Something for Balance

December 21, 2009

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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?

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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.

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One Year Ago:  Holiday Cookies and Ultimate Ginger Cookies

Smoked Tofu, Le Puy Lentil, and Spinach Salad
With Thanks to Green World Cookbook
Serves 2

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.

For Salad:
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

For Dressing:
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.



10 Comments »

  1. I needed this salad. I am sick of seeing butter and sugar. I haven’t eaten that many sweets, but I have been giving them out by the plate full. I am ready for some healthy dishes in my life. Thanks Dana. Happy Holidays to you and your family!

    Comment by Maria — December 21, 2009 @ 10:34 pm

  2. Well, I’m not too mush of a sweet tooth so I haven’t had any sweets this holiday yet… But this salad on the other hand I could have everyday of the year! Great post…

    Wishing you and your family a very wonderful and delicious (but not-too-sweet) holiday!

    Comment by Viviane Bauquet Farre / food & style — December 21, 2009 @ 11:35 pm

  3. i love smoked tofu. there was a little corner cafe in san francisco that made the most amazing salads with them. your version looks even better.

    Comment by giao — December 22, 2009 @ 4:56 am

  4. In SA, it is HOT over the festive season – so this salad is most welcome. I ate quite a lot of smoked tofu when I was a vegetarian for a while a few years ago. I think it needs to find its way back into my grocery trolley…

    Comment by Koek! — December 22, 2009 @ 6:52 am

  5. Brit vegetarians really seem to love smoked tofu. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the stuff that isn’t smoked!

    The vegetarian dining scene is pretty great these days in London. Did you go to any of these veggie-only places: Eat and Two Veg, Mildred’s, Ottolenghi, The Gate? I don’t know if they all would have been around then.(The last two do have a definite Mediterranen/middle eastern bent.)

    Comment by Hilary — December 22, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

  6. My birthday is July 8. I was in London in 1995 for my 15th birthday. I also remember wearing a heavy sweater the day we did the Bath/Stonehenge tour. I live in Mississippi where it is pushing 100 degrees in July. The cold weather definitely caught me off guard.

    Comment by Lisa @ The Cooking Bride — December 22, 2009 @ 2:17 pm

  7. I don’t think I have ever had smoked tofu, but will try to seek it out. I think this is wonderful for this week, when I am cooking simple meals before a few weeks of indulgence!

    Comment by fresh365 — December 22, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

  8. I have some lovely lentils a friend sent to me from Paris, and I was hoping to find a gorgeous and healthy way to use them. This looks perfect!

    Comment by lisaiscooking — December 22, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

  9. Just found your blog through your comment at Lisa is Cooking, and love it!

    This salad is so unusual, I hope I can find the smoked tofu, but if I don’t', I might just improvise with smoked chicken breast (I have a stove-top smoker)

    (on a side note: you mentioned that the silicone madeleine pans were a flop – why is that? I was thinking of getting some, but now I guess I’ll look for the metal ones. Do you prefer non-stick?)

    Comment by SallyBR — December 23, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

  10. YUM! I know I would love this salad because it has so many of my favourite things. I love smoked tofu – I find it tastes like smoked Gouda. How funny that I’ve never heard of Demuths and then I read about it twice in 2 days!

    Comment by Ashley — January 4, 2010 @ 1:44 am



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