Tempting tofu with peanut sauce

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Tofu can be boring, or it can be good. It’s like life: It’s what you make of it. I usually throw some sautéed tofu in a quinoa dish with vegetables and spicy sauce, but a couple weeks ago I was browsing online and found this recipe for Seared Tofu with Spicy Peanut Sauce. It looked like an easy way to try something new, so I bookmarked it.

This recipe was easier to make than I had anticipated. It only took about 15 minutes from start to finish, and was great by itself for lunch. I only had chunky peanut butter in my cupboard, which made my sauce turn out a little thinner than it would have had I used creamy peanut butter like the recipe called for. I really liked the acidity from the vinegar. It added a nice burst of flavor to the dish.

While I’m not vegetarian or vegan, I do enjoy tofu as a way to mix up the protein in my diet. This recipe was great for that, and something I can make again.

Ingredients
1 (14-ounce) package extra firm tofu, cut into strips a little less than 1/2-inch thick
1/4 cup smooth, unsalted, natural peanut butter
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
2 tablespoons vegetable or grapeseed oil

Lay out tofu strips in a single layer on a paper towel or clean dish towel. Put another clean paper towel or dish towel on top and pat well all over to remove surface moisture.

Make the peanut sauce by placing peanut butter and vinegar into a bowl and mashing with a fork until thoroughly mixed. Whisk in honey, soy sauce, and chili flakes until smooth. Set aside.

Heat a skillet or sauté pan over high heat. When pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons oil with a high smoke point. Make sure oil is covering pan and add tofu in a single layer, with room between each piece.

Cook tofu on one side until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes, then flip and cook the other side for about another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and serve warm with peanut sauce available for dipping or toss with stir-fried vegetables and serve over brown rice with peanut sauce drizzle for a complete meal.

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Beautiful black rice salad is all about texture

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I was originally going to post a soup recipe as my first entry of 2014, but something better came along. I tried a new recipe Wednesday and am still enjoying the leftovers.

I don’t often stray from more typical grains such as white or brown rice and cous cous, but when a friend moved away last year, she left behind a bag of black rice which I knew I needed to figure out how to use.

That bag of rice sat in my cupboard for about six months, up until this month’s edition of Bon Appétit arrived. In this month’s issue, some of the magazine’s staff provided recipes for dishes they cook at home. Among them was this recipe for Black and Wild Rice Salad with Roasted Squash. The accompanying photo was stunning and it included butternut squash, which I love, but most importantly it used black rice.

I wasn’t sure how much I would like this, but I really enjoyed it. The sweetness of the squash and the tartness of the red wine vinegar added delicious layers of flavor. It was even better the next day and, while it can be eaten cold, I prefer it hot.

I omitted the pomegranate seeds in the recipe because the seeds drive me crazy, though I imagine the flavor of the arils would have complemented the rest of the flavors in the dish. I also substituted sliced almonds for the pistachios, since I didn’t have pistachios; and I used curly parsley and carrot greens instead of the microgreens. The curly parsley was a bit harsh, but the carrot greens worked well.

One of my favorite things about it was the texture. The sticky rice and soft squash are balanced by crunchy nuts and rough greens. This must be the amuse-gueule, or “amusement for the mouth,” that celebrity chef Robert Irvine talked about when I interviewed him last year.

It’s not often that you find such an abundance of color, texture and flavor in one meal, but you definitely do in this rice salad. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups black rice
1/2 cup wild rice
Kosher salt
1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cut into pieces
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1 cup microgreens or sprouts
1/2 cup roasted pistachios, chopped

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Cook black rice and wild rice in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, 35-40 minutes; drain and rinse, shaking off as much water as possible. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet and let cool.

Meanwhile, toss squash with 1/4 cup oil on another baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing once, until golden brown and tender, 20-25 minutes; let cool.

Whisk vinegar, honey, and remaining 1/4 cup oil in a large bowl. Add black rice and wild rice, squash, scallions, pomegranate seeds, microgreens, and pistachios; season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.