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.

 

 

Curry Pumpkin-Bean Soup

I’ve been moving at the speed of light these days. I’ve spent many early mornings and late nights at the airport as of late, and I think the allure of being transient is quickly wearing off. I miss my home and my bed and my kitchen!

I was fortunate enough to have a moment of peace yesterday, and I wasn’t about to let my pesky cold or the decreasing temperatures hold me back from making myself a yummy meal. Because I’ve been traveling so much, I haven’t really found the need to go to the grocery store, which left me with some strange options for dinner last night. But I managed to throw something pretty delicious together and I had to share!

Curry Pumpkin-Bean Soup
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: <5 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:
1 15oz can pumpkin purée
3-1/2 cups reduced sodium vegetable broth
1 15oz can navy beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
2 Tbsp cream cheese

1. In a large pot, stir pumpkin, broth, beans, Italian seasoning, curry powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 7-8 minutes.
2. Using a blender or immersion blender, blend until smooth. Return to pot and reheat.
3. Stir in cheeses until melted. Serve hot.

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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.

 

Oven-Grilled Naan Pizza

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mmm pizza. There is something about the combination of warm tomato sauce and melted cheese that just drives me crazy. I could probably eat pizza every day. In fact, I have before — oh, college. Despite my fondness for pizza though, I’ve never come up with the perfect pizza. For me, prepared dough never cooks fully and evenly, and homemade dough takes WAY too long to make. Pre-made crusts taste funny, and ordering pizza from the local pizza shops can get pricey and unhealthy really fast.

On Sunday, before our flights home, Kinjal made us all pita pizzas — individual sized pizzas on pocketless pita bread. It was the perfect size for an early dinner/late afternoon pre-flight snack. When I got home, I wanted more. I was officially hooked. When I started experimenting in my kitchen, I remembered the one summer that my mom wanted a grill for her birthday and mother’s day. My dad bought her an amazing outdoor grill, which she used every single day during the summer. Everything we ate had some grilled element to it: grilled corn, grilled veggie burgers, grilled tostadas, and grilled pita pizzas. Kunal and I laughed on Sunday as we remembered how many grilled pita pizzas we had. At least 100, or so we claim. But they were delicious, so it’s a really wonderful memory.

I wanted to recreate that grilled crispiness, but I am limited by my apartment, and the fact that it’s getting cold, not to mention that it gets dark by 6pm now. Further limiting, my grocery store was also out of pita bread (what?!), so I picked up a package of garlic naan (2 large pieces, 4 servings per package) and figured, they’re kind of the same.

But I moved forward. I fired up my oven, threw my grill pan in and got everything hot, then baked my naan pizza until it was crispy and melty and yummy. What a success!! One major warning though: don’t forget to wear oven mitts when touching the grill pan… it gets SUPER hot. And don’t have a grill pan?? A baking sheet or cast iron skillet will work just fine. Just use the same method. Although, I highly recommend a grill pan, just in general. Mine has changed my life in so many good ways!

Oven-Grilled Naan Pizza
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes (see notes)

Ingredients:
2 large pieces, garlic naan (or plain naan, rubbed with garlic, or plain pita bread, rubbed with garlic)
1 jar, traditional pizza sauce
1/2 cup, reduced-fat shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup, baby spinach
1 Tbsp crushed red pepper
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning

  1. Place oven-safe grill pan in oven, and heat oven to 425°F. Once heated, remove grill pan carefully, and place on high heat-safe surface.
  2. Place naan on grill pan, and top with sauce, cheese and spinach. Sprinkle half of the crushed red pepper and Italian seasoning onto the top of the pizzas. Bake for 8-12 minutes (see notes), or until naan is crispy on the the bottom and sides, and cheese has melted and is bubbly.
  3. Sprinkle remaining red pepper and Italian seasoning onto the top of each pizza.

Notes:
Depending on the size of your grill pan and naans, you may need to cook each naan separately. Bake each for 8 minutes separately, or 12 minutes together.
One serving is half of a naan pizza.
Use this recipe to make your favorite pizza, with all of your favorite pizza toppings!

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One Pot Taco Stew

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Today was one of those days where the dress code consisted of sweatpants and messy hair, and I spent the majority of my day lounging while Chirag watched football. It was wonderful, and lazy, and the restful day that I needed before another long work week begins.

I took Chirag to the airport this evening, and had to drive home in torrential downpour. The rain was necessary, but even in the 30 second walk from my car to the front door of my apartment, I was soaking wet and cold. I needed something warm and filling for dinner, and something that would pack up well for lunch tomorrow. I also didn’t want to spend a lot of time cooking, and I really didn’t want to spend a lot of time cleaning. I needed a “one pot” dinner that wouldn’t take a lot of energy, and I really think that I struck gold with this one! I love the tropical combination of coconut oil and lime, with the rich mixture of beans and creamy cheese. Salsa fills out the dish without making it heavy.

One Pot Taco Stew
Serves: 6 generous portions
Preparation Time: <5 minutes
Cooking Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients
1/2 Tbsp coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 cup brown rice
1 can (15 oz) no sodium added black beans
1 can (15 oz) no sodium added pinto beans
1 can (15 oz) no sodium added diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp salsa
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cayenne pepper powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1 wedge Laughing Cow Light Queso Fresco & Chipotle
3 Tbsp low fat shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup baby spinach
Suggested garnishes: cheddar cheese, sour cream, salsa, Greek yogurt, lettuce, avocado, baked tortilla chips

  1. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onions, and cook until translucent. Add in rice, stir to coat with oil, and cook for about a minute.
  2. Add in black beans, pinto beans, tomatoes, salsa, lime juice, oregano, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, cumin and salt. Stir to combine. Bring to a bowl, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Stir occasionally until rice is fully cooked through.
  3. Remove pot from heat, and stir in cheese wedge and shredded cheese until melted and stew becomes thick. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Serve hot.

Notes:
This dish can be stored in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for 3-5 days, or frozen in an air-tight container for 2 weeks.
Instead of coconut oil, olive oil can be used.

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Tea-Roasted Tofu with Chili-Peach Jam

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This October is different than usual. The city is holding on to every last bit of summer. Maybe it’s the unordinary sunshine and blue skies. Maybe it’s the (possibly) continuing baseball season. I’m not much a sports person, but baseball is just indicative of summer. Also, go Tribe! I’m not much of a sports person, but I love the energy that sports bring to a city. My city in particular needs the energy. In general, we’re a sad city, a struggling city, but a proud city. This city loves all of the sports teams, even though they’ve never been really good. Well, except for the LeBron era, but people don’t talk about that around here.

But right now, the Indians are playing in October, which is apparently a good thing, and the Browns have won two games in a row, and the city is alive. It’s incredible.

With the energy and the summery feeling in the air, I wanted to make something light and bright. I was inspired by this recipe that I found on Pinterest a year or so ago, but when I first made it, I didn’t have apricots. I did have a million peaches though, so I thought, that’s a pretty good substitute. At the time, peaches were in season and incredibly juicy and sweet. But the time that it took to peel, core and cut all of the peaches was unreal, and the whole process was way to messy for me. The next time I made this dish, I wanted to make the whole process easier for myself, and I used no sugar added jarred peaches and bagged tea leaves. The end product looks and sounds fancy, and is a 1-2 punch to your taste buds: sweet and spicy and salty and roasty. But it’s so simple to make, and made with such simple ingredients. And your guests will be so impressed by this too!

Tea-Roasted Tofu with Chili-Peach Jam
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1 teabag black tea
1 block extra firm tofu, drained, rinsed and patted dry, cut into 1/2″ cubes
14 oz no-sugar-added cling peaches, in their own juice and cubed
2 jalapenos, sliced into thin rounds, seeds and ribs optional

  1. Preheat oven to 415°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or baking paper.
  2. In a small microwave safe bowl, heat soy sauce in the microwave for 15 seconds, or until warm and bubbly. Steep teabag in warm soy sauce and cover, for 5 minutes.
  3. Dip tofu cubes in tea-soy sauce to cover all sides completely and place onto baking sheet. Reserve extra sauce. Prick the tops of the tofu cubes with a fork. Be careful to not go further than 3/4 of the way through each piece of tofu. Brush on extra tea-soy sauce onto the tops of the tofu. Bake tofu in preheated oven for 8 minutes, flip and brush on extra tea-soy sauce onto the tops of the tofu, and bake for an additional 6 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, heat peaches with juice in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.
  5. Add jalapeno slices to the peaches. Simmer, stirring occasionally and vigorously to break apart larger pieces of peach. Continue doing so until peaches attain a jam-like consistency.
  6. Serve tofu warm, topped with peach jam.

Notes
If you’re feeling adventurous, try using a flavored tea instead of black tea. Citrus- or lemon-flavored tea will brighten up the dish, while chai tea blends will add a note of warmth and complexity to the tofu. Be creative!