Tofu Gumbo

When given the choice between a vegetable in its “normal” color or the same vegetable in a strange color, I’ll almost always go for the strange color. And I love it when the farmers market has something I’ve never seen before. Hence, I had a quart of red okra in the refrigerator all week that I needed to deal with last night.

I think I like it even better than green okra! It’s a beautiful color.

Okra is neat.

Obviously I had to make gumbo, but making a nice, dark roux for gumbo can be time-consuming, and I didn’t have any vegan sausage prepared, and moreover it was late and we were hungry. I decided that instead of trying to be remotely traditional, I was going to mix random things – I was so incredibly busy this week I didn’t even have time to cook and there was a lot of vegetables from last weekend’s market I had to get rid of – in a pot, season it with Creole seasoning, and call it gumbo. If you want a more traditional gumbo, run to the always amazing Kittee – I’ve made her gumbos before and she much more an authority than me. But if you are lazy and in the mood for something gumbo-ISH, this wasn’t half bad.

I was going to use tempeh as my protein, but there was so much going into this gumbo that I was worried Mark, who only likes tempeh in small doses, would complain about (squash, okra) that I decided to switch to tofu to make it more inviting for him. Surprisingly, he was completely fine with the okra and didn’t even seem to notice the squash, so maybe I could have gotten away with the tempeh, but I do think he liked it a lot more this way than he would have otherwise.

Tofu Gumbo

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups vegan broth (I used “beef” bouillon)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 small squash, chopped
small handful French beans, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped okra
1 lb extra-firm tofu, chopped
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp liquid smoke
as much Creole seasoning as you can stand before it gets too salty (I used Tony Chachere’s)
Tabasco or other hot sauce, to taste

I should have taken a picture of my roux, but I wasn’t planning to make a post when I started cooking. I actually got a somewhat decent color faster than I thought, but in the interest of time, I decided to only go as dark as I had time to while prepping everything else. So I got a big cast iron Dutch oven out, put it over medium heat, poured in the oil, then with a wooden spoon, stirred in the flour. Then I kept stirring as frequently as I could while prepping everything else. It was definitely a lazy person’s roux, and a bit dangerous (it’s easy to burn if you don’t stir constantly), but it turned out surprisingly well.

While working on the roux, I chopped all the vegetables. In a smaller cast iron pot, I sauteed the onions, celery, and bell pepper until they were soft. When everything was chopped and the “holy trinity” was soft, I slowly and carefully added the broth to the roux (it will immediately bubble up) and stirred until there were no lumps. Then I added all the other ingredients except the Tabasco and let it simmer until everything was cooked through. Finally, I adjusted the saltiness (you can add regular salt if it needs some but you don’t want to over-Tony Chachere it) and added a little Tabasco, saving the rest for individual servings.

Just after adding all the ingredients:

I served it over rice (which has soaked up all the broth in this picture, it’s really a little soupier than it looks).

We have a lot of leftovers, but it keeps well and makes a nice lunch.

I’ve been trying to attract hummingbirds to our yard. We have a ton of birds, many of them very beautiful, such as cardinals, blue jays, and woodpeckers:

And this guy:

But I also wanted hummingbirds. So I’ve been putting nectar out all summer. I saw a single hummingbird at the feeder early on, but then a long period of nothing. Part of the problem was it was so hot this summer that I had to change the nectar about every other day or it would be gross, but it was hard to work up the motivation to keep making nectar, dragging a stool outside to get the feeder down, spilling sticky, bug-filled nectar on myself, and replacing the freshly cleaned and filled feeder when I was never rewarded with hummingbirds. But over the last couple of weeks, possibly because it’s been a little cooler (like in the upper 80s/lower 90s instead of 100+) so I’ve been more regular about replacing the nectar, I’ve started seeing hummingbirds frequently. Today there was a constant parade of them! Of course I wanted to photograph them, but this proved harder than I’d hoped. First there was the fumbling around with the camera and tripod every time, until I gave up and just left the tripod and camera set up, lined up for the shot and even pre-focused. Then the hummingbirds started doing “fly-bys”: they’d fly by the feeder – sometimes when I already had my face behind the camera, ready for the shot! – but then see there were too many other birds there (our bird feeding station is very heavily used) and keep on flying instead of stopping for a drink. I guess I should buy a separate pole for their feeder so they can have some privacy but I am on a major spending ban following a couple weeks (or lifetime?) of excessive spending.

Anyway, I FINALLY got some pictures, just before the sun went down, but it was already really too dark and the pictures are crap. But I’m excited nonetheless because Mark told me I couldn’t get hummingbirds, and he didn’t believe me when I told him a week ago that I HAD gotten them…until he saw one with his own eyes for the first time today. I don’t know why he doubted me because I can attract any animal I want. Raccoons appear out of nowhere wherever I am, and our (suburban!) yard is a haven for raccoons, skunks, foxes, turtles, snakes, deer, bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, and opossums. Okay, enough suspense. Here are my crappy pictures of hummingbirds! I’m sure I’ll get better ones soon.

This is actually the sharpest picture I got, which is a shame because he’s half hidden.

Look at that beak!

Leaning in for a drink:

Posing:

Leaving!

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Black-eyed Pea Stew

Ugh, I have never gone this long without posting! I need to get back into the swing of it, or just start cooking more interesting things! I will try to be more consistent. Anyway, I nab fresh beans any time I see them, and I happened across some fresh black-eyed peas this weekend, so today I cooked up a spicy stew that seemed worth a post. Here’s what I did:

Black-eyed Pea Stew

1 leek, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 small or part of a large sweet potato, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 jalapeno, minced
about 6 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp celery seed
10 oz fresh black-eyed peas
4 cups vegan broth or bouillon (I used “chicken” flavored bouillon)
2 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp filé (optional, for thickening)
2 cups or more spinach (collard greens or chard would be even better but I was working with what I had on hand)

Chop the leek. I include some of the green bit so it doesn’t go to waste.

Mince the jalapeno.

Chop the tomato.

Mince or press the garlic and chop the carrot, bell pepper, and sweet potato.

Rinse and pick over the peas. You can also used dried black-eyed peas, which you don’t need to soak (though you can). Your cooking time will just be a bit longer.

Heat some oil in a Dutch oven, then add the leeks and celery seed. Cook for a few minutes.

Add the bell pepper, carrot, sweet potato, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook for another few minutes.

Add the broth or water and bouillon, tomatoes, black-eyed peas, liquid smoke, smoked paprika, and if you are using it, the filé. Bring to a boil and cook until the sweet potatoes and peas are soft.

Add the spinach and cook just for a minute or two (a little longer for collards or chard).

I didn’t have enough rice in the house, so I cooked some barley in some vegetable broth as an accompaniment.

Serve with a crusty bread!

I also served with avocado, because I serve everything with avocado. The avocados are shown atop the stew here, but I really smooshed them on pieces of bread to eat them. This was a nice, smoky, spicy, wholesome meal.

So, I spent part of my absence in LA, where I attended Fortinbras’ graduation. Yay for Fortinbras! The car rental place gave me a free upgrade to a Jeep Wrangler, which was a ton of fun and made me happy because I usually miss having a convertible when I’m there. Fort meant to take a picture of me in the Jeep because he said I very unexpectedly looked “perfect” driving it (he thought I’d be dwarfed by it as I’m so “tiny” and ordinarily drive a very tiny car), but we forgot. In fact, I lugged even more photography equipment than usual out there yet managed to take far fewer pictures than usual. It was more a trip to just be with friends, and Fort’s family, than sight-see, though, and it was really nice. One new thing we did do was drive down to San Diego, which is about two hours south of LA. This is La Jolla, which I learned on this trip is how you spell the place I formerly thought was spelled La Hoya!

This kind of looked like Greece to me, not that I’ve ever been to Greece.

We saw a gorgeous sunset there.

Okay. Time for a story. Lately it seems like all my trips end up taking on some sort of eerie literary significance. Have any of you read 1Q84? My story contains no spoilers, but it’s a little more interesting if you are familiar with it. I was driving a Jeep full of friends to La Jolla on an absolutely gorgeous day, sitting in typical southern California beach traffic, when from the passenger seat Fort exclaimed, “Some woman just got out of a cab into traffic and started walking down the highway!” To which I responded, “That’s the beginning of 1Q84!” Which it is; the book begins with a girl named Aomame, who is a passenger in a cab sitting in heavy traffic on a Japanese highway, getting out of the cab (with the encouragement of the cab driver) and walking across traffic to a nearby set of emergency stairs. Fort watched his woman walk away, and that was the end of that conversation.

We finally made it to the beach, just before sunset, and I took the pictures above. We stayed until the sun was completely set and the moon was high in the sky. I aimed my camera at the moon and snapped this picture:

That is NOT what I saw in the sky. What I saw in the sky was the bright white blob you see in the photograph. I did NOT see the second, green moon. If you have read 1Q84, you know why this picture is weird. In 1Q84, some people, including Aomame, become aware of a second, duller, greenish moon hanging in the sky a little lower than the regular moon. Most people don’t see the second moon. I have no explanation for the appearance of the green moon in the photograph. A second picture I took a short while later also contained the green moon. A picture from the exact same perspective taken by a friend did not contain the green moon. It must be some sort of lens flare – it looks like it may be a mirror image of the real moon – but it was strange it appeared just a couple of hours after another 1Q84-like event. Creepy, huh?!

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Curry Laksa

Let me first say how much I and Mark both appreciate all of the comments we received on my last post about losing Brachtune. It’s been hard for us – the house seems so empty without any animals – but your kind thoughts have been a big comfort. I never really thought anyone would read this blog when I first started it, but having the support of people from around the world when I’m feeling this down is really incredible. Thank you.

Mark’s been battling quite a chest cold for several days now, and I’m hoping this tickle in my throat isn’t going to turn into anything worse. But I happen to think that spicy soups are just the thing at the beginning or end of a cold (or the middle, or, well, any other day, quite frankly), and I had most of a can of coconut milk left from another recipe that I wanted to use up, which got me thinking about laksa. I don’t see laksa much on menus in this area for some reason, although maybe it’s just never found under the vegetarian section so I miss it. So the first time I ever had laksa was actually in Sydney (where it was found under the vegetarian section of a menu). I’d therefore be hard pressed to call myself a laksa expert so the recipe I present here may have little in common with a genuine laksa, but it was spicy and good so I’m presenting it anyway. I used this recipe as a reference for the spices.

Curry Laksa

8 oz rice noodles (either wide or vermicelli)
4 shallots, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2″ piece ginger, roughly chopped
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp ground dried lemongrass (I bought this at Penzeys for those times I don’t have lemongrass on hand, obviously you can substitute fresh lemongrass)
2 Tbsp sambel olek
peanut oil
3 cubes frozen cilantro (or a handful fresh, chopped)
1 cube frozen basil (or a few leaves fresh)
2 tsp curry powder
4 cups vegan broth
1 1/4 cup coconut milk (this is what I had leftover; I’d just dump an entire can in if I were making this again)
1 carrot, cut into squat matchsticks
1 can young green jackfruit (in brine), shredded
1/4 cup chopped bamboo shoots
1/4 cup water chestnuts
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1 cup frozen spinach
1 cup frozen asparagus stalks, chopped
tofu puffs or frozen fried tofu, chopped
limes, to garnish

I didn’t have a lot of fresh veggies and didn’t want to make a trip to the grocery store, which is why my veggies are pretty weird. I’d really have liked to have had bean sprouts, so much so that I almost did make that trip to the store. If I had, I’d have gotten some fresh cilantro and maybe basil (Thai or holy basil if they had it), and some green vegetables of some sort.

Place the shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, coriander, and sambel olek into a small food processor or chopper.

Process until smooth.

Pour some peanut oil into a soup pot over medium heat, then dump the paste from above in and fry until it darkens somewhat (but do not let it burn).

Meanwhile, prepare the rice noodles. I soak them in boiling water until they are done.

Drain the jackfruit. I’m using it as a sort of seafood alternative here, by the way.

Shred it with your fingers.

Add the broth, coconut milk, curry powder, the jackfruit, and any non-frozen veggies that are relatively hard (like the carrots).

Cook until the veggies are almost soft, then add the herbs, frozen veggies, and any other items (except the tofu puffs and bean sprouts, which I’d just top on the soup raw later).

To serve, place some noodles in a large bowl, then ladle the soup over them. Top with the tofu puffs and bean sprouts if you have them. Squeeze the lime over the soup before eating.

I am supposed to tell you that Mark recommends seasoning this with sriracha. Mark, of course, recommends seasoning everything with sriracha.

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