Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Palak Pa"near"


Okay, so the pun is admittedly a bit of a stretch (and I’m sure you Indian food fans out there are groaning and rolling your eyes at this chef/writer) but everyone was stretching across the dinner table to snag some more of this vegan spin on the classic Indian dish.

Palak paneer is a staple on every Indian restaurant menu, consisting primarily of spinach, spices, and paneer. Paneer is a type of Indian cheese made from curds and whey and isn’t exactly easy to come by on a college campus, let alone the run-off of a colonial town. A favorite cookbook of mine, The Accidental Vegan by Devra Gartenstein, happened to have a sensible, and animal-product-free, substitute. Can you guess it? You probably can – tofu.

Tofu is a magical little protein, and you can expect it to get a featurette of its own on this blog in the not-too-distant future. As much as I would like to go into an essay on the magic and mystery of soybean curd, that is a tale for another time. So for now, take my word that this recipe is certainly not something anyone should be afraid of – omnivores and herbivores alike.
Now on to the good part: what do I need and how do I make it? Keeping with my true college-student-who-can’t-afford-nice-things-nor-has-the-time-for-multiple-course-meals style, all of the ingredients in this dish are affordable and easy to come by and the meal itself is basically prepared using just one sturdy skillet.

Palak Pa“near”

You will need:

1 cup brown basmati rice (or any rice, really)
2 cups water or vegetable stock
(You could easily substitute 5-minute or instant rice if you’re in a hurry or just lazy)

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
1 tablespoon grated ginger (ginger powder will suffice in a pinch)
2 ½ tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 10-ounce package frozen spinach (try to let it thaw for a while first)
8 ounces firm or extra-firm tofu, cut into bite-size cubes
1 tomato
cayenne pepper to taste

1. Bring a saucepan with the 2 cups of water to a boil; add the rice. Turn the heat down to low and simmer, covered for 40-45 minutes. Set a timer so you can keep track of it. The rice will be done when it is fluffy and all the water has been absorbed. If using instant rice, prepare as directed when you add the tofu and spinach later – that way everything will be done at the same time.
2. While the rice cooks you can take the opportunity to cut your onion and tomato. With everything chopped and ready (and about 15-20 minutes left on the rice) place a skillet on medium-low heat and add the oil – let it heat up a couple minutes until shimmery.
3. Add the onion, ginger, curry powder and salt and sauté until the onion is tender, about five minutes. The turmeric in the curry powder will give the onion a yellowish color.
4. Add the spinach and cook until incorporated (and fully heated if your spinach was still frozen).
5. Add the tofu and tomato and gently toss, incorporating all the ingredients, and heat for another 5 minutes or until hot. Stir often, and be gentle so as not to break up all the tofu cubes.
6. If you’ve timed it perfectly, the timer for the rice should be going off right as everything is hot and ready to serve, although perfect timing comes with practice. Serve the palak tofu over the rice, and you should have yourself 3-4 hearty servings.

This is a spectacularly colorful and aromatic dish and will easily satisfy a small dinner group, and impress them too. Share it with your fellow vegetarians, or surprise yourself (or the meat-ophiles in your life!) with an unexpectedly hearty and meat-free dish.

No Pain Lo Mein

So I got taken up by my school's online newspaper! But I'm bringing everything back here in hopes it'll all stay organized and such.

Take a look at the original here: http://flathatnews.com/blog/62/bite-size/73746

Or keep reading:

I have put this recipe through countless adaptations, changing it up based on what I have in my pantry, what I have in my refrigerator and even my mood. At its most basic, it’s a fast, simple way to have fresh lo mein-style noodles in your own home (or dormitory kitchen) and on your own college student budget. This recipe allows for a great deal of improvisation (and I will recommend a few of my own variations) so that you can step this up from a quick lunch in between classes to a classic Asian-style dinner you would be proud to serve to your friends.

There are a few things you will absolutely want to invest in for your home pantry; things you will use a countless number of times, even if for this recipe alone. Get a bottle of soy sauce, a bottle of rice vinegar and a pack of udon noodles. These three staples make up the base of this recipe – the soy sauce gives it the salt, the rice vinegar gives it that familiar sweet tang, and the udon noodles hold it all together. Of course, you could find a different kind of noodle, but stick to something that only takes a few minutes to boil – rice noodles would also be a good choice. You will be able to find all of these things in the international section of any modern supermarket. Many packs of udon noodles come with three individual single-serving bundles of noodles inside, making a quick meal for one even easier.

The Pan-Fried Asian Noodle Recipe:

You will need:
1 Tbsp. oil (olive, vegetable, peanut – you name it)*
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp. grated ginger
1 clove of garlic (or equivalent of pre-chopped garlic)*
2 Tbsp. soy sauce*
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar*
1 serving (or bundle) of noodles*
1 cup broccoli florets
1 chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped chicken or tofu

Now I’ve marked with an asterisk the bare minimum – this recipe is certainly better with a few other ingredients, but in a pinch you can throw it together with just those five.

1. Put a saucepan of water on HIGH and get it boiling – prepare the noodles as the directions call for. When they are fully cooked, strain, rinse them in cold water and set them aside.

2. While this is starting, put a medium frying pan or wok over MEDIUM heat and add the oil. When the oil looks shimmery and hot, add the garlic (and onion and ginger if using) and sauté 1-2 minutes until light golden and extremely aromatic.

3. At this point, add the chicken/tofu, broccoli, carrots, and a splash more oil if there is none left in the pan. Continue sautéing this for 3-4 minutes (or until the chicken is fully cooked). Add the soy sauce and rice vinegar and continue to stir-fry for another minute.

4. Using a slotted spoon or tongues, remove as much of the protein and vegetables as you can and set aside, leaving only the sauce in the pan. Add the rinsed noodles and stir-fry until most of the sauce is absorbed. (Take a quick taste of the noodles – if they’re too salty add another splash of rice vinegar, and if they’re too sour, add another splash of soy sauce.)

5. Add the vegetables/protein back to the pan and continue cooking until all the food is hot and fully incorporated into the stir fry.

It doesn’t get any simpler than that! But it can get more interesting:

Try adding a tablespoon of peanut butter when you add the soy sauce and rice vinegar and stir until it melts – this will thicken the sauce and add a sweet peanut flavor the dish.

Also try adding the juice from 1 lime and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper for some spice and tang. (I like to add this and the peanut butter for a taste resembling pad thai.)