Roasted tofu with smoky chipotle tamarind sauce

Roasted saucy tofu

Roasted saucy tofu

I think we can all agree that the world would be a better place if everyone was exactly like me. Well, not like me, necessarily, just exactly like each other, but since I’m writing this from the confines of my own brain, that’s how I’ll imagine it. Think of the peace! The concord! We’d all have the same views on religion and politics. Would we even need politics anymore? We’d have no disputes to settle, no conflicts to solve. We’d have a natural empathy that would require no effort at all. We’d understand each other’s needs because they’d be our needs! So much nastiness in life is caused by envy and insecurity, but those problems would be eliminated. Nobody would be prettier than anyone else, or smarter, or more successful! Everybody would be equally good at the same things. Of course, everybody would be equally bad at the same things, too. So if everybody happened to be exactly like me, we’d have no buildings to live in, in fact our shelters would be ramshackle at best. We wouldn’t be able to help much if people got sick, because we’d never have been able to invent medicines. We wouldn’t have cars and roads, but we’d be okay with that because we’d all be pretty happy just walking around town. Of course we wouldn’t be a town, just a disorganized mess of poorly constructed lean-tos. And when there was a thunderstorm we would all go into a cold panic, huddled in our hovels, with no rational person to comfort us. We would all appreciate each other’s films (although in certain moods we’d be hyper-critical of them), and they wouldn’t cost much, because all of us would decide that we have no need for money. But we wouldn’t actually be able to make them, because we wouldn’t have ever invented the technology necessary. We would like all the food we made, but we’d have limited supplies to cook with, because we’d have no idea how to harvest wheat, or how to grow half the vegetables that we would love to eat if only we’d ever encountered them. And would we even want to cook anymore? Because we wouldn’t have the joy of sharing something with somebody, waiting to see if they like it, and then rejoicing when they do. And, you know, it wouldn’t be too boring at first, because all of us talk to ourselves in our heads half the time anyway. Eventually, yes, it might get a little stale to never ever have a new idea based on some experience you’d never had yourself, to never hear a word you’d never heard before. To never have a conversation with somebody that’s delightful because it’s completely unexpected and surprising. Never mind the fact that after a few nights of insomnia I’m so sick of my own damn thoughts that I could cry. Never you mind that! And we’d all get along, and it would be pleasant enough, we’d all sort of be friends. But there wouldn’t be anybody to be a special friend, to share a moment of unexpected intimacy, to charm you with their odd turns of phrase and fascinate you with their unique experiences or beliefs. There wouldn’t be anybody to vex you with their contrariness. There wouldn’t be anyone to surprise you with an unexpected gesture. There wouldn’t be anybody to love because they’re strange to you and you’ve never met anybody like them.
roasted tofu

roasted tofu

This is only the second tofu recipe ever on my vegetarian food blog! Weird, right? The truth is I only like tofu when it’s crispy, so I fry it in olive oil on the stove, but then my kitchen smells funny for days. Well, I thought I’d try roasting it. And I roasted it in a sauce made of smoked paprika, tamarind, chipotle, onions, shallots, sage…a version of barbeque sauce, I guess. I think it turned out very good. Not crispy, exactly, but with a nice texture, firm and yummy. The boys liked it, too, which was my goal in making it in the first place. The kids need protein!

Here’s Jumping Someone Else’s Train by The Cure. Again and again and again and again…

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Broccoli and chickpeas in coconut curry sauce

Broccoli chickpea coconut curry

Broccoli chickpea coconut curry

Well! I’ve finally finished Brothers Karamazov, and to celebrate we’re going to have a party. I sent Malcolm to the store and I told him to tell the shopkeeper that Claire sends her greetings, “and will be there directly…. But listen, listen, tell them to have champagne, three dozen bottles, ready before I come, and packed as it was to take to Mokroe. I took four dozen with me then…they know all about it, don’t you trouble…Stay, listen; tell them to put in cheese, Strasburg pies, smoked fish, ham, caviare, and everything, everything they’ve got, up to a hundred roubles, or a hundred and twenty as before…. But wait: don’t let them forget dessert, sweets, pears, watermelons, two or three or four — no, one melon’s enough, and chocolate, candy, toffee, fondants;” That being vegetarian versions of smoked fish and ham, of course! And David said I have to write a twenty page paper on the book, so I’ll share that here, shall I? Ready? Do you have your glass of tea and plate of salted fish and cherry jam? Let’s begin! I’m kidding, of course! No scholarly paper. However, I read that Dostoyevsky had intended to write a sequel about the life of Alyosha, but he died before he had the chance. So I’ve decided to take it upon myself to complete the task. A bit of Karamazov fan fiction, if you will. Of course, we’re going to sex it up a bit for our modern audience. No tortured discussions about spirituality or morality – there’s just no market for that these days. Instead, it’s all going to go like this… Lise, of course, is a vampire. Weak, pale, pretty and wicked, what else could she be? But she’s one of those sparkly vampires. And she bites Alyosha, and then dresses him like this, “I should like you to have a dark blue velvet coat, a white pique waistcoat, and a soft grey felt hat….” And then Alyosha, instead of wandering around trying to solve everybody’s problems and worrying for their souls, will solve all their problems by relieving them of their souls, and turning them, too, into sparkly vampires. Meanwhile, Dmitri’s attempt at escape from prison (which will be described in nail-bitingly extensive detail) will fail, and he’ll be sent to Siberia in exile. But this won’t be a dull, workaday work camp kind of story. Oh no! It will be subtitled Survivor: Siberia, and will tell the tale of a bevy of lordly types roughing it in a grand competition in the frozen wastes of Siberia. They’ll be voted out of exile one at a time, until the winner remains alone. Sadly, he’ll still be alone in exile for twenty years, which will be dull, so we’ll forget all about him. And Ivan, broody young Ivan, will provide the comic relief, as he sets up an apartment with his pesky devil, and they bicker humorously about whether or not either of them exists! Until, of course, he’s turned into a vampire by Lise and then… Well, I confess I haven’t figured out how to end it yet. Something big! Something thrilling! Leave them wanting more! Yes. Actually, I feel a little irreverent for speaking of Brothers Karamazov in this way! It touched me very deeply, and gave me much to think about, and I feel such genuine affection for Dmitri, with his wild impulsive ways and his generous heart, Ivan, with his oddly hopeful despairing cynicism, and, of course sweet, honest, strong Alyosha.

So, broccoli, chickpeas and corn in a curried coconut sauce. This was delicious! And every member of the family liked it and ate several helpings, and I ate the leftovers cold before bed one night. It struck me that the mix of ingredients and spices was a little odd, but I liked them all together. It’s a little sweet, a little spicy, and quite savory all at once. We ate it over basmati rice, and that was nice!

Here’s Saint Behind the Glass by Los Lobos (from Nacho Libre), because it seems to fit!

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Fried green tomato pakoras and cilantro, tamarind, almond sauce

Fried green tomato pakoras

September 11, 2001 was a perfect golden day, just like today. We had just moved to the town we now live in from Boston. It felt like coming home. I felt as glowingly hopeful as the weather. And then, of course, everything changed. So much has been written and spoken about that day – I feel like there are no more words for it. Everybody has a story of where they were, and how they heard, and friends that they lost. It’s impossible to forget the dizzying feeling of standing in a bright green world, with a vast, clear blue sky overhead, thinking about the horror occurring so nearby. And what a tangled mess in the years that followed, when the tragedy was cynically exploited to keep us in a constant state of fear, to build support for a war that caused so much more death. Our world changed, and it kept on changing, with all of the lies, and mistrust, and disappointment. And little did we know, in our own small world, how soon our life would change – Malcolm was born exactly ten months later. And, to be honest, half of his class was born around the same time. September 11 babies. Because it’s also impossible to forget the feeling of clinging to life and love and hope. It sounds trite and saccharine now, as I write it, but it was such a strong, renewing feeling at that time. It’s discombobulating to think about Malcolm’s life, sometimes, to think about his bright, strong, creative spirit, and to think that his whole life we’ve been at war, or preparing for war.

Little Malcolm

Phew, I was not going to go on like this! There are no more words, she says, and then she rambles on and on! I was going to talk about tomatoes. Tomatoes – they have such a lovely life cycle, where we live. They grow all summer, the little sweet ones ripening early, a delightful promise of more to come. The weighty, ripe, beautiful late summer tomatoes come all at once, so warm and sweet and juicy, and they continue on into autumn, as their leaves wither around them, and the fruit glows like bright stained glass. I went picking last week, and I got a lot of green tomatoes, because I find them an inspiring challenge. As I was picking I got very excited with the idea of making these fried green tomato pakoras. Hooboy they were good! The batter perfectly crisp and tasty, the tomatoes inside soft and just the right amount sweet. The sauce was good too – cilantro and jalapenos from the farm, brightened by tamarind and tempered by almonds.

Cilantro almond tamarind sauce

Here’s Talib Kweli’s The Proud, which is one of the most honest and intelligent songs about 9/11 and how complicated it was (and it samples Nina Simone!)

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Sesame tamarind broccoli

There’s a shocking secret behind this dish. First, I should tell you that it was very tasty. I should also tell you that Isaac, the world’s pickiest eater, ate most of this all by himself. He showed very little interest in the mound of macaroni and butter on his plate, in fact he shoved it aside to make room for more broccoli. The bowl of broccoli started in the middle of the table, and he slowly pulled it closer and closer to his plate. In the end, he ate straight out of the bowl. And now, for the shocking secret…I used leftover tamarind sauce from an Indian takeout meal!! Da da da dummmmmmmmm. You know when you get a meal from an Indian restaurant, and they give you a little container of mint-cilantro sauce (that’s the green one) and another of tamarind sauce (that’s the dark purply red one), and they taste so good that you don’t want to throw them away, even though you have nothing left to dip in them? Have you ever wondered what else you could do with them? Well! Here’s a solution. I got a beautiful little bunch of broccoli from our CSA. I wanted to do something simple with it, and I decided to try simmering it briefly in a tamarind broth. I added a little garlic, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a spoonful of black sesame seeds, and that was that! Oh, and I topped with a bit of fresh basil, because at the moment everything I make gets a bit of fresh basil! If you don’t have tamarind sauce left from an Indian restaurant, you could add a dash of honey and balsamic (or lemon). It wouldn’t be the same, but it would still have that sweet/sour quality that tamarind imparts.

Here’s The Heptones with Sweet Talking 12″ disco mix! It’s beautiful. Sweet and a touch melancholy. Sigh.
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Roasted butternut and black bean kofta

butternut squash black bean kofta

I feel like I’ve been seeing meatballs everywhere lately. All the internets and newspapers and magazines are brimming over with them. Is this a “food trend” that we have before us? Perhaps, subconsciously, that’s where I got the idea for these. We obviously need a vegetarian version! I’m fascinated that different cultures seem to have their own take on the notion of little balls of meat and grains and veg and spices. My son’s favorite dish to order from an Indian restaurant is malai kofta, which is one variation on the idea. Decades ago, I saw pumpkin kibbeh listed on a menu at a Lebanese restaurant. I’ve been intrigued by the idea for years! This is sort of my imagining of a vegetarian meatball/kibbeh/kofta. It combines roasted butternut squash, smashed black beans, bulgar, bread crumbs, a bit of cheese and an egg. These are seasoned with oregano, basil, sage, smoked paprika, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon. Flavorful little bundles! I thought about frying them on top of the stove, but in the end I coated them in olive oil and then baked them in a hot oven instead. They still came out quite crispy, but soft in the middle. I made a spicy chipotle tamarind sauce to go with them, and we ate them with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado and warm pita bread. Plus oven roasted rosemary french fries. But I have different plans for them tonight! I’m having trouble concentrating on this! My little son is home (not very) sick from school, and I’m getting a tutorial on the shades of difference between his two Luke Skywalker toys!

Here’s Josh White’s One Meatball.
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Slow cooked urad dal and black-eyed peas

urad dal and black-eyed peas

My son got a couple of science experiment kits for christmas. I got a slow-cooker. I’ve never had one before! I like the idea of trying to figure out how to use it without reading too much about it. I feel just like a 6-year-old with a box full of mad experiments to try!!

The first thing I thought to cook in the big beautiful black stoneware pot was Urad Dal. I bought some this summer at an Indian grocery store. They’re beautiful, tiny, black ovoid lentils. They need to cook for a loooooong time, on a looooooow heat. And then they turn out delcious! I matched them with black-eyed peas, because they both have an earthy flavor, and because I liked the little black beans with white spots, and the larger white beans with black spots. I seasoned them with allspice, ginger, cardamom, coriander and basil. Bright and sweet – to go with the earthy. And I cooked them in butter, because Dal Makhani, the traditional urad dal dish, is cooked with butter, yogurt and cream, and I wanted to give a nod to that. Turned out yummy! I cooked it for 6 hours on high, and I think it would have been done an hour earlier, but I wasn’t home. Very tasty with basmati rice and cauliflower in a spicy cashew-almond sauce. It’s not the prettiest dish you’ve ever made, but if you stir in some chopped tomatoes and cilantro at the end, it will have a bit of color and fresh flavor.

This was fun to make in a slow cooker, because I could leave the house with minimal fear of burning it down. But I’ve also cooked urad dal on a low burner for 5 hours, and that’s worked, too. So if you don’t have a slow cooker…don’t despair.

Of course it’s got to be Slow and Low by the Beastie Boys. That is the tempo!!
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