Tamarind Time Machine

tamarind tofu

I didn’t even have to squeeze anything out of a sock this time!

A lot of the time, my days in Cambodia feel very far away. Going through my old notebooks is like walking into a weird time portal, full of interviews with people I don’t remember (“Question: how long does it take you to paint a single tuk-tuk?”), odd to-do lists (“Find copy of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves for Savuth”) and discarded lyrics for a comedic folk song entitled “All My Linga Wants Is Your Yoni” (funnier than it sounds, I swear).

But with the publication of this cool anthology, which includes some of my Cambodian musings, I was looking for a way to pay homage to and feel reconnected with the Kingdom of Wonder. That’s when I went hunting through my notes for the recipe for Tofu with Tamarind, Chili and Basil. I scored it while writing a weekly column for The Phnom Penh Post called The Learning Curve in which I would try to learn traditional Khmer pursuits and then make fun of myself while I bumbled my way through them. Looking back, I see that I must have irritated a lot of busy people while researching this column, but they tended to be unfailingly good-natured about it, and Oeurm Pav at Arun Restaurant was no exception.

But would I be able to remember enough about interviewing her to recreate my favorite Khmer dish? It was a long time ago, my notes were sketchy, and even in optimal conditions, I’m lazy about measurements. However, I was able to purchase tamarind paste in an Indian grocery store in Queens, whereas in Cambodia, I had to boil the tamarind and squeeze it through one of Jason’s socks for lack of a cheesecloth. Perhaps giving undue weight to this head start, I decided that I could just intuit my way through the rest of it. Continue reading

At the Mother Earth News Fair: Torrential Rains, Pens of Alpacas, & an Improbably Delicious Vegan Taco

Alpacas, just about the softest creatures you'll ever touch, tend to look like Muppets when rained upon. They are always, in the words of Cluckin Awesome Coops owner Reece McClung, "very unlikely looking creatures."

The Mother Earth News Fair is an odd duck.  I write that rather than “strange beast” because the fair, held at a verdant ski resort an hour east of Pittsburgh last weekend, was far more plucky than beastly, and not just because torrential rain and wind walloped the thing all through Saturday.  The “fun-filled, hands-on sustainable lifestyle event” was awash, as could be expected, in exhibitor booths hawking bee keeping products and heirloom seeds and energy efficiency technologies.  There were over 240 pretty fantastic workshops, hour-long sessions with titles like “How to Cure Your Own Bacon,” and “Homesteading the Suburbs with the Kids,” and “Hand-Milk Your Goat; Make Feta, Chevre, and Ricotta; and Stay Out of Jail.”

But there were also exhibitors demonstrating for rapt middle aged men the newest and greatest development in drill bit technology, pens of alpacas, and a wildly popular booth selling slim plastic devices that allow women to pee standing up.  The event was slammed with people.  When the Continue reading

The TLT: Summer Between Two Slices of Bread

The TLTBoy, do people love their bacon. Rarely have I come across a food that inspires such raw passion in people. Just this week, while a co-worker, Devin, and I were discussing the Powerball jackpot having reached astronomical sums, he said that if he won, he would throw me a cool couple million if I, a longtime vegetarian, would eat an entire pig. I’m not sure if this was meant to be some kind of gladiatorial entertainment or if he merely wanted to share his love of pork with the world. Devin did not win Powerball, so I guess we will never find out.

But that does not mean that I am immune to bacon’s charms. I have very happy memories of childhood summer dinners that consisted entirely of big BLTs and fresh ears of boiled sweet corn. To me, bacon is the taste of summer, and a curious package that my mom sent me while I was living in Cambodia helped me to recreate that taste in vegetarian form. Along with other comforts of home, like American magazines, was a shaker of something called Bacon Salt, completely vegetarian but very bacon-y. Bribing the postman to get that package out of hock might have been some of the best money I ever spent. I sliced some tofu from the market very thinly, sprinkled it with bacon salt, popped it in the oven, and boom…it was like I was back in Ohio. The Tofu, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich was born.

Over the years I have perfected the recipe, and I think it’s much tastier than the substitute bacon that you can buy at the grocery store. I will share it below for any bacon-loving vegetarians or anyone who is craving something a little lighter than pork on a hot summer evening. Make one soon while the sweet corn is plentiful and the tomatoes are at their juiciest.

Tofu Bacon Continue reading

Lunch at the End of the Line: Bonnaroo Edition

Andrew at Solar CafeThere is a lot of good food at the annual Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tennessee. Much of it, along with dozens of good bands giving it their all, can be found in the central area of the festival, but for a perennial favorite of my brother-in-law Andrew (of Andrew Leahey and the Homestead), we were going to have to venture out into the great beyond. We were headed to the end of the line, and we were on the hunt for a mean tofu scramble.

A little background here: because both Andrew and my husband write about the festival for various publications, I have become an exceedingly spoiled Bonnaroo-goer over the past few years. They had once again managed to land us in “guest” camping, which boasted benefits like free showers and actual trees to shade our tents from the broiling Tennessee heat. (“Oh, no! This weekend, we’re like the one percent!” Andrew said, with a tiny bit of genuine class guilt.) But to get a taste of a particular dish that Andrew and his wife, Emily, had come to crave in Bonnaroos past, we needed to wander into the melee of the general camping area, where the great ninety-nine percent were partying in every conceivable fashion.

It is almost impossible to describe the verve, conviviality and downright filthiness of general camping. “I bet the best food is somewhere out here,” Andrew proclaimed with authority. Continue reading

Lunch at the End of the Line: Stir-Fried Bed Linen Edition

A free lunch really does exist, and I was walking the streets of Flushing, Queens recently, trying to hand it out. But I was having trouble finding any takers.

Allow me to explain. For our Friday series, Lunch at the End of the Line, I’m planning to ride one of the MTA subway trains to an unfamiliar stop and then offer to take a stranger to his or her favorite restaurant. As long as the place they have in mind is within walking distance of the train station and I, a longtime vegetarian, won’t go hungry there, I’ll pay for my lunch and up to ten dollars toward theirs.

But the good people off the Flushing-Main Street stop of the 7 train seemed skeptical. They were full of restaurant suggestions (including Szechwan Garden, a purportedly great place for spicy pork, and Nan Xiang, an excellent dumpling joint that I’ve actually been to before), but when I asked if they would accompany me, they began to avoid my eyes and find excuses. Continue reading

The Tofu Conundrum

greek salad with baked lemon dill tofu

I understand the shudder that goes down some people’s spines whenever the word tofu is mentioned. Despite the fact that I, long a convert to the way of the bean curd, will eat tofu in any form under the sun, I have been known to eschew many foods on the basis of texture, so I can understand why some might quail at the thought of a watery or slimy white block. But if you are one of the many tofu-haters out there, fear not; there may yet be a preparation of tofu you can fall in love with.

Marinated and baked tofu is delicious, with a firm but juicy texture that is a perfect complement to crisp salad greens. What’s more, it’s easy to make. Here’s my recipe for Lemon Dill Baked Tofu, which I love to serve with a giant Greek salad. Continue reading