Yesterday The Boyfriend and I went to H-Mart in Cambridge. I love this store so much, at least the grocery part of it. The restaurant area? Not so much. I have been there on two occasions; the first time I ordered the vegetarian sushi roll. I think it was stuffed with tempura veggies? I don’t even remember because it was that bland and boring. I remember thinking that it was a HUGE waste of calories. I told myself the next time, I would only order the pre-made veggie/avocado sushi because that is pretty hard to screw up and I am OK with how bland it is, but I ended up getting sucked in by the Vegetarian Ramen Bowl. Veggies and tofu? Yes please!
Here it is:
As you can see, it is noodles and broth topped with cabbage, Chinese broccoli and tofu.
The broth was subtle and nicely flavored, I will give them that, but it was so boring and I am so sick and tired of getting bland, boring, vegetarian and vegan food. I see the meat ramen they serve. I smell it and it looks and smells delicious because it is full of flavor. I think a vegetarian or vegan dish should be packed full of even MORE flavors! I want sweet, salty, bitter, astringent and sour in my dish. I like it when each bite is a slightly different experience.
I ate the tofu and some of the veggies/noodles and decided that I would take the rest home and transform it into WHAT I WOULD MAKE IF I WERE SERVING VEGETARIAN RAMEN!
I do give them credit for making a lovely base broth. I’m pretty sure they used kombu. It reminded me of a clear, less flavored kombu infused miso soup.
So, the first thing I did was dry-fry tofu: When it was done, I added brine from some Korean Daikon Pickles I made a couple weeks ago to give it acid, salt and depth of flavor. The tofu went into a bowl to soak up the briny goodness. . Next, I used about 1 tsp. of spicy sesame oil and 1/2 of a small onion and fried it up over medium-high heat. I added a pinch of 5-spice powder and salt. Finally, I added the leftover restaurant ramen. While it was heating up, I added two pressed cloves of garlic and around 1 tbsp. of minced, fresh ginger. I finished the dish with Thai bird chilies, Korean chilies, black sesame seeds, sesame leaves, and pepper. Now THIS is what I’m talking about!
Please understand restaurants, that vegetarians and vegans crave and appreciate flavorful food. It is not that hard to create; I know this, because I have been a Vegetarian/Vegan Chef in restaurants! Please step up to the plate.
Baby it’s cold outside! This gives me an excuse (Who am I kidding, I don’t need and excuse!) to make hot sauce!
I scored some hot peppers the other day at Market Basket. I experimented with the Thai Bird Chilies to make this cultured hot sauce which I will post about soon.
Back to the Habanero Sauce.. I would have preferred Scotch Bonnets, but they are hard to find, so Habaneros stand in well. Scotch Bonnets seem a touch less hot and maybe a bit sweeter and fruiter than Habaneros.
I scored some Green Habaneros for a buck at Market Basket. I didn’t measure, but I used around 20 peppers and 10 cloves of garlic. I pulsed the peppers in the food processor with these ingredients:
Apple Cider Vinegar
Some pre-made seasoning we got in Jamaica
Once it was pureed, I brought it up to a boil, then reduced the heat so it simmered for 5 minutes or so. It’s now cooling in the fridge.
I’ll bet a little bit of fresh ginger would be really good addition. I love making my own sauces. They add the flavor I crave for so few calories! I’ll bet this would be really good with black eyed peas and cabbage , served with a roasted sweet potato.
I really love all types of Asian food, but it’s often so full of gratuitous grease and many times the sauces are based on animal broths. It seems like when restaurants take out the meat products, the replace them with an abundance of salt, and that is just not very tasty, let alone not very healthy.
This meal came together really fast and I am going to share the method with you. I didn’t write down amounts, but really, amounts are based on personal taste, so use what you like and don’t be afraid to experiment. Just keep in mind that any strong flavors and salts will intensify as you reduce the liquid, so less is more; you can always tweak it to your liking before serving!
I froze a 14 oz. block of extra firm tofu, then defrosted it and squeezed all of the water out. This is a great way to skip the HOURS of marinating required to impart satisfying flavor into your tofu.
Once the tofu is squeezed of all water (it will literally be like a sponge) crumble it with your hands and set aside.
For this dish I used:
Chili- Garlic Paste (I made my own, but you can use store bought)
Fresh Lime Juice
Fresh Thai Basil
5 Spice Powder
Water as needed
Pinch of Hickory Smoke Powder
Toasted Sesame Oil
I used a screaming hot cast iron sprayed with cooking spray, then added the onion, garlic and ginger along with a small pinch of salt, then added the eggplant, 5 spice and stir fried for several minutes, then I deglazed with some mirin and added the chili garlic sauce, 5 spice and water. I turned the heat down to medium, covered and cooked until the eggplant was nice a tender. Finally, I added the rest of the ingredients, tasted and adjusted my seasoning .
The beauty of dishes like this is that they are almost always better the next day!
Happy New Year everyone. I am focusing on one goal this year:
Acceptance. Quite lofty, eh?
Now, onto the food.
I have been making black eyed peas and greens every New Year’s Day as long time Melomealsreaders know.
Black eyed peas have such an amazing flavor, and can be prepared quite fast from their dried form. As long as you don’t introduce acid and salt into the cooking liquid. I know that many food scientists say that salt doesn’t affect the bean cooking time, but in my own experience, I beg to differ.
When I want my black eyed peas done fast, I rinse them well, then put them on the stove with around 3 inches of water covering the amount of beans in a medium size sauce pan. I like to add a bay leaf and 1 clove as well. I bring to a rolling boil uncovered while I am preparing the vegetables for the dish.
My go-to black eyed pea favs are Indian, Ethiopian, Cajun, Nigerian, and often, a fusion of all three spices, depending on what I have on hand.
While the peas are cooking, I prep the veggies, then saute lots of garlic and onion with spices and add the peas along with whatever cooking liquid is left as needed. I cover and simmer for a while, or until the peas are done, and add the veggies and tomato product and cook for several more minutes. I usually finish off my dish with an acid, taste for salt/pepper and add any fresh herbs I’m using.
Soy sauce, miso, nutritional yeast, and umeboshi are ingredients that will help ‘finish’ a dish if it is lacking something.
I love to make big batches of this and freeze the leftovers.
The Boyfriend and I went to Jamaica for a week and I have come home with a lot of food inspiration! Those who know me, know how much I love Habaneros (Scotch Bonnets.)
The food was definitely hit or miss. We stayed at the Rose Hall Hilton near Montego Bay. They had a daily buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They also had several restaurants. I was able to put in a request for tofu and beans to be added to my meals in the restaurants. The first dinner was great! Tofu with veggies, marinara and pasta. Excellent! I didn’t take any pics though. I actually did not bring my camera with me to Jamaica, only my phone and kindle, so there are hardly any food pics. I was more interested in the scenery than food anyway when it came to taking phone pics.
On the two excursions (Bob Marley House in Nine Mile and the Black River Safari) I requested vegetarian food since lunch was included in the tour. The first lunch was really really good! Rice/Beans and very flavorful cabbage and veggies with the most amazing, scorching hot scotch bonnet sauce. I think the sauce was just scotch bonnets, garlic, spice and vinegar. I was so thrilled with the taste of the veggies even without the sauce, I found the Chef (we were at a little roadside restaurant) and hugged her! It’s so lovely to express gratitude to someone for preparing you a great meal! The Boyfriend loved his Jerk Pork/Chicken too. It was served with rice/peas and a fried something or other that I assume must have been fried in lard, since it wasn’t on my plate. No pics of the lunch..
The second lunch on the Black River Safari was decent. They didn’t have the habanero sauce, only bottled sauce that kind of tasted like a cross between Tabasco and Wing Sauce. It was rice/beans and cabbage and veggies. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the food and especially enjoyed the fact that I was given grains/beans and veggies, which are very satisfying and filling. No wimpy salad considered a meal!
Our second fancypants dinner (we ate at the buffet the rest of the nights, which was great.. I could always find food. I did end up eating a lot more beans and veggies than normal, but I am slowly getting better, so the consequences weren’t as bad as they have been in the past.) was really horrible. It was my fault, I’m sure, because I should have had them prepare the tofu/marinara/pasta for me like they did the first night, but instead I ordered the pesto pasta sans salmon. I took two bites. bleh. gross. I’m sure the salmon added some element to the dish that was severely lacking without it. I was impressed that the server knew to tell me there was anchovy paste in the salad dressing. It made me feel confident they cared about what I was ordering. That means a lot.
The last dinner was excellent! It was a Jamaican Curried Beans and Veggies served with coconut sauce, basmati, and mango chutney. They brought me a lovely HOT scotch bonnet sauce too. YUM! Again, no pics. We were eating outside, our last night, under the full moon. You can’t get much better than that!
Finally, I want to talk about the meal in the picture at the beginning of this entry. I am not going to name names of the restaurant, but it was a place I found on Yelp. It was said to be “The best vegetarian food on a budget in Montego Bay.” They Boyfriend and I took a taxi into the city and walked for a while to try to find the place. As we were walking, it became apparent that we were not being well received by the locals. Frankly, I don’t blame them for the way they react to us (tourists) and I somewhat blame myself for not researching more about the Jamaican culture and the restaurant. Naive American for sure at work here! For the record, I don’t recommend walking around Montego Bay. We should have known when the taxi driver wanted to drive us from place to place and was shocked we wanted to be dropped off. (We love going to local supermarkets and checking out the produce, hot sauces and everything else. I’m a sucker for prices, and love to see how much things cost in other places. Yes, I’m weird and my amazing boyfriend totally indulges me!)
So, we finally found the place and I have to say, they did not want to wait on us. I was super excited to find the vegetarian restaurant and had envisioned talking to the Chef all about vegetarian (actually vegan) food if he wasn’t busy.
When were were finally able to order, I expressed how much I loved spicy food and was really looking forward to eating here, since I had found the place on Yelp. Stony silence. We tried to ask about the food, but the woman did not explain anything (the menu wasn’t that clear).. They had BBQ Soy (I asked if it was tofu and she said it was. It wasn’t it was a soy/gluten nugget, which I can’t stand by the way!).. I ordered the “Soy” BBQ plate and The Boyfriend ordered the Two Pea and Rice plate. They were beautifully presented. We also ordered a vegetable hand pie, which we both liked, but wanted some spicy sauce with. The crust of the hand pie was a lovely whole wheat crust and was beautifully prepared and flavored.
What I liked about the meal:
The food was obviously very fresh and of good quality.
Portions were generous
Lovely flavor of bulgur and brown rice
You can’t go wrong with collards!
I felt good after eating it.
Prices were more than reasonable.
What I didn’t like about the meal:
Literally no spices or seasoning.
No salt (no salt/pepper or any seasoning on the table either)
Gluten/Soy nuggets and not tofu
The fact that I did not feel comfortable sending my food back
No salt at all in any of the food
No sauces offered, only cayenne powder
Literally just a plate of boiled squash, plantain, grains and beans with no seasoning whatsoever.
The collard/cabbage/carrots had no seasoning/dressing/acid at all
The negative energy being projected towards us.
The restaurant apparently serves Ital food, but not really. I guess Ital food is totally up to the chef. Since they offered gluten/soy processed products, I assumed they would also season their food with salt. If you aren’t going to use salt and acid in your food, then you better use a lot of herbs, but they didn’t use ANY.
So disappointing on so many levels.
Yes, very much First World Problems!
I just had this built up in my head to be an experience and a way to connect with the people running the restaurant.
That being said, I am now VERY inspired to create my own versions of this food. I have already written a recipe for a Rice, Pea and Veggie dish that I plan on making later today and if it’s as delicious as I think it will be, I will share the recipes with you guys.
It’s kind of hard cooking right now, because it’s only me. The Boyfriend has been working out of town 5 days a week, and there’s only so much I can eat. My freezer is super stocked with single portion meals, that’s for sure!
On the bright side, he is collecting Hilton Points! When we went to Costa Rica, he had enough points so all he had to pay for was air fare.
I had an amazing time and I am so grateful for the experience. We traveled with The Boyfriend’s parents and they are lovely people. I hope to go back to Jamaica some day!