One of my favorite things about our new neighborhood is the big, airy public library that is just around the corner (lucky lucky me). I was especially overjoyed to see the generous aisles devoted to cookbooks, including shelves upon shelves of vegetarian cookbooks. One of the books I have been reading over the new year is Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen by Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry.
Lappe and Terry define Grub as wholesome food that is good for the body and good for the planet...organic food that is sustainably raised and locally procured. As opposed to mass-produced, highly processed food. The first part of the book talks about the principles that the authors believe in, and tips on how to incorporate "grub" into our kitchens. The second half consists of seasonal recipes.
Did the book tell me anything I was not already aware of? Well, not really. By now, the politics of food has been discussed in magazines, newspapers and on local radio, and most of us are already aware of "grub" in our own ways. I know that I certainly get angry when I think of mega-corporations taking over my kitchen. And most people I know do feel sad about living in times where a contaminated batch of spinach from one factory causes illness in five states across the continent. Still, at the beginning of the new year, the book was a reminder to cook and eat with consciousness.
Some tips and reminders from the book:
1. Our food dollars are powerful: we can use them to influence the world around us.
2. The extra time and money spent in procuring "grub" (rather than reaching for the closest mass-produced food product) is an investment in precious things: our health and the future of our planet.
3. The average American household throws 14% of its food into the trash (i.e., we waste nearly a sixth of the food we buy). So, wasting less food would be the first (and easiest) step towards a green kitchen.
4. Buy from Farmers Markets as far as possible, and try to buy fruits and veggies that are in season. How do you know what fruits and vegetables are in season? Here is where the book provided a great tip (if you live in the US): On the internet, search for your state's department of agriculture (eg. Google "Missouri Department of Agriculture"). The Department of Agriculture website provides a host of resources, like the locations of farmers markets, as well as harvest calenders.
Here, for instance, is the Harvest Calendar for Missouri:
Winter has lean pickings, but I am waiting for spring and summer and for a host of produce to come into season! If you live in St. Louis, don't forget to check out Veggie Venture, where Alanna has put together a tremendously useful list of several local food sources.
One of the recipes from "Grub" caught my eye: spicy barbecued tofu. I love eating tofu, but don't cook it nearly as much as I would like to. In this recipe, the tofu is pressed, shallow-fried to a golden brown, then drenched in a home-made barbeque sauce and baked to perfection. This is probably the tastiest tofu I have ever eaten, and I knew I had to share the recipe with you (my adaptation of it, anyway).
(adapted from Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen by Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry)
served 2-3 as a main course
Prepare the tofu:
1. Pressing: Start with 1 block of extra-firm tofu (I used Trader Joe's). Drain out the water and wrap the block of tofu in a clean freshly-laundered kitchen towel. Place in a plate/ bowl, and weigh down the tofu to press out as much liquid as possible. I did this by balancing an empty heavy pasta pot on the wrapped tofu, and placing 5 lb packets of lentils and flour in the pot. Press the tofu for 1-2 hours.
2. Slicing: Hold the block of tofu sideways, then cut into three slices. Cut each slice across one diagonal, and then the other, such that you get 12 small triangles from one block of tofu.
2. Frying the tofu: Heat 2-3 tbsp olive oil in a non-stick skillet. Fry the slices of tofu (in batches if necessary) to get them golden-brown on each side (takes several minutes).
Prepare the marinade: This can be done while the tofu is being pressed. A good barbecue sauce has such a complexity of flavors...this is what I used (with the original recipe suggestions in brackets).
Base: Canned tomato sauce 3 tbsp + soy sauce (tamari) 5 tbsp
Sweetness: Honey (maple syrup) 3 tbsp
Spice: Cumin powder 1/2 tsp
Acidity: Lemon juice (lime juice) 1 tsp + Apple cider vinegar 2 tbsp
Smoky flavor + heat: 1 dried chipotle chili (1 canned chili in chipotle sauce)
+ 1 tbsp olive oil to form an emulsion
Now, I entirely eyeballed the proportions of the marinade ingredients, and I would suggest tasting as you go along to find the right balance you like. In the end, the sauce was finger-licking good, way better than any store-bought BBQ sauce that I have tried.
Baking the tofu: Place fried tofu in a baking dish and pour the marinade over it. Cover dish with a foil and bake at 350 degrees F for one hour, turning pieces half-way through baking. The 12 pieces of tofu fit snugly in one layer in a standard 9x9 baking dish:
Tofu Tangram, anyone?
I served up the barbeque tofu with some smashed garlicky roasted potatoes (potatoes and garlic can be roasted in the same oven, while the tofu is baking). All in all, a delicious and off-beat Sunday lunch:
It was nice to start off the new year with some resolutions to eat and live better. But Alanna shares a cartoon depicting the resolution that beats all resolutions: Check it out!