Purple Slaw, Spicy Baked Tofu, and Food52 Love.

I came a little late to the Food52 party, but still it's a website I've enjoyed for several years.  There is always plenty of inspiration when the pantry seems bare but really is well stocked, and the community setting is comforting in the big world of Internet food.  When I see something tagged with "Genius Recipe" or "How to Make _____ Without a Recipe" (or Not Recipes as they are called), I'm always sure to give particular attention.  I think about cooking without recipes pretty frequently - especially since I tend to cook what I find on sale and also what needs to be used up, often on the fly during this homeschooling year. 

Last week, organic purple cabbages were on sale at my food co-op and when shopping on that cool Sunday evening after a weekend out of town with my boys, I couldn't shake the feeling that I needed cilantro and a fresh hot pepper and and some kind of slaw.  The next day, half of it became a medium-spicy concoction that really hit the spot.  What I had originally thought would be more Asian in flavor turned out to be more Southwestern/Mexican and I couldn't get the "without a recipe" moniker out of my head.  The second half of the cabbage was made into a similar slaw, only instead of letting the cabbage drain in a mixture of salt and sugar, I decided to just add some candied jalapenos and their juice.  It was spicier, and even better than my first attempt.  I'm pretty sure you could add anything to the slaw to make it good; just be sure to keep a rainbow of colors.

Purple slaw, topped with spicy baked tofu.

I'm not so good at typing up a non-recipe - they beg to be told word of mouth.  Basically, toss the cabbage and salt (and a tad of sugar if you want it nuanced with sweetness) together (you could add the peppers and carrots to the salted mix if you like, or if you forget add them after).  Let it stand at room temp for an hour to draw out some moisture.  Then drain it well and add the rest of the ingredients. You can omit the mayo and use Vegenaise, or skip the creamy mayo component altogether and use a couple tablespoons of cider or rice vinegar.  Just taste and go with it!  It tastes better after it sits a day, and stays remarkably crunchy for nearly a week.

Purple Slaw (vegetarian, vegan option)
serves 4-6 depending on serving size
  • 1/2 head of small purple cabbage (about 1 lb.), cut into quarters and thinly sliced
  • about 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (or more), thinly sliced
  • 1-2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 small bunch of cilantro, minced
  • 1-2 small hot peppers, thinly sliced (or several slices of candied jalapeno and a tablespoon of their brine, minced if desired
  • 1-2 spoonfuls mayonnaise (I like Hain Safflower mayo despite the non-health benefits of that particular vegetable oil...) 

spicy baked tofu.

Baked tofu is another non-recipe.  I used to follow a more rigid approach to baked tofu, but recently I've been making it this way with exceptional results.  I cut a 1 pound block of firm tofu into two even slabs, press it for at least a half hour but usually longer in a makeshift contraption of dish towels and plates and weights (cast iron pans).  Then I slice the drained tofu again into 4 total slices.  In the bottom of a baking dish, drizzle in a fair amount of sriracha, an equal amount of maple syrup (or honey), and roughly the same amount of olive oil.  Turn to fully coat, add a little salt and pepper if you feel like it, and let it sit overnight if you want - or just bake it at 425 right away.  I've been using my toaster oven to bake, which probably runs a little hotter than 425 due to the compact baking space.  I just watch it, and turn it about halfway through.  When it looks done, it's done.  I like nibbling it warm, or cubing it cold and adding it to other things.  Like the purple slaw (picture above), or these spring rolls I made for lunch today using the same slaw and more candied jalapenos...  I am totally remembering these for picnic season.

purple slaw spring rolls

Last week, I used a spicy tofu slice in a grilled sandwich which is also worth noting!  I had a few tablespoons of leftover red chard from the night before (just fried in olive oil with shallot - I'm always surprised at how good greens are this way, and I shouldn't be), some avocado, and sourdough with the crusts cut off and spread on the outside with mayo.  Last summer, Food52 highlighted Gabrielle Hamilton's method for grilled cheese, which was the way a friend of mine made grilled sandwiches more than a decade ago but I had forgotten about it.  It was a wonderful sandwich.

That's a sprinkling of those Urfa Biber chile flakes I'm still obsessed with...

While spreading the Food52 love around, I will mention the latest book to come from their collective: the Genius Recipes book.  I haven't read it yet, but it's on my list.  It includes things like Marella Hazan's tomato sauce and Michael Ruhlman's chicken.  Simple things that always work and are always good - and now all found in one tome.  I don't really need to read it before being sold on it.  Genius is genius.

When Slaw Becomes Kraut...

Time flies. I can't believe it was an entire year ago that I first met Annie Wegner LeFort at a cooking class she taught at the Bay View Community Center. I also can't believe how that chance meeting has impacted my cooking life ever since. Yesterday I took another of her classes, this one on allergy-free vegetarian cooking, and I find myself inspired all over again.

Jicama Apple Cumin Kraut.

While I have my doubts in organized education, I love learning. I especially love learning from people who are naturally great teachers. Now that I'm not required by society to be educating myself, I enjoy immensely sitting in a classroom surrounded by people of wildly different backgrounds, and learning for the sake of learning.

I have only known a handful of people with food allergies, including some in my family. Usually, it was a peanut allergy or "milk intolerance", allergies that seemed ordinary compared to today's onslaught of wheat and egg allergies. When he was younger, my Dad developed an allergy to shrimp, and I've had my own brushes with reactions to specific foodstuffs (raspberries, oysters) that thankfully seem to have subsided. There are many ideas floating around as to why food allergies of all kinds are increasing, and rather than debate the cause I find it more entertaining to explore the cooking and baking resulting from it.

I think if I was ever diagnosed with a serious, life changing food allergy, I would choose to look at all of the amazing things I could still eat. (I would count it beneficial if I could possibly be allergic to sugar, in fact.) One of the recipes that Annie made for us last night was a cabbage slaw with jicama, green apple and a good amount of cumin, something delicious everyone should eat regardless of allergy issues. I knew straight away I would have to make this myself, and to lacto-ferment it since it does use cabbage after all.

There are not many more humble or healthy things than cabbages, and today at the farmer's market, I got a rather large one for $1.00.

Strangely, Annie was the one who unknowingly inspired me to play around with lacto-fermentation. Several years ago, I got a copy of Nourishing Traditions gifted to me in a round about way. I opened and perused, dismissed most of it as "a little out there", and went on eating a relatively low-fat, skim milk diet that I assumed was healthy. I would definitely say that after discovering the Raisin-Cilantro Chutney that Annie made last year, my eyes were opened. I really began to read in many different sources, including Nourishing Traditions, about nutrient rich and real foods, fermented foods, and why they were better for me. More importantly, these types of foods required me to dote on them, conjure them into existence where they change before my eyes and taste buds. This was the kind of food I was born to make, and maybe I would never have discovered if it weren't for her.

One of the most interesting things about lacto-fermentation in particular, is that nearly anything can be given the inoculation of whey (and if you are dairy-free, salt can usually stand in unless fruit is present) and be transformed into bubbling, probiotic goodness. The slaw from our class Monday night was delicious right away, but in three day's time, I suspect it will be even more complex.

When lacto-fermenting cabbage, I use a large, food service bucket. It keeps everything nicely inside since it's 8 quarts deep, and the markings help me judge how much it has reduced and what size jar I'll likely need to pack it into. I altered the amounts of Annie's original Marinated Cabbage Salad, and adapted it for lacto-fermenting by adding whey. In my understanding, since the slaw contains fruit, you should use whey to introduce the lactobacillus and not rely solely on the salt.

Lacto-Fermented Jicama Apple Cumin Kraut (adapted from Annie Wegner Lefort)
  • half of a good size cabbage, cored
  • 2/3 of a softball sized jicama
  • half of a medium sized sweet onion
  • 1 large green apple
  • 1 1/2 t. sea salt
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 T. whey
  • 2 t. cumin powder (to taste)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 t. cayenne powder (to taste)
  • handful of basil leaves, chopped
Prepare the vegetables: using a food pro or by hand, shred the cabbage and jicama. Thinly slice the apple and onion.

Place vegetables, salt, lemon juice, whey, and spices in a large bowl or bucket and beat with a sturdy wooden spoon for about 10 minutes. The mixture will release quite a lot of liquid (see the pictures below.) Add basil leaves and chop for about a minute to disperse evenly. Taste to adjust spices.

Pack the kraut into clean glass jars with very little headspace. Tightly seal, and let sit at room temperature for 3 days before transferring to cold storage.

half a good sized cabbage was greater than 2 quarts.

entire amount of veg and apple was about 4 quarts.

finished amount was about 1 1/2 quarts kraut.

This slaw has become a kraut. And, I'm too excited to wait three days to let you know just how good it has become! I promise I will update the post when I crack open a jar on Friday or Saturday. And meanwhile if you don't want to lacto-ferment it, you can wilt the cabbage and onion with salt for a few hours, pour off the liquid, add in the rest of the ingredients (except the whey) with a 1/3 c. melted coconut oil and a little bit of honey or stevia and you'll have Annie's original recipe. (She does make a dressing with the oil, lemon juice, spices and sweetener and then adds to the vegetables.)

this is the same jar when pressed lightly with a spoon. when lacto-fermenting, you want the liquid to rise above the vegetables.

The only thing I could dislike about making lacto-ferment vegetables is the mess. I had all of my counters clean when I started, and no matter my attentiveness, I had cabbage everywhere. Luckily it's easy enough to clean up, and the jars handsomely resting on the counters in plain sight are reward enough.

I hope I never tire of taking classes. My Gram took classes well into her 60's on different things, and she certainly never stopped reading and learning on her own. I hope that will be me: that I never lose the incentive to read and that I continue to run into great teachers and inspiration from unlikely sources.

You can find a list of Annie's upcoming classes here, and while you're at it, take a look around her blog for just some of the reasons she is so inspiring!