pickles, pickling, tempeh, tofu, vegetarian
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Quinoa "Fried Rice", Tempeh Lettuce Cups and Inspiration from Poppy Den

Lately, I’ve been having a little trouble finding inspiration in the kitchen.  The garden isn’t helping–the only growth this time of year being the eggplants and a few scraggly tomatoes that are trying hard to ripen in the heat.  On top of that, the Man of the House made a special request for two weeks of vegetarian dishes!  So, what’s a girl to do? My answer is to go out and find some excitement in someone else’s kitchen! So, on Friday night, the Man of the House and I joined some friends at a fairly new Asian Gastro-pub called Poppy Den.  Led by Chef/Owner Angelo Sosa and located in Tivoli Village in Las Vegas, the restaurant features Asian fusion small plates and entrees along with inventive cocktails.  We were familiar with Chef Sosa when he was a “chef-testant” on the television show, Top Chef (Season 7), so we were more than excited to see what he was cooking up.  We were not disappointed!  The service was impeccable, the food was delicious, and Chef Sosa himself visited our table and was so warm and welcoming and very involved in the service.  Not only did I leave dinner with a belly full of wonderful food, I also came home with a pocketful of ideas for dinner!

Me, a little star-struck with Chef Angelo Sosa

Here are some photos from our dinner that evening:

Beef Lettuce Cups with Fresh Herbs topped with Kimchee Pickles

Quinoa “fried rice”

Chocolate and Vanilla Tiramisu

Homemade Fortune Cookie filled with whipped cream- So Amazing

One of my favorite dishes of the evening was the Beef Lettuce Cups with Fresh Herbs, which I immediately wanted to make at home.  The dish featured marinated steak topped with fresh cilantro, toasted coconut and house-made “kimchee pickles”.  Because we’re temporarily vegetarian, I decided to use tempeh and portobello mushrooms in place of the meat.  The tempeh and mushrooms are first marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, chili sauce, rice vinegar and agave syrup and then grilled on the stove on a grill pan.  Tempeh is a vegan product that is made from fermented soy beans.  It has a nutty and chewy texture and I like to use it as a meat replacement in chili and heartier dishes.  It’s relatively inexpensive, around $2.00 per package and can be found near the soy products and meat substitutes in the grocery store.

The Asian Marinade is actually the same sauce that I also used in the quinoa fried rice.  It’s incredibly versatile and I use it as a dipping sauce for dumplings, marinade for meat, as well as a stir fry sauce.

Asian Marinade/dipping sauce:

1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1-2 teaspoons chili sauce (sambal oelek or chili garlic sauce–I use these interchangeably)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
knob of ginger, grated or minced finely
2 teaspoons honey or agave syrup
2 tablespoons water

Sambal Oelek and Chili Garlic Sauce

Mix all of these ingredients together and pour over sliced portobello mushrooms (gills removed) and sliced tempeh.  Marinate for 30 minutes.

Heat a grill pan on the stove and oil the grates with canola oil.  Place the tempeh and the mushrooms on the grill and cook for approximately 5 minutes on one side, then flip them over and grill for at least 5 more minutes, or until they are cooked through.

Serve in butter lettuce cups with shredded carrots, sliced green onion, and sprigs of cilantro.  I topped mine with shredded carrot and my take on Chef Sosa’s kimchee pickles.  I did not have Korean chili powder, which is traditionally used to make kimchee, but instead used red chili flakes and chili sauce.  These pickles are very easy to make and they are so addicting that I can probably eat the whole jar at once!  I love sweet/hot pickles!

To make the sweet and spicy pickles:

Slice four to six Persian Cucumbers, place them in a colander and set the colander inside of a larger bowl.  Sprinkle the cucumbers with approximately one tablespoon of kosher salt and allow them to sit in the colander for about 30 minutes.  The salt will draw out the excess water from the cucumbers, which will drain into the bowl.

In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup rice vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon red chili flakes, 1 teaspoon chili sauce (sambal oelek) and 1 teaspoon salt. I also added 1 teaspoon of fish sauce to mine, because I like the “umami” that it adds, but it is completely optional.  Heat on medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.  
Rinse the cucumbers with water and put them in a glass canning jar if you have one.  Pour the vinegar mixture over the cucumbers.  Allow the cucumbers to cool completely before eating them.  They can be eaten the first day, but the flavor fully develops overnight.
Another dish we had the pleasure of trying was the Quinoa “Fried Rice” with crispy tofu and dried pineapple.  The dried pineapple was an unexpected twist, but it added a nice sweetness to the dish.  I used one slice of the pineapple, chopped and reconstituted in warm water.  Before adding the pineapple to the pan, I drained and squeezed the excess water.
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken broth or water
pinch of salt
olive oil
1/2 onion sliced
2 cloves garlic
small knob of ginger, grated or finely minced
1/2 cup frozen shelled edamame
1 dried pineapple ring
1/2 block extra firm tofu
1 egg, scrambled
Asian Marinade (recipe above)
First, make the quinoa.  I usually make it in a rice cooker using one cup of quinoa to two cups of water or chicken broth. A pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. The quinoa usually cooks in about 20 minutes.  
The secret to getting nice, crispy tofu, is to drain it as much as possible.  Place the block of extra firm tofu inside of a colander set on a plate or inside of another bowl.  Set a plate on top of the tofu and weigh it down with a canned good.  Allow the tofu to drain for an hour, if possible.  After the tofu has drained, cut the tofu into thick slices and then into cubes.  Pour about half of the Asian Marinade over the cubed tofu and allow it to marinate for 30 minutes. 

Heat canola oil in a frying pan on medium heat, being careful not to let the oil get so hot that it scorches (trust me on that one–that’s a big mess to clean).  Put about 2 tablespoons of corn starch in a paper bag and drop a few cubes of the tofu into the bag and shake to coat.  Add the cubes to the hot oil and fry until crisp on all sides (one to two minutes) being careful not to crowd the pan.  Set aside on a paper towel to drain.

In a frying pan, stir fry the onion, garlic and ginger for one to two minutes.  Add the edamame and cook until they are heated through.  Add the drained pineapple and stir fry for another minute.

Add the quinoa and the scrambled egg to the pan and mix thoroughly.  Once it has heated through and completely mixed add the remainder of the marinade to the pan and cook for another two minutes.  Add the tofu cubes right at the end so that they remain crisp.

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This entry was posted in: pickles, pickling, tempeh, tofu, vegetarian

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Hello and thank you for visiting my blog, Salty Sweet Life! My name is Tracey and nothing makes me happier than cooking for my friends and family. Food is my passion, whether I'm trying out a new restaurant, delving into a cookbook or mixing up a cocktail.

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