Thursday, January 7, 2016

Chinese Long Beans and Tofu with Fragrant Coconut Sauce

Happy 2016! It’s been a long time. I know, I disappeared from this blog and have been pondering why. I looked back at my last post months ago and it was a such different time…since that time Isaac graduated high school, we moved to a new house and then evacuated a few weeks later due to wildfires, we brought a new puppy into our lives and said goodbye to our 18 year old dog, Sam and Isaac left for college, Aspen Grove has been busier than ever and I am in the process of finding a new balance and rhythm to life.

Process. Evolving, changing and embracing new.  The biggest change by far has been sending both boys off to college. I knew it would be hard, but it was harder than I expected. So there’s been a lot of process. I thought I had prepared well, and I did in many ways, but when I’m totally honest with myself I’m just not ready to be at this stage of parenting and life yet. It arrived too quickly. Admitting this is a bit of a relief, since I was pushing myself to be in a place I’m not. That’s ok. I know I’ll get there and in the meantime I need to be kind to myself and be realistic.

As I think about a new year I think it’s time to think about the blog and where I am now.  When I started it almost five years ago, I was writing as a mom with kids at home, about what I cooked for my family and friends in Seattle and the ways we celebrated Jewish holidays. When we moved to the Methow Valley, the plan was stay a year and then return to Seattle. But we started to take root.  I didn’t write as much here since I often felt like I didn’t know which end was up.  I mean, here we were living in a tiny cabin high above the valley, a dramatic change from life in the city. At times I had to ask, “What the hell am I doing?” Talk about leaping before you look. Life here is raw and inconvenient but richer and more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. And the roots grew deeper. I am a different person now. I’m more willing to take risks, to be bold and to say yes.  I’m excited for this new year. I have new ideas for the store, new things I want to learn (skate skiing and hunting for starters) and new opportunities for community involvement. And, of course, new things to cook.

Asian food has been topping my list lately. I really miss going out for sushi, hot and sour soup and pad Thai noodles. Whenever I’m back in Seattle, I stop at the local Asian market to pick up something to cook at home.  There’s a lot of home cooking here in the valley. We don’t have any Asian restaurants and no home delivery. If you want it, you have to make it. I’m good with that.

On one of these visits back to Seattle, Japanese sweet potatoes and Chinese long beans were my finds. Japanese sweet potatoes have a drier, firmer flesh and nuttier flavor than the more familiar orange sweet potatoes. Chinese long beans are indeed very long and stay nicely crisp when sautéed on high heat. I decided a simple dish combining these veggies with a flavorful sauce would be an ideal cozy dish for our snowy nights.

I created this spicy coconut sauce several years ago. The recipe slipped to the back of my ever growing folder of scribbles, but in a recent burst of purging I discovered it and pulled it out. Some of my favorite flavors are in this one…ginger, fennel, garlic and shallots with some brown sugar and cinnamon to add warmth.

The sauce needs to simmer for about half an hour, which gives you time to steam the potatoes and prep the beans. I tossed in some tofu but you could also add chicken or beef. Once the sauce is ready, you need only saute the beans quickly, add the potatoes and tofu and then pour the sauce over. As I’m writing this I’m thinking a handful of roasted peanuts would be a nice touch, too.

Over winter break, with Sam and Isaac home (hooray!), I’m happy to say I made some other Asian dinners - Bulgogi beef and pad Thai noodles. And, since there’s no Chinese food or movie theaters here for the usual Jewish outing on Christmas day, we made Kung Pao chicken and streamed a movie at home.

The past year has been emotional and wild and wonderful. I feel deeply rooted now in this valley with incredible people and breathtaking beauty everywhere I turn. My boys are launched and happy and now it’s about Bob and me, in our house on the river, with our dogs, entering a new year and new chapter together. I don’t know what’s next but I’m alive and grateful to be here.

Chinese Long Beans and Tofu with Fragrant Coconut Sauce
Serves 4

Grape seed or other neutral oil
1 big bunch (about 1 pound) Chinese long beans, cut in 1 inch slices
2 medium Japanese or orange fleshed sweet potatoes (1 ½ pounds total), steamed until soft but not mushy and cut into 1 inch cubes (I leave them unpeeled)
1 pound firm tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
Fragrant Coconut Sauce (recipe follows)

In a wok or large skillet, warm a drizzle of oil over medium high heat. Add the beans and stir until they are lightly cooked but still firm, about 7 minutes. Add the cubed sweet potatoes and tofu and gently stir to combine. Pour the coconut sauce over and heat everything together until warm. Spoon into bowls and serve.

Fragrant Coconut Sauce

1 can full fat coconut milk
2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ lemon, squeezed for juice
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce or sriracha
½ cup sliced shallots
1 clove garlic, chopped

Combine all of the ingredients in a large sauce pan and bring to simmer. Stir and let simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the solids in a fine meshed sieve over a bowl. Discard the solids and set the sauce aside to use.