Wednesday, September 28, 2005

BUTTERNUTS!

This recipe comes courtesy of one of my favorite little cookbooks, The New Vegan by Lorna Sass:

This combination was inspired by the popular street food of Trinidad and Jamaica. In my version, chunks of tempeh are quickly marinated with typical jerk spices and then baked. The dense, zesty cubes are dotted on top of meltingly soft, curried calabaza--a large West Indian pumpkin that [no one's ever seen but apparently] is sold in wedges in many Hispanic markets. (You can substitute butternut squash.) The combination is quite filling, so you probably won't need a grain accompaniment.

I've organized the recipe for maximum efficiency, so you'll be preparing the curried pumpkin while the tempeh is marinating. If it's more convenient, you can marinate the tempeh overnight.

JERK SPICED TEMPEH
8 ounces tempeh (soy or three-grain)
3 tablespoons japanese soy sauce (shoyu or tamari)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus oil for preparing the pan
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 to 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 medium vidalia, walla walla, or other sweet onion (about six ounces), peeled and cut into eighths
pickapeppa, tabasco, or other hot sauce

WEST INDIAN PUMPKIN
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced
one 15-ounce can diced tomatoes (with liquid)
1/2 to 1 cup unseasoned tomato juice or water
3 to 4 tablespoons marinade (reserved from jerk-spiced tempeh)
1 to 2 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 pounds caribbean pumpkin (calabaza) or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

01 With a fork, deeply prick the tempeh about 20 times on each side. Cut into 1/2-inch dice. Set aside.

02 In a blender, combine the soy sauce, oil, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, thyme, allspice, pepper, salt, and onion. Puree until very smooth, about 1 minute. Add hot sauce to taste. Reserve 1/4 cup of the marinade.

03 Pour half the remaining marinade into a storage container. Add the diced tempeh. Pour the rest of the marinade on top. Cover, then shake gently to coat the tempeh evenly. Set aside for 15 minutes.

04 While the tempeh is marinating, prepare the curried pumpkin: Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Cook the onion and green pepper over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, 1/2 cup tomato juice, 3 tablespoons of the reserved tempeh marinade, and the smaller amounts of curry, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Stir in the pumpkin. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is tender, 20 to 25 minutes. During this time, adjust the seasoning by adding more marinade and spices if you wish. Add more tomato juice or water if the sauce becomes too thick.

05 While the pumpkin is cooking, preheat the oven to 425. Brush a large nonstick baking sheet or roasting pan with oil (if not nonstick, line with oiled foil). Spread the marinated tempeh in the pan in one layer. (It's okay if some of the unabsorbed marinade ends up in the pan.) Bake until the color deepens and the top of each piece feels fairly dry and is no longer sticky to the touch, 10 to 12 minutes, as it will dry out.)

06 To serve, spoon the curried pumpkin onto dinner plates and set the jerk-spiced tempeh on top.

OTHER IDEAS
Instead of using hot sauce, flavor the tempeh with 1/4 to 1 teaspoon chipotle in adobo, a condiment made of smoked jalapenos in a seasoned tomato sauce (available in Hispanic groceries and gourmet shops).

WEST INDIAN "ROTI" WRAPS
Place chunks of pumpin and tempeh just below the center of a large flour tortilla. Fold the bottom of the tortilla over the filling. Fold over the sides and then the top to create a packet. Reheat in the microwave [No!! Get rid of it! It probably won't kill you, but you need the counterspace, dude.] if necessary. It's best to serve these on plates with knives and forks, as they're messy to eat.

WEST INDIAN "PIZZA"
Place warm flour tortilla on each plate and spoon the pumpkin and tempeh on top.

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I've never tried these last two options, but I'm not sure I agree that a flour tortilla would be the best accompaniment to this meal, and I am sure that I do believe that to be the loosest approximation of pizza I've ever heard of. I've also never tried that chipotle idea, but I think that's only because I never read the notes at the end of recipes (I should)...it sounds fantastic.

You should be warned that you'll probably cry during and after the brave little onion's trip to the blender. That's some potent stuff.

Finally, I sort of freaked out about the microwave suggestion. Look, I use microwaves at work to heat up my lunch, but I hate it and it took me a long time to come around. I don't want to be one of these apocalyptic conspiracy types, but I do harbor a latent suspicion of microwaves (though I'm oddly okay with cell phones after a brief Luddite phase) and feel they should be used as a last resort. You really don't need one in your home kitchen, I promise. There are so many other gizmos and gadgets that could be enjoying the real estate in your kitchen. If you need ideas, let me know.

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