Asian Mustard Greens with Tofu

Every year in October (although once I think it was November), vegans around the world unite and participate in a blogging event called Vegan Mofo, in which they strive to blog nearly every day of the month, and every year I think yeah, I should do that, but then every year I think HAHAHAHA HOW COULD I EVER DO THAT? I’m busy all the time, but it seems like October is THE busiest time of the year for me, even with the wildlife stuff winding down a bit. I also tend to travel a lot in October. Of course, I’m just a big whiner because lots of bloggers are just as busy as I am and a lot of them travel more than I do and yet they still manage to post every day for Mofo. I just feel as if I would get stressed out about it so I’ve never made the commitment, much as I admire everyone else who does it and enjoy reading all the blogs.

Anyway, that’s a long way of saying I’m not doing Mofo because I’m a big whiner. Ironically I’m suddenly brimming with blog post ideas over here and I have a bunch of meals planned this week and next that are new and possibly blog-worthy, so maybe I could have pulled it off after all. I honestly think I could have done a Month of Vinegar theme, I have so many post ideas involving vinegar alone. Wouldn’t that have been awesome? I’m kind of regretting not signing up and at least doing a food diary. Y’all care what we eat daily chez Renae, right? Fortunately, as wildlife duties have been slowing down, our daily meals have been getting more interesting. I don’t know how interesting tonight’s really is, but it features mixed Asian mustard greens that I got at the farmers market and I get really excited about things like bundles of mixed Asian mustard greens so here I am, sharing my glee with you. I’m pretty sure I’m going to cry myself to sleep when the farmers market ends at the end of this month.

Asian Mustard Greens with Tofu

1 bundle mixed Asian mustard greens, stems removed if necessary, and chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 lb extra firm tofu, chopped
3 cups soybean sprouts
1-4 chili peppers, sliced (depending on the type and how much heat you like)
2 green onions, sliced, white and green parts separated
1 small hunk of ginger, grated
4-5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup vegan broth
1/4 cup fermented black bean paste
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
2 drops stevia (or 1 tsp sugar)
2 Tbsp cornstarch whisked into 3 Tbsp cold water

First stir together the broth, black bean paste, soy sauce, wine, and stevia in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup. Set aside. Also set aside the cornstarch and water mixture.

Put some oil in a wok and add the white parts of the green onion, ginger, garlic, and chili peppers. I do this cold – although in general you heat the pan and then the oil before adding anything else – to prevent the garlic and ginger from scorching. Turn the heat to medium high and start stirring when it begins sizzling.

Add the onions and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.

Add the tofu and cook, stirring for another couple of minutes.

Add the greens. Look how pretty they are! Stir and let them cook down a bit.

When the greens have wilted, add the sprouts and stir until they wilt as well.

Pour in the broth mixture and bring it to a boil.

Then stir in the cornstarch mixture, allowing it to thicken the broth and coat the tofu and vegetables. It will become shiny.

Serve with rice and garnish with the green parts of the green onions. Mine wasn’t very spicy so I heaped some chili garlic paste on the side as well.

As you’ve probably noticed, I tend to add a personal photograph or twelve to the ends of my posts. However, I don’t have much to share with you this week. I didn’t even take any pictures of raccoons this week (too busy trying to convince them I could clean their cages much faster without two of them on my head). So I could search for some earlier photo you haven’t seen – I only have a gazillion of them – but no, I’m too lazy to do that. Last night I was testing the remote control for my camera to see from what angles and distances I could get it to work and thus the following photos got imported from the camera along with tonight’s pictures of greens and tofu, so THAT’s what you get to look at. Pictures I took to test stuff and intended to trash. Wow, I’m really hurting for content.

I don’t think when I tripped the shutter on this one that I realized I was taking a picture of Mezzaluna, but you may recall several posts back when I mentioned that we play a game with him in which we place pipe cleaners in hard-to-reach areas that he has to hunt down and retrieve. If you can see it (it’s on the shade right above his head), this one looks easy but it’s tied on securely and is the more challenging than it looks. He kind of needs opposable thumbs for that one, but I’ve seen him get even harder ones by being clever, so he’ll get it.

DERRR does the remote work when I’m directly in front of and 6″ away from the camera? AM I A HUGE DORK?

Hm, okay, next time I’ll find some real pictures, or just give you a break from my mediocre-to-bad photography.

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Bitter Melon Stir Fry with Vegan Mince

I guess you could say today has been a typical Saturday. It’s just about 7 p.m. and here is what I’ve done today:

  • Went to a national wildlife refuge to take pictures
  • Dropped some donations off at a thrift store
  • Went to the library
  • Went to the farmers market
  • Sliced and prepared 7 trays worth of fruits and vegetables to be dehydrated
  • Cleaned the old seasoning off of two cast iron skillets
  • Re-seasoned two cast iron skillets
  • Pruned the bushes and pulled the creeping vines off our windows
  • Peeled and prepared a brine for 2 pints of pearl onions (to be pickled in balsamic vinegar tomorrow through the next two months)
  • Made hot sauce from the chiles I’ve been fermenting for the last week
  • Edited photos from the wildlife refuge
  • Went to a national park to take pictures
  • Edited photos from the national park
  • Found a recipe to play with while trying a new vegetable: bitter melon
  • Wrote a blog post about bitter melon

I need a nap. Anyway, yes: bitter melon. I’ve seen it referred to in recipes, usually Indian, so I’ve long been familiar with the idea of it, but I don’t think I’ve ever purchased one. But one of the farmers at my farmers market was selling them and you know I can’t pass that by. I intended at first to use it in an Indian recipe – I even warned Mark about it (he claims he doesn’t like Indian food, although he actually does) – but I’m out of a few Indian spices and need to get to the Indian grocery, so I decided to go in a Chinese direction instead. After some googling, I decided to veganize and adapt this recipe on Serious Eats. Here’s the outcome:

Bitter Melon Stir Fry with Vegan Mince
I don’t know why I turn into a Brit or Australian when referring to the product Americans call ground beef (or ground pork, or ground whatever), but I do.

8 oz bitter melon
4 oz vegan mince (ground “meat”)
2 Tbsp grated ginger
1/4 cup shaoxing wine, divided
3 Tbsp fermented black beans (available in Asian grocery stores; either dried or in a paste/jar is okay)
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp garlic chili paste or plain chili paste
2 tsp black vinegar

So if you’ve never had it, here’s the deal with bitter melon. It looks like this:

It doesn’t look like any Western vegetable I can think of, but it’s related to cucumbers and cooks like summer squash. To prepare it, all you do is cut it in half length-wise …

… and then scoop the seeds out.

For this dish, and most others unless you are stuffing it, you’ll then slice it into half-circles and optionally chop it.

It cooks in about the same time squash does and has a similar texture. It’s not at all like a melon, but it is very, VERY bitter. Also, Mark insists it looks like squid tentacles. I tend to fall into raptures over any new vegetable I come across, but bitter melon is going to have to do some serious work to win me over. I tasted a very small bit before cooking it and quickly realized I’d better make Backup Dinner in addition to Experimental Dinner, so I chopped a red bell pepper and a head of broccoli. I used an entire 14-oz package of Tofurky mince, but used maybe a third of it with the bitter melon, which is why I called for 4 oz above. I also only used a third of the sauce in the bitter melon dish (although I did NOT adjust the measurements above for the sauce). I used the remainder of the mince and the sauce to make a broccoli/pepper/mince stir fry. I’m going to power on and give you the recipe, though, because you might like bitter melon more than I do (although I do not recommend you invite a bunch of people over and serve them a main dish of bitter melon without knowing what it tastes like).

Put the mince in a bowl and add the ginger and half the Shaoxing wine. Shaoxing wine, by the way, is Chinese rice wine. You can sub sake or dry sherry. Mix everything together, then set aside.

Fetch your fermented black beans. Now this is a staple you should keep on hand. They often come in a paste-like consistency, in a jar, but you can also buy them dried, which is what I usually do because they keep longer that way.

Measure them out and put them in a small bowl.

Add the rest of the Shaoxing wine, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, chili paste, and black vinegar.

Heat some oil in a wok or skillet over medium high heat, then add the bitter melon.

Stir fry for a minute or two, then add the mince. Stir fry until the bitter melon is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sauce and combine well.

Serve with rice.

Here it is with the backup dinner I fortunately made. I actually ate nearly all of the bitter melon dish, so I guess I didn’t detest it, but I don’t think I’m going to rush up to bitter melons at the farmers market with the unadulterated glee with which I attack, say, romanesco. I think Mark put 1 mm of bitter melon (a.k.a. squid tentacle) on his tongue, spit it out, and that was the end of bitter melon for him. However, the sauce is good and Mark really enjoyed Backup Dinner. He informed me it had a “good taste,” which he “assumed [I] was going for.” I agreed: yes, I usually do go for “good taste” when cooking. It turns out “good taste” to Mark means “complex, with different layers of flavor.” In this meal, Mark tasted salty, sweet, spicy, and … bitter. It took him a while to come up with the word “bitter”, but I thought it was interesting because I never told him the squid tentacles were really called “bitter melon” because I knew there was no way in hell he’d eat something called “bitter melon”. Yet he was gushing about how much he loves “bitter tastes”, even though “most people don’t”. SO HE SHOULD HAVE LOVED THE BITTER MELON, NO? Anyway, in conclusion, bitter melon is very … interesting.

In other news, today was largely a day of photography, and it follows that you will be subjected to pictures. No animals today; I didn’t get any good animals shots at the wildlife refuge this morning. But Great Falls, on the Potomac, was looking mighty spectacular today. I narrowly avoided a storm, but was rewarded with great light. These look much better in high-res, so if you are so inclined, you can click on them for the full-size version.

From Overlook 2:

Looking in the opposite direction, after the falls:

If you look carefully, you can see kayakers:

From Overlook 3, at a pretty wide angle:

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Spicy Mint Noodles

Shopping for dinner ingredients last night, I was attracted to the wide selection of fresh herbs at Whole Foods and grabbed on impulse some mint leaves, cilantro, and Thai basil. Inspired by Fortinbras’ favorite dish at Lotus Vegan, I came up with these Spicy Mint Noodles.

Spicy Mint Noodles


Once again, Gomez is in this picture.

12 oz wide rice noodles
8 oz firm tofu, chopped
8 oz spinach
2 cups bean sprouts
several sprigs each: mint, cilantro, and Thai basil, torn or roughly chopped
1 cup veggie broth or vegan “chicken” broth
sriracha or garlic-chili sauce, to taste (I used several tablespoons of homemade sriracha)
3 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp tamarind paste
1 Tbsp grated galangal or ginger
2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp cold water

Soak the rice noodles in cold water, then bring to a boil, then turn the heat off. When the noodles are almost completely soft, drain and set aside.

Chop the tofu. Whisk together the broth, sriracha or garlic-chili sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, tamarind, and galangal or ginger. Heat some oil in a wok over medium-high heat, then add the tofu and stir fry until golden. Add the spinach and let it cook down a bit, then add the rice noodles and stir fry (gently) for a minute or two. Pour in the liquid mixture and stir. When it boils, stir the cornstarch mixture. Toss in the bean sprouts and all the herbs and let it cook for a minute or so until the sauce thickens up.

I know I promised raccoons, but I think I’m going to give them their very own post, either tomorrow night or Friday – I promise!

In the meantime, here’s my buddy the cardinal. We have several cardinals but as I rarely see more than one male at a time, I tend to think of them all as one male and one female, whereas there are probably several couples. Cardinals mate for life, which I find sweet. My cardinals are always happy to have their picture taken…if I’m inside. They hide in high trees if I’m outside with the camera and swoop down to eat the second I go inside. I made Mark take the screen out of the window closest to their feeder so I could take better pictures. Conveniently for the cats, this window is right in front of one of their cat trees so they have a better view of Bird TV all day long.

One of the first things I do when I wake up in the morning is go into the sunroom and look for signs of who was in the yard the night before (we have raccoons, skunks, opossums, and foxes) and to see who is in the yard at the moment. This morning I sleepily rubbed my eyes and saw:

Usually the blue jay senses me moving to get my camera and flits away. I guess he was more hungry than cautious this morning because he stuck around for quite a while and let me admire him.

The next pictures are for my mom. As I was watching the blue jay, out of the corner of my eye I sensed movement across the yard, then I saw a tiny animal which I at first thought was a baby squirrel. It suddenly raced towards the house and noticing it was more brown than gray, I realized it was the chipmunk. I was surprised to look down and suddenly see him at the base of the bird feeder; I’ve never seen him linger around there. Did you know that chipmunks can apparently make a standing jump of heights 12 times their size? I didn’t until this morning when I watched this chipmunk jump from the ground to the top of a 2-foot high planter. He missed the first time and slid down the side, poor guy…but it was hilarious. He made it the second time, then leaped over to the bird seed.

He’s becoming a more regular visitor. He was on the back patio the other morning when it was raining:

I have no idea why my yard is wildlife central – we live in the suburbs – but I love it!

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