BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Poke Fun at Soybeans

Despite rising temperatures and flourishing green foliage, my mind still wanders back to the tropical coasts of Hawaii. So distant in memory that it all seems like a dream, it’s hard to imagine what paradise looks like at this time of year. If the seasons don’t change drastically, do the foods? Although I’m one of the biggest proponents out there for eating seasonally, part of me clings to the hope that nothing ever changes on the islands. Without distinct seasons, it’s a perfectly reasonable concept, I reason with myself, trying to ignore how selfish the desire is. Truthfully, nothing ever stays quite the same, but I’m optimistic that the food culture will remain just as vibrant day in and day out, unfettered by the passage of time.

Progress is definitely on the horizons, and that is one adjustment I would never stand in the way of. Vegan renditions of classic Hawaiian fare proved somewhat difficult to come by, making the random sighting of soybean poke at a nondescript Foodland grocery store such a delightful shock to the system. Were my eyes deceiving me? Poke, defined as a preparation of raw fish, in bean format? Not a chance in hell would I leave without this fabulous impulse buy; a full pound came back to the hotel room with me that evening, and not an ounce remained by daybreak.

A stroke of simple brilliance, the combination of flavors fuse to create something that all palates can appreciate. With the savory flavors of garlic, soy sauce, and the bright pop of red pepper flakes melded throughout, you can’t go wrong. It was the first thing I tried to recreate upon my return home, so it’s about time this appetizer made it into the blog’s spotlight. For parties or gatherings, this stuff goes fast- You may want to double or even triple the amounts.


Soybean Poke

1 Pound Frozen Edamame in Shells
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon (3 – 4 Cloves) Finely Minced Garlic
1/8 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
3 Tablespoons Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce
Coarse Sea Salt, to Taste

In a medium or large stock pot, set about 2 quarts of water over medium heat and cover with the lid. Bring it up to a boil before tossing in the frozen edamame- No need to thaw. Boil uncovered for 3 – 4 minutes, until the pods are thawed and tender. If you overcook them, the beans will start ejecting themselves from their shells, but they’re still just as tasty, if a bit softer in texture. Drain thoroughly.

Meanwhile, combine both oils and the minced garlic in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is aromatic but not quite browned. Add in the prepared edamame along with the red pepper flakes and soy sauce, tossing to incorporate. Saute for just 2 – 3 minutes longer to infuse the soybeans with the marinade.

Turn off the heat and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add a pinch of salt over the top if desired, but use that salt sparingly! The soy sauce already adds quite a bit of sodium into the mix, so you may find it doesn’t need any extra at all.

Enjoy hot or or at room temperature.

Makes 4 – 6 Snack-Sized Servings

Printable Recipe


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Take Me to Tofu Town

Dawdling along the main thoroughfare at the bottom end of the speed limit, our final destination still managed to elude us. Surely the GPS hadn’t been mistaken, but even after two slow drive-by searches of the suggested location, not a hint was found to indicate that we had arrived. Sequestered within a completely unmarked building about the size of a modest New York apartment, the average onlooker would never realize that they were staring right at the source of the best tofu in the tri-state area. One could easily walk right past it for years without a second thought, and yet on closer investigation, the tell-tall aroma of cooked beans can be detected wafting through the air, and hints of laborious activity glimpsed through the small windows. This is the factory for Bridge Tofu in Middletown, Connecticut- Not exactly a tourist destination for those who are in the know.

Arriving completely unannounced after a few inquisitive phone calls fell on deaf answering machines, it was clearly no place for curious bystanders, and yet I was immediately, graciously welcomed through the plastic flaps covering the doorway. A tour would have been superfluous, as all stages of production could easily be viewed standing right there in the entry.

Tons upon literal tons of soybeans piled into multiple barrels, hinting at the impossible volume of bean curd being produced in this tiny space. Committed to organics, their dedication to sourcing out the highest quality ingredients is one that comes through in the flavor.

An immense, metal-clad machine spit out silky white soy milk across the way, spewing out gallons by the minute. Every single drop is needed, condensed down further once coagulation is set into motion. Large rectangles press the curds into the largest slabs of tofu you’ve ever seen, to be cut into size once firm, but still creamy on the inside. It’s this incredible texture that truly sets Bridge apart from other tofu options on the market. Few would recommend eating plain, uncooked curd, but this is one that is genuinely delicious on a hot summer’s day with just a splash of soy sauce and handful of sliced scallions on top. It only comes in one level of firmness, but it’s a one size fits all style of tofu, seamlessly fitting into nearly any recipe out there.

Freshly severed small rectangles float through a final water bath before reaching packaging, a mere four or five meters away from where they were born. Each label is applied by hand, each bag sealed individually. It’s a painstaking process that is astounding to watch, knowing the reach of this one tiny producer. Available in Whole Foods Markets and independent health food stores for miles around, I could have never guessed that all of it came from such a humble beginning. First introduced to me through working at Health in a Hurry, it’s the only tofu we ever use, and it’s easy to taste why.

There’s a whole lot of passion going into those unassuming beige bricks. It’s not listed on the label, but easily detected in each bite.

Lest you think Bridge is a one-trick tofu factory, incredibly, they also produce the best seitan I’ve had the pleasure of cooking. If ever seitan shows up in my recipes, you can rest assured that Bridge is the brand going into the mix. Also churning out amazake and a tuna-like tofu salad, their home base may not be impressive, but what they manage to create within its confines sure is.


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Nog-Off!

Eggnog: Beaten eggs and cream whisked together into a frothy amalgamation of dairy, sweetened with a heavy hand, spiked with nearly equal parts hard liquor and perhaps brightened with a pinch of nutmeg. Now doesn’t that just sound delicious? Like some bizarre protein shake for alcoholics, it sounds like a beverage created to cause as much pain as the intoxicating additions might be intended to ease. The butt of many jokes and great animosity from detractors, it’s hard to imagine how it was first created, and furthermore, deemed edible. Having felt no compulsion to imbibe for the first 20 years of my life, I will say upfront right now, I have never had “real” eggnog. However, it took going vegan for me to try it at all, and that’s what started the love affair.

Subtract all those nasty bits, remove the alcohol, and you have a whole different beverage, quite literally. Without the fangs, it’s really a sweet, cuddly creature that’s easy to enjoy and hard to feel guilty about. Zero cholesterol and lower calorie counts are a factor luring many non-vegans to the eggless nog party, too. However what counts more than the numbers is the taste, if you ask me. This year, we have more options than ever to fulfill our noggy needs, and after years of plotting a grand show-down, I’m proud to announce the first ever unofficial Vegan Nog-Off! A head-to-head battle between the non-dairy nogs on the market, fighting to the death until the strongest nog is revealed. Okay, nothing quite so dramatic, but just image how exciting that could be!

To understand this sudden 180 degree turn from disgust to adoration, we must first go back in time a bit. Back to the days when Vitasoy still distributed soy milk in the US, and produced the most irresistible seasonal beverage of all, Holly Nog (scroll down to see nog info). I was hooked, no turning back, and couldn’t slurp that sweet nectar down fast enough. My stock pile would hit at least a dozen cartons by the end of December, but would hardly survive January. When Vitasoy pulled back from the US market, I was devastated, but simultaneously inspired to find an equally satisfying replacement. Thus began my eggless nog journey to find the best alternate option.

[If you live in Canada though, you're in luck- Holly Nog is still available in your neck of the woods! The nog pictured above was smuggled over the border thanks to the lovely, generous, and incredibly thoughtful Marika; I couldn't have dreamed of a sweeter holiday gift!]

For American folk like myself, we currently have a grand total of four vegan nog options for this year of 2011; two soy, one coconut, and one rice. The question is, which one is best? The completely unscientific breakdown is as follows, starting with my least favorite and ending with the top nog.

Rice Nog by Rice Dream. This nog is no newcomer to the marketplace, so unfortunately, I already knew I hated it. However, it seems I had forgotten just how much I hated it. Pouring weakly from the carton as a pale shade of pepto-bismal-pink, it’s readily apparent that the consistency is the thinnest of the bunch. Slightly dusty at first taste, with a nice touch of grit at the bottom and an undeniable cereal flavor, this is an option only to reinforce negative nog stereotypes. Avoid at all costs.

Soy Nog by Earth Balance. Upon first whiff, I could have sworn I detected a hint of lemon drink mix powder. Confused but undeterred, I came to enjoy the smooth texture, ranking just a hair thicker than standard soy milk. Appropriately sweet but without much of a spice flavor anywhere to be found, it was quite alright… Until I stopped drinking. At first, I wrote it off as being a bad batch, but 3 cartons later (yes, I am a glutton for punishment, or perhaps, just a glutton), the strange aftertaste of dirt remained. Very subtle, easy to overlook when spiked with some potent spirits, but something I found a bit off-putting.

Silk Nog by Silk. A classic that’s been around the block and back, this staple still endures and ranks highly among the dairy-free and eggless crowds. Sweet enough to be considered dessert, it’s a mild but highly drinkable treat. Thick enough to coat the palate briefly but resist a cloying stickiness, it’s something you don’t need to hide behind other drinks on the holiday party buffet table. I personally wish it had a better punch of spice, but such a complaint can easily be corrected with just a pinch of nutmeg upon serving. Not a bad option at all, with the bonus of being the most widely distributed and easily attainable vegan nog in the US.

Coconut Nog by So Delicious. The winner of the round. It may not be for everyone though, due to the subtle but easily recognizable hint of coconut flavor that hits you initially. That impression does fade as you continue to imbibe, and by then, you’ll find yourself hooked by the sweet, custard-like flavor. Thick like a melted milkshake, this nog has a certain richness that the others lack, bringing it closer to the original decadent inspiration. Granted, it does have a more tropical, almost banana-like flavor, which may horrify true nog drinkers, but for this vegan who’s never had the original, it simply tastes like the holiday spirit, if it were condensed into a drinkable format.

Making your own eggless nog is generally recommended over any store-bought options, due to the ability to adapt and adjust flavors to your own tastes, but we finally have a few strong offerings for the lazy, rushed, or merely curious vegans among us. Congratulations, So Delicious- It really is the year of the coconut!

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