March 30, 2011

tofu "egg" salad


This salad makes a great sandwich filling. The dill pickles give it a nice crunch and tart/sweet flavor. I was never so fond of real egg salad because of its overwhelming eggy-ness, but this vegan version is quite tasty. Just be careful with the amount of turmeric. Even if it looks like you didn’t put enough, the color becomes slightly brighter after you let it sit for a bit. If you keep adding more thinking that it's not yellow enough, you may end up with neon yellow salad that doesn’t resemble the color of egg salad at all! (Trust me, I’ve learned it the hard way!)

Ingredients
makes about 1.5 cups
1 1-lb block of firm tofu
1/2 red onion, minced (about 3/4 cup)
Splash of Ume vinegar
3-4 pieces of dill pickles, minced (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 cup vegan mayo (earth balance mildful mayo and Vegenaise are good choices because they are sweetened with brown rice syrup)
2 TBS brown mustard
1/4 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp celery seeds
1/8 tsp turmeric

Ground black pepper

Directions
  1. Cook the tofu in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Drain and press the water out by placing the tofu between two plates and putting a weight on top (as seen in the right photo).
  2. Place the minced red onion in a bowl and add a generous splash of ume vinegar. Let it sit for a while until it pickles lightly. (If your body doesn’t agree with raw onions, you can sauté them in a little water too.) 
  3. Crumble up the tofu by hand in a bowl and add everything else. Serve as a sandwich/wrap filling (with carrot/beet slaw on the side) or eat with crackers. Enjoy!
(updated November 14, 2012)

March 28, 2011

homemade tempeh

I have been taking some black soybean tea, which is a nice relaxing tonic for various ailments. I enjoy the tea but I didn't know what to do with all the beans leftover from the tea. I hate throwing food away so I tried to make use of them by cooking them with rice, dried chestnuts, etc. but was running out of ideas and getting a bit tired of the taste. Plus, I ended up with so much! So I decided to make some tempeh. My first attempt!
Black soybean tea
Tempeh is a fermented soybean product that has a rich taste and substance. It is a great source of protein and also is rich in iron and calcium. Very versatile like tofu, you can pan fry them with soy sauce, bake them in a marinade, deep fry them and season them teriyaki style (my favorite!), mash them after steaming and make a "tuna" salad... Possibilities are endless!


It will take about a couple of days to make homemade tempeh. Although the process of popping off the skins is a bit tedious, it is overall pretty simple to make. The smell of fresh batch of tempeh is worth every effort!

Homemade Black Soybean Tempeh


Generally, you need a incubator to ferment the tempeh. But if you're like me and have a generator that stays pretty warm, you might find my method useful. (Although it only works during the winter...) You can also use an oven that has a pilot. I have read that you can leave it outside if you live in a warm climate but I have yet to experiment....

You will need...

2 cups of cooked soybeans
(I used beans that were boiled for about 30 minutes for the tea.)
sprinkle of rice vinegar
1 tsp of tempeh starter (available online)

ziplock bags
steamer tray w/ a pan and a cover
Pyrax or some kind of tray to place the bagged tempeh in
warm radiator
thermometer

Directions...

Take the cooked beans and rub them between your hands to loosen the skins. I must admit, this is a pretty tedious process but if you get through this, it's all relatively easy. You can leave some of the skins on if, like me, you get inpatient towards the end.

Boil the beans for 30-40 minutes. You don't want to cook them all the way. The fermentation takes care of breaking the beans down. 

Drain the beans, sprinkle some vinegar and place the beans on a cloth to let them cool and dry. When they are body temperature, sprinkle the tempeh starter and mix with the beans so the starter distributes evenly.

Place the inoculated beans into ziplock bags, seal them and distribute  the beans so they form a layer of even thickness between 1/2 to 1 inch. Poke holes in the bags using a needle (I used a relatively thick needle made for doll making).

Place the bags on Pyrex containers and put them in a steamer tray  over a pan that has some warm water. Cover and place on radiator. Check the temperature so it's around 80 to 90°F. I took it off the radiator once it hit the 90°F mark.

Tempeh incubating
Keeping the temperature around 85°F seems to be the key. Note that after 12 hours, tempeh starts to generate its own heat so pay attention to the temperature inside the "incubator."

After 16 hours

After 24 hours




Starting to develop a white coating
 
Tempeh is done after 22 to 28 hours of incubation. It should have a dense and white uniform coating of mycelium. According to Aveline Kushi, "good tempeh has a clear, pleasant, sweet, or mushroomy aroma and can be lifted as a single cake and held without crumbling."
 
After 27 hours. Done!

Nice white coating!

When it was ready to eat, I sliced the tempeh thinly and pan fried the slices with some toasted sesame oil and a dash of shoyu. It was very good!

I plan to continue making tempeh with different kinds of beans. In Japan, I have had black soybean tempeh with the skins intact. Japanese soybeans cook pretty fast and get plump when cooked. The skins are not as tough as the ones you find here. I will continue my experiment. Stay tuned!

March 24, 2011

chirashi zushi (scattered rice salad)


Chirashi zushi is a type of sushi (vinegared rice) either served with toppings such as raw fish or mixed with various ingredients such as dried shiitake, bamboo shoots, and lotus root. I mostly grew up eating the latter, but my mother would make it using the instant stuff that came in a bottle of pre-seasoned vegetables along with a mysterious packet of powdered seasoning. In addition to looking so colorful, it tasted sweet, salty and sour and had a nice crunchy texture from the vegetables. I loved it! This recipe reminds me of the instant chirashi zushi I grew up on, although it has no mysterious ingredients and tastes so much better.

Ingredients

4 cups cooked brown rice
1/2 package of ginger pickles
(*Ginger pickles usually are made with A LOT of sugar. Look for brands like Eden that use natural sweeteners like barley malt.)
2 TBS ume vinegar
1 TBS brown rice vinegar

1 large carrot, minced
4 pieces dried shiitake, soaked in water until soft and minced (reserve soaking water)
1 cup dried daikon, soaked in water for 5 minutes and minced (reserve soaking water)
1 cup frozen corn
1 TBS shoyu

1 cup frozen edamame, boiled for 3-5 minutes until soft

Lotus root, thinly sliced, cooked for 3 minutes and seasoned with a splash of ume vinegar (optional)

Directions
  1. Place the cooked rice into a bowl and add sliced ginger pickles along with 2 TBS of the brine, ume vinegar and brown rice vinegar while the rice is still warm. Turn the rice occasionally with a wooden spatula to cool.
  2. Place some soaking water from dried daikon or dried shiitake in a pan to barely cover and water sauté the carrots. Layer the dried shiitake and dried daikon on top of the carrots, add 1/2 cup of soaking water and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add corn, cover and cook for a few minutes. (Add more soaking water if needed.) 
  4. Season with shoyu and stir. Cook away the water. 
  5. Add the vegetable mixture to seasoned rice. Mix well. 
  6. Stir in cooked edamame. Plate and decorate with seasoned lotus root.

March 23, 2011

My Promises (2)

2. Use of organic ingredients

The quality of ingredients strongly influences the outcome of the dishes. That’s one of the reasons why I stick to organic ingredients. 

However, it is true that in the middle of the winter when much of the produce is shipped from California or elsewhere, not many organic fruits and vegetables are available in their freshest state at a reasonable price. Therefore, although it is very rare that I do not use organic fruits/vegetables, when I am in a pinch to go with conventional, I refer to “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Clean 15,” both of which are lists compiled every year by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). “The Dirty Dozen” indicates top 12 foods most likely to have high pesticide residues. All produce on “The Clean 15” is said to bore little to no traces of pesticides, and is “safe to consume in non-organic form.” According to EWG, you can reduce your exposure to pesticides by as much as 80% if you avoiding the most contaminated foods in the grocery store.

Here is a very cute cheat sheet that you can take along with you when you go grocery shopping.

 
In addition to produce and other ingredients, I also carefully select the seasonings, most of which are organic. I make sure miso and shoyu are made in a traditional manner (i.e. without added chemicals to mock the flavor), salt is unrefined, olive oil is extra virgin… I can get into more detail but I think I’ve made my point across.

I do not give my customers anything that I would not want my friends and family to have. Period. It’s that simple.


March 21, 2011

My Promises (1)

In addition to making everything from scratch and preparing the food fresh daily, there are a few things that I promised myself and, though not implicitly, my customers.

1. 100% vegan food that’s not just healthy but also tastes good

When I tell people that I cook without meat, dairy, eggs or anything that has to do with animals, they give me the look and ask “Umm… so what exactly do you eat?” You would be surprised how much variety you can have in a vegan diet without compromising the taste. My customers are not all vegans/vegetarians. Most are just health conscious people that want to eat what makes them feel good. That’s what I cook. I want people to enjoy my food because it’s tasty, not because it’s healthy.

cauliflower leek chowder


Creamy thick soups are such a great source of comfort on a chilly or rainy day. In addition to having a good high power blender, using lots of cauliflower and less water gives this soup a rich chowder-like texture without using any milk or cream. Sometimes I add some cooked rice or blended cashews to make soups creamy, but this is a nice and simple way to enjoy the cauliflower to the fullest.

Ingredients

1 head of cauliflower (cut into florets)
Salt

3 cloves of garlic (minced)
2 TBS olive oil
1 leek

3-4 cups vegetable stock (I make my own using some vegetable scraps.)
2 TBS chickpea miso

Freshly ground black pepper

Directions
  1. Place cauliflower florets into a pot and add 1/2 cup of water (or vegetable stock). Sprinkle some salt, cover with a lid and place the pot on medium high flame. Turn the flame low when the water comes to boil and steam starts to build in the pot. Cook for 10 minutes or until the cauliflower becomes tender but not mushy. 
  2. Cut the leek in half lengthwise and rinse thoroughly under running water to remove dirt. Slice them crosswise into thin half moons. Keep the white parts separate from the green parts. 
  3. Sauté minced garlic in oil until fragrant. Add the white parts of the leek and continue to sauté. (Pour a little bit of water or vegetable stock if it starts to stick to the pan.) Add the green parts and cook until they become soft but still retain their color. 
  4. Place the cooked cauliflower in a blender with some vegetable stock and chickpea miso and purée until smooth. Adjust the thickness to your liking by adding more vegetable stock. 
  5. Return the purée to pot to warm up and add the sautéed garlic and leeks at the end. Adjust seasonings, pour into bowls and add some freshly ground black pepper.

March 13, 2011

What Keeps Me Cooking

Berkshire Vegan's service starts with menu planning. Since the menus change daily and I always make sure a variety of ingredients are used and the dishes are balanced in terms of cooking methods, seasonings, color, etc., there's actually a whole lot of thinking involved. I must admit this is not the easiest nor my most favorite process...

My most favorite process is, of course, the cooking part. It starts in the morning to ensure freshness. Everything is made from scratch and prepared by hand with a lot of care and attention. Food is packed in containers and then delivered to people's homes or offices.

Some have suggested I advertise more or start delivering to places where people are more affluent and health-conscious. I must admit that I am not doing this for charity, but it's not for the money either. All I hope for is to keep cooking for people that appreciate my food. My customers, though they are paying for my service, never fail to thank me. They appreciate all the energy I put into preparing the food. I am very grateful for that. It makes my heart warm, reminding me of the time when I cooked for my family as a kid. That's what keeps me cooking.

portabella mushrooms stuffed with tofu ricotta


This is a fancy but easy dish to prepare. And it's gluten-free! Just make sure you make the tofu ricotta a couple of days in advance. The meaty texture of portabellas goes really well with the flavorful tofu stuffing. The combination of sweet miso, ume paste and nutritional yeast is just magical! Enjoy!

Ingredients

4 caps of portabella mushrooms
Salt and pepper
Potato starch or arrowroot (or regular flour if you don’t have to make it gluten-free) for dusting

1 batch of Easy cheesy tofu ricotta (recipe below)
Dashes of onion powder (optional)
Dashes of garlic powder (optional)

Smoky paprika
 
Directions 
  1. Remove the stems of portabella mushrooms by twisting them off. (Save them for some other dish such as soups and sauteed vegetables.) Brush off to remove any debris on both sides of mushroom caps. 
  2. Place the mushrooms cap side down and sprinkle some salt and pepper. Dust with potato starch or arrowroot. 
  3. If using, add onion/garlic powder to the tofu ricotta (recipe below) and mix well. 
  4. Using a butter knife (or a spatula), stuff the caps of mushrooms with the tofu, making a small mound. 
  5. Bake at a preheated oven of 400°F for 15 to 20 minutes. 
  6. Dust with smoky paprika and serve!
 Easy Cheesy Tofu Ricotta

Cooking the tofu is not absolutely necessary but I find it makes the texture a bit more like ricotta. This makes a good salad and pizza topping as well. Have fun!

Ingredients

1 block of extra firm tofu, boiled for 10 minutes and drained
2 TBS white miso
2 tsp ume paste
2 TBS nutritional yeast

Squeeze out the water from the tofu and crumble it up. Mix the rest of the ingredients by hand, transfer it to a container with a lid and let it sit in the refrigerator for a couple of days for the flavors to develop.

March 8, 2011

Cooking in Peace

So what could a non-professional "cook" like me do in the culinary world? After the business folded, I was in deep thoughts for days and days. I knew for sure that I didn't want to go back to cooking in a large kitchen anymore, making compromises and sacrificing my own well-being. Back then I was working over 70 hours a week, not even wanting to taste anything that I was making (well, except for desserts). It almost seemed like because I put so much energy in the food that my body was resisting to put it back in.

I kept wondering, "Why is it so hard to cook in peace? Is it impossible to feel the way I felt when I was a kid cooking for my family now that I'm cooking to make a living?" I would always go back to my dream of "cooking in peace," thinking about that warm feeling of sharing the food prepared with so much love and  attention with people that I cared for.

Then it occurred to me, if I'm just a home cook, maybe I should offer what only a home cook can offerhome-style meals prepared with love and care delivered right to people's homes and offices. Fortunately, I had the customers that I still kept in touch with, those that longed for the food we offered.  Many of whom I contacted were excited about my little new venture. That's how the Berkshire Vegan began.

 

March 7, 2011

pan fried daikon with shiitake

People often ask me how you can prepare daikon besides throwing it in soups. Here’s one of my favorite ways---pan fried in toasted sesame oil and cooked with flavorful shiitake mushrooms. Often very pungent when raw, the daikon gets sweeter as it cooks. Use the tops too!

Ingredients


1 medium daikon with tops
2-3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and thinly sliced

1 TBS toasted sesame oil
1-2 TBS shoyu
Splash of mirin (optional)

1 tsp kuzu, dissolved in 2 tsp of water

Directions 


  1. Cut the tops off the daikon and slice the white part into 1/2” rounds. Pan fry them in toasted sesame oil until both sides brown.
  2. Blanch the daikon tops and chop them into small pieces.
  3. Add sliced shiitake mushrooms and 1/2 cup of water (including the soaking water) to (1) and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes or until the daikon rounds soften.
  4. Add some water if it has cooked down, season with shoyu and mirin (if using) and thicken the sauce with kuzu. Add the chopped tops at the end and serve.

    March 4, 2011

    Am I a Chef or a Cook?

    "You can't call yourself a chef, you're a cook." Someone said that to me once. The terms "chef" and "cook" are a lot of times used interchangeably but technically speaking, you are not a chef unless you have been professionally trained to work in a kitchen where you head a team of cooks. So she was right. I'm not a chef, I'm just a cook.


    Although it seems silly now, this comment had been bothering me until pretty recently. I never went to culinary school nor have I worked as an apprentice chef at a restaurant. I feel like I made it through this far just with my enormous appetite for food and strong passion for cooking.


    I always loved cooking, even when I was a kid. I often went into the kitchen to help out my mom to prepare meals. When I was in junior high and she was away for her part-time job, I would come up with the menus and cook dinner for the whole family. There was a point in time when I thought about going to culinary school; it just didn't seem like a good idea to narrow my options down to just one thing. So I started working at a company and continued to cook just for fun. I would dream about having my own little place where people can come and pick up some food, but it was just a dream. I didn't even think I would be cooking in the future to make a living.
     
    In 2006, I decided to go to Massachusetts to learn macrobiotics at the Kushi Institute. I had lived in the U.S. off and on for 12 years by then and always wanted to come back to brush up on my English. My plan was to stay there for 3 months and go back to Japan. Many many great things happened and I ended up being there for 18 months. I volunteered in the kitchen for 4 months and then became a full-time staff. I learned so many things by assisting teachers in cooking classes and did a whole lot of cooking as one of the head chefs preparing meals for the staff and students there.



    My "dream" came true in 2009. My business partner and I opened a small vegan/organic takeout restaurant. "Vegan" meaning we didn't use any meat, dairy, eggs or anything that had to do with animals in our food. The business did not last very long unfortunately but I gained a lot from the experience. It was a pleasant surprise to realize there was quite a demand for good vegan/vegetarian food. Many people really enjoyed what we offered and said that, unlike food from other restaurants, it energized them instead of weighing them down. A lot of the customers grieved over the news of us closing and told us to keep them posted regarding our future plans. Now I finally had the time to think about what I wanted to do.