BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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The Pouch Principle

No matter what the actual dish in question is, prepared, shelf-stable meals are often labeled  across the board as unhealthy, or even worse, unpalatable. To cast such a wide net across this vast category of edibles only does a disservice to the eater, putting scores of undiscovered flavors firmly out of reach. Sure, fresh is indisputably best whenever possible, but between busy schedules, budgetary constraints, and unreliable kitchens, this alternative becomes a prime option. Especially for the traveler with little more than a microwave at best, such handy shortcut meals are an absolute godsend.

One company producing pouches of higher quality than most is Tasty Bite, a staple in the vegan and vegetarian marketplace for almost a decade. Offering East Asian delights across countless country borders, it’s an easy introduction to the unique palate of spices that perfumes these unique cuisines, without needing to hunt down a restaurant willing to go without their ghee. Although there’s typically a package or two stashed away in my pantry in case of emergencies, I had no idea that Tasty Bite made more than just entrees until they landed on my doorstep. Now delving into the world of sides, there are scores of flavorful starchy options to pair with your punjab, if you so wish.

One of my favorites has always been the Channa Masala, a mildly spiced chickpea stew found on any Indian menu that’s worth reading through. This particular rendition bears incredibly tender, creamy chickpeas in a lightly tangy tomato sauce. More flavorful than hot, the pepper is played down while the sweeter, warmer spices perfume the dish. Whole spices lend occasional pops of flavor; toasted cumin or coriander seeds add concentrated bursts of flavor into different bites, keeping the eating experience exciting.

Plated on a bed of Thai Lime Rice, I was taken aback by just how delicious those unassuming grains were. A focal point in its own right, the rice leads with a strong punch of lemongrass, enhanced by the richness of coconut milk. Granted, the texture fell a bit more on the side of mushy than I would prefer, but for a dish that’s merely nuked for a minute and ready to go, you can’t beat that complex flavor.

Punjab Eggplant, another common stable of Indian cooking, tortures me to no end. Though I long to dig in with abandon, eggplant does still make my throat burn, so I passed the torch over to my mom for this taste test. She noted that the spice level was high enough to make her nose run, although there was still a notable sweetness about the sauce. The greatest failing here was the largely homogenous, pulpy texture, perhaps something that could be remedied with a pairing of crunchy crackers or flatbread instead of rice.

Of course, I just had to go the more traditional route and add Ginger Lentil Rice into the mix. Though this rice has the same soft qualities as before, the lentils poses a pleasantly surprising firm bite. Dyed a brilliant yellow thanks to the turmeric-imbued curry powder, aromatic ginger essence does take the lead, just as promised. Much more interesting than your average “bean and rice” side dish, I would venture to say that it could even be considered a full meal in itself, thanks to the effortless combination of nutritious proteins and starches.

Previous unbeknownst to me, Tasty Bite has also begun serving up Asian noodles in their iconic pouches. Sampling the Kung Pao Asian Noodles with high hopes, I’m sad to report that the noodles themselves proved predictably overcooked, well past the stage of aldente. Painted in a tangy, punchy sauce, toothsome peanuts and water chestnuts do introduce a bit more character to the combination, if not quite the structure I so craved. Balancing sweetness, saltiness, and spiciness, it’s nothing too complicated or challenging; easy comfort food for the harried eater. However, I can’t say I would readily venture into the realm of noodle pouches again in the near future. There’s still a way for the technology to go to prevent the texture downfalls inherent in the pasta.

Sharing a world of flavors that will satisfy hunger pangs in a minute flat, it doesn’t get any easier than a quick meal whipped up courtesy of Tasty Bite. Just fire up the microwave and dig in.


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Winter Warmer

Not yet winter, you say? I dare you to repeat that after this last week in stormy New England. Losing power for 2 1/2 days in the sub-freezing temperatures would have been bad enough, but the cherry on top of this snow sundae was sliding on the ice and crashing my car into a telephone pole. Minimal at worst, the air bags didn’t even deploy, and yet the damage somehow totals upwards of $4,000. Completely incomprehensible to this car-illiterate new driver.

The point is, it’s never too early for some comforting winter dishes that can warm you up from the inside, especially when it’s damn near apocalyptic outside. I may have lacked the resources to make this particular soup in my moment of greatest need, but the craving for a bubbling cauldron of savory stew reminded me of this previously unpublished recipe.


Please excuse the dark, mediocre photo… It’s almost a year old and I haven’t had a chance to shoot a new one!

Inspired by saag paneer, and Indian dish with gently stewed spinach and cubes of soft cheese, this vegan version utilizes kale, the leafy green of the moment, and achieves a silkier texture through the use of pureed potato. A stunning one-bowl meal, complete with greens and protein, not to mention a crave-worthy spicy flavor profile, my hesitation to share it stemmed from impatience. Factoring in the time it takes to press the tofu, bake the tofu, and simmer the soup, it’s not one to make on the fly.

However, thanks to the new tofu innovation from Nasoya, their latest vacuum-packed Sprouted Tofu cuts the prep time in half. Packaged and sold already pressed, the firm, dense texture is perfect for this application, as well as any other dish that calls for pressed tofu. Thanks to this simple improvement, I can see many repeat performances for my green monster of a soup coming up in these colder months!

Kale Saag Soup

Tofu Paneer:

1 16-Ounce Package Vacuum-Sealed Sprouted Tofu, or Extra-Firm Tofu, Pressed for 1 Hour
1/4 Cup Rice Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Zest and Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Kale Saag Soup:

2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
2 Small Yellow Onions or 1 Large, Chopped (About 1 Cup)
1 1/2 Tablespoons Finely Minced Fresh Ginger
4 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
2 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Garam Masala
1 Teaspoon Mustard Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
3 Cups Water or Vegetable Stock
1 Medium Potato, Peeled and Chopped (About 1 Cup)
1 Bunch Kale, Stemmed and Chopped
1 Cup Coconut Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Salt, or to Taste

Fresh Parsley or Cilantro for Garnish

First things first, preheat your oven to 350 degrees so that you can get the tofu “paneer” going. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes, and toss them into an 8-inch baking dish along with the remaining ingredients. Mix well to coat the tofu, and then arrange the cubes in one even layer, so they’re not overlapping (touching is fine.) Bake for 45 minutes until just barely golden around the edges. I don’t recommend tasting them plain; on their own, the “paneer” Will taste fairly sour and salty, but can balance out the soup (or most other dishes you want to throw them into) beautifully.

Meanwhile, get the soup going by melting the coconut oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add in the chopped onions, and saute until softened and translucent; about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger and garlic, continuing to cook until the onions take on a tinge of golden-brown color, which could be around 5 – 8 more minutes. Throw in all the spices next, and saute with the other aromatics for just a minute or two to bring out the flavors, but be careful not to burn anything.

Pour in the water or stock, and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot thoroughly to loosen and incorporate anything sticking. Follow that with the potato, and cover the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a lively simmer. Let bubble away for about 15 minutes, until the potato pieces are fork-tender. Mix in the chopped kale a little bit at a time so that it can wilt down and fit properly in the pot. Cover once more, and simmer for a final 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, and add in the coconut milk. Either transfer the soup to your blender in batches to puree, or hit it with an immersion blender, until very smooth. Add salt to taste.

Ladle your smooth kale saag soup into bowls, and top with cubes of tofu paneer and the chopped fresh herbs of choice. Serve piping hot.

Serves 4 – 6

Printable Recipe

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