Thursday, June 19, 2008

My One-Pot Meal: Tamale Pie

I'm participating in the "Go Ahead Honey, It's Gluten-Free" Blogging Event for the first time! The theme is "One-Pot Meals." Maybe soon I'll actually get around to hosting an event...

In any case, tamale pie is my one-pot entry. It's a natural one-pot meal. You get your veggies, protein, and grain all in one whack. It's also versatile: I've made this recipe with meat, without meat, and vegan.

If you've never encountered a tamale pie, which I hadn't until I married the Science Teacher, it's not a "pie" in the crimped pan of flaky dough sense. There's a layer of chili on the bottom and a layer of cornbread on top. Of course, this is where your preferences come in--how do you like your chili? Beany? Meaty? Vegetarian? Lots of veggies? Just tomatoes and onions? So hot you may as well have rubbed a habenero all over your tongue?

The cornbread part is a whole other debate. Our tamale pies tend to have thicker cornbread crusts, but the Science Teacher's mom's version is of a thin-crust variety. And then the question of what kind of cornbread to make arises. Cornbread is a funny creature. Whenever I mention to anyone around here that I've made cornbread, I tend to end up in conversations like this:

Me: "I made cornbread last night--it was totally rainy-day comfort food!"

Other Person (surprised): "Cornbread? Really? How do you make it gluten-free?"

Me (somewhat bemused): "The same way you make watermelon gluten-free--it just is."

OP (persistently): "But how do you make it without flour....."

Sigh. I'm considering getting tee-shirts printed with the recipe. This is what I get for moving north to Vermont, the place where no one says "y'all" (except, of course, the Science Teacher, and he attempts to use it in the singular, as in when he addresses me with "Whatta y'all want for breakfast"--I don't even dignify such grammatical frippery with an answer) and all cornbread contains flour.

You see, I grew up with all-cornmeal cornbread. I have since discovered that there exists "Northern" cornbread, which is usually at least half flour and contains more sugar than its southern cousin, and "Southern" cornbread of the type I ate growing up (case in point, even the Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special refers to their cornbread recipe as "Southern Wheat-Free Cornbread"). Check out the wikipedia entry on the regional differences in cornbread recipes.

Before I give you the recipe I use--which does change every time I make it--let me give some tips for tamale pie customization.

The Crust:
For the crust, you can basically use your favorite cornbread recipe. One cup of cornmeal/flour (not including the other ingredients) will yield a fairly thin crust; two cups a nice thick crust. You can simply adjust your favorite recipe for the amount of cornmeal/flour you need. The batter must be thin in order to cover the entire pie so you might need to add a little liquid to achieve the right consistency. Don't worry too much about it--cornbread is forgiving.

If you prefer lighter, cakier cornbread, use half cornmeal half gluten-free flour (brown rice, sorghum, or whatever you have on hand) plus a 1/2 tsp. of xanthum gum. Use 3-4 tbsp. of sugar, honey, or maple syrup per two cups of cornmeal/flour for a sweeter cornbread, or 1 tbsp. (or none) for a more savory cornbread.

You can also add shredded cheddar and chopped jalapenos, if you like.

The Chili:
Since you probably have your own favorite chili recipe (at least, I hope you do!), I won't make suggestions here. Just make sure that you have enough filling to balance out the crust you've chosen. Three cups of beans or a pound of meat plus veggies is probably enough for a 1-cup-of-cornmeal crust but not enough for the thicker crust.

Tamale Pie
As you can probably tell, tamale pie can be highly improvisational. Here's a starting place for your experiments! These recipes are inspired by those in Jane Brody's fabulous Good Food Book and Good Food Gourmet.

2 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. boiling water
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. honey
1 egg
2 tbsp. oil
1 1/4-1 1/2 c. buttermilk or yogurt

Chili Filling:
1 lb. ground buffalo
1 tbsp. oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 c. green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 c. kidney beans
1/2 c. black or green pitted olives
1 can of diced tomatoes
2-3 tbsp. tomato paste
1 bottle gluten-free beer or 12 oz. water
1 tbsp. gluten-free worchestershire sauce
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 heaping tbsp. chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
generous pinch of cinnamon or allspice

Mix 1/2 c. of the cornmeal with the boiling water. Stir until combined. Mix with the other liquid ingredients. Combine the dry ingredients in another bowl. Set aside until you're ready to pop the pie in the oven.

Brown the meat--if you're using it--rinse it in cold water (this gets rid of any grease), and set it aside. Heat the oil and saute the onion, green pepper, and garlic until soft. Add the cumin, chili powder, and cinnamon or allspice, and cook for about a minute. Add the rest of the ingredients, and cook for 20-30 min.

Transfer the chili mixture to a greased 2-3 qt. casserole dish (deeper is better as the cornbread will rise). Stir the wet crust ingredients into the dry ingredients, and pour over the chili filling. Bake at 350 for 30 min.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Asian-Style Tofu Loaf

I grew up pretty much unaware of tofu as food that I might actually want to eat. Most of the meals I remember centered around meat: chicken casserole, hamburger goulash, baked flounder, etc. Not terribly unusual for someone whose grandparents grew up on farms.

I first encountered tofu on a regular basis in college, where firm tofu was ubiquitous on the salad bar and, for the first time, I had friends who were vegetarian. I ate it then, but I can't say I loved it. Even when I experimented with my food identity, first becoming vegetarian and later going through a vegan phase for 8 months, I never really got the hang of tofu.

In the past few years I've found new techniques for cooking tofu though. I have a killer baked soy-sesame tofu recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special. I learned about stir-frying tofu from a mini-tutorial in EatingWell. In general, I feel more confident in my abilities with tofu now. So last Friday, when I needed to either invent dinner from our larder or go shopping, I opted to stay home and do a little experimental tofu cookery. Enter Project Tofu Loaf.

I've never made a loaf out of anything but flour, turkey, or ground beef. So I did what most internet-addicts do--I googled it. A Google search for tofu loaf turns up a bunch of results for a recipe called Tip Top Tofu Loaf. At first, I thought someone had just discovered the nirvana of tofu loaves. After reading a few negative recipe reviews, however, I realized that they were all test-driving a particular recipe from La Dolce Vegan. The message I got was: whatever you do, don't make it bland.

Most tofu loaves call for tofu, some bread crumbs or oatmeal, spices, ketchup, and maybe some tahini. I couldn't find any "this was fabulous!" reviews for this breed of loaf so I decided to base my flavor principle on one of my favorite condiments: spicy peanut sauce.

When the Science Teacher came home, the loaf was already baking and I was upstairs playing with the Little Pottamus. He walked into the room, and we started talking. Casually, I said, "Guess what's for dinner, honey?"

"Soup from the soup restaurant?" he answered, half hopefully. "No," I said, "even better." He gave me the dubious look he reserves for my announcement that I've snuck vegetables into the dessert again and asked, "Okay, what then?"

"Tofu loaf!" I said brightly. Then a forlorn expression of horror and disbelief crossed his face. I laughed so hard I fell over on the floor and cried. "Is it shaped like a turkey?" he asked as I continued to cry.

When dinner time arrive, he poked skeptically at the loaf and said, "You should have called it tofu bake. 'Bake' doesn't conjure images of lentil pate and other hippie delicacies." Then he took a bite. And another. And another. After consuming the bigger part of a large hunk of tofu loaf, he asked, "Next time will you put some chopped up peanuts in it, too?"

Asian-Style Tofu Loaf

1 14-oz container firm tofu
1/2 c. TVP
1 c. GF bread crumbs
2 tsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1-2 tsp. chili-garlic paste (sriracha)
2-3 tbsp. peanut butter
2-3 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. tumeric
1 tbsp. lime juice

Place the TVP in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over the TVP until it's covered. Put a lid or plate over the bowl, and allow to sit.

Saute the onion and carrots in the olive oil until the carrots are tender (maybe 10 min.). Add the chili-garlic paste in the last few minutes of cooking.

Crumble the tofu in a large bowl. Add the TVP. Add the sauted veggies. Add the peanut butter and stir well to distribute. Add the soy sauce, tumeric, and lime juice, and stir well. Press the mixture into a greased 8x8 dish, and bake for 50 min. at 350 in a preheated oven. Allow to cool before cutting.