And now, a break from all the sweets.
The scene: My birthday, July 26th. The year: 2003. The setting: London and environs.
We had moved into our little flat just weeks before and were still figuring out life in a new country. Cooking for me was a real challenge because all of our kitchen equipment (including all my cookbooks) were 6 weeks behind us on a freighter. Without my recipes, and without a computer in the flat, I was unmoored in our little kitchen. Night after night I would attempt to make things for us drawing on my not insignificant experience. But there was a lot of pasta boiled in the three tiny saucepans available to me at the time. I am a much better and more innovative cook now and I would be much better off these days in that same situation. But I have to say, I would still be lost without my cookbooks for a significant length of time.
For my birthday that year, my 33rd, we decided to do a bus tour and see some of the sites nearby the city. There was a hotel that hosted these tours within walking distance of our flat and we chose a day touring Stonehenge and Bath. I remember, quite clearly, that I was wearing a wool sweater and a jacket (in July) and thinking that Seattle had nothing on London in the weather department. I remember being truly awed by Stonehenge, in spite of the fact that you are no longer allowed to get too close. I remember being utterly charmed by the lovely town of Bath with its ruins of Roman baths. Would you think the cultural experience wasted on me if I told you what I really remember was the restaurant where we had lunch?
Demuths is a vegetarian restaurant and, even if the food had been bad, it was a most welcome site for sore eyes. Is is quite possible to eat extremely well as a vegetarian in London, but you have to know what you are doing and the places to go (three words – Middle Eastern food) but I hadn’t figured all that out yet. And so, a menu of unlimited choices was enough to make me emotional. And then the food was delicious. Everything was light and fresh with none of the heaviness that I had already wearied of. Best of all, they had a cookbook which I snatched up in 14.5 seconds.
Our meals at home dramatically improved after our day away. Just days later that unbelievable heat wave hit – the one where so many people died in France. For the first day or so, our flat was tolerable but it soon became torture to do anything but sit, and even that induced sweating. Sandwiches and salad were the only things we wanted to eat and I was so thankful that this new treasure of mine had so many choices.
Smoked tofu was something I had never tasted before our year in London but I found it everywhere there, even in the most basic grocery stores. I put it in everything and even just ate it by itself. As I was doing my shopping in a very veg-friendly store the other day (PCC for the Seattle people), I was shocked to find some from a B.C. company. The first thing I thought of was this salad. We’ll see how things go this week, but I may even credit this super nutritious and flavor packed salad with breaking me out of my cooking funk.
For many of you, the coming week brings turkeys, and roasts, and hams. It brings mashed potatoes, gratins, and green bean casseroles. It brings puddings, cookies, pies, and cakes. And next week brings champagne and big dinners, and possibly even things like chips and onion dip in front of back-to-back football games. I won’t blame you if you put this salad away for now. But January resolutions are right around the corner. If eating healthier is on your list, bookmark this recipe. No deprivation here. Lots of flavor, lots of protein, and lots of texture. I made up my own dressing because the original was too “spa” for me.
I encourage you to make this salad your own by finding the right balance of ingredients. Below is how I made mine. If you can’t find smoked tofu, any of the flavored types of tofu you find in your store would taste great. Just be sure they are very firm. Wasabi paste is something I always have on hand in my refrigerator. It comes in a toothpaste looking tube and keeps forever. The dressing will still be delicious without it, however.
1/2 cup Le Puy lentils
1 bay leaf
2 large handfuls of baby spinach leaves
10 cherry tomatoes, each cut in half
2 small handfuls bean sprouts
1 small avocado, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. roasted and salted sunflower seeds
4 ounces smoked (or other flavored) tofu, cut into fingers
1/3 cup apple cider
1 tbsp. Tamari or other soy sauce
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. Wasabi paste
4 tbsp. Grapeseed oil or other neutral tasting oil
Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Add the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender to the bite but not mushy, about 25 minutes. Drain and cool.
Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, bring the apple cider to a boil and cook down until it has reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Set aside to cool. Once cool, pour into a bowl along with the soy sauce, ginger, and wasabi. Whisk well and then slowly add the oil, whisking the whole time. Taste and adjust balance of flavors to your liking.
Place a bed of spinach down on each of two plates. Scatter some of the lentils over top. (You will have some lentils left over.) Add the tomatoes, bean sprouts, tofu, avocado and sprinkle the sunflower seeds over the plate. Lightly pour the dressing on to taste.