It was my turn to cook this week and, as the cookbook testing is mostly done, it was time to find some new inspiration. In a stack of books under my bedside table was Almost Meatless by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond. I’d picked it up as part of a book club last year, given it a cursory glance and set it aside to be completely forgotten until a week or so ago when it surfaced as I was looking for a different reference.
The premise of the book is cooking with a more mindful attitude towards ingredients and less of a dependence on animal products without going strictly vegetarian–a nice compromise for us omnivores. The inside flap touts the benefits of the book as “health-, budget- and eco-conscious” eating without sacrificing flavor. Sounds good to me!
We took one recipe from each chapter and worked our way through the book, beginning with Thai Coconut-Curry Soup. It’s a very light soup and I was a little concerned about the lack of body as it relied on chicken stock with just a little bit of coconut milk as a finish. In fact, this was a downside to the recipe as it did not use a full can of coconut milk and it’s a bit of a pain to store leftovers–I’d much prefer a recipe to use items in their whole units.
It was the same with the chicken–she called for a single bone-in breast which then got shredded. For economy, we purchase our boneless, skinless chicken breasts in large packs, break each over-large breast in half and repackage them 4 to a pouch before freezing them. Since we’d just purchased chicken the week before it was simpler (and less wasteful) to use a package of our own in total (since defrosting and refreezing is ill-advised), about a pound, which we used cut into chunks instead of cooked and then shredded.
Minor quibbles aside, the soup was perfect for a summer supper–nice and light with plenty of flavor from the basil, mint and lemongrass. Rice noodles do a good job of bulking out the soup into a satisfactory meal (though I suggest you break them up quite a bit before adding them to the broth so that you only need a spoon and not also a fork to try to manage the over-long noodles). The soup was even better the next day, for lunch, as the flavors had developed even more overnight.
The second recipe we tested was the Smoked Turkey Nachos. In a bit of culinary synchronicity we’d just had a smoked turkey breast the previous weekend and there was MORE than enough leftover to shred for this application (even if the recipe called for smoked turkey legs). I’d originally thought this better for a weekend supper but it was certainly substantial enough for dinner during the week. Layers of tortilla chips, sauced turkey, black beans and cheddar cheese baked in a casserole were easily eaten with the fingers, fresh out of the oven, but better with a fork the next day when the chips softened a bit and it became more of a taco salad idea.
Next was the Shrimp and Pineapple Fried Rice. A fair amount of prep goes into this dish–making the rice ahead, chopping the vegetables and cleaning the whole pineapple into two bowls. Now, even though it’s supposed to serve 4 (and it does, quite generously) the directions call for splitting the pineapple in half, lengthwise, and carving out two bowls. Only 2 bowls? Unless they are supposed to be large enough to act as serving dishes (mine were not) it seems a bit unfortunate that only 2 of the diners get the benefit of this presentation. As we were only two, it wasn’t much of an issue. And we had a delightful time demolishing the remaining pineapple in the hull of the bowl for dessert.
The rest was held for the next day’s lunch. Here’s where we run into a bit of a bump: the leftover rice became quite mushy–to the point I couldn’t stomach it–because of the enzymes in the fresh pineapple. This was very disappointing. In the future we’ll do either 1 of 2 things: hold out the pineapple destined for the lunch portions and mix it in just before re-heating or use canned pineapple which, I suspect, would not do as much damage. Just as canned pineapple can be used in gelatin whereas fresh cannot (the heating in the canning process destroys the enzyme, allowing the gelatin to gell), it might hold up better in this preparation as well.
Finally, Sunday night’s supper was Sweet Potato Chorizo Mole. Another casserole with just a touch of meat (in this case, chorizo) but fist-fulls of flavor! Again, we’d had chorizo in something else during Todd’s menu so already had enough in the fridge for this recipe. We also still had some Mexican chocolate with chilies leftover from our cruise the previous year. Sweet potatoes are always a favorite at our house, along with corn and black beans. It takes over an hour in the oven to cook the slices of sweet potato through, but the wait is worth it. Served with lime wedges and creamy slices of avocado, it really doesn’t need anything else.
Another way to do it, if you’re in more of a hurry, would be to prepare the mole sauce as directed but cube the potatoes, boil them as the mole simmers and combine them into a stew. Top with cheddar cheese once in the bowls and the time for this recipe could go from 1.5 hours to, maybe, 30 minutes.
We’ve still got 3 more recipes to try this week: Shabu Shabu Soup, Springtime Spaghetti Carbonara and Albondigas.