw agave nectar
1.5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2-3 sprigs basil/cilantro, leaves finely chopped
Chop the stemmed cauliflower florets super fine. This can be done by milling your knife over them repeatedly, as if you were mincing garlic. Place into a medium bowl. To the bowl, add the pumpkin seeds, almonds, lime juice, olive oil, chipotle powder, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Set aside while you prepare the ceviche. Chop and add the mint right before you’re ready to serve.
For the ceviche, place all ribboned/chopped vegetables in a large bowl. Pour the lime juice on top. Add the mustard and agave nectar. Toss with your hands to combine. Scrunch the vegetables down near the lime juice pooling at the bottom of the bowl. Allow this mixture to sit for about 10 minutes, tossing it up here and there. This is where the “curing” and softening up of the veggies happens.
After 10 minutes, drain out most of the juice from the ceviche, reserving about 1-2 tablespoons. Toss the remaining vegetables and lime juice with the olive oil and season to taste.
To serve: divide the pilaf between two plates, flattening it slightly. Divide the ceviche among the two plates next, placing on top of the pilaf. Garnish with the chopped basil/cilantro and more pumpkin seeds if you like.
Remember when I made a fresh and spring-y panzanella and I told you about my sheer and ridiculous-silly love for the classic, summertime version? Well, I’ve got a warm weather one here for you with a couple of non-traditional (but incredibly delicious) elements like chopped kale, shaved shallots, peaches and my new fave: white balsamic vinegar. Yum-city for real. It’s the salad you make when you wanna win friends. Or just when you wanna win. Period.
If you want to go full-stop classic on this dish, you can check out my no-fussin’ version on Joanna Goddard’s blog this week. I’ve been reading A Cup of Jo for as long as I’ve known that blogs actually exist I think, so when Shoko asked me to contribute a recipe for Joanna’s “The best ________ you’ll ever have” recipe series, I was pretty floored/so excited to expand even more on my love of panzanella. It’s a two-for-one kind of deal today.
As a first-time addition here, my wonderful friend Joe (check out his website!) has made a really fun video and shot the pictures for this recipe too. We had a great time harvesting the goods, cooking it all up outdoors, enjoying a couple of cold beers and whatnot, so I hope you get the sense of that when you watch. My friends TK and Lesley made an ORIGINAL SONG for it too! Guh, heart is super full just thinking about that. You can listen to it again and again on the Make Haste Soundcloud page right here. So grateful to have such talented and kind friends, seriously. Luckiest gal. When a community of generous creatives comes together, it is the best thing. Super smiles. In addition to that, they produce some pretty stellar individual/other work. You can check out Lesley’s talent on the Bad Passion homepage (also featured on Turntable Kitchen’s April 2012 mix!). TK’s work can be found here: Stone Orchard and on his Bandcamp page.
Happy summer to you all. Make some panzanella and soak up that beautiful sun :)
summer panzanella with peaches and kale
notes: I opt for white balsamic vinegar because it doesn’t impart a dark colour onto the bread. Feel free to use the darker, regular balsamic vinegar if that’s what you have though. The flavour is quite similar.
4-5 cups tore up pieces of bread
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 big shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
4-5 cups chopped tomatoes
2 peaches, pitted and roughly chopped
2 stalks of kale, stemmed and sliced
2 big sprigs of basil, leaves finely sliced (reserve some whole leaves for garnish if you like)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the tore up bread on a large, parchment lined baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat bread evenly in the oil. Bake for 15 minutes, flipping croutons at the halfway point to promote even browning. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Place the chopped tomatoes, peaches, kale and basil in a large bowl. Drizzle the oil and white balsamic vinegar on top and season the mixture with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Add the cooled croutons and toss once more.
Let this mixture sit for 10 minutes or so so that the bread can soak up the juiciness from all the veggies and fruit. Serve with a big sprig of basil on top if you like.
I’m going to be straight with you guys: I made up a big batch of this raw and luscious raspberry chia pudding so that I could eat it for breakfast. It’s perfectly sweet, pretty pink, warm with vanilla, mega-rich with almonds and coconut oil… and crazy good for you. Its cool luxury feels a bit wrong at 8 am, but it is the most right thing ever. Yum.
I’ve been over the moon for chia seeds for a while. For such a small, unassuming little thing, there’s a ton of power bundled up within. Lots of hydration potential (it can absorb up to 9 times its weight in water!), more Omega-3s than flax seeds (without the strong taste), tons of fiber, complete protein (4 grams per ounce), and antioxidants to boot (a gazillion year shelf-life, seriously). They shine in plenty of applications (in a glass of water with lemon or lime, on top of salads, stirred into yogurt, mixed with granola, sprinkled in a smoothie, as a binding agent for egg-free baking etc) and they add so much.
The hydration/satisfaction aspect is what gets me the most. If I remember to work them into my breakfast, my tendency for mid-morning and late afternoon snacking vanishes without a thought because they ramp up the satiety factor with all of that gelling/water absorption action. It’s a handy little dietary addition in the warm months when staying hydrated is more urgent. My skin leans toward dryness all year, but it’s noticeably more supple and just generally super lovely feeling if I’m making the effort to eat a good spoonful of these seeds a day. Actually. One tiny change = huge effect in the long view. Just amazing, that’s all I can say.
This lovely and nourishing pudding is my latest contribution for the Toronto Vegetarian Association‘s monthly newsletter, so you’re welcome to check it on their website if you like (or sign up for the fantastic eLifelines newsletter if you live around the GTA and want to be in the know). It’s so fun to see the little seeds soak up what is essentially a sweetened raspberry almond milk made super luxe with coconut oil and vanilla. They’re like super orbs of pink richness all lined up in a pretty glass. Did I mention it’s an amazing post-workout food? If you like to nerd out on nutrition facts like me, you can peep the accompanying write-up here. It’s officially the summer of chia seed power, friends.
raw raspberry and vanilla chia seed pudding
lightly adapted from Coconut & Quinoa
serves: makes 5-6 cups (a whole lot)
notes: As stated above, I love eating this for breakfast with lots of fresh fruit. Stir a handful of oats in there and you’ve got yourself a fairly hearty morning meal. Also, this pudding evokes that slippery tapioca-ish quality that is either love or hate. Just keep that in mind :)
1 cup raw almonds, soaked at least 5 hours
4 cups filtered water
2 cups fresh raspberries (or thawed, frozen ones)
½ cup raw agave nectar, maple syrup, raw honey etc.
2 tbsp soft extra virgin coconut oil
1.5 tbsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
½ cup chia seeds (white or black)
Combine the soaked almonds, 4 cups of water, raspberries, agave nectar, coconut oil, vanilla extract and salt in a blender pitcher. Blend mixture on medium-high speed for 1 minute, until liquified.
Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve (or nut milk bag if you have one) into a medium-large bowl. At this point you will have a sweet, rich, raspberry flavoured almond milk essentially.
Place the chia seeds into another large bowl. Pour the raspberry almond milk on top slowly. Whisk vigorously to combine and prevent clumping of the chia seeds.
Allow the mixture to sit for a good hour so that the chia seeds can do their thing and thicken up the mixture to a pudding consistency. I find the taste and texture is truly bang-on after an overnight soak in the fridge. Whisk it up here and there to further prevent clumping of the seeds.
Serve pudding with fresh raspberries, shredded coconut, chopped almonds, cacao nibs or anything else you like on top. Store leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge.
Our tomato plants are getting bigger. We’re enjoying that iconic taste of summer more often now with a bit of salt, on sandwiches, salads, in any old place they fit. The glut of them is coming on, I can sense it.
They started as images and descriptions in a seed catalogue that we would flip through on grey winter days, something to look forward to, images of sunshine and ripeness. The seeds arrived, they were planted in March under a careful lighting rig. Little sprouts shooting up beside popsicle sticks bearing their names. They got bigger. The pots would be taken outside for a day of sunshine and lovingly brought into the garage for the still cool early spring nights. Regular mildness found these plants in the ground quickly. Watering, staking, weeding, care, diligence and waiting. Now baskets of little blushing tomatoes sit on the counter every day.
This image of slow and careful gardening is sunny and idyllic, I know. The purpose and message of this post is a touch more harsh though, it is less about the recipe and the life story and more about awareness and action.
It is certainly true that not all tomatoes arrive to the table by the same chain of transit. Shocking abuses of human rights and repeat incidents of outright slavery are prevalent in the supply chain of American supermarket tomatoes (and many other crops to be sure). “The sweat shops of the soil” is a comparison that has been made since the 1960’s. Men, women and children who harvest crops for the best-fed nation on earth earn barely enough to feed themselves and are forced to work, in some cases against their will. From seed to plate, over several years, these conditions endure in order to supply major supermarkets.
This CBS special titled “Harvest of Shame,” a revisitation of a revolutionary documentary from 1960, is particularly illuminating in terms of the struggle of migrant workers in the United States. When Nicole of The Giving Table/Eat This Poem contacted me about offering a post to raise awareness on the plight of agricultural workers in America, I couldn’t refuse the opportunity. There are so many positive and simple courses of action to follow this up with.
I always say this with food and purchases in general, but in terms of whatever ideology you want to see prevail, you must vote with your dollars. That is a course of action that is tangible and real, your purchase is your voice. A farmer’s market or CSA (or garden-grown) tomato should be your first choice, if accessible. It is a direct link to a responsible grower in your community. There are no questions or mystery in terms of that product’s fairness. If you can, choose these options above all for your tomato purchases.
Are major supermarkets your only source for fresh produce? Are you unsure on the source of their tomatoes? There’s a simple way to find out. Ask them. Don’t get the answer you want? Ask the CEO of that supermarket chain to join the Fair Food Program by clicking here (it’s so easy). Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have already done this (buy your tomatoes there if there’s one in your area). By asking them to agree to a 1.5 cents increase per pound for fair tomatoes, you can support the abolishment of slavery, child labor and sexual harassment on Florida’s tomato farms. For more information on how you can get involved, check this page from the International Justice Mission’s Recipe For Change Summer 2012 campaign. Pressure from consumers, their dollars and cents, can sway this in a positive direction. The call to action here is so simple for a result that could be truly great.
There’s plenty of bloggers joining in the fight. For a thorough list and more fantastic tomato recipes, check The Giving Table’s page.
grilled vegetables with roasted tomato & chili vinaigrette
dressing adapted from The Candle Cafe Cookbook by Joy Pierson and Bart Potenza
serves: makes 3ish cups of dressing
notes: I add chilies and smoked paprika here to make it lively, but feel free to go in whatever direction you like. Maybe extra garlic or different herbs? Up to you. Also, chopping up all of the grilled vegetables and mixing them up with the dressing, herbs and pine nuts makes a fantastic chopped salad.
1.5 cups grape/cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small chili, seeded and halved (I used a cherry hot pepper)
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
handful of basil leaves
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
salt and pepper
vegetables (what I used):
3 stalks of kale
1 bunch green onions
2 bell peppers, stems and seeds removed
1 zucchini, cut into wedges
2 ears of corn, husks removed
1 skewer full of grape tomatoes
grapeseed oil for drizzling
salt and pepper
2 sprigs of basil, leaves finely sliced
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted if you like
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
On a large baking sheet, combine the halved tomatoes, chili and garlic cloves. Drizzle 2 tbsp of the oil on top and sprinkle with chopped thyme, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Toss everything together until vegetables all have a thin coating of oil.
Roast until vegetables are tender and slightly darkened, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Place cooled roasted vegetables in the pitcher of a blender. To this, add the red wine vinegar and a bit more salt and pepper. Blend on medium-high speed until liquified. With the motor on low, remove the little top opening on the blender lid and slowly drizzle in the oil as the blender continues to mix. Once you’ve added all the oil and you have a smooth homogenous mixture, turn the motor off and remove the pitcher from the base. Taste the vinaigrette for seasoning, adjust, and set aside.
Preheat your grill to high. Drizzle the vegetables with the grapeseed oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss them around to make sure most surfaces are coated in the oil.
Place vegetables on the grill, starting with the peppers, zucchini and corn cobs. Grill until char marks appear and the vegetables become slightly tender. In the last minute of grilling these vegetables, place the kale, green onions and tomato skewer on the grill, flipping often to promote quick and even browning. Remove when kale is slightly wilted and charred. The skin on the tomatoes should blister and peel back.
To serve: place grilled vegetables on a serving dish. Drizzle with the roasted tomato vinaigrette and top with the basil and pine nuts.
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