ethnic, exotic, and tofu

I very much enjoy ordering authentic dishes at ethnic restaurants. With young kids in the house, I often play it safe when making meals. I’d rather they enjoy healthy, basic homemade fare (lean steaks and burgers, grilled pork chops, mildly seasoned chicken, etc) than refuse to eat the curries, stir-fries, and highly flavored stews (think jambalaya, cioppino) that I love. These dishes are lots of work and I’m the only one who would truly enjoy the meal. The “exotic” entrees remain restaurant fare.

True, kids learn to eat a broader variety of foods only when they’ve been exposed to this broader variety. Yet my experience has been that my girls (and husband, too) like basic and plain. While they’ll give new foods a taste, they won’t eat what they don’t like (and why should they?) and they don’t like complex and highly flavored dishes.

Tonight’s meal, then, was all about me. I had tofu in the fridge with an expiration date coming up, so decided to shake things up by whipping up Cauliflower and Tofu with Tikka Spices. The recipe came from Deborah Madison’s This Can’t Be Tofu! and I won’t bother to offer it here as I made so many changes along the way (didn’t have the right ingredients on hand, was fast and loose with measurements) that what I served was an approximation of the recipe.

Instead, I’ll offer this “formula.” I roasted and ground cumin, coriander, and cardamom seeds along with whole cloves, grated my nutmeg, then added a bit of ground turmeric, curry powder and Szechuan pepper as well as minced fresh garlic. I had cubed firm tofu, then combined it in a plastic bag with the spices, shaking it to coat. (Shake-and-bake!) The coated tofu was sautéed in olive oil with just a touch of salt. Steamed cauliflower was added to the sautéed tofu along with a can of coconut milk (key ingredient–can’t have the dish without) and a handful of cashew pieces. I also tossed in a bunch of stale kale chips that were sitting on the counter. A handful of chopped fresh basil finished it off. At the able, the dish was served with whole milk Greek yogurt for a refreshingly cool contrast.

The coconut milk and spices were fantastic together and made this curry what it was. Any protein or veg could be used and the individual spice amounts can be varied to taste, so plenty of room for variations on the theme.

Did my kids like it? Nope. My husband? Not really. But I loved the fragrance, textures, and flavors of my meal. Bonus: I have leftovers in the fridge that will taste even better tomorrow. It was for sure more work to roast and grind spices, etc, but I’m glad I made the effort. It was better than what I’d order at a restaurant (less greasy) and I enjoyed turning out something different come mealtime.

Tomorrow night I’ll be serving up simple again. But there’s another can of coconut milk in my pantry and a package of tempeh in my refrigerator, so maybe I won’t wait so long to serve up “exotic” fare again.

block of tofu

cauliflower (and tofu) curry in cast-iron

cauliflower mashup

As a teen, it occurred to me that I enjoyed food very much. I also realized that eating large amounts of food would lead to weight gain–exactly what a teenage girl wants to avoid. Thus began my love affair with vegetables. I found I could eat lots and lots and lots of veggies and still stay thin. The fact that carrots and broccoli don’t really have the same appeal as ice cream and cake didn’t seem to bother me. I ate veggies with gusto. (Admittedly, I also enjoyed and still enjoy my share of ice cream and cake. It’s all about balance, right?)

To this day, I love to cook with and eat vegetables. Green bell peppers fell off my “like” list after my first pregnancy, but other than that, there’s no vegetable I don’t enjoy.

Enter today’s “recipe.” Cauliflower, a cruciferous veg related to broccoli and cabbage, is beautiful, savory, and delicious whether steamed, roasted, or stir-fried. But it’s also fun to mash. Just steam the florets until tender (in water or broth), then mash along with a touch of sour cream, yogurt, or half-and-half for a silky smooth “puree.” I added a small amount of cooked broccoli left over from the night before to this batch, then whirred it with an immersion blender. The final dish had pretty green flecks throughout. A touch of butter stirred in at the end gives it a hint of salty richness. Or stir in freshly shredded Parmesan. My kids will even eat it.

lovely cauliflower

a pretty little mash

A note about cauliflower prep: Never one to waste food, I’ve found you can also eat cauliflower stems. (This goes for broccoli as well.) After cutting off the florets, use a small knife to trim the tough outer layer of the stem. You end up with the tender, inner core which is just as edible as the florets.

all broken up – see the stems?