Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Marinated Tempeh Stir-Fry

Tempeh is my new favorite protein to use when preparing a vegetarian dinner. The flavor of the fermented soybeans is well-suited to simple stir-frys, and the consistency is nothing like the soft or crumbly tofu I've had in the past. The first time I served it and asked the hubs what he thought, he responded 'I'm still not convinced this isn't meat' (as he devoured his bowl).  Ace.  

I usually make a variation on a theme of the recipe below, swapping out whatever vegetables I have on hand, and changing the flavor profile by adding sushi vinegar, basil, onions, fish sauce (sparingly!), etc.  So take this as a blueprint and go wild, using whatever marinade/sauce and vegetable combos you feel like.  Make sure your soy sauce and any other sauces or seasoning are gluten-free if you're cooking g-f.  

Southern Spoon blog: marinated tempeh stir-fry
marinated tempeh and fresh vegetable stir-fry

I've served this with both rice noodles (as pictured above) and rice, and I prefer a combination of brown and white rice.  The natural tang of the tempeh and the added marinade can be intense-- the rice does a good job of absorbing and more evenly distributing the strong flavors.  You might also try using a thinner Asian noodle, adding a teaspoon of rice bran or sesame oil after they are cooked to keep them from sticking.

I'm sure tempeh would also work well in a Thai-inspired soup or a Moroccan-style tagine, though I'm too hooked on this stir-fry at the moment to experiment with anything else.  Give it a go and see what you think-- it's a delicious alternative to the bean-based meatless meals we tend to turn to.  

Marinated Tempeh Stir-Fry
3-4 hearty servings

1 package tempeh (regular or your preferred grain mix, not pre-marinated)
3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoons sushi vinegar, sake, or rice wine vinegar
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
2 cups chopped fresh green beans
1 red bell pepper (capiscum)
Additional vegetables as desired (baby spinach, mini corns, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, etc.)
Additional seasoning as desired (1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, juice from 1/4 of a lime, 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes, etc.)
3 cups hot, cooked rice (white, brown, or combination) or thin Asian noodles

Chop the tempeh into 1 cm cubes, and place in a shallow dish.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and the sushi vinegar over the tempeh, tossing to coat. Leave to marinate while you chop the vegetables.

Finely chop the onion and garlic, then coursely chop or thinly slice the remaining vegetables you'd like to add to the stir-fry.  

Coat a wok or large skillet with a good spray of olive oil (adding a teaspoon of sesame oil if you have it), and heat over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add the vegetables and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, sauteeing for about 6-7 minutes, then the garlic, tossing evenly.  At this point, you may add a tablespoon of oyster sauce, a 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of fish sauce, 1/4 teaspoon of chili flakes, and/or the juice of a 1/4 of a lime, if desired.

Drain the tempeh and reserve the marinade.  Add the tempeh to the vegetable stir-fry and continue to toss until the tempeh is hot.  At this point, taste the stirfry and see whether you would like a stronger flavor.  If so, add the reserved marinade, a teaspoon at a time, until the desired flavor is achieved.  

Serve immediately over rice.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cajun Chicken and Rice

The weather's cooling down here and the leaves are turning, and I'm craving soups and stews and warm things.  I saw okra in the store yesterday and was immediately inspired to make something rib-stickingly cajun.  We had other plans for dinner, so I put that thought on hold-- and when I went to pick up ingredients this evening on the way home the okra was gone : (  Undaunted, I gathered celery, onion, bell peppers (Aussie 'capsicum') and a pre-roasted chicken and improvised.
Southern Spoon blog: Cajun Chicken and Rice
cajun chicken and rice
(pardon the un-aesthetic photo quickly snapped before dinner!)
After sauteing the chopped veggies with the spices, I poured in some chicken broth and a mixture of cornstarch and water to thicken the mixture.  If you do have okra, add a cup of the chopped vegetable, and halve the amount of cornstarch and water. The mixture will thicken naturally due to the slightly gooey insides of the cooked okra.  (Rather than cornstarch+water, you could add a teaspoon of filĂ© powder if you have it on hand-- the dried, finely-ground sassafras leaves are often used to thicken up gumbo.)  I used a pre-roasted chicken for convenience, but you could also use raw chicken breasts or boneless thighs, adding them after the onions have sauteed for a few minutes.  Sear the chicken for a few minutes on each side, then add the other vegetables and continue to cook as specified below.  Shrimp would also make a tasty substitute.
Southern Spoon blog: Louisiana Wedding
My brother and his wife's perfect Louisiana wedding
My grandfather grew up in a tiny town in Louisiana, and much of my extended family are scattered throughout the state.  I love the seafood and lovingly-prepared home cooking that we enjoy every time we visit.  Exactly a year ago last weekend my brother married a wonderful girl who also has family roots in Louisiana.  A Gatsby-esque estate in Shreveport served as the perfect backdrop for their beautiful, laid-back garden wedding and fabulous reception (complete with every cajun dish you can imagine, spiked sweet tea, and a zydeco band).  Preparing this meal tonight reminded me of what a great time we had celebrating their marriage : )

Make sure you have Tabasco on hand, and laissez les bons temps rouler!

Cajun Chicken and Rice
makes 4 to 5 hearty servings

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (rice bran works well)
1 yellow onion, coursely chopped
3 large stalks of celery, coursely chopped (to make about 1 cup)
1 green bell pepper, coursely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coursely chopped
1 cup of sliced button mushrooms (and/ or 1 cup chopped okra)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small chili, seeds removed and finely chopped (I used a bird's eye chili)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried parsley)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon paprkia
1/2 teaspoon dried fennel seeds, crushed
3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch (cornflour) + 1 tablespoon water, whisked smooth 
freshly ground sea salt and pepper
1-2 teaspoons Tabasco hot sauce (plus more for serving)
4-5 large pieces of chicken from a pre-roasted chicken (bones removed)
3 cups cooked rice (white, brown, or a mixture of both)
lemon wedges to serve (optional)

Heat the oil in a large skillet to medium-high heat.  Add the onion and saute for  4-5 minutes, until it begins to brown.  (If you are using raw chicken, add the chicken pieces now, searing on either side for 2 minutes per side, then leaving the chicken in the skillet while you cook the other veggies).  Add the celery and cook for another 3-4 minutes.  Add the bell peppers and cook for an additional 5-6 minutes, until the peppers and celery are slightly softened.  Add the mushrooms (and/or okra) and cook for another 3-4 minutes.  Add the chopped garlic, chili, parsley, oregano, paprika, and crushed fennel seeds, tossing the vegetables for about a minute so that they are evenly coated with the spices.  

Pour in the chicken broth and cornflour+water mixture, stirring carefully. Bring the mixture to a low simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes to allow the liquid to thicken slightly. Season with Tabasco, freshly ground sea salt, and pepper to taste. Add the pre-roasted chicken pieces, turning them carefully to coat them evenly with the sauce.  Turn down the heat to low and stir until the chicken is warmed.   

Place each chicken piece over a serving of rice, topping with the vegetable mixture.  Serve with Tabasco (necessary) and lemon wedges (optional). 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Seasoned Swiss Chard Chips

Kale chips are so hot right now.  I can't find kale anywhere in Sydney, and I've been eyeing the leafy greens looking for a replacement.  I finally realized that the cruciferous stuff in my local grocery store labeled 'silverbeet' is what we in the US (or UK) would call swiss chard-- very similar to kale.  So I carried some of the stuff home (sold with the long stems intact, so it's like walking along the street with a full-sized plant), and tried out some 'chard chips' on the hubs and some houseguests.  We all thought they were the perfect snack after an afternoon down by the ocean: crunchy, salty, well-seasoned, and not guilty-tasting!  Just what you want after seeing a beach full of trim and tan Aussies.  (This post has been in draft form for a while... when I first wrote it the weather was warm enough to spend the day sunning on the beach!)
Southern Spoon Blog: seasoned swiss chard/ kale chips
swiss chard chips seasoned with cumin, chili, and smoked paprika

I adapted these from a Smitten Kitchen recipe for kale chips.  Feel free to use kale or swiss chard, whatever you can find and whatever is in season where you are.  Experiment with your own spice combinations.  We preferred the cumin and chili seasoned batch to the balsamic-rosemary seasoned one, and next time I want to try a cajun batch.  These don't keep for very long, and are a bit hard to chew after the first day they're made.  So as not to let any go to waste, we just sprinkled the leftover chard chips on top of our pasta dinner the next night.  They would also work well as a pizza topper or stir fry add-in. Try some soon!

Seasoned Swiss Chard Chips
makes about 4 cups of chips

1 big bunch swiss chard (silverbeet), or kale
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

choice of seasonings:
2 teaspoons cumin + 2 teaspoons chili seasoning + 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar + 1 tablespoon dried rosemary + 1 teaspoon dried oregano

Thoroughly wash and dry the swiss chard.  (I submerge it in a big bowl of water, shake it out, lay it out to dry for a while, then blot it with paper towels).  Remove the stems (including the stalk running through the middle of the leaf, otherwise it makes the chips soggy), and chop or tear the leaves into chunky strips.

Swirl the tablespoon of olive oil around in a big bowl.  Add the chopped leaves and mix the leaves around gently to coat them evenly with the oil.  (You may have to split the leaves and oil in half and do one half at a time if you don't have a big enough bowl).  Grind some sea salt and pepper over the leaves, then add your desired seasoning combination. Toss gently to distribute the spices evenly.

Heat oven to 300F/ 150C.  Line a big baking sheet with parchment paper (you will probably need to do two batches to make sure the chips bake evenly).  Spread the chips out evenly in one layer on the prepared baking sheet so that they are not overlapping and barely touching.  Bake for 20 minutes, until the chips are crispy and no moisture remains.  Remove from oven and let cool for a couple of minutes before gently brushing the chips into a bowl to serve.

Serve immediately, or within 4-6 hours of baking.  Swiss chard chips do not keep well longer than one day.  Use any leftovers as an add-in for pasta, pizza, or stir fry.