Poblano Peppers with a Black Chickpea Filling

Looking at the picture, you might think that looks like a lot of work.

You would be correct. Stuffed peppers are a lot of work to do well.

They can be done poorly very easily: slap cooked rice and some other stuff, mostly tomato sauce, into a raw bell pepper with the top cut off; bake until listless and flabby. Remove from oven. Eat; regret eating.

A good stuffed pepper, on the other hand, needs to start out with a thin-skinned variety, needs roasting or frying to make its flesh savory and flavorful, careful work to open the peppers up, and a filling with some character to give the whole thing a reason to live.

Black chickpeas have that character. They’re truly nutty and have slightly tough skins that keep them from cooking to wan split starchiness, as regular chickpeas will if unattended. For that reason, they grind up well in bits once cooked, rather than easily becoming hummus. Their toothsome nature occurred to me as a good texture for this spot where ground meat is usually found.

When it gets hot in Fresno, and boy, is it getting hot in Fresno this week, I tend to turn to Mediterranean foods. I flipped through a few of my Greek cookbooks to get ideas for this recipe, and not having looked at them for a while, I remembered why they seem like such a good idea in the summer – all those cool flavors and vegetable salads.

So the filling is Mediterranean-influenced. Onions, both raw and cooked, make an appearance, as well as copious garlic, salty feta and olives, bright lemon juice and green notes from parsley and mint.

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Sloppy Mobys

Eh, the lighting needs work in that, but the important part of the lighting task is accomplished: you can see what it is that’s being photographed. My Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Internal Regulation System says: “That’s good enough. Sit down and eat now.”

A few years ago now – yikes, it was probably 1999, back when I was working for Whole Foods, because it was when Play was first out – I made a hot lentil sauté on hamburger buns, inspired by the idea of Sloppy Joes, which I never liked as a kid, but the idea of that kid-ish-inspired food seemed like fun. We called them Sloppy Mobys, because they were vegan, and Moby was very much the uber-vegan symbol at the time. This isn’t meant to strongly resemble actual Sloppy Joes made of meat; it’s the idea I liked.

The idea came back to me recently, so we had something like that this past week, tucked into whole-wheat pita instead of on burger buns, because I couldn’t find any whole-wheat burger buns, and I am that insufferable whole-grain type.

I didn’t even eat most of this as sandwiches, either – after one dinner with it that way, the rest of it I added a little water to and ate as soup – and it was great.

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Vegetarian Rogan Josh

I’ve been flipping through The Foods of India in the last week or so. It’s been sitting unused for a long time.

I have a pile of Indian cookbooks; this is the only one that isn’t vegetarian. I’ve never bothered to buy non-veg Indian cookbooks as a matter of course. It was a gift, though, and I love the look of the book. However, it’s rather amazing that a book could be written about the food of India and end up predominantly devoted to meat dishes. But it’s absolutely beautiful; a coffee-table book, for sure.

Though large, (too tall for my cookbook shelves in its coffee-table sized format) this book isn’t comprehensive, of course, no volume on the food of India could be. It’s mostly focused on Northern Indian dishes, and actually, it’s a pretty good guide to the foods of India that you would usually see in an Indian restaurant in the U.S.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, if you want to learn how to make Butter Chicken, or just look at a phenomenally beautiful photograph of it, why not?

But I’ve always felt bad about not making better use of it, since Indian food is by far my favorite thing to cook, and I always need new ideas to try out. It appeals to the part of me that likes complex problems and well-developed concepts. I find it more rewarding to make an Indian dish than something in which the method is easily revealed, as all the component parts are readily identifiable. Making vegetables on top of pasta just doesn’t light my fire.

I’ll admit, I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to Indian meat dishes. There’s never been any reason for me to learn them. The fortunate thing about them, though, is that unlike dishes in Continental cuisines, which tend to focus strongly on particular cuts of meat that must stand on their own, many Indian meat dishes are sauce-based. This is a boon for vegetarians, as it’s far easier to replace cubed pieces of meat than a rack of lamb. (Replacing the rack of lamb is where we get into the Compensating Vegetarian territory, already discussed.)

The Rogan Josh recipe I ran across in this book was one such. The sauce sounded great. I knew that Rogan Josh was lamb, but I really didn’t know any more about it than that. Reading around, I figured out that it’s a Kashmiri dish. Chunks of boneless lamb, onions, garlic, ginger and yogurt are common to all the recipes. Beyond that, the spices vary, but the closer-to-the-source recipes seem to include cardamom, cinnamon, bay, cloves and paprika. (The original in the book bears a very striking resemblance to Madhur Jaffrey’s Rogan Josh.)

Chunks of boneless lamb could just as well be chunks of boneless tofu, I thought. (Some omnivores may guffaw here, but the herbivores might nod along.)

So I made it, with tofu and cauliflower instead of the lamb. As always, this is an adaptation with significant changes from the original recipe. Chimp thinks this is great – I think it still needs a little work. If I do this again, I’ll probably deep-fry the tofu first instead of roasting it near the end – that would help the texture be more meatlike.

Continue reading “Vegetarian Rogan Josh”

Roasted Tofu and Mushrooms

Oh yeah, doesn’t that sound awesome?

Really, if you’ve never liked tofu, this is a good place to start. The time in the oven does away with the squishy cloudlike blandness, reducing the tofu to crispy-edged little hunks of protein and the mushrooms to an intensely flavored chewy adjunct. It really is good.

As a bonus, once the initial chopping is done, this dish requires very little tending – it goes in the oven and requires only an occasional stir.

This is a fine thing to toss with just about any stir-fry. The reason for doing it in the oven is that browning tofu in a pan takes a lot of time, attention, and oil, and adds enormously to the time it takes to get a stir-fry together. If you can do the tofu part in the oven, where it can tend itself, everything else goes much easier. At the end, serve yourself your rice, stir-fry, and then some tofu and mushrooms on top.

There is garlic powder in this recipe, which I hardly ever use – I have it on hand for garlic bread. Sure, I love bruschetta with fresh garlic rubbed across its surface, but I also like the more pedestrian butter and garlic salt broiled until bubbling. The reason it’s here is because fresh garlic would scorch, and the idea of the dish is really more in line with that broiled garlic bread. You could make this without the garlic powder and then toss in a couple cloves of fresh garlic at or near the end, which I’m sure would be wonderful as well, but the idea was for this to be easy.

Now you know I’m a garlic powder apologist. (That phrase does not currently appear on Google…am I the first?)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

1 lb. extra-firm tofu, drained and thoroughly patted dry (I’ve used Nasoya and White Wave in this recipe with equal success), then cut into 1/2” squares.
1-6 oz. package cremini mushrooms (look for “baby bellas” if they’re not labeled as cremini), stems removed, cleaned, and finely chopped

1 T. fresh ginger, minced
1/2 t. ginger powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 t. paprika
2 T. tamari
2 t. sesame oil
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt to taste

Place the tofu and mushrooms in a 13×9 glass baking dish. Combine the seasoning ingredients and pour over the tofu. Toss all ingredients to combine. Place in the oven on the middle rack, and roast, stirring every ten minutes or so, until the tofu is well-colored, the mushrooms have reduced in volume, and the whole mixture is more dry. This will take 30-40 minutes. The tofu will continue to firm up and shrink after it is removed from the oven, so it does not need to be completely dry when removed from the heat.

This method is also quite nice when the mushrooms are replaced with red peppers.

Spicy Basil Tofu

Another from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen, though this is a Thai classic.  This is great along with some stir-fried green beans and rice.  Having a Thai Basil plant that’s trying to overrun all the other basils in its planting bed is a great boon when making this recipe.

2 T. soy sauce (I use tamari)
2 T. water
2 t. light brown sugar
2 T. oil (peanut or canola)
2-3 fresh chiles, (preferably red Thai chiles), stemmed, seeded, and minced
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 pound extra-firm or firm tofu, crumbled and blotted dry between several layers of paper towels
1 small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced
1/3 c. thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

Combine the soy sauce, water, and brown sugar in a small bowl, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat until shimmering.  Add the chiles and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 20 seconds.  Add the tofu and stir-fry until lightly colored and firm, about 2 minutes.  Add the bell pepper and soy mixture and stir-fry until the pepper has softened and the liquid has evaporated, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Stir in the basil and stir-fry until wilted, about 20 seconds.  Serve immediately.

Mogul “Lamb” with Turnips

Okay, I have to get this one posted before the weekend ends. This…is….so…good. I cannot even begin to tell you how good it is. It’s going to be a new standard recipe of mine. There is a beautiful full-page shot of this recipe in The Food of India published by Murdoch Books, which I got recently. (It was published in the UK, and I can’t find it listed on Amazon, or else I’d put up a link.) I took one look at the picture and decided I had to make this dish. Of course, in the cookbook it’s lamb and I’ve used seitan, but it’s truly, absolutely, unbelievably wonderful. I upped some of the seasoning a little bit because seitan wouldn’t bring as much nuanced flavor to the dish as lamb would, but it was already a pretty highly seasoned recipe to begin with. This isn’t hard, either. It is a little expensive – three containers of seitan – but I swear I’m going to do some experiments on how to make seitan at home. I have the gluten flour, I just have to find a good formula.

The amount of oil is ridiculous, I know – wanting to be true to the recipe the first time I made it, I used the full amount, but I think it could be reduced by half and still be good, though it would lack the glorious oily juiciness. It’s Indian-restaurant-level oily – not quite Afghan-restaurant-level oily.

The note in the book says this recipe is usually reserved for special occasions (the amount of oil is certainly a special-occasion amount) and served with chapatis or naan. I made chapatis.

2 onions, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves
5 cm piece of ginger
2 green chilies (serranos)
1/2 c. oil
2 bay leaves
3 packages White Wave Chicken-Style Seitan (it’s the kind in the tofu tub with the yellow label. I know chicken-style isn’t lamb-style, but vegetarians don’t have that many seitan styles to choose from.)
pinch of asafetida
1/2 t. cayenne powder
2 T. ground coriander
2 T. ground cumin
1/4 t. turmeric
1/2 t. garam masala
2 T. tomato paste
2 T. plain yogurt
1 T. salt
1 t. ground black pepper
2 lbs. turnips, peeled and quartered (it’d be nice if you could find baby ones – I had some the week before I made this, but when I went back I struck out.)
1 c. minced cilantro

Put the garlic, ginger, and chilies in a food processor and chop them to form a paste. Heat all the oil except 1 T. in a large, deep pan and add the onions, the mixture from the food processor, and the bay leaves. Fry over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium and fry for another 2 minutes. Don’t let the onions turn more than golden brown. Add the seitan, increasing the heat if necessary, and stir until all the pieces are thoroughly coated with the onion mixture. Fry for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The seitan will brown somewhat.

While the seitan is frying, add the last T. of oil to a small frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. When it is hot but not smoking, add the asafetida, cayenne powder, coriander, cumin, turmeric and garam masala and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Be careful that it doesn’t burn. When the seitan is finished frying, turn the fried spice mixture into the seitan. Add the tomato paste and yogurt. Fry for another minute and add the salt and pepper. Place the turnips in the pan, pour in 2 c. water, cover the pan, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

If you have a pressure cooker, you can bring the stew to pressure, cook for 15 minutes, then release the pressure under running water.

When the stew is finished cooking, add the cilantro and stir gently. Serve with flatbread.

Vegetarian Shammi Kebab Patties

A non-success, but a qualified non-success. Next time, it will be successful.

I would never call myself an Indian-cooking expert, but I do a fair bit of it, and am comfortable enough with most of the ingredients and procedures to improvise. I’ve also made quite a few of these fried garbanzo flour items, (like the recently-posted Cabbage Kofta) and am at the point where I don’t need a recipe to follow for the basic preparation. This was different, though, since it contained ground black garbanzo beans, an ingredient I hadn’t used before, and it was intended as a kebab patty rather than as a dumpling to put in a sauce or yogurt. My plan was to serve these with kebab-style broiled veggies, rice pilaf, and a yogurt sauce. Everything else in the dinner came out great.

This recipe was billed by the author (Neelam Batra, just so you know where I’m directing my complaint) as a meat-style kebab patty for vegetarians. She says, “It is very easy to pass these kebabs off as the authentic ones made with minced lamb or goat meat, because they look, taste, and smell like them. It’s a shame when they get thrown in the trash by vegetarian friends (especially at large gatherings) who mistakenly think they are being served forbidden foods.”

That’s high praise, right? I thought so too. Unfortunately, the recipe didn’t quite live up to that level of hype. It was also unclear how much water the beans should be cooked in, and because of that lack of clarity, it was then not clear how much water was needed in the batter. I added 1 cup, which seemed like the most reasonable interpretation of the recipe, and it was clearly too much. After adding the remaining ingredients and processing them, I tried deep-frying one dumpling, and it disintegrated in the oil. Too much water. I ended up adding double the garbanzo bean flour specified in the recipe, along with more than a corresponding increase in the seasonings, and the dumplings were still extraordinarily bland. I will say that the finished product was meat-like in that it was mild and somewhat chewy, but it wasn’t a result I’d try to achieve again.

To be fair, Batra’s recommendation on cooking the black garbanzo beans works very well, and none of my beans split, always an issue with garbanzos. Next time I cook regular garbanzo beans, I’ll cook the beans for a shorter time and let the pressure drop by itself rather than dousing the cooker with cold water as I usually do. On re-reading the recipe, I was able to figure out how much water she wanted where, but it wasn’t clear on a first read-through or when I was making the recipe.

Next time I try to make this recipe in particular, I’ll probably make the beans a greater proportion of the mixture, and add some onion and garlic to boot. At that point they’re starting to get into falafel territory, I know, but the Indian spices will keep them from going too far that way.

Ingredient note: Black garbanzo beans are different than regular garbanzo beans. They’re smaller, darker, and have a more pronounced beak. They’re also supposedly even better for you than regular garbanzo beans, but I don’t have a research study to point you to right this minute.

1 c. dried black garbanzo beans, soaked
3 c. water
2 t. garam masala
2 t. salt
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2-in. piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 c. firmly packed cilantro, soft stems included
2 c. garbanzo bean flour
oil for deep frying

Place the garbanzo beans and 3 c. water in a pressure cooker. Bring to pressure and cook for four minutes after the regulator starts rocking. Turn off the heat and let the pressure drop by itself, 10 to 15 minutes. Open the pressure cooker and check to see if the bans are tender. If not, cook for another minute or two under pressure, with additional water if required. With the food processor fitted with the metal S-blade and the motor running, puree the garlic and ginger together. Stop the motor, add the cilantro, and process until smooth. Stop the motor and add the cooked garbanzo beans, the garam masala, the salt, and 1 c. of the cooking liquid and process until smooth. Remove the mixture to another bowl and shape into small balls with the use of two spoons.

She asks you to deep-fry them at 350-375. I think mine would have blown apart at that temperature. I think mine were deep fried at about 275-300 on my thermometer. Next time I’ll provide a more comprehensive answer.

I know, why would I want to go through this debacle again? It’s such a good *idea*, though.