October 10, 2012

Braised Greens with tofu cashews and raisins | Early memory #3

I don't know the exact source of my desire to own a rabbit, but I was desperate to have one. I think I had seen a cartoon or something where children were riding on a giant rabbit, and this was the rabbit I had in mind — a giant rabbit on which I could ride, and which might have been able to fly as well. Anyway, I was apparently driving my mother slightly crazy with my non-stop requests for a rabbit, and she suggested I entreat  my grandfather, who was coming for a visit, to bring me one. The idea was unappealing to me because I was a little afraid of my paternal grandfather (Pop) who was not warm and fuzzy like my other Poppop. But, hey, you never know, and I really wanted the rabbit. So I asked.

Many days later, Pop presented me with a tiny little stuffed toy rabbit, and I burst into tears and ran out of the room. Kids, right? I was so disappointed I couldn't cope. It was a TOY. It was TINY. It didn't FLY. My mother told me I had made my grandfather feel bad, but he couldn't have felt as bad as I did. After I came to grips with my stupid toy, I made the best of a bad situation, and put the pathetic thing on the sidewalk, and sat on it, much to my mother's confusion. Apparently, even babies can make do.

Fast forward to the future and my mother and I were comparing memories. She had a photo of me sitting on the little stuffed rabbit, and she told me that before I finally got the bunny, I'd been saying, "baby a bunny, baby a bunny," like a broken record. When she suggested asking my grandfather for one, I changed my refrain to, "baby a bunny, dankum for da bunny." Why, she wanted to know, did I react so badly when I finally got the bunny, and why was I sitting on it? When I explained the bunny situation, she was incredulous. I was 16 months old when the bunny incident occurred. I was pretty surprised, too, when I realized that all the thoughts had occurred to me before I could really even talk; in my memory, I'm speaking in complete sentences. It's amazing what you learn when you compare memories and get both sides of the story.

Today's recipe which has kale sitting on top of polenta, was such a favorite with my husband that at one point I banned him from making it because I couldn't bear to eat it again. I'm over it, and am craving it once more. Although it looks complicated, it's a snap to make, and so good. It's very versatile, too. You could leave out the tofu and polenta, for example, and serve the braised kale as a vegetable. Or serve it over basmati rice or rice thread noodles. I highly recommend trying the polenta, though —it's delicious. The oven-baked polenta is a great recipe on its own — makes polenta-making a snap. Just remember, if you double the recipe, you'll have to double the oven time.

The polenta is based on a recipe from Passionate Vegetarian. The author says it's an old Tuscan peasant recipe.
  • 1 cup course grind cornmeal (our co-op sells a bulk course grind labeled "polenta") or fine grind cornmeal
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon yeast flakes (not brewers yeast powder), optional but recommended
  1. Oil a 3 quart oven-proof skillet or dish. Put all ingredients in the dish and mix together casually.
  2. Put the dish, uncovered, in a pre-heated 350˚ oven. Bake for 40 minutes, undisturbed. After 40 minutes, stir and bake 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for five minutes. Creamy, dreamy, heartwarming polenta. Mmm.
I always make this polenta in a 3 1/2 quart enameled cast iron casserole pan from Le Creuset. It's one of three pieces of this cookware that I own, and it gets used nearly every day. Because the pan isn't supposed to go directly from cold to hot, I put the polenta in the oven when I turn it on to pre-heat, and start the timer when the oven reaches the correct temperature.

Braised greens with tofu, cashews and raisins
  • 1 pound kale (I used a large bunch of kale - no idea what it weighed)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 pound extra firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon tamari
  • 1/4 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (one slice of bread should be about right- use gluten-free bread if desired)
  • 1/4 cup raisins (I use dried cranberries when making this dish for a certain raisin-hater)
  • 1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • one good sized carrot, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon natural sugar
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (unseasoned)
  • salt to taste, if needed
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. Rinse greens, remove thick stems, coursely shred and set aside.
  2. Place the tofu cubes in a small bowl and drizzle with one teaspoon tamari. Toss to coat all the cubes. Let sit five minutes.
  3. Heat one tablespoon oil in wok or skillet. Add the tofu cubes and cook over high heat until browned.
  4. Turn the heat down. Add the mushrooms, cashews and bread crumbs and sauté until they are lightly browned. Stir in the raisins. Remove mixture from pan and set aside.
  5. Add the other tablespoon of oil to pan, shred the carrot right into the pan, increase heat to high and add the greens. Stir to mix, then cover and cook about three minutes until the greens have wilted but are still bright green. (Be careful not to burn them.)
  6. Reduce heat, stir in sugar and vinegar, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the tofu mixture. Spread over polenta and serve.
Sometimes I spread the polenta on a large serving platter and place the veggies on top. You can decorate with parsley and olives.

The whole vegetable part takes about 15-20 minutes including prep time, so plan accordingly so you can have the veggies and polenta finish cooking about the same time. The kale part of the recipe is based on a recipe that I think was from the NY Times. I'm not sure though.

28 comments:

  1. ooo this looks beautiful. I love green with polenta but I never would have thought of raisins and cashews. I'd love it.

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    1. Thanks! The raisins and cashews add so much texture and sweetness it makes the dish much brighter.

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  2. Looks great and that sounds like a polenta even I can make! I honestly don't know if I've ever had it; it's always seemed so daunting.

    I can totally understand your bunny disappointment. For years my parents knew perfectly well I wanted a REAL dog, but thought it was funny to buy me mechanical ones. Not. Cool.

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    1. You can definitely make the polenta — it practically makes itself. And you're a good cook, anyway.

      I don't think even a real bunny would have cut it. I believe I was looking for a magical giant bunny I could ride on. I think my little baby self just wanted some power. :)

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    2. Oh yes, I totally get it; that's why you were sitting on it, no? I think what you need is a caricaturist to capture you atop a giant, magical bunny!

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  3. I remember the crushing disappointments of learning the differences between make believe and real world. I was so bummed out to find out I couldn't fly, or wouldn't one day grow up to be a pony (yeah, quite).

    Thanks for solving my problem of what to do with the polenta in the cupboard though!

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    1. Well, I'm sorry you didn't learn to fly! It would be so handy, and I thought we were all supposed to have personal flying suits by now. :)

      I hope the polenta turns out well.

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  4. Replies
    1. This is one of my favorite dishes — I've made it for company, too, and it's always been appreciated.

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  5. I think I wanted a flying bunny too...when I was 1.5 I got a big stuffed animal bunny that was big enough for my little self to sit on. I sad on it and was "riding" it and rocking back and forth and back and forth and I whacked my forehead open on the corner of the coffee table! I had to have stitches that morning, lol. I still have a small dent in the center of my forehead. Ahhhh, the memories... ;-)
    I think it is amazing to hear the complex thoughts you had before you could even talk in full sentences! You clearly have an excellent memory.

    Courtney

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    1. At least it was big! Sorry about your head, though. I think babies have complex thoughts but we don't usually remember them. You can almost see a baby's brains working when you look at him/her. I don't know why I was lucky enough to remember these things but I'm not sure it's because I have a good memory. :)

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    2. I think it is pretty clear you have an amazing memory--your memories are so vivid and detailed! It really is remarkable.

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  6. Oh, I loved this story! It had me laughing out loud! Your poor grandpa thought he was doing you the biggest favor, and it's hilarious to think of you sitting on the bunny, trying to make the best of things. I'm loving all of these memories!

    The kale and tofu over polenta looks very much like something I'd make. I love hearty, healthy, and filling food like that!

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    1. My grandfather was a judgmental sort, and I'm sure my poor mother felt very judged when I reacted that way. My grandfather probably wondered what kind of weird child my mother was raising when she should have been raising a nice one! Parents just can never predict what's going to happen when they don't speak "baby talk."

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  7. Haha, "my stupid toy," that's really cute. If you are actually interested in reading that book, it's Are You my mother? by Alison Bechdel and it's SO GREAT and she is SO smart and it's very enlightening.
    Ever since testing for Dynise, I've been interested in raisins in savory dishes with greens. It's a delicious combination.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I am interested. I'm always looking for great books. Thanks!

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  8. Just love the combinations of cashews, greens, and raisins. Love fall. Thanks for the lovely photos!

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    1. You're welcome. And if you make this recipe, you'll REALLY thank me. :)

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  9. We have a GIANT toy Bugs Bunny. Do you want it? ;)

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    1. Hahaha. Too late, I think. But wait, does it fly?

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  10. I can't believe how far back your memories go and how detailed they are. Very impressive! I can just picture baby Andrea sitting on a little stuffed rabbit trying to make do. It's funny and sad at the same time.

    Polenta! What a tasty combination of ingredients. Baked polenta kicks stovetop polenta's butt any day.

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    1. I sure wish I still had the photo— it's cute, but odd. If I ever find it I'll add it to this post.

      I always make polenta in the oven, now, unless I make it in the slow cooker. The baked polenta is so good and so easy!

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  11. Well, I love cashews, I love kale, I love tofu, and I'm learning to cook with polenta. This sounds perfect!

    We have a funny childhood story about me in my family, though I don't remember it myself:

    In my parents' kitchen there has always been a beautiful family portrait my mother painted before I was born. Being the youngest member of the family, I found it very upsetting as a young child not to be included in the picture. I used to ask my parents, "Why aren't *I* in the picture?"

    My parents replied, "Well, Franny, Mommy painted that picture before you were born."

    "Oh," I replied. "But why I aren't *I* in the picture?"

    So my parents hung a little photograph of four-year-old me above the painting, where it remains to this day. I've made my sister promise that when she inherits the painting, she'll hang my photo right above it where it belongs ;-)

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    1. I love your story and your parents solution! It's so great that they took your concern so seriously. I hope your sister really will keep the two portraits together.

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  12. This looks so good- such a great big dish of comfort food! I love the addition of cashews too!

    Your memory is amazing! I don't know that I remember anything from that young. I think my earliest memory is around 3 years old, but I don't remember having such clear thoughts and ability to reason. I am just so fascinated with how you can not only remember doing that, but you remember your thought process too!

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    1. To be honest, I'm pretty amazed, too. Not just because I can remember it so clearly, but because it amazes me that very young children have such complex thoughts. And I believe they do.

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