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Adventures in Healthy Cooking

For some people it’s birthdays. For others it’s a New Year’s resolution. Or even a trip to the doctor. Everyone gets inspiration for eating healthier from different places. For me, it’s the fact that I’m getting married in seven months and I agreed to pay someone a substantial amount of money to take pictures of me. So I want those pictures to look good.

This inspiration led to a discussion of leafy green vegetables and hearty whole grains. But discussion didn’t lead to much action, at first. We have a good routine in our kitchen, and we can manage a week of fairly healthy, enjoyable dinners with pretty minimal effort. Routine doesn’t include a ton of weeknight culinary adventures though. We talked a big game, but other than brown rice, whole grains were nowhere to be found, and kale, chard, and even the less-novel spinach, never made an appearance.

The solution? Vegetarian Week 2010

Curry Prep

Curry Prep

To really dig into the grains and veggies we claimed to want to try, we had to force the issue. A week-long commitment to meatless meals required us to put a little more thought into recipes and menu-planning up front than usual. Thankfully, there are some good resources out there for the carnivore who’s veg-curious. I started with our under-utlized copy of Rebecca Wood’s The Splendid Grain and 101 Cookbooks.

After a Korean BBQ-induced meat fugue on Saturday night, we started the week with palak daal, a great lentil dish. Then we had kasha paprikas from The Splendid Grain with a quick black bean soup and a salad, followed by a mushroom and spinach pasta. By far, the best meal yet was the cashew curry dish below, from 101 Cookbooks.

Two observations about vegetarian cooking:

  • You have to like beans. A lot. Black beans. Lentils. Tofu. Somehow or another, you need to get some protein in your meals, and beans are pretty central to the non-meat protein world.
  • You have to like cutting vegetables. A lot. Chop this. Dice that. Mince this. It’s a mise en place marathon.

But we’ve been really enjoying it, and learning a lot about grains and veggies that we can incorporate into our normal omnivorous lifestyle. If you’ve got a suggestion for a good veggie recipe, let us know in the comments.

Cashew Curry

Cashew Curry

Cashew Curry
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 1/2 c. coconut milk
3 tablespoons curry powder*
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2/3 c. water
7 ounces extra firm tofu (half a standard package), cut into small cubes*
1 1/4 c. green beans, cut into 1-inch segments
2 c. cauliflower (about half a head), cut into tiny florets
1/2 cup cashews*
a handful of cilantro, loosely chopped

1. In a dry skillet, toast the cashews over medium-high heat. Keep the pan moving so that the cashews don’t scorch. Toast until the cashews start to brown and there’s a nice aroma, about 3 minutes. Set the cashews aside off the heat.

2. Bring half the coconut milk to a simmer in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Whisk in the curry powder.

3. Add the onions and garlic and cook for a minute.

4. Add the remaining coconut milk, water, and tofu. Cook for 5 minutes.

5. Stir in the cauliflower and green beans, lower the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.*

6. Remove from the heat and stir in the toasted cashews.

Serve over [brown] rice, topped with chopped cilantro.

*Notes: A couple things I changed from the original recipe.

  1. I used pre-made curry powder. I don’t doubt the flavor would be better if I toasted and ground the spices myself, as the original recipe suggests. And if you want to, more power to you. But don’t let that be what stops you from making this recipe.
  2. In the original recipe, tofu is optional. I don’t think this would be substantial enough for a main dish without it.
  3. The cashews were my favorite part. You could probably go up to 3/4 cup, or garnished with some crushed cashews, and make it better, without it being over the top.
  4. In the original recipe, the veggies only cook for a minute or two, just to take the raw crunch off. We had this dish with a salad, so there were already plenty of raw vegetables involved. You don’t want to cook the veggies until they dissolve, but I think the extra time improves the texture and gives the curry flavor a little more time to get into the cauliflower.

But the recipe is pretty forgiving, so you can adapt to your taste.

    3 Comments

    1. TDub says:

      WARNING!!! Do not use lite coconut milk! The dish looked and smelled great, but when I tasted it, it was definitely missing something. When I asked my 8-year-old daughter to taste it, her reaction was, “It’s bland, mommy.” Will have to try the recipe with regular coconut milk next time.

    2. dan says:

      To be honest, I’ve never tried using lite coconut milk. The richness of whole coconut milk is my favorite part! I’d rather eat less of it, or eat it less frequently, but get the full experience.

      This recipe made 5-6 large servings for us, and other than a couple of toasted cashews, there was no other fat in the meal, so it didn’t seem unreasonable.

      But I’m sorry it didn’t work for you. It definitely wasn’t bland for us, so I hope you’ll try it with whole coconut milk and report back!

    3. dan says:

      I was making this again the other night, and I noticed a mistake in my recipe that might have contributed to the blandness TDub described above.

      In the list of ingredients, I’ve got a teaspoon of salt, but I didn’t include adding the salt anywhere in the instructions! I’m constantly tasting and seasoning as I cook out of habit, so I didn’t even notice it was missing when I was writing this before.

      If you’re following these instructions, add the salt in step 3, with the onions and garlic. Then check the seasoning again right at the end, before serving.

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