Saturday, November 07, 2009

cookbooks, tempeh, and yogurt

Hannah asked me the other day why I have so many cookbooks but I never make the recipes in them. Interesting. Cookbooks are my favorites - I'm still pissed about the box of them I lost a few moves ago. They're more than recipes, they're beautiful and full of regional and personal history - the last two books I read were Marcella Hazan's Amarcord and Julia Child's My Life in France, after all... Cookbooks inspire me to get cooking, but it's the food in my house that determines what gets cooked.

I always buy those huge 2lb. containers of plain yogurt, eat some of it, and throw the whole shebang down the sink once I realize it's growing pink mold. THIS time, I decided to prevent that tragedy by straining it and eating it for dinner, which is really the only meal I consciously cook. I've wanted to strain yogurt since I saw Jeff Smith do it on The Frugal Gourmet (his cookbook was in the box that disappeared), not sure why I haven't attempted it before now.

So this dinner was really inspired by a sudden urge to strain yogurt, my impulse purchases of Asian market herbs and beets purchased for our Russian-themed Halloween party, spiced pecans brought over for the same party by the lovely Karan, and the last slab of tempeh in the freezer. From what my housemates tell me, it was a pretty decent combination.

pink tempeh

1 cup pecans (mine were spiced)
2 TBSP+ toasted sesame oil
2 beets, peeled and sliced
beet greens and stems, cut up
1 lb tempeh, cut into strips
s + p

In a hot, dry, cast-iron skillet, toast the pecans for a minute or two, moving them around constantly so they don't burn. They will begin to sizzle and smell lovely. Remove from the pan and let cool, then chop them briefly in a food processor or with a knife.

Add 1 TBSP sesame oil to the pan and sauté the beets for a few minutes, then add the greens and stems and continue to cook until the greens begin to crisp in a few places. Remove from the pan to a serving bowl.

Add 1 TBSP sesame oil to the pan and sauté the tempeh until lightly browned. Add the pecans and stir around a bit. I used spicy pecans, which seasoned the tempeh on their own, but you might want to add some dry chilies if you have them. Add the beets and greens back to the pan, taste, and add salt and pepper.

Dump back into the bowl, and serve it up with cold herbed yogurt.

herbed yogurt

16 oz. plain yogurt, strained overnight
giant handfuls of cilantro and mint
1 TBSP rosemary
2 cloves garlic

Chop all the herbs and garlic super-fine and stir into the thickened yogurt. Add salt to taste. Let the yogurt sit in the fridge for a few hours to absorb the herby goodness.

If you don't know how to strain yogurt, do this: Get a mesh strainer (mine has a handle) and wedge it on top of a plastic to-go container like the one in the picture above. You want the bottom of the strainer to clear the bottom of the container by a few inches, because you're separating whey, which will collect in the bottom of the container. Line the strainer with a cloth napkin or cheesecloth, dump in the regular, plain yogurt, flip the edges of the cloth over the top, and stick the whole deal in the fridge overnight.

You'll end up with thick yogurt in the cloth, and whey in the container. Don't ask me what to do with the whey, I haven't consulted the cookbooks yet.
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