Caramelized Cabbage with Tofu Scramble (Vegan)

I dedicate this post to my vegan friend, Colleen. And also Maggie, my friend Julie’s awesome sister who introduced me to tofu scramble!

Some nights I come home from work tired and hungry, completely uninspired and without an ounce of creative energy to put towards making anything, let alone a new and nutritious meal I’d never attempted before. Other days I have an idea of what I want to do, ingredients I want to use in a new way, and I’ll go to great ends to hunt down everything I need so I can make it this very minute. I bring out all the guns.

This week was particularly exhausting, and even though we had some things planned I barely had the energy to pick up a knife or rinse off some veggies. But we had two heads of half-used cabbage in the fridge left over from the Ribollita (still!) and it wasn’t going to last forever. We hate wasting food. So with some encouragement and inspiration from Hec, we put the cabbage to work.

I’d never cooked with cabbage much. Besides the Japanese Pizza, and the Ribollita, I never really use it. As a child it made an appearance every New Year, alongside a pork roast and applesauce (for good luck, of course). Other than that, I had no memories of how my mom used it…so I was at a loss. But I found a few recipes using a “caramelized” style cabbage. And I love caramelized onions, so I decided to see what would happen with the cabbage.

We had some fresh tofu sitting in the fridge…also close to the expiration date. The other protein options were frozen or still dried and requiring a soak and a few hours in the crock pot. When preparing tofu we usually go the pan-frying rout, and even sometimes the baked. One requires the forethought of marinating, and the other over an hour in the oven.

Then I remembered the scramble. The first time I had tofu this way was at a vegan restaurant in D.C. I want to say it was Soul Vegetarian (there is one in Chicago too!). I actually thought they were real eggs. I was young and naive, don’t laugh please. The texture was very much like an egg, I remembered. In my opinion, for some dishes, its the prefect technique. It’s hard to get wrong. It will never be too moist. And because the pieces are so small, the flavor is absorbed into every bite, whereas in pan frying, if you pieces are too thick, it takes a little more time and patience. Not to mention the oil. Also with the scramble, there is no need to marinate.

I used garam masala as the seasoning, inspired by Heidi. I thought the sweet spices would be a nice complement to the caramelized cabbage.

This meal was a delightfully surprising success. Not because the mix of ingredients combines surprisingly well…that makes perfect sense. It was surprising because I was at such an energetic low. But with some support and encouragement around the kitchen (like washing the dishes, chopping some veggies, a big hug) what could have been a box of pizza from Domino’s ended up a very nutritious and delicious meal. Plus, its incredible how a success in the kitchen can really brighten up someones day.

Garam Masala Scrambled Tofu
1 lb firm tofu, crumbled
2 t olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 T garam masala
1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds), toasted
salt to taste

Directions:
Heat the oil in the pan to medium. Add the onions and salt to the pan an allow to soften completely through, caramelizing just a little to create some juices. Once they are soft, 10 minutes or so add the garam masala and stir. Let the flavors absorb for a minute or so. Turn up the heat a little and add the tofu. Stir frequently, allowing all the flavors to mix, and the tofu to lose some of its moisture. Salt to taste. If you need more garam masala, or even some chili flakes, go for it. Top with pepitas.

Caramelized Cabbage
1 T olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 head red cabbage, shredded
2 cups mushrooms, washed and sliced (optional)
1/2 t salt
2 T brown sugar
1 t fennel seeds, toasted

Directions:
Heat the oil on medium-high heat. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the cabbage, salt, and sugar, combine well. After a minute, lower the heat to medium. Stir occasionally and cook for about 20-30 more minutes. A dark syrup should form as the water leaves the cabbage and the juices thicken. Sprinkle the toasted fennel seeds on top.

Serve the tofu along side or mixed in with the cabbage. It’s a wonderful combo.

Ribollita, Italian Peasant Stew.

We went to Xela (Quezaltenango) last weekend. It was a lovely end to a nice, long break from work. In the 22 months I have lived in the country, I had yet to make it there. It seemed a bit far (although now the highway has improved and it is barely a three hour drive now!), and I never had any business out that direction. But my visa renewal was coming up and I was looking for a cheap way to leave the country. So Mexico it was. Mexico really isn’t close, but from Xela it was a day trip, so we took advantage of the trip. I won’t go into details, my passport is now renewed, and Xela is a beautiful beautiful place I hope to visit again very soon. Hidalgo, Mexico — not a town I’ll recommend.

Whenever I travel someplace new I like to indulge in the culinary treats typical of the town. In Xela it is Shecas…a sweet bread often flavored with anise. We bought half a dozen from a bakery in town, and although they were delicious we were disappointed they had no anise. Oh well, we though. Then, on our way out of town in Quatro Caminos, there were venders at the stoplights selling bags of them. Impluslively I rolled down my window, asked if they contained anise (“si, si” , he responded), and we traded a 10Q bill for a bag of 10 shecas before the light turned green. I ripped open the bag and tore off a bite, and immediately disappointed. Not only was there no trace of anise, they were dry and tasteless. Ugg, I thought. I pondered “what am I going to do with 9.75 dry and tasteless pieces of bread?!”

Then, instantly, an image of old useless bread brought a rush of fond culinary memories. I rummaged through my bookshelf until I found the mini “marble memo” notepad where I scratched down the recipe.
Lets jump back 5 years to November 2004. My junior year in college, study abroad in Rome, Italy. My parents visited for a couple weeks. We toured the country side, including a few days in Florence (Firenze!). We went to the museums, shopped on Ponte Vecchio, and ate delicious Tuscan cuisine. I’m not sure how we discovered the tiny restaurant in that little village tucked in the mountains surrounding Florance. (I should have done proper research here, but in my emotion I didn’t have the time…Mom, do you remember? Do you still have that little ceramic ashtray the restaurant owner gave us?).

I remember very clearly it was very very cold. We took a bus about 20 minutes up the twisted mountain roads and were dropped off on the main street of an empty town. We ate the most delicious**, tender whole chicken, butterflied and grilled to perfection with that crusty blackened skin. We had a tomato stew thickened with day old bread, and we had Ribollita, a white bean stew also thickened with day old bread. There was no one in the tiny place. It was dark outside, but candles surrounded us in every direction giving an old-fashioned glow to the place. I felt like I was back in the 1800s. The owner chatted with us (and now I forget if it was in my broken Italian or his broken English). He explained the preparation of the dish in enough detail that I was successful in my online search at the internet cafe the next day (I don’t think I knew about Google back then). He gave us a little ceramic ashtray that I think my Mom uses for coins.

Good memories. I would like to go back. I wonder if it is still there. In the past 5 years, on and off I remember the stew and thought on making it, but the timing was never right. But finally it happened and it was magic. The white bean are great. It’s loaded with veggies full of vitamins. It’s healthy. And letting chunks of day old bread absorb the broth and disintegrate completely thickens the stew and creates a hearty, delicious texture. And it’s cheap and easy to make, although a bit of chopping is required. I just ate a bowl and my belly is warm and satisfied. I will sleep well tonight.

Ribollita. Italian White Bean Peasant Stew.

Ingredients:
1 cup dried white beans*
8 cups water
1 red onion, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional/more or less to taste)
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 potato, diced (optional)
2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 bay leaves
3 springs thyme (dried or fresh)
3 sprigs rosemary (fresh)
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups red cabbage, 1/2″ pieces
2 cups savoy cabbage, 1/2″ pieces
1 bunch kale or swiss chard, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can chicken broth
1 loaf day old bread (traditioanlly “italain peasant bread”, but you can use whatever you have).

Directions:

1) Soak beans overnight. Cook in 8 cups water according to directions (I do it in my slow cooker on low for about 5 hours). Once cooked, reserve all the liquid. Puree half of the beans while keeping the rest whole. The pureed beans will add a nice thick texture to the soup, while the whole beans let you know they’re still there!

2) Meanwhile, cook onions and garlic until soft. Add celery, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper. Cook until veggies are softened, about 10 minutes.

3) Add cabbages. Cook until softened and flavors combine.

4) Add tomato paste, still well to combine.

5) Add the liquid from the beans, the pureed beans, the chicken broth, and swiss chard/kale. Let simmer on medium heat about 30-45 minutes until potatoes are cooked and the flavors well blended.

6) Add the whole beans, and let warm through.

7) Meanwhile, toast up the old bread. Rub a clove of peeled garlic over each piece. Place a piece in each bowl, crumbling it well.Once stew is cooked, and seasoning adjusted if necessary, spoon a serving over the bread. Mix to integrate the crumbled bread into the stew. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

8)Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, and grated parmesean, pecorino, or assiago cheese if desired. Enjoy!

*You may use canned beans instead. Make sure to use water or broth to replace the cooking water from the beans.

**I stated in my last post that the chicken I made was the most delicious chicken I have ever had. I take that back…it is the second most delicious chicken I had ever had. The one I had in Italy was hands down the best!

Japanese Pizza

Japanese Pizza - Slice

If I were to rename this dish, I would call it a cabbage pie if anything. Or maybe a cabbage pattie, or cabbage cake. But for some reason the name Japanese Pizza stuck, and it has become quite popular recently, at least among food bloggers. I think the name Japanese Pizza is used because cabbage cake doesn’t sound very appetizing. Personally, I never ate cabbage until very recently. I always disliked coleslaw (it has mayo). The youngest memory I have of eating cabbage is from college when my mom made  a fabulous wasabi marinated tuna with an “asian slaw” she called it. I’m not sure what is in it, but it was good and there was no mayo for sure.

In Guatemala cabbage is quite common. They use a slaw-styled pickeld mixture of cabbage and carrots to eat on hot dogs, tacos sometimes, pupusas. Cabbage is common in a beef stew Héc’s mom makes. It’ve grown quite fond of it.

Japanese Pizza - VeggiesJapanese Pizza - In the Pan

Japanese Pizza - The FlipJapanese Pizza - Whole

It’s a simple meal to prepare. You just shredd the cabbage and other ingredients you want to put in, mix it with flour and an egg to bind, and then fry it up in a pan just like a pancake, carefully flipping it. You want to make sure not to leave the center soggy, so pressing it flat and leaving it on medium heat for about 10 minutes per side will ensure this. You want a golden brown crispy outside when you are done. It can be topped with a number of dressings, but I prefer my yogurt-cilantro dressing.

Japaneses Pizza (Makes two 10-inch pizzas. Serves 8-10 as a side, or 4 as a main)

Ingredients:
2 cups cabbage, finely shredded
1 carrot, finely shredded
3-5 radishes, finely shredded (optional)
5 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup flour (I always use whole wheat)
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs

Directions:
Shred all the veggies very finely. I use the large slotted slide of my box shredder. Toss to combine well. Whisk salt and flour together, then toss with the veggies. Then add the eggs, and coat everything very well. Add a teaspoon or two of oil to a large skillet and heat to medium high. Use a paper towel to spread the oil evenly to coat the pan. Add about half the mixture to the pan, quickly flattening and pressing as thin as possible. It should be about 1/2 an inch thick or less. Let cook for about 7 minutes, moving the pan around to let the pizza slide around. You don’t want it to get stuck.. Flip the pizza by first placing a plate upside-down on top of the skillet. Using pot holders, pick the “sandwich” up, flip quickly, so that the pizza is now on the plate. Add a little more oil to the pan, and then slide the pizza back to cook the other side. After about 3 minutes, reduce the heat to medium and cover. Let cook for about 7-10 more minutes, moving the pizza occasionally to prevent sticking.

Serving Suggestions:
The Japanese (I’ve read..however only from other American bloggers) eat this with ketchup and mayo. I like it with my cilantro-yogurt dressing. I also suggest topping with pine nuts, walnuts, or slivered almonds; fresh herbs especially cilantro or chives; slices of hard boiled egg or my favorite, an egg sunny-side up; bacon, prosciutto, or serrano ham; grated parmesan cheese. Be creative. You can do a lot with this, and it can easily be made into a main course by adding protein.