I’ve made a number of excellent recipes from the cookbook The Vegetarian Table: France, and so last time I was at Half Price books in Austin I picked up some more books from the same series: Thailand, Japan, and Mexico. This week I finally got a chance to try two recipes from the Thailand book (by Jacki Passmore). I told Derek I wanted something relatively easy, and he picked out a recipe for cauliflower and beans in coconut and peanut sauce, and one for a tempeh stir-fry with red bell peppers.
First of all, I really appreciate that the cookbook gives weight measurements for the vegetables, in addition to volume. So it says 2 cups (8 oz) sliced long beans or green beans and 2.5 cups (9 oz) cauliflower florets. So useful!
Other than that, I don’t have so many positive things to say about either recipe.
The coconut and peanut sauce was pretty easy to make. You just throw an onion, stalk of lemongrass, fresh green chili, garlic, and ginger into a blender with some of the coconut milk, blend, then add a bit of sugar and salt. This sauce is simmered for ten minutes then thinned with water, and the vegetables are cooked in the sauce. Finally, soy sauce and peanut butter are added. The sauce was not a very appealing color. The coconut and peanut butter combined to make it kind of a boring beige color. It needed cilantro or more hot chilies or something to give it some color. Also, the amount of sauce seemed huge compared to the amount of vegetables. (And I know I added exactly the right amount of veggies because of the weight specifications.) So I added more green beans (12.5 oz instead of 8 oz) and a few carrots, but still there was way too much sauce. More importantly, the sauce was quite bland. Derek called it “one note”. It mostly tasted of coconut and peanut butter. I couldn’t detect the lemongrass, ginger, or garlic. And there was absolutely no spice, even though I ignored the instructions to seed the chili. The dish didn’t taste particularly Thai. It didn’t have sweet, spicy, or sour notes. It was, however, very salty. I added the juice from a lime, a tablespoon of tamarind paste, a tablespoon of sambal olek, and some leftover thai red curry paste, and mashed in about a cup of leftover baked butternut squash (to thicken the sauce and add sweetness and color). After that it was better. Derek even said “very good,” but I still thought it wasn’t right.
Interestingly, the headnotes say that the author often uses this same sauce for the fleshy stems of bok choy or swiss chard, which is a good idea. I’m always looking for things to do with really fat swiss chard stems. If I’m just making a side dish of swiss chard I usually cook the stems along with the leaves, but when I’m following a recipe they often call for the leaves only. I don’t think I’ll follow this sauce recipe but I could try to serve chard stems with a similar sauce, just with more punch.
The second recipe we tried was for stir-fried tempeh with garlic and peppers, but unfortunately I couldn’t find any tempeh this week. The recipe says tofu can also be used, so I did it that way. The tofu is cubed and stir-fried with sliced onion, then garlic, a green chili, and red bell pepper strips are added. Finally, you toss the stir-fry with water spinach leaves, vegetarian mushroom oyster sauce, light soy sauce and water. Sprinkle on toasted sesame seeds and serve.
Again, the dish was lackluster. It’s similar in many ways to another Thai recipe I’ve made: tofu and cashew stir-fry with mushrooms and bell peppers. But unlike that one this one has less garlic (1 instead of 2 Tbs.), less oil (1.5 instead of 2-3 Tbs.), 12 oz instead of 8 oz tofu, no mushrooms or green onions, and no sugar or cashews. Also, the 1/2 cup water that’s added to the sauce really waters it down and makes it kind of soupy. The recipe wasn’t bad, just unexciting. And it didn’t taste particularly Thai. I think maybe next time I’ll try a mix of the two recipes. I’ll use 1/2 cup of cashews, a whole red bell pepper, the mushrooms, 2 Tbs. of garlic, a tsp. of sugar, and no water in the sauce.
Adding water spinach is also a good idea. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked with it (or even eaten it?) before, but it’s pretty mild tasting. It tastes different than regular spinach, but it’s subtle. Definitely a good addition to my greens repertoire, since I can’t get so many different green leafies here.