Saturday, 7 January 2012

Triple Soya Stir-fry

A trip to the Chinese supermarket is always inspirational; if you look past the dried fish and meat you will find there are numerous types of noodle, cartons of silky white handmade tofu, sheets and sticks of dried beancurd, plump beansprouts, unusual spice blends and herbal teas plus some truly amazing stuff such as douchi, which are  fermented black soya beans. I have quickly acquired a taste for these salty little delicacies, which are traditionally used as a seasoning, or to make black bean paste. (As well as tasting delicious, they can also help prevent high blood pressure, lower chloresterol and aid digestion. Be cautious of the amount of sodium they contain, however, if that is an issue for you.) This satisfying stir-fry contains a triple whammy of soya: tofu, beancurd and douchi. Despite this, it is still an easy meal to prepare and cook. I made vast amounts for my tribe- about 10 servings; you would probably want to cut the quantities down by at least half.
1/2 a small head of broccoli
1/2 a head of cauliflower
2 peppers (I used one red, one yellow)
300g beansprouts
1/2 a head of Chinese leaves, sliced lengthways (Chinese cabbage, not bok choy)
3 carrots or 3 sticks celery or a small packet of baby sweetcorn
3 tabs sesame seeds
200g tofu (medium-firm)
200g dry weight beancurd sticks- see Ingredient of the Month
ricebran oil for frying
dark soy sauce
Chinese five-spice powder
douchi for sprinkling
For the marinade:
the juice of 1 lemon
1 tab five-spice
1 tab ume plum seasoning
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 tabs dark soy sauce
  • Prepare the vegetables by slicing into strips/ small florets while you let the cubed tofu marinate in the above mixture.
  • Break the beancurd sticks into pieces 1-2" long and cook in water until soft while the tofu marinates and you cut the vegetables
  • When the veggies are prepared, shallow-fry the tofu cubes and set aside. I don't cook them with the other ingredients as the rough-and-tumble of stir-frying in a large wok tends to break them up.
  • Drain the beancurd and put in a bowl with the remainder of the marinade.
  • Now it's time to get going in earnest: start by frying the harder veg like broccoli florets first; keep them moving and ensure they get coated in oil. As they begin to soften, add the softer veg like peppers and Chinese leaves. Don't put in the beansprouts yet.
  • Add the sesame seeds to the wok 
  • Stir in the beancurd and marinade
  • Lastly, add the beansprouts, and be careful not to overcook them.
  • Adjust the seasoning to your taste; at this point I added 2 tabs more soy sauce and 1 tab more five-spice, but it's up to you. (You could put in some black pepper or chillis.)
  • Serve over noodles or brown rice. I used thick chop suey noodles, and was careful to check the ingredients did not include egg.
  • Scatter the douchi over the top.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Health Benefits of Eating and Drinking from Stainless Steel

You may have noticed from the pictures on this blog that we use mainly stainless steel to eat and drink from. (I sometimes photograph food on ceramic / marble to avoid the glare from the metal in certain lighting conditions but then I will transfer it to stainless steel for eating.) Personally I like the look of  it a lot, and the fact that it doesn't break if you drop it, but there are other reasons why it is a good choice for tableware as well as cookware.
My husband remarked the other day that if you eat from stainless steel plates you get iron from them, so I decided to do some research. Here's a brief resume of what I found:
  • Stainless steel was invented to be durable and rustproof- the surface even renews itself.
  • Stainless steel contains iron, chromium and nickel. Small amounts of these metals may find their way into your food. (I didn't in my brief search, however, find the results of any scientific research to  prove how much gets into food.)  Iron is an essential nutrient, a little chromium is also needed (50-200 micrograms is the acceptable range; you get at most 45 micrograms in one meal cooked in stainless steel and way less than that from a plate), and the amount of nickel in stainless steel is not enough to make you ill. BUT if you have a nickel allergy do not cook, eat or drink from stainless steel.
  • There are different grades of stainless steel, and the harder and higher the quality it is, the less likely it is to give off off metals into your food.
  • Don't store acidic or very salty foods in stainless steel containers for too long or they may cause pitting of the surface.
  • Stainless steel is a safe choice if you have young children (or teens who help with washing dishes!) as it does not break. This also makes it ideal for travel; camping or taking a steel lunchbox (tiffin) somewhere.
  • Unlike plastic, which is not a green choice because of its lack of biodegradeability and the energy-wasteful way it is produced, stainless steel is recyclable, longlasting and greener to make.
  • Stainless steel has a hard, smooth surface which does not readily harbour germs, unlike wood or plastic. You can easily see if it has not been properly cleaned, therefore it is more hygienic to use.
  • Although stainless steel was not around when the Ayurveda was written, Ayurveda recommends the use of metal plates and cups (silver, gold or copper). Banana or banyan-leaf plates are also said to be preferable to pottery.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Ingredient of the month 4: Carob Powder

Carob hemp chewy bars: the carob gives them their dark coloration and adds to the sweetness
I've used this ingredient so many times already in this blog that I thought it warranted a slot of it's own! Carob is sooo much more than a chocolate substitute, with its own distinctive flavour and a very long tradition of use in Mediterranean and North African countries.
Carob, native to the Mediterranean and North Africa, is otherwise known as "locust bean" or "St John's bread", and it is said that John the Baptist survived on it in the desert. (Not on real locusts, as was often thought!) The pods are what is used for food; dried, ground and roasted. Carob syrup is also made in the Middle East and Turkey - it's an ingredient along with fruit juice concentrate in the sucrose substitute "Sweet Freedom" available here in the UK. Traditionally a drink made of carob would be taken during Ramadan. I have picked the hard ripe pods off a tree in Spain and powdered (and nibbled on them!) them myself.

Two teaspoons of carob powder contain 48 calories. Carob powder does not have any fat and has 1g of protein per 2 tsp serving. A 2 tsp. serving of carob powder also has 11 g of carbohydrates with 2 g of fibre. carob also contains small amounts of calcium and iron.

Health Benefits:
Unlike chocolate, carob is caffeine free and is not as allergenic as chocolate. It also contains polyphenols and flavonols which are antioxidants (these fight the disease-causing free radicals in the body).

Cooking with Carob:
Carob can be substituted for chocolate in cake recipes, though you may want to use less than for cocoa powder as it is so much darker. (See my post "Carob Party Cake" for ideas.) I tend to use it in baking or natural sweets mostly, and I have a friend who melts a mint-flavoured carob bar on top of a thick layer of  flapjack for a different and yummy snack. If you have any other ideas, especially experiments with carob in savoury dishes, I'd love to know- please tell me all about them in a comment.

A Very Happy 2012 to you all :)