Seared Tofu with Chili Sauce

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You know those weekends where you find yourself without any housework, work-work, or social engagements, and you can spend the whole weekend parked on your sofa watching movies? Those magical weekends that come few and far between? I lived it last weekend, and it was truly fantastic. I felt so relaxed and rejuvenated throughout the weekend, and thoroughly recharged by Monday morning. In fact, I’m still riding my weekend restfulness into Wednesday, which is amazing. What a few good nights of sleep can do for your body!

Over the weekend, I was left to my own devices. It snowed several inches, my friends were busy with work, and Chirag was traveling for business, so I was completely on my own. So, I rented a few movies, picked out a new television series to watch on Netflix, made myself delicious meals and snacks, and had a wonderful weekend to myself. The weekend also included yoga pants and unbrushed hair, but we don’t need to go into that much detail about my general laziness.

Anyway, the first meal I cooked at the onset of the weekend was a tofu dish. I love tofu. Sure, it can be mushy and slimy and tasteless, but when cooked and seasoned properly, it can be an excellent vehicle for great flavors. Tofu is a great ingredient that can hold up to a lot of cooking styles. I’ve baked, roasted, grilled, fried and (obviously) stir fried tofu in the past. This time, I chose to sear my tofu, which gave it a great crispy and chewy crust, and a nice soft-yet-not-mushy center. I whipped up a little salty/spicy/sweet chili sauce, and voila! Dinner for one in a flash!

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Seared Tofu with Chili Sauce
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:
1 package extra firm tofu, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp salt
2 sprays, olive oil spray
3 Tbsp less sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp green onion, chopped
1 Tbsp red chili flakes, or more/less to taste
1 tsp roasted sesame seeds

  1. Cut tofu in half, and cut each half into 8 equal slices, approximately 3/8″ thick, to yield 16 slices. Place the tofu slices on double-layered paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for five minutes, flip over, and repeat.
  2. Heat olive oil spray in a large non-stick pan over medium heat.
  3. Gently press each tofu slice with a dry paper towel, then place into the hot pan. Sear for 5 minutes, or until a golden crust forms,  flip and repeat.
  4. In the meantime, whisk together the remaining ingredients to form the sauce in a small bowl.
  5. Remove tofu from pan, and top with sauce and garnish with fresh cilantro.

 

 

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Easy Teriyaki Stir Fry with Baked Tofu

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The weather is out of control right now here. Two days ago, it was 60°F and sunny. Yesterday, it was 45°F and rainy. Today, it’s 30°F and snowing. What the what?! Not to mention, tomorrow is supposed to be 20°F and the following day, 50°F. Universe, I’m okay with whatever you decide, but can we just be consistent, please?

Anyway, when I came home after work and running errands yesterday, it was already past 7:15pm, and I hadn’t even started preparing for dinner. I wanted something filling and balanced, as well as flavorful and fresh. After satisfying my grumbling stomach with a piece of cheese, I pulled out some leftover tofu, made a quick marinade, baked it up, and tossed it with stir fried vegetables. I put a bit of rice in my rice cooker, and within a half an hour, I was eating dinner while watching Pretty Little Liars. Delicious, comforting, and easy to prepare, this dish is a favorite of mine on a cold, rainy day.

Easy Teriyaki Stir Fry with Baked Tofu
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
2-14 oz. packages extra firm tofu, rinsed, drained, excess water pressed out, and cut into 1″ cubes
3/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup + 1 cup reduced sodium Teriyaki sauce
2 cloves garlic, roughly sliced
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp dried basil
1 second spray of olive oil spray
1-1 lb. bag of frozen stir fry vegetables, or 6 cups of your favorite fresh stir fry vegetables (mushrooms, spinach, bok choy, red cabbage, bell peppers, broccoli, onions, corn, etc.)

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. In a large bowl, toss tofu with soy sauce, 1/4 cup Teriyaki sauce, garlic, garlic powder, sesame seeds, red pepper, and basil. Marinate for at least 5 minutes. Reserve leftover marinade. Bake for 15 minutes.
  2. In the mean time, roughly chop fresh vegetables if using. In a large skillet or wok, heat olive oil spray over medium heat. Stir fry vegetables until cooked through, for about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add remaining marinade, remaining Teriyaki sauce, and tofu to vegetables. Heat thoroughly. Serve with brown rice or cooked lo mein noodles.

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Veggie Enchiladas

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This has certainly been the longest, coldest, most whirlwind winter I’ve ever experienced. Once I finally got a chance to sit still for a hot minute, I got sick, and then the chaos began once again. We’ve had a revolving door of guests, from my dad’s week long stay, to a long weekend of Chirag’s college friends, to my bestie Jake’s quick trip, things have been nonstop and wonderful. This weekend, two more friends are coming from out of town, but we’ve planned to keep things fairly low key. If nothing else, I’m just ready to clean out my backlogged shows on my DVR.

This past weekend was the most insane of all. Chirag’s roommate hosted a huge birthday party for himself, and invited old friends and new for the weekend. It was crazy, and fun, and sleepless. On Sunday, 4 of Chirag’s friends, and Chirag and I needed a break from all of the craziness at their apartment, and so I invited them all to my apartment for lunch/dinner/our only meal for the day. The boys were so excited to cook “real food,” so we did a huge collaborative meal.

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The food was delicious. I made chole and bhatura; Nikhil made paneer tikka; Arsh and Sanchit made aloo paratha; and Chirag did all of the chopping and cooked the paratha. Arsh also made yummy mango lassis, and I threw together some onion slices with lemon juice and red chili powder. We ate and ate and ate until we couldn’t move, cuddled up on the sofas and watched a Hindi movie. I maybe had a small bowl of ice cream during the movie. 🙂

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I love hosting people at my house. For some reason, the pile of dishes that follows a wonderful meal with loved ones seems less daunting than the few dishes left after a meal for one. I love bringing people together over food, which can obviously be done at the home or at a restaurant, but I prefer my home, so I can better control how many calories I intake.

Last week, while my dad was visiting, I invited his best friends over for dinner. They have been our family’s friends since before I was born, and we always have a fun time together. I had gotten home early from work that day, so I had time to make tons and tons of Mexican food for dinner. It took a while, but for a normal meal where you are not entertaining, each dish doesn’t actually take too long.

Enchiladas are my favorite Mexican dish. They are so easy to make, and calories can be controlled if you are mindful. I mix in tons of veggies to make each enchilada more filling and nutritious, and I make my sauce from scratch so as to cut back on sodium. All and all, these are yummy and satisfying, especially on a blustery cold night!

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Veggie Enchiladas
Serves: 8
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
For the Sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp flour
4 Tbsp Mexican chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Salt, to taste
1/2 tsp cayanne pepper
2 cups no salt added vegetable broth

For the Vegetables
1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red onion, sliced
2 bell peppers, sliced (I used one green and one red pepper)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, minced
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1 cup spinach, roughly chopped
1 packet reduced sodium taco seasoning

For the Beans
1 tsp olive oil
2 cans refried beans (see note)
1 packet reduced sodium taco seasoning
1/2 tsp cayanne pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
Salt, to taste

For the Enchiladas
2 tsp olive oil
8 low carb 8″ whole wheat tortillas
2 cups reduced fat cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Sauce: heat oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add flour, stir and cook for a minute. Stir in chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, cayanne pepper, and salt, and cook for an additional minute. Slowly stir in broth, breaking up any lumps, until smooth. Turn down heat, and simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until the sauce becomes slightly thick.
  3. Vegetables: heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add in onion, garlic, peppers, and jalapeno. Stir occasionally until vegetables are heated through, but still somewhat crisp (~ 5 minutes). Add in green onions, spinach and taco seasoning. Stir to coat all veggies with seasoning, and cook until spinach wilts.
  4. Beans: heat 1 tsp oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add beans, taco seasoning and other spices. Stir until beans are heated through.
  5. Enchilada assembly: heat oil in a saute pan or cast iron skillet. Place each tortilla in the hot oil for 30 seconds on each side, until the tortillas become soft and bubbled. Pour enough sauce onto a baking dish to just cover the bottom. Onto a tortilla, spoon on a tablespoon of sauce, 1/8th of the beans and veggies, and 2 tablespoons of cheese. Roll the enchilada and place seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat for remaining tortillas. Pour the remainder of the sauce over the enchiladas, and top with the remaining cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly, and tortilla edges are golden. Serve hot.

Note: I used refried beans on this particular occasion because it’s what my dad likes. I also like to use whole black beans (drained and washed) that can be prepared the same way as above.

Tofu Lettuce Wraps

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Isn’t it hard to believe that 2014 is well underway?? In my opinion, 2013 went by way too fast, but I’m so excited to see what this year has in store for me! Already, it’s been eventful, and we can thank the polar vortex for that. Fortunately, the coldest part of the winter is followed by the warmest, and I’m enjoying the “heat wave” that is 35°F weather. It truly is the little thing.

Chirag and I rang in the new year with friends at a local brewpub, and we had a wonderful time celebrating, dancing, and eating cheese. He left for a business trip in Europe on the 2nd, so I’ve taken advantage of the excess of free time that I seem to have these days by becoming a permanent fixture on my sofa, along with my two closest blanket friends. It has been too cold to do anything other than go to work, and then burrow. Next week, I’m making the long journey across the planet to see my grandma for 2 weeks. I absolutely cannot wait to see her! I’m having a hard time containing my excitement, which is accompanied by a really hard time focusing on non-trip related things. Here’s a list of things I’m excited about, regarding my trip:

  1. Everything grandma (hugs, laughs, stories, midday naps, watching her favorite soaps even though they are extra ridiculous)
  2. FOOD. All the food. I’m salivating already.
  3. Long chats with my aunt.
  4. Meeting my cousin’s baby for the first time, and playing with her 4-year old again.
  5. 85°F weather. All day, everyday.
  6. Sleeping in/relaxing/no work-related stress. Sleeping past 5:30am on a Friday morning would be bliss.

There are so many more things I’m excited about, but I’ll keep it short here.

So, I know that in this post, and in the media, and probably in anyone’s daily conversations lately, the weather has been the number 1 topic. I mean, not only is it socially acceptable long-elevator-ride-small-talk, but it’s been so extreme. The weather often influences my lifestyle in a hundred different ways, and I’m sure it does for others as well. For instance, early this week, when the weather was at its absolute worst, I caved and made the most delicious cheesy baked pasta and it was perfect. Warm and comforting — everything you could ever want out of a cold weather dish. But coming off of the holidays where I ate one too many Baked by Melissa cupcakes, and more donuts than I’d like to admit, I felt compelled to eat something lighter and cleaner by midweek.

Enter lettuce wraps.

I’m a carb person. I love everything carby and starchy: bread, rice, potatoes, crackers. I actually don’t even remember the last time I had a lettuce wrap. That’s why I was surprised when, on Wednesday, I found myself craving an Asian lettuce wrap. It was one of those “where did that come from?” moments. But I went with it, and I was so glad I did. First of all, lettuce wraps just look pretty. Those bright green lettuce leaves are so beautiful and fresh; it was hard not to find this dish appetizing on the onset. Also, the filling was so simple and light, yet flavorful and hearty.

Feel free to make changes to suit your tastes with the filling. I used tofu, corn and cole slaw mix (lettuce, cabbage and carrots), but you can also chop up some mushrooms and peppers, or use a meat substitute, like BOCA meatless ground crumbles. You can also change this from wraps to a salad (it’s probably easier and tidier to eat it as a salad, but finger foods are so much more fun!) I’ve also included step-by-step pictures at the end, since the colors are so beautiful!

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Tofu Lettuce Wraps
Serves: 6
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
2 tsp olive oil (or 1 tsp each of olive and sesame oil)
14 oz. firm or extra firm tofu, drained, rinsed and excess water pressed out
1 cup frozen corn
1 hot green chili, chopped
1 cup cole slaw mix
1 tsp crushed red pepper (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp vinegar (balsamic or rice wine)
Romaine lettuce leaves, washed and patted dry

  1. Heat oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add tofu. Using a spatula or spoon, crumble the tofu into very small pieces. Cook for 5 minutes, flipping occasionally, or until the tofu becomes golden.
  2. Add green chili and corn to tofu, and cook for another 2 minutes, until the corn softens.
  3. Add the cole slaw mix to the tofu mixture, and cook for 1 minutes, until the cole slaw wilts slightly.
  4. Stir in crushed red pepper, chili powder, garlic powder and soy sauce. Let the mixture simmer until all of the liquid has been absorbed by the tofu and vegetables.
  5. Remove the mixture from heat, and drizzle in vinegar.
  6. Serve hot tofu mixture in cold lettuce leaves.

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Mixed Vegetable Soup

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Guys, can we be for real for a second? Vegetables aren’t all that tasty, and it’s okay to admit it. They can be bland, or bitter, or in desperate need of cheese and salt (I’m looking at you, broccoli), and while they might be super healthy, they aren’t necessarily what I crave. That being said, I’m in a perpetual state of needing to incorporate more vegetables into my diet. I know, I know, I’m a vegetarian, but really, it’s fairly easy to exist entirely on carbs… yummy, delicious, carby carbs. mmm….

Anyway, when I came across a recipe on Weight Watchers for a broth-based vegetable soup, I was hesitant. I’ve never been a fan of most broth-based and/or mixed vegetable soups (bring on the broccoli cheddar!) but I thought this would be a nice challenge for myself. Worst case, I reaffirm my dislike for most vegetables and I move on. Also, I faintly remember my mom going on and on about this “amazing” 0 Point (now 1 Point on the Points Plus program) soup — I was skeptical then too, especially after the horrific fruit and veggies smoothie she made for me and Kunal one afternoon. Somehow, she and my dad loved those smoothies and many of her other healthy food recipes, but Kunal and I could NOT get on board. But, I figured, mom must’ve had a point, so I went along with it.

And boy, was she right. It is flavorful, hearty, and filling. On a cold day like today, it is perfectly warm, but not at all heavy. I wouldn’t go so far to say that I am reformed and suddenly I love raw kale and want to eat Swiss chard with every meal, but I will say that I have found the perfect way to incorporate tons of veggies into my diet in a really simple, concise way.

A tip before I get started with the recipe — feel free to modify the list of vegetables that I put forth to your tastes, as well as whatever is accessible and in season. I modified the original Weight Watchers recipe to my tastes and I’m really glad that I did. I would recommend using more fibrous vegetables (eg. root vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower) and leafy greens that will wilt nicely, as there is quite a bit of simmering time involved in this recipe. Vegetables that easily get mushy or break apart won’t hold up in the cooking process, but if you really want those veggies, add them in about halfway through the simmering stage to cook them through.

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Mixed Vegetable Soup
Serves: 12 (~1 cup per serving)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients (see notes)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups uncooked baby spinach, roughly chopped
2 cups uncooked Swiss chard, roughly chopped
2 cups uncooked cauliflower, small florets
2 cups uncooked broccoli, small florets
1 medium uncooked onion, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
6 cups reduced sodium vegetable broth
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper, or to taste
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice, or to taste

  • Put garlic, vegetables, and broth into a large soup pot, and stir to mix. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low and simmer, partly covered, about 10 minutes. (see notes)
  • Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Notes:
You can save a lot of time by using frozen vegetables too!
I like to stir my soup every couple minutes to make sure it is cooking evenly.

 

 

Chole (Spicy Chickpeas)

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Where oh where have I been? The past few weeks have been crazy, crazy, crazy. Between traveling for work and pleasure, and having my wonderful dad visit me last week, I’ve been more like a chicken with its head cut off than anything else. Fortunately, things are much more stable from this week forward, and other than a handful of social engagements throughout the week, I’m more or less home. Thank goodness!

My dad is an amazing person, FYI. He is kind and sweet and incredibly smart. He also has the patience of a saint, which is so great and possibly necessary, given his somewhat high maintenance children. I love when he visits me because it gives me a chance to spoil him with some home-cooked yums, and he’s a pretty honest critic.

For as long as I can remember, my dad has struggled with his weight and diet. But recently, he met with his cousin’s daughter, Shweta, (my third cousin? my second cousin, once removed?) who happens to be a highly trained dietitian and nutritionist, who specializes in vegetarian and vegan diets, and she provided him with a long list of foods and exercises that he should do to reduce his weight and to improve his overall health. Yesterday, my dad bought all of the grocery items that Shweta recommended to him, and I am so proud of him for following through with this plan. I couldn’t be more inspired by him and the steps he is taking to improve his health and life. I can’t wait to hear about his progress, and to both encourage and learn from him every step of the way.

During my dad’s visit, I wanted to help kick start his healthy lifestyle. I also wanted to make him something warm and comforting, and for him, nothing is warmer or more comforting than spicy, yummy Indian food. One of the easiest yet most delicious and nutritious meals is chole (also known as chana masall, a spicy chickpea dish with tomatoes, onions and lemon. Chole makes me nostalgic for my grandma’s house, where we would order the world’s best chole (at least, the best in my world) from a local restaurant. My dad says that the recipe from Creme Centre hasn’t changed at all in his lifetime, and the every bite of chole is just as delicious as his first. mm mmm, so yummy. I paired the chole with roti (thin whole wheat bread), basmati rice and aamras (sweet mango pulp), as well as seasoned chopped onions and extra lemon juice. If you’re lucky like me, your grandma sends you partially cooked roti from India that requires very little work to cook through. Otherwise, you can find a simple recipe for roti here. Side note: leftovers taste even more amazing, so I suggest making a huge pot and eating chole throughout the week, like I did! 🙂

Chole
Serves: 6
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 medium onions, minced, plus extra for garnish
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced
1 Tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp red chili powder or ground cayenne pepper, or more or less to taste
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp amchoor (see note)
2 Tbsp chana masala seasoning (see note)
1 15-oz can tomato puree 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus extra for garnish

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and cumin, and sauté over medium heat until golden, about 2-3 minutes.
  2. Turn heat down to medium-low and add the green chili, coriander, red chili powder, turmeric and chana masala seasoning. Cook onion mixture with spiced for a minute or two, or until onions are browned.
  3. Add the tomato puree and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in salt and lemon juice. Serve with roti and/or rice, and garnish with onions and lemon juice.

Notes:
Amchoor, or mango powder, adds sourness and fruitiness to a dish without adding juice or liquid. It is available at most Indian grocers and many specialty spice stores. Extra lemon juice can be added as a substitute.
Chana masala seasoning is available at most Indian grocers as a prepared, shelf-stable blend of spices. This is an easy way to get all of the ingredient necessary for the dish without breaking the bank. I use the Badshah brand for most of my spice blends. If you’d like to make your own blend, here’s a recipe that you can follow.

 

Coconut Curry Soup

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I’m only mildly obsessed with coconut. Once upon a time, I wouldn’t go near anything coconut, and while the texture of raw coconut is still somewhat off-putting to me, the flavor is like magic. See, it started when I accidentally bought almond-coconut milk instead of just almond milk. I was upset at first, but then I tried this new milk in my Peanut Butter and Jelly Smoothie and was hooked. I decided to try new coconut recipes by incorporating coconut oil into many dishes and using coconut milk (the thick kind in a can, not the drinking kind).

Where has coconut milk been my whole life, by the way? It is an elixir sent from the heavens, I think. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered the versatility of coconut milk, and that it is used in probably 99% of my favorite Thai dishes. It’s thick and creamy and slightly sweet and has this beautiful coconut flavor without being too overpowering. In an effort to be calorie and nutrition conscious, I generally buy a lite version of coconut milk, but those few and far between times when I let myself indulge and buy the full fat version… it’s magnificent.

Chirag and I love Asian foods of all kind: Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and of course Indian. There was a time when we ate some kind of Asian food, either take out or at a restaurant, at minimum once a week. But I’ve come to realize that Asian food is deceptively unhealthy. Those wonderfully delicious sauces in which my veggies and tofu swim are fully of oils and salt. My crispy tofu is fried. My veggies are too. Asian foods don’t have to be this way! Making these recipes at home saves you calories, as well as time and money. Additionally, my wok is probably my most underutilized kitchen item, even though it’s easily one of the best items I own. Also, I love using meatless products by Gardein in lieu of meat (obviously) and tofu. I’ve found that, since these products are mostly frozen, they are quicker and easier to cook with than tofu, and because they have so many products that can be used in so many different ways, it’s nice to have a few packages on hand.

Coconut Curry Soup 
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
1/4 Tbsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp garlic-ginger paste
1 package Gardein mandarin orange crispy chick’n (discard sauce package)
16 oz. (1 bag) frozen vegetable stir fry mix (or separately: broccoli, snap peas, red bell peppers, carrots, water chestnuts, and/or other vegetables to your liking)
4 oz. frozen yellow corn
1 Tbsp Thai red curry paste
15 oz. lite coconut milk
2 Tbsp Sriracha hot chili sauce, or to taste

  1. Heat coconut oil in a wok or a large saute pan over medium-high. Add garlic-ginger paste, stir and cook for 1 minute.
  2. Add Gardein crispy chick’n, and cook according to package instructions.
  3. To the chick’n, mix in frozen vegetables, and stir until all vegetables are no longer frozen, and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  4. Mix in red curry paste. Use the back of your spoon or cooking spatula to break down the paste, and to evenly coat the vegetables and chick’n.
  5. Slowly pour in coconut milk and sriracha. Stir to combine. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 5-7 minutes, or until all vegetables are cooked but still slightly crisp.
  6. Serve hot, either alone as a soup or over a bed of jasmine rice.