Tuesday, October 18, 2011

peanut-scented zen

I think the whole "bowl" idea is more of a West Coast phenomenon.  Maybe I'm wrong.  I'd like to be, actually, because I love bowls - I love the way they look, I like how much easier it is to eat most things from a bowl, rather than chasing things like cabbage, cannellini beans, and rotini around a plate.  Let's have a short flashback parade:

Waaaaaayyyyy back in February 2010, my parents gave me The 30 Minute Vegan for my birthday.  I've mentioned in the past how fruity and flowery the book is, written by a hippie couple blessed to live in Hawaii where it's warm enough all year to consider a 50% raw diet do-able.  Raw.  I can deal with raw.  When we start talking about "living" soup, I get a little creeped out, to be completely honest.

Anyway, although I'm sure I had some other "bowl" recipes (Isa also favors them, which might put a bullet in my West Coast Bowl theory), it was this cookbook that introduced me to the Monk Bowl.

Later that same year, Mister and I took a trip out to LA for Blizzcon and some QT with his sister, her husband, and their adorable little boy.  While out there, we visited Native Foods, which as you can probably imagine, is a whole restaurant whose menu consists almost exclusively of bowls.  To back up just a second, here is the basic make-up of the ubiquitous "Bowl."

  • rice, quinoa, bulgur, or some other kind of grain; occasionally noodles, depending on cuisine.
  • veggies - usually steamed, occasionally lightly sauteed or raw.
  • protein source: tofu, tempeh, possibly seitan, commonly beans
  • topping: a dressing of some sort, maybe two - BBQ sauce, ranch dressing, tahini-mustard dressing, etc - normally a "creamy" or opaque sauce, rather than a vinaigrette - "bowls" should not be confused with salads.
So anyway, my whole point is - I heart Bowls.  Mister could probably do without them, but he's never complained really... he just tends to set the table with plates when he has a chance.

Tonight, I made Monk Bowls again (you might have seen this coming).  This time I was not overly concerned with perfecting the symphony in my kitchen or creating peaceful zen through multi-tasked cooking.  No, this time, I was focused on a change I've made from the last few times I made this.  I did not feel like making a dressing, even though it takes about 5 minutes if I'm really clumsy.  I also did not feel like steaming the vegetables, because as I learned a little bit ago, I really don't like the water-logged flavor/texture of steamed veggies.  I combined my solution for those two "problems" in one action.

The book even mentioned this, but I hadn't bothered reading the variations until last time I went through the menu.  I sauteed them instead.  In order to provide the flavor that would be missing from the dressing I did not intend to make, I made it a two-step process.

First, I poured a generous amount of olive oil into a pan and let it heat up a bit.  I added about 2 tsp of za'atar, scant 1 tsp of sea salt, and about 1/3 tsp garlic powder.  I let them warm in the oil, then stirred everything together.  When the sesame seeds in the za'atar started to pop, I added the bowlful of chopped veggies (a red pepper, three carrots, and a head of broccoli) and stirred everything really well to coat the veggies with oil and za'atar.  Then I covered everything up and let it steam-saute while I tended to my roasting tofu and simmering brown rice.  All said, I let it simmer like that, stirring now and then, for nearly 15 minutes, which turned out perfectly, flavor- and texture-wise.

Angst was pretty sure he liked the smells in the kitchen and waited patiently in front of the dinner table.

He begged, noisily, throughout the entire meal, too, even though we insisted there was nothing he wanted.  Mister even put his bowl on the floor so Angst could inspect it.  Upon determining Mister wasn't eating real food, he turned his big sad eyes on me since apparently, I had what he really wanted.

I know I had what I really wanted!  It turned out really well.  The tofu was sublime.  I pressed it in my handy Tofu Xpress before a brief marinating time in soy sauce, peanut oil, and water (okay, maybe there was a little drop of toasted dark sesame oil, too).  It had a great texture after roasting 15 minutes and I don't remember the flavor pervading the tofu as much as it did this time, so I will continue to press the tofu for this recipe, even though it's not called for.

The sauteed veggies came out great, with a good yet subtle flavor from the za'atar.  I will probably make some dressing next time, purely because dressing is fun.  I just didn't want to deal with it tonight, and I had gotten the idea in my head to use some of the za'atar I got in San Francisco.

I wouldn't say it was a zen ballet, but then again, I'm not sure I would use that language to describe anything.  Why don't we just leave it at: it was easy, it was tasty, and I'll do it again.

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