Rice Bowl + Tofu + Saucy Sauce

It’s all about the saucy sauce.

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This is really a simple recipe. Barely a recipe, actually. Make some rice. Steam some veg. Buy some tofu. And mix it all together with a swanky, saucy sauce.

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I have a pretty well-stocked Asian pantry these days. Gochujang and miso are staples in my fridge, and I have both light and dark soy sauces in the cupboard. Usually, whipping up a little Asian-inspired sauce for things isn’t challenging. But if you don’t want to go through all the trouble of sourcing every single bottle available in the Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese grocery stores, my staples are a nice soy sauce, fish sauce, and sesame oil. I use a lot of rice wine vinegar, but other acids work well (lime, for instance). Mirin is another nice thing to have but I can easily do without. Fish sauce on the other hand… it’s hard to replicate that flavor. Just don’t smell it and you’ll be fine.

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This recipe has some specialty items from the Asian grocery store, but feel free to swap in any other mushroom for the buna shimeji or tarragon for the perilla leaves. We make rice bowls a lot and they’re pretty versatile – truly a kitchen-sink kind of dish if there ever was one.

Rice Bowl + Tofu + Saucy Sauce

The last note here is about the tofu. Get the good stuff or make your own. Sometimes I’ll use a super firm tofu in rice bowls, but this one uses a creamy, silken tofu. The custard-y texture is a nice contrast against crunchy vegetables.

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Rice Bowls + Tofu + Saucy Sauce

1 cup brown basmati rice, cooked according to package directions
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small bunch broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
1 avocado, sliced
buna shimeji or other mushrooms, roughly chopped if needed

1 package silken tofu

1 clove garlic, smashed in a mortar & pestle with a bit of salt
1 teaspoon white or black sesame seeds, smashed in a mortar & pestle
1 fresh red chile, finely minced
1-inch nob of ginger, finely minced
1 green onion, finely sliced on the bias
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp dark soy sauce (or tamari or Liquid Aminos)
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp rice wine vinegar (or other acid like lime juice)
2 tsp water

1 green onion, finely sliced on the bias
2 perilla leaves, rolled and finely sliced
a few extra slices of red chiles

Making the bowls is easy enough: prepare the rice according to the package. Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and steam or blanch them for 1-2 minutes. You want them still snappy. Combine the rice, veggies, and avocado in a big bowl. Dole out individual portions in smaller bowls or on plates.

For the mushrooms, I had a bit of this handy douban oil from this recipe on hand (except made with gochujang and coconut oil), so I quickly pan-fried them in that for about 2 minutes. If you don’t have chile oil on hand, just fry them in any other high-smoking-point oil. The key to mushrooms: fry them on high heat. Otherwise, they’ll release moisture and you’ll steam them. Top individual portions with mushrooms.

Slice the tofu into 1/2-inch long pieces – kind of like thin bricks. Place a slice on each individual portion.

For the sauce, toss everything into a jar or deep bowl and shake or whisk vigorously. Pour over individual servings to taste, and top each bowl with the green onions, perilla leaves, and red chiles.

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One Bowl of Veggies, Day 5: Pulled Pork Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Slaw

Day 5. (days 1, 2, 3, and 4) We’ve reached the end, and we’re going to go out with a bang. A big porky bang.

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Pulled pork has become one of our favorite indulgent meals because it’s so easy to make it good. I don’t cook meat that often – it’s expensive, often time consuming, and when it tastes good, it’s not particularly healthy. Yes, there are plenty of healthy boneless, skinless chicken recipes out there, but I’d just as soon make something vegetarian that tastes equally good, if not better.

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Pulled Pork Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Slaw

I made this pulled pork in the slow cooker, but you can also do a braise in the oven, which is faster. To do that, follow the first steps of browning and adding the braising liquid in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Put the whole thing in a 350-degree oven for 2-2.5 hours. After two hours, check it. If it pulls apart with a fork, it’s done, if not, keep cooking.

1.5 pounds bone-in pork loin
1 tablespoon neutral oil (like grapeseed or canola oil)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion, quartered
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 dried avocado leaf (optional)

mixed veg
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uice of 2 limes

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon honey

corn tortillas

If your slow cooker has a removable pot, pull it out and heat it over medium-high heat. If not, heat a pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil. Generously season the pork loin with salt and pepper, then brown each side of the meat in the oil. Be sure to get a deep brown color on each side.

Once every side is browned, remove the pork from the pan and set aside. Add the garlic, onion, and cumin to the pan and stir it around in the remaining oil. Let cook for 2-3 minutes. Add a splash of the apple cider vinegar to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the leftover brown bits. If you’re doing this in a separate pan, transfer everything to your slow cooker now and add the rest of the vinegar, water, red pepper flakes, Mexican oregano, and avocado leaf. Season this sauce generously with salt, then add the pork back in. Otherwise, add the remaining ingredients to your slow cooker pot while it is still on the burner. Bring the liquid to a boil, then move the pot into the slow cooker.

Cook in the slow cooker for 5 hours. At this point, the pork should be falling off the bone and tear apart easily with a fork. Remove the pork from the slow cooker and pull it apart using two forks. I usually do this in a large bowl, then pour a bit of the braising liquid over the pork and stir it around. I like to keep the braising liquid by straining out all the other stuff. I will water it down and use it as a base for soups, and you can freeze it to save for later.

To make the slaw, combine lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, and honey in a small bowl. Whisk it all together, then toss the mixed veggies in the dressing.

To make the tacos, warm the tortillas in a dry frying pan or over a gas flame. Add the pulled pork and some of the dressed vegetables. Eat.

One Bowl of Veggies, Day 4: Kale + Mixed Veg Salad with Coconut-Lime Dressing

Day 4. (days 1, 2, and 3) Are you sick of veggies yet? In anticipation of the fatty, porky tacos that are to come tomorrow, today we have a kale salad. You might have noticed that I make kale salads a lot. They’re just good.

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We’re back from Louisville and had so much fun driving around rural Kentucky to taste bourbon. Our favorite of the day was at the Heaven Hill Distillery; they make the Elijah Craig 12-yr bourbon that went down nicely without the aid of water. Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve had the prettiest distilleries with a lot of old buildings; Buffalo Trace is pictured below.

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This picture is of Willet Distilleries bourbon aging warehouses… they look like eery old prisons.

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With our newfound educations, we felt a lot more comfortable ordering bourbons at the bar!

Louisville

Louisville

We ate at Chef Edward Lee’s restaurant in downtown Louisville called Milkwood. It was so delicious, and the cocktails were perfect. The octopus bacon was a killer starter, but the pork burger was what we thought about the rest of the night.

Louisville

And now… back to healthy food for the week!

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Kale + Mixed Veg Salad with Coconut-Lime Dressing

1 bunch lacinato kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 can full-fat coconut milk

zest of 1 lime
juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon honey
mixed veg

To prepare the kale, remove the stems and roll the leaves up into a tight bundle, then finely shred the leaves. Place the kale in a large bowl and mix in the olive oil. Massage the leaves until they are all coated.

In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, lime zest, lime juice, red pepper flakes, and honey.

Toss the kale with the veg and dressing.

One Bowl of Veggies, Day 3: Miso Soba Noodles

Day 3! (days 1 and 2) Here we goooo. Soba noodles. Miso. Vegetables.

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Miso Soba Noodles with Mixed Vegetables

1 9.5-oz package soba noodles
2 heaping teaspoons mellow brown rice miso or white miso
4 teaspoons sesame oil

2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
3 teaspoons water
mixed vegetables

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the soba noodles for 3 minutes. Strain the noodles and rinse under cold water to remove all the starch.

In a large bowl, whisk together the miso, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, and water. Add the noodles and a few scoops of the mixed vegetables and toss it all together.

Big Green Dinner Salad

This big green salad is hearty enough for lunch or dinner. It’s loaded with all kinds of things that you can’t really make out in the picture: olives, blanched broccoli, blanched asparagus, cabbage, arugula, and chickpeas. Blanched broccoli is a recently rediscovered favorite of mine; sometimes I make a dinner out of just that drizzled with some salad dressing. It soaks up the dressing perfectly. I have been making huge batches of this salad in the beginning of the week so that I can grab some easily for lunch or dinner without much hassle.

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I have also been making various versions of a yogurt dressing. It’s so easy: dump yogurt, olive oil, vinegar, and an add-in or two into a jar and shake, shake, shake. This past week, my add-in was a 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric and a 1/2 teaspoon of coriander. But you could add chopped herbs, crushed garlic (raw or roasted), crushed scallions, sesame seeds, etc. Measurements here are approximate – get creative with it.

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Big Green Dinner Salad

Romaine lettuce, finely shredded
Arugula, finely shredded
Red, green, or savoy cabbage, finely shredded
1 cup cooked (or canned) chickpeas, drained
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 head broccoli, finely chopped
1 bunch asparagus, finely chopped
1/2 cup sliced olives of your choosing (I’ve been using “fresh cured” olives lately, which are in the black olive section of the grocery store)

1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 raw garlic clove
add-ins of your choosing (for example, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil while you begin chopping all the veggies. Put the romaine, arugula, cabbage, chickpeas, quinoa, and olives in a large bowl. When the water starts to boil, put in the broccoli and asparagus. Let boil for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then immediately strain and place in an ice bath. Let the broccoli and asparagus drain completely. When drained, add to the bowl. Toss the entire salad together.

Make the dressing by combining yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, and any spices in a jar. Crush the garlic in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of flaky sea salt until it is the consistency of a paste. Add the garlic to a jar, put on the lid, and shake until combined. Dress the salad on a per serving basis. The salad itself will last a few days (really, up to a week, though it will begin to wilt a bit) in the fridge undressed.

*Other options to add to this salad: chopped hard boiled eggs, shaved brussels sprouts, finely shredded kale, other grains like farro or bulgar wheat, blanched and chopped cauliflower, fresh roasted sweet corn, mushrooms, etc, etc.

Veggie Lentil Bowls

Three weeks guys. Three. Weeks. That’s when the semester is officially over! It’s been a good run, but I’m pretty ready to be done.

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And I have a pretty rad summer lined up, so that just makes everything better! You guessed it – I’ll be traveling. I’m headed back to Nairobi this summer to work with KDI again, this time with the help of AECOM. Eric will once again have a summer filled with frozen turkey burgers and weekend nights on which he stays up past 9pm. Lucky guy! This time around, I have one month for work, and one month for fun and travel through Kenya and Uganda.

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And when I get back – besides looking for a job – we’ll hopefully be traveling some more. Eric and I are about two weeks away from getting our hands on a Southwest Companion Pass, so we have lots of weekend trips planned. Portland, Utah, Atlanta, Charleston, Puerto Rico, Key West, Philly, and Carlsbad Caverns are all on the list. When the Air Trans/Southwest merger takes full effect, we’ll be adding Mexico City. Sooo many places. Since we have the companion pass until the end of 2014, we’ll hopefully be able to squeeze all these and more into our schedule!

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I’ve been making veggie bowls a lot lately. And salad bowls. Basically just a lot of big bowls of vegetables. The varieties are endless, but I really liked this one that I concocted the other day using walnut and sun-dried tomato pesto courtesy of Licking the Plate. I like all my veggies chopped into small, bite-sized pieces. Makes it easier to dig into with a spoon.

Veggie Lentil Bowl with Strained Yogurt and Walnut-Sun-Dried-Tomato Pesto

1 cup green or French lentils
1 crown broccoli, finely chopped
1 bunch asparagus, finely chopped
1-2 large handfuls of arugula
1/2 red onion, finely sliced and soaked in cold water
walnut and sun-dried tomato pesto
strained plain yogurt

The day before, empty a large container of plain yogurt into a cheese cloth and let strain for 24 hours. Refrigerate and set aside.

Put the lentils in a sauce pan with 2 cups of water. Bring water to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered for approximately 20 minutes, or until tender. If there is any liquid still in the pan, strain the lentils and stir with salt to taste.

Meanwhile, bring another pot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli and asparagus and cook for one minute. Remove from heat and strain, immediately putting the veggies into a cold water bath. Set aside.

When all the prep has been completed, combine everything into a bowl – the asparagus and broccoli, the lentils, arugula, and onions. Top with the pesto and yogurt, Add a bit more salt to taste.

*There are many variations you could take with this recipe. Regular pesto would work well, as would harissa. Feeling lazy? Just drizzle olive oil and balsamic over the mixture. Want some grains? Add farro or buckwheat. Don’t want to take the time to strain the yogurt? Fine, just dollop regular plain yogurt on top. Try roasting the veggies instead of blanching them. Top it with a poached or soft-boiled egg. Add some olives. Sprinkle on some roasted kale. Once the farmer’s market opens, I’ll be making this with whatever is available there. Yum.

Cheese-less Pizza

Eric and I have started a Friday night pizza ritual. We generally pick up some multigrain pizza dough from Whole Foods, though making your own is just easy (but messier!). It seems crazy that I only recently brought home my first haul from the farmer’s market. My Saturdays have been so busy, I just never had time to go. Nonetheless, we turned Friday night pizza night into Saturday morning pizza day because we wanted to load up our pizza with fresh veg from the market. We also bought baby kale, sorrel, and radishes for a perfect spring salad.

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Radishes are cute, aren’t they?

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We eat most of our pizzas without cheese these days. I already have enough of a cheese habit – I don’t need it on my pizza, also! The key, then, is really good tomatoes. We always buy San Marzano in the can for this pizza, then load on tons of fresh garlic and black pepper. I rarely make an actual sauce – the tomatoes with fresh garlic are enough to make this a great meal.

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And for the salad, I just juice some lemons into a mason jar, put in equal amounts of olive oil, sometimes a splash of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Shake it up and drizzle it on – easy.

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So there’s no real recipe here. For this particular pizza, we chopped asparagus into little discs and sprinkled them all over. Fresh slices of an heirloom tomato went on top, and make sure to sprinkle salt over the whole shebang. And seriously, do not skimp on the garlic. I think I added 5-6 cloves to this pizza. I minced them finely, but sometimes I’ll just do thin slices. Eric and I have been practicing making pizza so that he can make it perfectly while I’m gone all summer. His version will likely include granulated garlic instead of fresh garlic, but even he can handle rolling out the dough and smearing canned tomatoes all over it!

Shaved Asparagus and Potato Salad

Tonight is my last night of scuba diving class. It has been fun spending my Tuesdays and Thursdays for the last two and a half weeks taking quizzes and breathing underwater, but I’m glad it is almost over. The classes extend a half hour beyond my designated bed time, you see, preventing me from getting my required 9 hours of sleep each night. Nonetheless, it’s pretty cool that I now feel comfortable with the act of breathing through a regulator underwater.

I have been meaning to obtain my Open Water Diver certificate ever since I studied abroad in Australia in 2006. As a student, it was too expensive, though I did do a “resort dive” in the Great Barrier Reef, which allowed me to go underwater with a scuba unit for around 20 minutes, albeit holding on to an instructor’s hand.

Before Eric and I went on our honeymoon, I thought of taking classes also, but Eric had some anxiety about it. So we held off, promising that we’d do another “resort dive” when we were staying on Pom Pom Island off the coast of Borneo – off some of the very best dive sites in the world. It’s true – the diving and even the snorkeling is amazing there. Better than any snorkeling I’ve done elsewhere, including the Great Barrier Reef. Eric happened to catch a cold when we were there, and after watching the video that shows your lung exploding, he didn’t want to risk it. I dove, again holding on to my smarmy Italian instructor’s hand, and thought it was awesome. With that, I decided to take the plunge and invest in Open Water courses and my very own snorkeling gear.

bye bye water bungalow
Water bungalows at Pom Pom Island

lion fish!
Lion fish in Borneo

nemo!
It’s nemo

eric "making the snorkel"
Eric “makes the snorkel”, as our Italian dive master would say

Anyway, what does this have to do with potato salad? Nothing, really, but it is a fun little intro. This potato salad is full of all kinds of springy, healthy goodies. Nearly all my ingredients came from the market – including the Russian fingerling potatoes, asparagus, stinging nettles, and green garlic. It’s a versatile recipe, though, so if nettles and green garlic aren’t available or don’t float your boat, a simple vinaigrette would work nicely as well.

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Shaved Asparagus and Potato Salad with Stinging Nettle and Green Garlic Vinaigrette

1 pound fingerling potatoes
1 pound fresh asparagus
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
3-4 stalks stinging nettles, leaves only
1-2 stalks green garlic, chopped into 1-inch pieces
salt and pepper
1 can tuna packed in olive oil
1/4 cup capers

Start by boiling the potatoes. Fill a pot with cool or room temperature water. Plop in the potatoes and bring to a boil. Boil them until they are al dente or just underdone. Strain out the water and put the potatoes in an ice bath to stop them from cooking further. Slice the potatoes into thin discs and set aside.

Using a mandolin or vegetable peeler, shred the asparagus into this strips, keeping the heads in tact. Bring another pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the shaved asparagus in for 1 minute, then remove. Mix with the potatoes.

To make the vinaigrette, mix the lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, honey, nettles, and green garlic in a food processor. Process until the oil is emulsified and the solids are nicely ground. Taste and add salt/pepper to taste, as well as some additional lemon juice or vinegar if needed.

Finally, strain and rinse the can of tuna. Combine the potatoes, asparagus, capers, and tuna, then toss with the dressing.

Pea and Asparagus Pesto

Sorry for the absence. I’ve been so busy and not really cooking anything memorable lately, so I figured I’d share one last spring pesto. This one is one of my favorites.

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This past weekend we were in Boston, eating more food than the human body should normally be able to handle and visiting my lovely soon-to-be brother-in-law and his lovely girlfriend. You can read more about that over at Hungry City Blogs tomorrow, but I will tell you that I love Boston not only because I get to see two people I adore, but also because it seems like every single corner in that city is covered by trendy restaurants and bars – good food and beer everywhere you look. My kind of city.

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So this pesto. I promise it’s the last one! Especially since my quasi-CSA informed me today that this is the last week of local asparagus. This pesto is so great though. The flavor is sort of mild and understated, yet subtly sweet. Perfect with some whole wheat pasta and more asparagus.

Pea and Asparagus Pesto

1 cup frozen or fresh peas
1/2 bunch fresh asparagus, woody ends removed
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
salt and pepper

whole wheat pasta – I love thin spaghetti
handful or more of spinach
other 1/2 bunch of fresh asparagus, woody ends removed

Cook the asparagus and peas in boiling water for just a few minutes – enough for the peas to un-freeze and the asparagus to get just tender but not mushy. Toss those in a food processor with the rest of the pesto ingredients and blend to combine.

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Cook the pasta according to package directions, tossing the rest of the asparagus in about half way through. When you turn off the heat, submerge the spinach then quickly drain, preserving a bit of the pasta water. In a saute pan on medium high heat, heat the pesto then combine with the asparagus, pasta, spinach, and a splash of pasta water (add more water until you get a consistency you want). When pesto sticks to pasta nicely, serve.