Yes, Your Grandmother’s Mole

Remember those times when you were a kid and you thought you knew better than your grandmother so you did something your own way and then it turned out you were wrong and she was right and you felt like a huge idiot and a real jerk?

Basically, that’s what happened to me when I tried to make a mole last Tuesday night.

Mole is a family of traditional Mexican sauces famous for their breadth of ingredients, length of preparation and complexity of flavor. They are the kind of thing you could spend days putting together. And I decided to try for one on a week night. And not just any normal mole. In the typical “emily” fashion, I was determined to make this mole lard-less, carb-less and very low in fat.

Even though I pursued a relatively simple varient of the sauce, Mole Colorado–one of Oaxaca’s seven traditional moles–it still proved to be an endeavor I will never take on after a full day of work again. That being said, I will be making it again after a restful night’s sleep and a strong coffee. Because MAN was this good. Like, really good. Like, maybe one best things I’ve ever made good. Warming, satisfying, rich and complex, you really can’t beat this sauce.

Make a day of it. You won’t regret it.

Thyme-Roasted Kabocha and Tofu with Mole Colorado and Poached Oyster Mushrooms

vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free

Serves 3-4

Mole Components
  • 3-4 dried ancho chilis
  • 1 peppercorn
  • 1 clove
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 2 tbs chopped onion
  • 1/2 tomato, in chunks
  • 1/4 tsp Mexican oregano (or marjoram)
  • dash dried thyme
  • 6 raisins
  • 1 tbs sliced almonds
  • 1/4 large banana, sliced
  • 1/2 tbs sesame seeds
  • 2 tbs chopped Guajillo-spiced Mexican dark chocolate (OR 1-2 dried guajillo chilis for use in combo with anchos, 2 tbs bitter chocolate, and 1/2 tsp darn brown sugar)
  • Nut or sunflower oil
  • Stock
Not Mole Components
  • Mid-size kabocha squash
  • 1/2 block firm or extra firm tofu
  • 4 nice looking chunks of oyster mushroom

FIRST PREP CHILIS

  1. Boil a pot of water.
  2. Halve dried ancho chilis (and guajillo chilis if you have them), remove seeds and stem.
  3. Toast chili in a dry skillet moving constantly until lightly browned.
  4. Blanch toasted chili in the boiling water for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from water and let cool slightly.
  6. Place in food processor or blender with about 1/8 to 1/4 cup water and blend, adding water as necessary to make a smooth, but still thick, paste.
  7. Set aside.

THEN PREP OTHER INGREDIENTS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Halve squash, remove seeds (reserve for roasting, if you have it in you) and cut into wedges (you can and should leave the skin on and eat it – it’s good!).
  3. Place squash wedges on non-stick sprayed baking sheets and dust with ground allspice, dried thyme and ground pepper.
  4. Cut tofu into 4 rectangular strips about 3/4 inch thick.
  5. Combine peppercorn, clove, allspice, and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  6. Combine garlic and onion in another small bowl.
  7. Combine tomato, Mexican oregano and thyme in a third small bowl.
  8. In ANOTHER small bowl, combine raisins, almonds, and sesame seeds.

GET MOVING

  1. Put the squash in the oven to roast for about 30 minutes while you work.
  2. Dry toast the peppercorn bowl ingredients in your cleaned skillet until fragrant, about 3 minutes or so, moving constantly. Place back in small bowl.
  3. Add garlic and onion, and dry toast until they begin to brown, blacken or char. Remove, and cool slightly.
  4. Combine peppercorn bowl ingredients, garlic and onion in food processor and blend, using as much stock as necessary to make into a paste. Set paste aside.
  5. In same skillet, cook tomato and spices until the tomato begins to lose its juices and dry out, about 5-10 minutes.
  6. Place tomato in food processor and blend that. Set that aside too.
  7. Clean your skillet and heat 1/8 tsp of nut or sunflower oil.
  8. Add banana and let brown.
  9. Add almonds bowl ingredients and continue to cook all until brown and toasted (adding non-stick spray if things get sticky).
  10. Combine all that jazz in the food processor with about 3/4 cup stock and combine that too. Yet again, set aside.
  11. Before you start on finally making the actual sauce, throw the tofu slices onto the baking sheets with the squash to roast as well.
  12. In the deepest, heaviest dutch oven or soup pot you have heat 1/8 tsp oil.
  13. Slowly add the chili paste, stirring constantly to prevent splatter. Cook over med-high heat for about 10 minutes.
  14. Add tomato mixture, and simmer for about 5-10 minutes.
  15. Add onion & spice mixture, and simmer for about 5-10 more minutes.
  16. Add banana nut mixture, and simmer for ANOTHER 5-10 minutes.
  17. Add stock to reach a slightly loose consistency, about 3/4 to 1 cup, and the chopped chocolate, stir and let simmer, cooking down, for about 20-30 more minutes. Stir regularly!
  18. While the sauce simmers, keep an eye on your squash, which will probably take about 30 minutes to roast. The tofu will take less time, and is done when toasty and brown. If anything is done early, just remove it and reheat at 400 degrees before serving.
  19. Put enough stock in a small soup pot to cover the bottom by 1/2 inch. Add a bay leaf and some celery seeds and boil. Add the oyster mushrooms and let simmer with the lid slightly open for 3-4 minutes or so.

TO SERVE

  1. Put the tofu down on your plate and encircle or top with kabocha wedges. Generously ladle your sauce over the squash and top with a poached oyster mushroom bunch. And potentially more sauce. It’s that good.
  2. If you were REALLY industrious, like I attempted to be, you may have also saved some of the kabocha seeds and roasted them as well. If so, top with those (or some pumpkin seeds you may have lying around) for a nice touch.
  3. HOPHEADS ONLY: consider serving with this deliciously juicy beer, a relative newcomer to the Philadelphia scene: The Gauntlet, an Imperial IPA from San Diego’s Iron Fist.
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Dijon Maple-Seared Tofallops Over Raw Marinated Brussels Sprout and Oyster Mushroom Salad

Following a week of unexpected indulgence that included an impromptu splurge at the brand new vegan spot from the Horizons folks, Vedge, and a last minute invitation to The Farm and the Fisherman‘s Pork and Beer dinner featuring pork from Wyebrook Farm and Lew Bryson to navigate pairings from Spring House Brewing in Lancaster, PA I needed a major cleanse meal.  Thankfully, somewhere between the vegan cocktails and shots of 41% ABV beers (needless to say I am referring to Brewdog’s unforgettable Sink the Bismark) I found time to get my hands on this beautiful stalk of brussels sprouts from Culton Organics:

With this bad boy on hand, there was definitely a cleanse meal in the cards.  With their powerful anticancer properties (thanks to high levels of glucosinolates and sulforaphane), brussels sprouts provide unparalleled support to the body’s detox system.  Plus they are full of antioxidants AND can help lower your cholesterol!  Now that’s what I call a power vegetable.

Need even more convincing that brussels sprouts might be the best veg ever?  Those leaves up top?  Delicious raw or stewed.  The stalk?  Matchstick it up and saute with some olive oil.  Side dish of champions.  This is a true snout-to-tail-type of plant – my favorite.

What really pulled this meal together, though, was a 1/4 pound stem of ethereal gray oyster mushrooms just begging for attention in my refrigerator.  Not wanting to do anything to compromise the delicate, pillowy cream-colored flesh of the mushrooms, or, for that matter, the nutritional content of the brussels sprouts I opted for a raw salad.

The phrase “raw brussels sprouts” likely elicits a sneer from most folks.  But what most folks don’t realize is that it’s cooking your brussels sprouts that puts you at risk of releasing those danky sulfuric compounds that have so wrongly criminalized this lovely little brassica.  When sliced thinly and marinated, the raw brussels is a refreshing treat.

Inspired by a great little blog called Warm Kitchenette, I realized that scallops would be a great pairing for a light raw brussels sprout and mushroom salad.  In the minutes following, I then realized that Ippolitos had just closed.  Scallops were quite clearly not an option.  So I got creative.  “Tofallops” it was.  And you know what?  You ALMOST couldn’t tell the difference.

Dijon Maple-Seared Tofallops Over Raw Marinated Brussels Sprout and Oyster Mushroom Salad

Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, Serves 2

  • 1/2 block of firm or extra firm tofu
  • 1 tbs dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 pint brussels sprouts (I used about 1/3 from the whole stalk)
  • 1/2 pound (roughly) oyster mushrooms
  • slivered almonds
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp honey or agave nectar
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • S&P
  1. With a paring knife, cut scallop-sized circles out of your tofu block.  Arrange “tofallops” on a towel and press firmly on all sides repeatedly until all the surfaces of each one are dry to the touch (this helps them sear!).  Leave them on a towel to continue to dry while you prepare salad.
  2. Mix marinade of juice from 1/2 lemon, honey, olive oil, and S&P to taste.
  3. Preferably with a mandoline (you can use a very sharp knife, but with small handheld mandolines available for under $15, like this one from OXO, I suggest you invest!) slice the brussels sprouts thinly and rinse clean.
  4. Shave mushrooms very thin with sharp knife.
  5. Toss brussels and mushrooms with marinade and let sit.
  6. Using a spatula or spoon, coat the top sides of each “tofallop” with dijon mustard.
  7. Heat a saute pan over med/high flame.  Coat generously with nonstick spray.  Add 1 tsp maple syrup.
  8. Once hot, place “tofallops” dijon side down in the pan.  Let sit undisturbed for about 5 minutes, or until you can smell the syrup caramelizing and the dijon becoming fragrant.  Quickly coat the other side of the “tofallops” with dijon, and then gently flip to the other side.  Allow to sear for another 4-5 minutes or so.
  9. While the “tofallops” are searing, add a handful or two of slivered almonds to the brussels and mushroom and toss.  Distribute salad between two plates.
  10. Once “tofallops” are nice and lightly brown on both sides, place on top of your plated salad.  Voila!  Dinner is served.

When Cleaning the Fridge Turns into the Greatest Vegetarian Chili Ever Made

Last Monday I found myself in one of those occasional “food prep frenzies.”  With a fridge (too) full of beautiful produce from Headhouse Farmers’ Market, a huge pile of eggplants from my garden to dispose of, and a daunting week of work ahead, I made the decision to get cooking.

First up for an early dinner was an old favorite: Eggplant Tahini Burgers.  This time served with a raw Rainbow Chard Salad:

Aside from the poor year-old freezer burnt -> toaster burnt potato bun, they were DELICIOUS, as usual.  Maybe I’ll get into the details of these recipes later, although at this point they’re a major “winger.”

After slicing and dicing everything that my shitty refrigerator could have possibly ruined by freezing and thawing several times over (as it tends to do) to make a week’s lunches worth of raw salads, I went to work on turning what was left into a made-ahead dinner that could go for at least two nights. Those were the criteria I was shooting for, at least.  And while I know it’s still summer, I saw a can of beans sitting next to a pile of beat-up hole-ridden beet greens and some of my roof-top eggplants, and I couldn’t resist the thought of a nice chunky chili.  But with a serious lack of ground meat in the house (not that there ever is any ground meat in the house), I had to improvise: home-made ground tofu – whatttt.

After a serious dive into the deep dark world of internet chili-flavor forums and a frightening look into into the depths of my pantry, THIS is the beauty that emerged:

Attempting to recreate the hocus pocus that went into this is going to be a challenge,  so I ask that you bear with me, and take this recipe with a grain of salt.  But here it is:

The Best Vegetarian Chili Ever

Serves 4 or something

  • 3/4 block firm or extra firm tofu
  • 1 small eggplant, diced
  • 1 bunch white beet greens, finely chopped
  • 1 small tomato, diced (juice retained)
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 3-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can black beans, drained (save liquid!)
  • 1 can green olives, drained and halved
  • 26-ounce can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
  • tiny bar unsweetened very dark chocolate
  • tamari or soy sauce
  • clam juice
  • ground espresso beans
  • dark brown sugar
  • tomato paste
  • cumin
  • cayenne
  • ancho chili powder
  • oregano
  • star anise
  • clove
  • lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
Prepare Tofu-Crumbles
  1. Cut tofu into strips like playing card decks and stack each strip in between as many layers of towels as you can.  Place something heavy on top and leave this way for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or two (the longer the better).  Pressing the liquid out of the tofu will help it maintain its form and texture as you crumble and cook.
  2. When the tofu is relatively dry to the touch, take each piece and crumble it with your fingers into bits – whatever size you imagine you would like in a chili.  Maybe some big, some small!
  3. Heat a frying pan and then add either non-stick spray or a bit of canola oil.  When hot, add **approximately** (aka go with your gut) 2 tbs ancho chili powder, 1 tbs cumin, 1/2-1 tbs cayenne pepper, and 1/2 the minced garlic you prepared.  Keep moving for a minute or two, until fragrant.
  4. Add the crumbled tofu (adding a bit more non-stick spray or oil if needed), and mix with toasted spices.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes before moving to allow the tofu to brown.  Then begin to stir regularly until your crumbles are looking crumbly.  Note that they won’t and shouldn’t be crispy or dark brown.  Retaining some of the mush factor is pleasant in the finished product.
  5. Set aside.
Make Chili
  1. Heat a large pot, then add either non-stick spray or a bit of canola oil.  When hot, add diced red onion.  Allow to soften for a few minutes.  Push the onion to one side of your pot, clearing room to toast up **approximately** the same amounts of the same spices you used in your tofu crumble.  This time, also add 1 tbs of ground espresso beans.  Bring up to fragrant levels, and then incorporate with onion.
  2. Add remaining garlic, and cook for another minute or two.
  3. Add eggplant, and cook for another 5 minutes.
  4. Add fresh tomato, and cook for another minute.
  5. Add can of roasted tomatoes, can of halved green olives, small piece (like 1 cm x 1 cm) of unsweetened dark chocolate, 1 tbs tamari, 2 tsp clam juice, 1 tsp dark brown sugar, 1/2 tsp tomato paste, 1/4 cup liquid from canned beans, 2 tsp dried oregano, 2 star anise, and 1 clove.
  6. Bring to boil, and then reduce to simmer.  Cover, and let simmer for an hour.
  7. Add approximately 2 cups finely chopped white beet greens, drained black beans, prepared tofu-crumbles, and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Heat for another 10-15 minutes.
  9. Squeeze the juice of about half a lemon into the chili, stir, spoon, top with a dollop of sour cream,* and SERVE.
*can be served with any number of delicious chili toppings: sour cream shredded mexican blend cheese, feta cheese, fresh cilantro, avocado, chopped fresh corn, jalapeño, etc. etc. etc.
Note: I made this two days ahead, and then ate it over the course of two days, and it only got better.