|Hubby taking a break from the autumn yard clean-up|
What's up with all this food categorizing? Know what I mean? I know you and I are on the same plane, but it seems like everyone nowadays has to be on a crazy restrictive diet (paleo) or blame one ingredient for the world's problems (gluten) or feel the need to be special by painting themselves into a culinary corner (raw vegans). Then there are the haters, the ones who take pride in the fact that they consume no vegetables (constipated) or are too manly for that "frou-frou stuff" (insecure).
I'm all for whatever someone wants to do - whether it's binging on bacon five times a day a la Atkins or cleansing with leek broth and quinoa pudding, have at it - but I think all this restrictive behavior is the root of our problem. True, Mexico has recently surpassed the US as the world's fattest country, but we all know U.S. of A and our culinary creations like Coca-Cola and el Big Mac had a little something to do with that.
So what's the solution? I don't have the answer, really, but I do know what works for us:
- We try to stick to real foods, which means unprocessed stuff like fresh vegetables, fruit, good oils, meat and fish, rice, beans...but 80/20 rule, because life without Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Kit Kats would be sad indeed.
- We eat close to the ground - and I mean that quite literally. Lots of veggies from our garden and CSA share, then wild game and fish that have been culled from the fields and lakes and rivers in our area.
- We are unclassified eaters. We eat meat, and we also eat tofu. Sometimes I get the juicer out and make cucumber-beet-apple-ginger-kale juice, and sometimes I eat Ben and Jerry's right out of the carton. We can make a gourmet dinner one day and be completely satisfied with a bowl of popcorn the next. If you see me at the grocery store, I could be buying chia seeds and Bragg's amino acids along with cartoon character fruit snacks and Fig Newtons - because I like all of the above.
If you are seeking the answers to your personal food crisis, here's my suggestion: don't worry about it. Unless you have a medical condition, just eat everything in moderation and celebrate and savor. Focus on real, usually homemade food. Eat food that tastes delicious, and stop when it is no longer delicious. Eat lots of different foods, trying new things often. Do your neighbor a good turn and buy some local produce or meat or eggs now and then. And don't put yourself in a box - you don't have to explain why you are drinking apple-beet-kale juice or eating pancakes for dinner or picking the vegetarian dinner option or throwing a huge roast in the crockpot or dining on what I call North Dakota surf and turf (walleye and venison). It's ok. We're ok.
In that spirit, I'd suggest this gorgeous butternut squash and tofu curry to anyone and everyone, and it just happens to be adapted from the aptly named classic cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. Some cooking notes:
- The squash: instead of butternut, you can use buttercup or acorn
- The tofu: I always buy the refrigerated tofu - it tastes better than the shelf-stable stuff and I prefer the texture. And the tofu frying step in this recipe? You could skip it - but I think it's worth it.
- The coconut milk: full fat only. No reduced fat coconut milk, please.
- The curry paste: curry paste is more flavorful and rich than curry powder. Choose your weapon - there are mild curry pastes, hot curry pastes, just pick one and keep adding spoonfuls of paste to your curry, tasting the sauce as you cook until you have it as you like it.
And my card-carrying Ducks Unlimited member Cabela's shopper outdoorsman hunter husband? He ate the curry with gusto, probably because 1) he was hungry, 2) it was tasty, and 3) he knows tofu presents no risk to his masculinity. In fact, the fact we can go from a dinner of goose sausage one night to tofu curry the next is one of the many things I love about how we cook and eat and celebrate our abundance.
Butternut Squash and Tofu Curry
1 medium onion, halved then thinly sliced
Peanut or olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 Tbls. finely chopped ginger
2-3 Tbls. curry paste of your choice (see note above)
1 tsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. soy sauce
One 15-oz can unsweetened coconut milk
About 1 lb. butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1/2" pieces
One 10-oz package firm or extra firm tofu, cut into 1/2" cubes
Juice of 1 lime
1/3 cup raw peanuts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Heat about 2 Tbls. oil in a pot or Dutch oven. Add onion and cook over medium heat until softened and starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeño, and ginger, cook for 1 minute more, then add curry paste, sugar, and soy sauce. Stir, then add 2 cups of water, coconut milk, and squash. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, heat another 2 Tbls oil in a separate pan over medium high heat. Add tofu cubes to hot oil and fry, stirring occasionally, until golden on most sides, about 10 minutes. Remove and let fried tofu cubes drain on paper towel-lined plate.
When squash is tender, add the tofu and turn off the heat. Taste and add a little salt if needed, then add the lime juice. Let it sit and cool for a few minutes, then serve over rice, topped with peanuts and cilantro. And note that leftover curry is an amazing thing - it just gets better the next day.