Category: Vegan + Vegetarian

Eggplant in Ginger-Garlic Sauce

Ever since I moved to my Harlem apartment, I had to keep myself from buying any more new cookbooks. It was hard enough to pare down my copies when I moved in, so I’m trying not to accumulate any more new stuff. I mostly borrow from the New York Public Library now just to get my fill of touching the cover and feeling the pages of a newly-published book, but when it comes to Fuchsia Dunlop, I make an exception.

Her books were my reference when I began my Sichuan kick a few years ago. Nothing out there compared to her work, living in the Sichuan Province and learning from the area’s cooking schools and the local chefs. I lived vicariously through her and her cooking.

From her latest, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, I ended up adapting her eggplant dish, or rou mo qie zi, from Hangzhou. I found myself in Flushing, Queens with my friend Josh over the weekend and bought some eggplants on the cheap. I didn’t have all of her required ingredients, so I played with what I had. Instead of ground pork, I used the minced beef I had in my freezer. She also required a sweet fermented sauce but I figured a dollop of chili paste will do. I also skipped the potato flour because I simply didn’t have any and I didn’t want to substitute regular flour or cornstarch with it. I have two kinds of cooking wines in my pantry so I used both just to have something else to splash in.

Feel free to eliminate the beef if you don’t want meat in this dish.

Ingredients:
4 Asian eggplants
salt
cooking oil
1 lb ground beef
1 1/2 tbsps Sichuanese chili paste
1 small knob ginger, peeled, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
a splash of chicken stock
2 tsps sugar
a jigger of Shaoxing wine, or Chinese cooking wine
a jigger of mirin, or sweet rice wine
3 stalks scallions, finely chopped

1. Cut the eggplant lengthways into three thick slices, then cut these into thin and even slices. Sprinkle them with salt, mix well and leave in a colander for at least 30 minutes to drain. Discard the water when ready to cook.
2. In a wok or a deep skillet, heat the oil for deep-frying. Add the eggplant in batches and deep-fry for three to four minutes until slightly golden on the outside and soft and buttery within. Remove and drain on paper towels.
3. In the same wok on medium flame, cook the ground beef until golden brown. Feel free to add more oil so it won’t burn. Add the chili paste and stir-fry until the oil is red and fragrant, then add the ginger and garlic and continue to stir-fry until you can smell their aromas. Add the stock and sugar and mix well.
4. Add the fried eggplant to the sauce and let them simmer gently for a minute or so to absorb some of the flavors. Splash the vinegar in and add the scallions and stir a few times. Serve with a bowl of hot, steaming white rice.

Related post/s:
Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop

Chickpea-Squash Coconut Curry

There’s a more elaborate procedure of this recipe, but for the sake of you busy people, I’ve published the shortcut version. If you do have several hours ahead of time, you can soak fresh chickpeas in water rather than using those that come in a Goya can. You can also buy the pre-cut butternut squash and save your energy from peeling and chopping it. A jar of preserved lemon can now be bought at Whole Foods in their Mediterranean aisle, though if you read this site often, you know I’m a big fan of pickling my own. As for spices, the ingredients list is long, as most curry-based dishes are, but I can vouch that skipping the mustard seeds is the only thing that’s forgivable. Double up on the cilantro if you don’t have coriander seeds handy. (But why not, I beseech you!) Leftover coconut milk and cilantro may be poured and added to your rice to make your carbs more fragrant before the grains come to a simmer.

Ingredients:
2 stalks of lemongrass, tender parts minced
1 knob of ginger, peeled, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
peanut oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
a dash or two of turmeric powder
1 tbsp coriander, grounded
1 tsp mustard seeds, toasted
a pinch of chiles
1 can of chickpeas, washed, drained
1 butternut squash, peeled, chopped in manageable pieces
vegetable broth
1 preserved lemon, chopped
salt
1 cup of coconut milk
cilantro, roughly chopped

1. Put lemongrass, ginger and garlic in a food processor and pulse to a paste. Set aside. Alternately, you can use your mortar and pestle for this; just make sure you keep your lemongrass large enough so you can pick them off before serving.
2. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil and cook onions until soft and translucent. Add the lemongrass-ginger-garlic paste and fry in low to medium fire until fragrant. Avoid burning.
3. Add the turmeric, coriander, mustard seeds and chiles. Sauté until well-mixed. Add chickpeas and squash with enough broth so that the squash are halfway submerged. Cook in a low simmer until squash is tender but not easily mashed.
4. Add preserved lemon and season with salt. Mix in coconut milk to thicken the broth slightly. Add cilantro and simmer for another 5 minutes until everything is well incorporated. Serve with warm rice.

Related post/s:
Preserved Lemons recipe
Try a similar recipe with your favorite white fish
A Goan curry recipe using pork

Dovetail

103 West 77th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues
212/362-3800
about $167 for two, with drinks, with tip
♥ ♥ ♥

Oh, this is your place? asked John Fraser, Dovetail’s chef. Erin and I ran into him as we were leaving the restaurant and we started telling him about our vegetarian-vegan restaurant project for this site. Erin has been bringing me to her places for the past month and now it’s my turn to bring her to one of mine.

Dovetail has expanded their space. Gone is the sliver of a bar by the entrance; there’s actually a small room that looks out 77th Street now. I’ve eaten at Dovetail several times, but I guess it’s been a while since my last visit. The private room next to the kitchen is still downstairs though, and one day, I would like an intimate dinner there with some of my closest friends. Besides the space, not much has changed. The staff is still churning some impressive plates and concocting some fancy cocktails (what happened to the Asian hipster with the funky hair?); their pastry chef, Vera Tong, is still wowing diners with her amazing desserts.

Dovetail started serving vegetable-focused menus on Monday nights and I thought it would be perfect to take Erin to one of my favorite restaurants to show her how talented kitchens could–and should–whip up vegetable, and even vegan, dishes. At $42 for four courses including dessert, it’s a deal you really can’t beat. The selections were so ridiculously difficult to choose from that I had to order an extra course. I simply couldn’t make up my mind between the sea urchin and the chanterelle mushrooms.

There are fewer vegan choices, but Erin didn’t have a problem eating the peach salad with the avocados. I read that they came brushed with chili oil, but I was wondering if aged balsamic vinegar was involved as well. Her tofu had a hint of lemongrass in the chai curry: it was bright and didn’t weigh down the tempura breading. She needed my help by the time she got to the barbecue parsnip rib with potatoes, pineapple and peanuts and I was glad to pick on her plate.

I started with the lightly-breaded and fried squash blossom stuffed with cauliflower. A frisée salad had a salty kick with small bits of smoked trout which was in turn held back by the horseradish and peppermint white sauce. The “chanterelles on a shingle” came next, a play on a traditional wartime dish called Shit on a Shingle (or SOS) made of heavy cream. The Brussels sprouts were pebble-sized and tender and gave good texture to the soft figs. The military would have loved this version better.

What came next blew my mind away: congee flavored with shiso leaves and topped with braised cucumbers and uni. It was so delicate and yet the flavors came out so strong. If John Fraser himself came up with this dish, then I want to have a drink with John Fraser. This dish, this dish is what makes a cook a chef. I ended with the button mushroom gnocchi in Bordelaise sauce. It was a little heavy after that heavenly porridge, but the radish cut through the French sauce. The butternut squash reminded me that autumn is here and if I eat any more Dovetail-caliber food in the next few months, I hope it stays.

Related post/s:
I went to Dovetail late 2007 and predicted it would be one of the best in 2008

Kajitsu

414 East 9th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A
212/228.4873
about $150 for two, with drinks, without tip
♥ ♥ ♥

Kajitsu serves shojin, an ancient Japanese cuisine in which meals are prepared by following the Buddhist principle of not taking life. Leave it to Japanese culinary techniques to take a concept like vegetarianism and make it exceptional. I’ve never heard of Kajitsu before–but then again I’m rarely in the East Village–so I was glad when Erin introduced me to its serene ambiance and to vegetarian food prepared with finesse.

We sat at the bar right in front of the chef when we visited. Bar seating is a favorite of mine because you can see what’s going on behind the scenes and you have a chance to talk to the chef in between courses. There’s not much cooking going on at the Kajitsu bar though. I think they’ve perfected the assembling of ingredients prepared earlier which, if I would guess, takes the stress away from making sure each course is paced and served on time. The dishes that needed cooking came from the side door, but we rarely heard a peep so common from open kitchens. It was Zen all the way in Kajitsu.

What came out were beautifully crafted vegetable dishes that not only looked good but also tasted good. I was honestly preparing myself for another meal after our dinner because each course read more like poetry than a dish. After all, you don’t get to see “tofu chrysanthemum” on menus too often.

We imbibed in the sake martini served like shaved ice. Harmless at first, but clearly damaging after our heads reminded us that there was alcohol in those summer drinks. Our first course blew me away on presentation: taro dumplings shaped like small spheres matched with a very thinly-sliced black daikon to mimic the shape of the moon outside and then topped with chives, ginger and a hint of soy.

The tofu was sliced like a flower and floated in a light broth with two tempura-battered lobster mushrooms. I have no idea where the depth of the dish came from but I knew it wasn’t just the sake that was making me dizzy in satisfaction.

For our main courses, I opted for the hot udon soup while Erin went for the cold soba noodles, both of which were made in-house and showcased what I truly enjoy about most Japanese cuisines: clean, subtle and deceptively simple.

The most beautiful plate of cooked summer vegetables I’ve ever laid my eyes on came next. I’ll let this photo speak for itself with one note: it tasted as good as it looked.

The last course rounded up our entire experience: rice topped with yamaimo, the slimy Japanese mountain yam that I’ve always enjoyed at Sobaya, another noodle joint down the neighborhood. A trio of house-made pickles and toasted rice crispies added texture to its sliminess.

Kajitsu was what I was looking for in vegetarian food. If more vegetarian restaurants could learn from shojin cuisine, I would be very happy to stay away from meat.

Related post/s:
Kajitsu vegetarian restaurant photos on Flickr
Slimy mountain yam at Sobaya doesn’t need a long review

Angelica Kitchen

300 East 12th Street off Second Avenue
212/228.2909
$33 for two without tip; BYOB

It couldn’t have been the quinoa because it was light and fluffy. Could it have been the creamy cauliflower sauce lathered in the mushrooms? Or the tempeh in balsamic? Because it definitely wasn’t the roasted beets nor the steamed broccoli. I was hot, full and feeling bloated and all I wanted to do was get out of there. What was it about Angelica Kitchen?

There was so much going on around me and on my plate, I couldn’t appreciate eating at New York’s oldest vegetarian restaurant. I tried not to complain about the tempeh, but eating it is like dipping a granola bar in sauce and calling it dinner. I like texture in my food just fine, but I’m not a big fan of too-grainy and too-chewy. If you look at Angelica Kitchen’s menu, you’ll notice that they cram a lot of stuff on one plate. I’m not sure if it’s to make up for the lack of meat, but I would vote for less ingredients done well over lots done poorly any time. It also seemed like there was so much effort spent in making the cauliflower sauce that the cook just gave up on the greens because my dish was accompanied by unseasoned steamed broccoli–perhaps the most boring thing you could ever serve anyone.

My biggest qualm about Angelica Kitchen is that it gave too much of the vegetarian community vibe. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was–or what that exactly means–but I didn’t feel comfortable hanging out while we ate. It wasn’t my scene and the diners weren’t my people. I knew it; they knew it. The A/C didn’t seem to work properly and the 93-degree weather outside made me very uncomfortable. We shared the big table next to the kitchen with other guests, but no one seemed to feel as warm as we did–and they didn’t even have cold, tall beers like us!

I tried, and I’m not sorry I didn’t like it.

Related post/s:
Counter Restaurant fared better in my mouth
I had a vegetables-only meal at Per Se for the same price as the carnivore version