There’s a lovely little place, about a 20-minute walk from our house, where I want to visit every day. Sure, I love the craggy rock beaches on Vashon, the deep green forests, the tall beach cliffs overlooking a vast expanse of Puget Sound. I love our home, our little island. (It’s not so little, really. We live on an island the same length as Manhattan and two miles wider. There are fewer than 10,000 of us here, however.)
But honestly, one of my favorite places in the whole darned island is the old white wooden building with the long front porch. It smells of just-roasted coffee. Your nose picks it up as you drive by. In October, kid-carved pumpkins line the railings. In the summer, an unmanned cart is stuffed with bouquets of dahlias. You put cash into the slot and take your favorite. Most days, there’s a little ice cream business selling fresh pistachio and salted caramel in the old fenced-in porch in back.
Step in. There’s an old coffee roaster in the front, with tall tables and well-worn stools. They’re almost always filled with people, sipping lattes and herbal tea, talking. In the front window is a table, covered in newspapers. Around it sit a group of old men, talking the day away, arguing about politics. They meet the same time every morning and sit there for hours. (I really think they should have a checker board and a spittoon.) Just off that table is a special metal table that spins slowly. It’s where the roasters taste tiny cups of just-brewed coffee to make sure the organic blend from Guatemala tastes as dark and fruity as it says on the label.
The floors are worn wood. The steps leading up to the natural foods store sag a bit in the middle. There are hand-woven purses, Tibetan prayer flags, and crafts with peace symbols emblazoned on them. The chairs in the meeting roof toward the back probably haven’t been replaced in 20 years.
In a corner of the front room is the espresso machine, imported directly from Sicily, which makes the best damn latte I’ve ever sipped. In the entire world. In the refrigerators are fresh salads made with kale and organic basmati rice, red peppers, purple cauliflower, and a creamy lemon vinaigrette. When Danny and Lucy went for a lunch date there the other day, that’s what Lucy picked for lunch.
Along the shelves are raw vegan sesame bars. Gluten-free cookies, gluten-free vegan cookies, gluten-free vegan raw cookies. Blue corn tortilla chips. Carob chips. Dairy-free cheese. Our favorite ginger beer. Roasted tofu sticks. Indian red lentil wraps. Cashew milk shakes. Seaweed snacks galore.
In the back room is the haven of local produce — tiny delicata squash, bouquets of rainbow chard, small heirloom apples — and everything a natural foods lover could want. Raw milk. Coconut sugar. Avocado oil. Organic bison meat. Gluten-free pasta from Italy. Hemp hearts. Red rice from Bhutan. Steel cut oats. Local free-range eggs. Raw cacao beans. Organic macadamia nuts. Wild Alaskan salmon. Any kind of gluten-free flour my heart desires.
And along the walls are apothecary shelves filled with fish oil, vitamins, restorative elixirs, and any kind of supplement your nutritionist might prescribe.
I love Minglement with all my heart. It is the heart of this island for me.
For years, Danny and I felt obligated to use ingredients available at any grocery store when we created recipes for this site. We bought the standard butter instead of the organic cultured pastured butter that costs a couple of bucks more. We knew that most people don’t have access to the wacky set of ingredients we do at Minglement (and throughout the Seattle area, really), and so we refrained from creating recipes with raw buckwheat groats and sweet potato flour from Peru or tiny pasture-raised chickens that rarely weigh above three pounds and taste intensely more chicken-y than the bloated ones from the grocery store.
Now, however, I have to tell you, we’re done with that. The foods at Minglement? This is how we eat. This is the food we’re cooking and sharing here these days.
(As Danny likes to say, if you don’t have a Minglement near you, and we use an ingredient exotic to you, there is a little thing called the internet.)
It was at Minglement that I first encountered kombu, a dried seaweed with plenty of flavor. I bought some, not knowing what to do with it. But I love to do that. I go home and dabble on the internet, finding other people’s recipes and ideas. I quickly found through experience that a small strip of kombu nestled in a mess of beans as they cook makes the beans more flavorful and digestible.
Still, I’d never made dashi until I was given Jaden Hair’s great new cookbook, Steamy Kitchen’s Healthy Asian Favorites: 100 Recipes That Are Fast, Fresh, and Simple Enough for Tonight’s Supper. Jaden is a whiz at making recipes simple. This new book of hers is a delight, filled with Asian recipes like miso cod, eggs with oyster sauce, and Vietnamese summer rolls with grilled tofu. She has distilled all she knows about Asian food into a cookbook created to get people cooking. She uses ingredients available at most grocery stores, with a few from Asian specialty stores thrown in. Everything feels fresh. And most of it is gluten-free. How could we not love it?
Jaden’s recipe for dashi made me finally grab a bag of bonito flakes, another formerly unfamiliar food I had been meaning to try. Most miso soups in restaurants contain gluten, either because of the brand of miso used or the soy sauce added. I had missed this light yet hearty soup. I’ve been sipping some for breakfast for weeks. Jaden taught us how to make it.
Thanks to Jaden, we’ll be going to Minglement even more often now. And for that, I’m especially grateful.
Dashi, reprinted with permission from Steamy Kitchen’s Healthy Asian Favorites: 100 Recipes That Are Fast, Fresh, and Simple Enough for Tonight’s Supper, by Jaden Hair, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
The basis of many Japanese dishes is the dashi, which is made from dried seaweed (kombu) and dried bonito fish flakes.
5 cups water
6 (8-inch) piece of kombu
2 large handfuls dried bonito flakes (about 3 cups)
Gently wipe the kombu with a damp towel to clean (do not rinse). In a large stockpot, add the water and the kombu, bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and stir in the bonito flakes. Let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Strain the stock. Discard the bonito but keep the kombu. (You can reuse several times.)
Makes 5 cups.
Miso soup with tofu and kale, adapted from Steamy Kitchen’s Healthy Asian Favorites: 100 Recipes That Are Fast, Fresh, and Simple Enough for Tonight’s Supper
5 cups prepared dashi
4 tablespoons miso paste (we use South River Organic )
8 ounces firm tofu
1//2 bunch lacinato kale, leaves cut into thin chiffonade
1/2 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
Set a small pot on medium heat. Pour in the dashi. When the dashi comes to a constant simmer, whisk in the miso paste. Add the tofu and kale and simmer until they are heated through, about 1 minute. Pour the soup into 4 bowls and top with the sliced scallions.
Tofu and I have a long, sometimes fractious relationship. We didn’t start off well.
When I was in high school, I decided to become a vegetarian. Suddenly disgusted by meat, I announced to my mother that I didn’t want to eat it. My brother joined along too.
Mom announced that I would be cooking my own meals from now on.
Okay. I liked to stand in front of the electric griddle and flip the grilled cheese sandwiches. This shouldn’t be hard.
However, at the time we were eating the typical American diet: meat with a couple of sides. Learning to cook without meat was like diving into cold dark water. Yikes it was tough to stay in there. Laurel’s Kitchen offered recipes for Savory Dinner Loaf with soy grits and bulghur wheat, neither of which was in our kitchen. Lentil Nut Loaf seemed do-able, until I saw torula yeast and soy flour. I had never heard of either. In the breakfast section, Uppuma involved turmeric powder and black mustard seeds, along with cracked wheat. Oh dear.
(My memory isn’t that great. I still have the copy I bought at that Malibu garage sale, all these years later. And flipping through it, I notice just how many recipes call for whole wheat or wheat germ. Trying to be healthy, I was making myself sick.)
Mostly I made a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches and iceberg salads with bottled ranch dressing.
One day, however, I decided to make veggie burgers. My parents were grilling steaks. I wanted something good to go on the grill too. I didn’t have a recipe. I made one up on the spot. I squelched tofu through my fingers to break it up, then threw in sunflower seeds, ketchup, wheat germ, and spinach, then shaped them into patties.
I stopped being a vegetarian after that.
(By the way, there are tremendous recipes for veggie burgers out there. I love eating them, now that I know more what I’m doing.)
No wonder I didn’t like tofu for awhile.
My mistake was the one most folks make: thinking of tofu as a meat substitute. That’s what Danny thought for years. However, tofu is so much more.
Tofu has a fairly neutral taste, so it takes on the flavors of the foods you throw on it. Chile oil or peanut butter — they both work with tofu. Instead of thinking of it as a substitute for meat, think of tofu as a convenient holder for the flavor you want to build.
However, it’s easy to cook tofu badly, really badly. I’ve eaten tofu sautéed in a cold pan with lukewarm oil and I’ve wanted to spit it out at the dinner table. I refrained, but I wanted. I’ve eaten barely warm tofu with curry sauce thrown at it. That didn’t help my cause of convincing Danny to like tofu.
He swore for years that he hated tofu, one of the few foods he wouldn’t eat.
However, after a couple of years of hearing him talk trash about tofu, I realized something: he had never tried it before.
When we were at a friend’s house, a friend who is a vegan, Danny tried the roasted tofu done Canary Islands style, and he went back for seconds. Seconds! When I said to him later that night, “See, tofu can be good!” that’s when he admitted that was the first time he had ever eaten it.
After that, I convinced him to try it more often. He still didn’t love it. He tolerated tofu.
However, this past year, Danny has been creating weekly specials at the restaurant where he’s a chef. (We always say Daddy’s Restaurant when we talk to Lu, but he neither owns it nor runs it. He likes the fact that he goes in to cook and leaves at the end of the night with nothing left behind.) He creates a new fish special every day, as well as a gluten-free dessert. However, every Monday he thinks all day long about what to start cooking for his weekly special.
His gluten-free, vegan special.
Danny, in the past, could be a little derisive about vegans. He loves feeding everyone, and he would never slip meat or cream into a vegan diner’s dish. But like many chefs, he used to believe that bacon or butter made everything better.
His food has been transformed this year. Now he makes vegan bouillabaisse with gluten-free focaccia croutons that leave the entire staff begging for more. Or a three-rice stuffed pepper with romesco sauce. Or chickpeas and black rice with bok choy, lacinato kale, sunchokes, and a blood orange-white balsamic vinaigrette.
When I go into his restaurant to eat with Lu, I almost always order the vegetarian special. It’s almost always the best meal on the menu.
In some of these dishes, he has been making grilled tofu. We have a tofu factory here on Vashon. Danny loves to use local ingredients. People love his vegan specials with grilled tofu. The staff loves them. Danny was tempted to eat some grilled tofu and wanted more. He started liking tofu, a little.
Last week, we made a tofu dish inspired by Michelle Stern’s lovely new cookbook, The Whole Family Cookbook: Celebrate the Goodness of Locally Grown Foods. Michelle is passionate about getting kids in the kitchen and involving families in every step of the cooking process, as well as the need to use as many local foods as possible. Her kind and thoughtful book is meant to help busy families make healthy meals together. Of course we wanted to help spread the word about this.
When I saw the recipe for tofu triangles with dipping sauce, I told Danny we had to make it. He wasn’t particularly enthusiastic, but he agreed.
We changed it up a bit — Danny can never make a recipe as written — and decided to roast the tofu instead of baking it. Roasted tofu has a crisp skin with a soft interior. It squeaks sometimes when you bite into it — there is that much crunch. As Danny said when I pulled them out of the oven, they look like homemade marshmallows. They puff up that much.
Roasting is my favorite technique for making great tofu.
We let them cool a bit, then took these photos, and then we three ate together.
“Wow,” said Danny. “This is really good. Can we make more?”
ROASTED TOFU WITH TAMARI DIPPING SAUCE, inspired by a recipe in The Whole Family Cookbook: Celebrate the goodness of locally grown foods
Pull out the ingredients for this and you could be having a great snack within half an hour. These are pretty addictive – this batch disappeared pretty quickly. However, if you have any leftover after the initial eating excitement, the roasted tofu would be great in salads or over brown rice with roasted vegetables. The dipping sauce makes a great marinade for seared salmon or roasted chicken, as well.
The wasabi powder here is optional but it adds a great zing to the sauce. Wasabi root, known as Japanese horseradish, has a bit of a kick, which breathes some fire into otherwise bland dishes. You probably know it best as the green glob that appears next to your sushi. It has so many other uses, however. The McCormick Gourmet folks sent us some of theirs (remember that we’re part of their blogger group and thus paid to talk about their spices) and we have been using it in unexpected dishes. Just a pinch adds great heat.
16 ounces firm tofu
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 nub ginger, peeled (about the size of half your pinky finger)
2 tablespoons wheat-free tamari
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon wasabi powder (optional)
3 tablespoons sesame oil
9 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Preparing to roast. Preheat the oven to 450°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roasting the tofu. Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes. Season the tofu with salt and pepper. Pour the oil over the tofu and gently toss them with oil to coat. It’s probably best to do this with your fingertips, taking care to not crumble the tofu. You want solid cubes.
Tumble the seasoned tofu onto the baking sheet. Slide it into the oven and roast the tofu for 15 minutes. Take the baking sheet out of the oven and flip over all the tofu cubes. Slide the baking sheet into the oven again and roast until the tofu cubes are puffed up and browned, about another 15 minutes.
Making the dipping sauce. While the tofu is roasting, toss the garlic cloves and ginger to a food processor. (You could also use a blender for this.) Whirl them up until they are pulpy. Add the tamari, rice wine vinegar, and wasabi powder (if you are using it) and mix up the sauce. With the food processor running, pour in the sesame and grapeseed oils, slowly, a bit at a time. This will emulsify the dipping sauce, which means the ingredients will hold together.
Remove the tofu from the oven. When they are cool to the touch, dip them in the sauce and eat.