Braised and Confused

It used to be a running joke that my seal of approval was more like the kiss of death to any burgeoning product or brand. I’d fall madly in love, declare it to the world, and that would be the end of it. Overnight, packages would quietly disappear from shelves, replaced by something different entirely. The object of my affection would vanish into thin air, ghosting me like all the misguided suitors on Hinge.

Thus, another beloved product bites the dust. Hodo, my favorite tofu maker the world over, recently scaled back production of this rare treat, selling in only limited markets. While certain parts of the country remain unaffected, immersed in a wealth of soy-based delights as always, I find myself without access to some of my cherished favorites.

Photo by colin price

Braised tofu, tender yet toothsome, was affected by that merciless culling. Nutty, complex, and creamy firm tofu infused with a savory and sweet Chinese five-spice blend, its subtle nuances set it apart from the pack. Plenty of renditions exist in Chinatown, as a classic staple of the cuisine, but none care so much about quality ingredients as Hodo.

Heartbroken, the only consolation is the ease of DIY replication. Though instant gratification is now off the table, they’ve generously shared the secret formula to recreate this braised beauty at home.

Once seasoned, it’s ready to eat as is, adding heft and flavor in spades to any stir fry, salad, or platter of crudités, even. Flavorful and satisfying all by itself, there are far worse snacks than a few thinly shaved slices draped delicately over crisp cucumbers or slices of toasted baguette.

Braised tofu is dead; long live braised tofu! It’s up to us home cooks to carry the torch now.

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Taking a Dump for Dinner

The mere concept is ripe for ridicule. Built upon a shaky foundation of canned goods and prepared foods, dump-and-bake meals are the semi-homemade answer to the daily dilemma of someone who doesn’t want to, doesn’t like to, or doesn’t know how to cook. All you need is a can opener and a cooking device; I do understand the appeal. Quick, easy, pantry-friendly, and so much more SEO gold, convenience seems to win the war over good taste in this instance.

Of course, don’t get me started on the name. “Dumping” is simply never a positive verb. Evoking images of landfills, garbage, dropping or throwing away, I can’t get past the term. Mentally condensed, I read it out as “Trash Casserole” nine times out of ten, without thinking about it. Of course, don’t get me started on the connotations of “taking a dump.”

Snark aside, there’s a time and a place for everything. It’s a shame the idea is maligned by basic nomenclature, but you can’t blame a child for a name given at birth. Considering the dire state of my refrigerator, it’s time I get my head of out the gutter- Or toilet, as it may be.

Relying more on unprocessed dry goods than traditional alchemic creations of modern prepared foods, my take on classic stroganoff is an effortless one-pan approach to nearly instant gratification. Soy curls, some of the greatest unsung heroes of meatless proteins, take the place of more bovine inclusions. Re-hydrating right in the cooking liquid, alongside dry pasta, there’s no fussy soaking, draining, sauteing, or separate special treatment necessary.

You don’t even need to break out the knives if you plan your pantry well. Purchase pre-sliced mushrooms, jars of minced garlic ready to go, and even frozen diced onion to keep in the true spirit of dumping doctrine. Heck, go ahead and use canned>mushrooms if need be. There’s no shame in making the most of what you’ve got, and this luscious cream sauce is so rich, it can easily conceal a multitude of sins.

Soaking in all the umami seasonings built into the broth, tender noodles provide actual substance, rather than filler for this rendition. Use whole grain options for a bit of extra fiber, or gluten-free if you’re intolerant. Remain flexible, keep an open mind, and start preheating your oven.

Comfort food shouldn’t just provide solace on the plate. If I may be so bold, I’d like to propose that it should be soothing to create, too.

I get it: Dump dinners sound like culinary defeat, the last attempt at sustenance devised by a starving cook at the end of their rope. It doesn’t have to be that way. Emboldened by fresher fare, let’s all take back the notion and take a dump for dinner, together!

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Yo, Soy

Though still a rare delicacy outside of most Asian cultures, yuba has slowly developed a foothold here in North America thanks largely to one shining example produced right in my backyard. Hodo, better known for their contributions to Chipotle’s popular tofu sofritas and now their ready-to-eat line of seasoned savories still pushes eaters to expand their culinary boundaries. Yuba, the gossamer-thin skin that forms on top of soymilk as it’s heated is very closely related to tofu, but bears a few distinct differences. Tofu-making takes soymilk and immediately mixes it with either calcium chloride, calcium sulfate, or magnesium sulfate to curdle, whereas yuba requires no coagulant whatsoever. Fragile, quick to spoil, it’s a treat that few have an opportunity to experience fresh. Most options are sold dried, to be rehydrated on demand, which obviously loses a good deal of flavor and texture in the process.

This isn’t the first I’ve shared about Hodo nor extolled the virtues of Yuba, but it’s a delicious declaration that bears repetition. There’s no need to be redundant, however, since Hodo has begun sharing the softer side of yuba that only a privileged few have ever had access to before. In the stages just prior to coagulating into consolidated, solidified sheets, there are actually a number of stages that the soybean slurry goes through, each one uniquely delectable in its own right. I was lucky enough to experience these earliest phases right when production was just barely getting underway, photographing some of the first batches for easy reference to the uninitiated.

If you should be so as lucky to get your hands on an ingredient of such superlative quality, the best (and most difficult) thing to do is not mess it up. Little is needed to enjoy the naturally rich, luscious character of young yuba. The very earliest harvest, Kumiage, is the style I savored the most, being completely unique from anything currently on the market, or available in restaurants, for that matter. Given a pinch of black salt, you would swear you were eating the creamiest scrambled eggs on the planet, yet no shells will be broken for this plant-based luxury. My favorite approach was to simply scoop out a tender mound into a bowl, drizzle with light soy sauce, and finish with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and scallions. Nothing more, nothing less. Working in concert to bring out the nutty, umami notes of the whole bean, it’s unlike any other tofu experience to which I can compare.

Deeply savory yet just as versatile as the familiar beige bricks we’re all familiar with, I was delighted to try my hand at a sweet Philippine snack otherwise well out of reach: Taho. Made of soft soybean curds and lavished with tender tapioca pearls soaked in a sugary syrup, it’s a classic street food perfectly suited for the brutal heat of summer. Glittering in the sunlight, cherry- and mango-flavored popping boba sparkle atop this unconventional take on the concept, yet it’s truly the yuba beneath that shines.

These softer stages of soy supremacy can be purchased by the general public only online, not in stores, but it’s worth going all in for a big batch and sharing the riches with friends.

Triangles and Tribulations

If ever a single holiday could rival the festivities of Halloween, it would have to be Purim. The comparisons are obvious: Fanciful costumes, parties and games, and of course, sweet treats. Where Purim has the leg up on the competition, however, is in those much celebrated edible offerings. Rather than merely candy, hamantaschen are the traditional pastry-based prize. They’ve become synonymous with the observance, almost more important to the observance than the historical significance itself. A Purim party without hamantaschen would be like underwear without elastic; uncomfortable at best, but in practical terms, truly impossible.

Previous years have seen the sugar-flecked and jam-splattered variations flying fast and furious out of my oven. Traditional or avant-garde, it’s hard to go too far wrong when you start with tender, buttery cookie dough, so rich that the best cookies threaten to flatten out into triangular puddles while baking. Flipping the script in a drastically new approach is a dangerous proposition, considering their fervent following, but I can never leave well enough alone. Perhaps they’re only hamantaschen in spirit, but since any food with three corners can stand in as a representation of Haman’s hat, I’m hoping my wild digression might still get a pass.

Savory, not sweet. Steamed, not baked. Wonton wrapper, not cookie. We can argue the disparities all day long, but when it comes down to it, there’s no question about their taste. Stuffed with gloriously green edamame filling, these dumplings are a quicker and easier alternative to the typically fussy sweet dough, and offer much needed substance after overdosing on the aforementioned pastries. General folding advice still stands as a good guideline to follow when wrapping things up, but once you get those papery thin skins to stick, you’re pretty much golden. If you’re less confident in your dumpling prowess, cut yourself a break and fold square dumplings wrappers in half instead. You’ll still get neat little triangles, and with much less full.

Short on time but long on appetite, I’m not ashamed to take a few shortcuts to get these delightful little dumplings on the table. You can go all out with homemade edamame hummus and even dumpling skins from scratch, but this quick-fix solution allows you to steam up a quick batch at the last minute, or any time the craving strikes.

Yield: Makes 15 Dumplings

Edamame “Hamantaschen” Dumplings

Edamame “Hamantaschen” Dumplings

A savory take on the triangular cookies enjoyed during Purim, these dumplings are stuffed with a gloriously green edamame filling and offer an easier, healthier alternative to the typically fussy sweet pastries.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup Shelled Edamame
  • 1/3 Cup Edamame Hummus
  • 1 Scallion, Thinly Sliced
  • 1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Finely Minced Fresh Ginger
  • 1 Teaspoon Soy Sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • Savoy Cabbage
  • 15 (3-Inch) Round Wonton Skins or Gyoza Wrappers*
  • Additional Soy Sauce, to Serve

Instructions

  1. The filling comes together in a snap so for maximum efficiency, set up your steaming apparatus first. Line a bamboo steamer or metal steam rack with leaves of savoy cabbage to prevent the dumplings from sticking to the bottom, and start the water simmering in a large pot.
  2. Simply mix together the shelled edamame, hummus, scallion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cumin, stirring thoroughly. Lay out your dumpling wrappers and place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each one. Run a lightly moistened finger around the entire perimeter and bring the sides together, forming three bounding walls. Tightly crimp the corners together with a firm pinch.
  3. Place on the cabbage leaves and cover the steamer or pot. Steam for 2 – 4 minutes, until the wrappers are translucent. Serve immediately, with additional soy sauce for dipping if desired.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

15

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 30Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 1mgSodium: 116mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 2g

The Good Bean

Hodo Soy – The Good Bean from Hannah Kaminsky on Vimeo.

Rarely does one have the opportunity to see first-hand just how one of their favorite foods are made, from raw material to comfortingly familiar final product, which is why my visit to the Hodo Soy factory was so extraordinary. It didn’t hurt that my guide, Henry Hsu, was so generous with his time, allowing me to poke my camera into every step of the process. For the first time ever, I took this opportunity to experiment into the realm of motion pictures, so what you see above is still fairly rough. Regardless, I couldn’t wait to share this peek behind the scenes.

You may have heard the name before, or perhaps you’ve eaten their tofu without even realizing it. Hodo Soy provides the soy base for Chipotle‘s famous tofu sofritas, but their commitment to creating innovative foods that remain true to ancient art of soybean wrangling doesn’t end there. Increasing demand has brought their firm blocks, nuggets, and yuba noodles farther across the country than ever before, turning this homegrown company into a national brand in the blink of an eye.

Consider this just a small taste to whet your appetite; Coming soon, I’ll have a more typical recipe and photo post to share, using some of those incredible soybean savories I watched come to fruition before my eyes. Stay tuned, and stay hungry!

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.

Yield: Makes 4 – 6 Snack-Sized Servings

Soybean Poke

Soybean Poke

Bearing the savory flavors of garlic, soy sauce, and the bright pop of red pepper flakes melded throughout, you can’t go wrong with these savory, satisfying soybeans.

Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Enjoy hot or or at room temperature.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 153Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 364mgCarbohydrates: 13gFiber: 4gSugar: 2gProtein: 11g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.