Sunday, October 12, 2008
What’s for Dinner?
So it’s approaching 5:30pm and I’m home from work. Mark is home. We’ve both just stumbled warily through the door, given smiles and little kisses and small exclamations of how we’ve missed each other during the day. We chuck off our shoes and our jackets and stumble as fast as humanly possible into our comfy plaid pajama pants. I plop on the couch and Mark opens the fridge for his favorite beer. Ah, finally home.
Now, what’s for dinner?
In our house, I rule the kitchen. Now mind you, Mark makes a mean bowl of pasta with red sauce from our favorite organic brand from a jar. He also does steamed broccoli with toasted almonds and olive oil like a champ. He’s also been known to jump (okay, sometimes maybe begrudgingly roll) out of bed on a Saturday morning and with a bounce in his step go to the kitchen and exclaim “French Toast and Bugs Bunny!!” With two eggs, vanilla soymilk, oat sunflower bread and real maple syrup, he whips up half a loaf of the stuff with Bugs antagonizing Yosemite Sam as inspiration.
But when it comes to dinner, ahem, I take on the responsibility for fulfilling at least one third of his daily protein, calorie, and phytonutrient needs. I’m a nutritionist, what can I say? I quietly try to figure out how to balance out what he’s probably already eaten that day, which goes something like this: cereal, power bar, turkey sandwich, power bar, five stalks of broccoli (yes, this is my crowning achievement), power bar. We’re gonna need some major plant foods here, folks. We’re gonna need a protein source, and if at all possible let’s try and eat some grain other than wheat (don’t even get me started on the over-wheating of America!) And dinner needs to be yummy, and creative, and something that I will have fun playing with, and different than the last five dinners we’ve had (which would all be various forms of pizza if Mark were Kitchen Sorcerer). After all my mental nutrition calculations and creative machinations I seem to forget to ask the vital and obvious question, what do we feel like having for dinner?
Many nights I could just eat a salad with a bunch of leftovers thrown in and call it good. But Mark doesn’t like salads (yes, I’ve still got a ways to go on that one) so something hot and vegetable-y it will be.
How about some tofu? And stir fried veggies… and then some quinoa… but I feel like something soupy with savory salty broth. I didn’t want to make soup, but I think we can compromise somehow. The little concoction I came up with was so colorful, but warm and hearty too, but also light, I suppose. Maybe you just have to taste it to see what I mean.
Now a word on quinoa. Have you not yet tried this exotic little pearl of perfect nutrition? Run thee to a corner natural foods market and grab yourself a bag. It’s now a staple in my kitchen. You can use it just about anywhere you’d use rice, but quinoa is higher in protein and fiber. It originally comes from the Andean countries of South America where many native cultures have subsisted on it, particularly in Peru. In the past I have struggled to describe it’s aroma and flavor. Then a few years ago when I was teaching a kid’s cooking class we made up a pot of quinoa. I let the 7 and 8 year old kids put their nose near to smell, and a precocious little girl turned to me and said “corn!” And wouldn’t you know she’s right. The aroma smells like fresh sweet corn, and the flavor is also reminiscent, but mildly so.
I admit, on some tired days dinner may seem like a chore, but most evenings I remind myself that dinner is a ritual. It is a way we care for our bodies, our minds, and our lovers. Dinner is an opportunity to feel the vegetables snap on the chopping block, smell the garlic turning brown in the pan, give a whisper of thanks that I have such beautiful food, and the ability to taste it, touch it, and give it to others. It is a meditation, a creation that is all your own. If you have to spend 20 minutes, why not make them count? Those minutes are gifts, opportunities to slow down and care for our bodies. Even if it's pasta and jarred sauce, it is your contribution. It is a way to show love.
Dinner is what you make it.
Tofu with Herbed Vegetables and Quinoa
This dish is just a gussied-up version of the staples that we have for dinner many nights, tofu or beans, any vegetables leftover in the fridge, and some of that magical quinoa. So simple, play around with it and make it pretty, or stir it all together, add more broth and create soup!
1 pound extra firm tofu, sliced into strips or squares
1/2 cup shoyu or tamari
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup quinoa
3-4 cups water, flavorful stock and/or a dry white wine
2 large sprigs rosemary
1 bunch sage
1 bunch thyme
3 tablespoons miso
3 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 cups of any vegetables you have around (red cabbage, hearty greens, tomatoes, carrots, etc.)
5 large cloves garlic
3 tablespoons vegan worcestshire sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
fresh cracked pepper and sea salt to taste
Marinate the tofu for about an hour in the shoyu. In a large cast iron skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil until a drop of water crackles and sizzles in the pan. Add the tofu and sear until dark brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. While the tofu is frying, in a medium saucepan bring the vegetable stock and/or wine to a boil. Add the quinoa, rosemary, sage, and thyme and cook until quinoa is tender - there should be a nice amount of broth leftover. Turn off the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Add the miso and olive oil and stir well. If you love garlic, add some extra cloves into the cooking quinoa. While the quinoa is cooking, saute the vegetables. In your cast iron skillet, add the 3 tablespoons olive oil and bring to temperature. Add the garlic and saute until very lightly brown. Add the harder vegetables, such as carrots or potatoes first. Cook for a few minutes, then add the softer vegetables. Once all vegetables are tender, add the worcestshire sauce and cook a minute more. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve in deep plates, layering the quinoa, then the tofu and topping with the vegetables. Garnish with fresh herbs.