Sunday, July 31, 2011

cooling salad with vegetables/tofu/rice

i went to a county fair on saturday! it was exactly what i expected and hoped for from a county fair - lots of adorable animals, fried foods, demonstrations of old-timey things, and various random 4-H projects like this:

the terrifying fellow above with his horrifying onion legs/pincers was part of a "best-dressed vegetables" competition, which sounds fake but is apparently a real thing. what's odd is that this hideous frankenstein's monster of pre-compost is not wearing any clothes. i assume that is why his creator only got a participation ribbon. next time follow the rules, poindexter!

on the opposite end of the cuteness spectrum is this darling. i immediately named her elmira velvet and she made it pretty clear that she wanted to come home with me. sadly, cooler heads prevailed and we left cowless.

(don't you just love her eyes?! and her softy soft coat? and her cunning little drool trails?!)

sadly what we did leave with were sunburns and mild heatstroke. well, i am not sure about the heatstroke. it wasn't that hot, but i was really out of it and tired when we got home. but i don't do outside things much, so perhaps i was just being a delicate flower.

regardless, the only thing that sounded good after the heat and dust and onion rings was this nice cold salad loaded with raw vegetables and herbs and tofu and slicked with a simple piquant dressing. it was heaven.

don't you feel 100 degrees cooler just looking at those vegetables? you can use whatever you have around - i used a red bell pepper, mint, half-ish of a jalapeño, jarred hearts of palm, some lemon balm that i fortuitously found growing in our backyard, a cucumber, some scallions, and some sugar snap peas (i also later put in some frozen peas and they thawed in the salad). i think blanched broccoli, tomatoes, little green beans, some basil and/or cilantro, etc, would all be good as well.

just slice the vegetables however you like - i made the scallions, hearts of palm, and jalapeño into kind of coin shapes (i took the seeds and most of the ribs out of the jalapeño and cut it in very thin rounds), the bell pepper into thick matchsticks, the herbs into julienne, and the peas i cut in half.

you could do the cucumber in rounds as well, but sometimes people get heartburn from the seeds, apparently, so i like to cut them in half and use a spoon to scoop the seeds out. you can then eat them, if you are not heartburn-prone, or you could use them to flavor ice water, etc - let them soak in it for awhile and then strain them out again. delicious! refreshing! or you can throw them away, i suppose.

then just slice the two halves into crescents.

it is probably not a bad idea to mix the dressing up in a big bowl and then dump the vegetables in. for a very large salad, i used like 1/4 - 1/3 cup rice vinegar, the juice of a whole lime, a tablespoon or so of demerara sugar (obvs you could use whatever kind), perhaps a tablespoon or so of soy sauce, and some sesame oil. basically it's a good idea to start slow and just add and mix until it tastes delicious. you want to be careful of the soy sauce, because it can be sort of overpowering. you could also just use some salt instead, if you don't want it soy-y. i mixed all of these up and then added the cut up vegetables.

then i added some leftover cooked white rice. i think it was about a cup and a half or two cups. but again, this was a monster salad. as you can see in the pictures, this is mainly a vegetable and tofu salad with rice in it, rather than a rice salad with other stuff in it. hopefully that makes sense. although clearly you can put a larger proportion of rice in. i am not going to come to your house and yell at you or anything.

i cut the tofu into ~ 1 inch cubes and let it sit in a strainer for a little while to get some of the moisture out. it was still pretty wet and pretty bland, however. i happen to like it that way, so i left it, but you could also put some paper towels around it and stack some plates or something on it to get it a little drier. you could also mix up the dressing and let the tofu sit in it for a little bit so it absorbs some. or you could use baked tofu. or like rotisserie chicken or something. basically the point is to avoid having to turn on the stove for any part of this.

this is very refreshing and is perfect for a simple lunch or dinner when it's too hot to think about stoves. it's got a good amount of protein, so it's filling. the crispness of the vegetables and the sourness of the lime and the herbiness of the herbs all go together well. it's also nice if you have some toasted salted nuts for on top - we used cashews, but peanuts would also be good. you want to put them on each serving individually, though, so they don't get soft.

this is for a really large salad, so you can use less if you don't want to be eating it forever. it would also be a good potluck thing - it feeds a crowd and is both vegan and gluten-free, although check on the soy sauce - sometimes it can have gluten. the salad keeps well for a few days, although it was best soon after it was made.

1 bell pepper (preferably not green, because they are gross)
1 cucumber
1/2 jalapeño
1 bunch scallions
2+ big handfuls fresh herbs
2 cups sugar snap peas
1 cup frozen petite peas
3 or 4 hearts of palm

1 package extra-firm tofu
1 1/2 - 2 cups cooked rice

1 lime (or more, to taste)
1/4 - 1/3 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
soy sauce, to taste
sesame oil, to taste

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