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.

Oh... Those Obsessions!

It's true, I get obsessed. And easily at that. Last night, I went to a cooking class at the Bay View Community Center taught by Annie Wegner-LeFort on Summer Vegetarian Cooking. I went because I like taking classes, because I like cooking seasonal vegetarian, and because I really wanted to meet Annie. I didn't realize that I kind of already knew and admired her from afar. A huge light bulb lit over my head when I found out that she is the pastry chef at Sheridan's, where I had the most memorable chai shortbread cookie several months ago...

I had read the press release when they opened the restaurant and boutique hotel, and dismissed it to my mental warehouse. Sometimes I feel as if I move in obscure circles around people - ingesting information that is learned and then stored, until I realize I've gleaned so many little bits that they add up to a mostly complete picture, sans actual meeting. That's good, and yet a bit sad that I only know people from a voyeuristic Internet reality...

Annie's class was really great. Some people, are just natural teachers, and I like watching them, as I feel that I am not. I like to think I'm a natural consultant, which is a far less noble profession than teaching. If I've read it, likely it is rolodexed in my mind, and ready to pop out of my mouth at opportune (and inopportune) moments... but good teachers need the tact and gentleness to repeat themselves, the ability to be gracious and generous with themselves to others, and the good ones accomplish this with such ease it fills me with envy.

While I could tell I felt kindred-ly at home with the recipes she provided us in print, this one that really impressed me most was one I actually already had in my possession, and yet never have tried: Cilantro-Raisin Chutney from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. Before the class started, I read over our handout and politely dismissed this little gem of a recipe, and so wrongfully so. When I had my first taste, obsession quickly set in. Although it was a vegetarian cooking class, she mentioned that it was great on pork, serendipitous since that is what I had already planned for supper tonight. Needless to say, I got some cilantro today (I've left mine to seed, so I can replant), and made up a batch. I will be reveling it it until the weekend, methinks.

I was excited to share my new obsession with my Husband, who is also a cilantro fan. He was briefly excited, until he felt the sting of "licorice-ness" on his tongue. He even went as far as to tell me he thought it was really good, until he discovered that licorice aftertaste. The anise seed is what he tasted, and I love this so much, that I'll leave it out on the next go around to see if it appeals to him more; he is an avid hater of licorice.

To glean the whey needed (which could easily be omitted), I strained some of my yogurt, which came in handy for the taste-testing. I ended up eating my afternoon snack of yogurt mixed with this versatile condiment and a few grains of raw sugar, perfection in my book. I could eat this chutney as a soup, I'm pretty sure - but I now know that it will end up on sandwiches, bread (I'm thinking flat bread of some sort here), lentil burgers (another great recipe Annie provided) as well as just about anything else I can think of. It's really that good.

I found that I didn't need to add any additional water, but you can add it to your preference.

Cilantro-Raisin Chutney (inspired by Annie Wegner-LeFort, by way of Sally Fallon)
  • 1 1/2 c. raisins, soaked in warm water for 1 hour
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small bunch of cilantro, stems removed
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1/4 t. red pepper flakes
  • 1 t. powdered coriander
  • 1 t. cumin powder
  • 1 1/2 t. freshly grated ginger
  • 1 t. sea salt
  • 2 T. whey
  • 1/2 c. water
Pulse garlic and cilantro in a food pro until coarsely chopped. Drain raisins, and add to processor along with remaining ingredients, except water. (You can also toast the spices gently in a cast iron skillet, I did this even though I had to use some powdered spices.) Add water judiciously until your desired consistency is reached.

Pack into a clean glass jar, and let sit at room temperature for 2 days before transferring to cold storage.

(Annie also mentioned that this recipe freezes well, not that I'm going to need to find out. ) I have plans for this stuff for the rest of the week, and just thinking about it makes me excited all over again.

Almost as excited as this modified slaw that I've been eating since yesterday:

Cabbage, green pepper, Hungarian wax peppers, jalapeno peppers and a bit of celery seed tossed with salt and a little sugar and left to drain in a colander at room temp for a few hours until some of the moisture has drained out. Tonight, I mixed what wasn't already eaten with rice wine vinegar and olive oil. Still crunchy, still addictive - and really ready for just about anything. I had some on a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch today and why I'd ever need another condiment, I don't know. My Husband did like this one on the side of his pork chop, and what he didn't eat, I happily lapped up off his plate for him. (I feel like planning ahead and soaking some wheat berries to toss with the rest, but I have too much other stuff to eat up! Ahhh, summer.)

I feel somewhat geeky for getting so excited about the condiment side of things. I mean, these are no projects requiring time and attention for days, these are amazements that can be concocted with abandon in mere moments! Their flavors are varied enough to be enjoyed with a host of different cuisine options for days before their welcome wears on, and they really are Obsessions.

I couldn't be happier that I attended this class, and that this recipe is mine to be made for years on into the future. Whenever I taste it, I will happily be transported back to that little Bay View Community Center classroom and Annie's description of it, and that makes it even better. Be sure to go and pay Annie a visit at her blog, The LeFort Urban Homestead, you will be then be full of inspiration and new obsessions of your own. She can have that effect on people.