To say that Heidi Swanson is a cookery hero of mine is sort of like saying Yosemite has some beautiful waterfalls or Annie Leibovitz has taken some cool photos or Eddie Vedder has a freakin’ dead sexy voice (and Mark Seymour is not bad either) – it’s true, but it is such an understatement. By which I mean, if I could, I would probably cook from Super Natural Every Day, every day.
Unfortunately, beyond the obvious lack of meat/Kyle issue, there are two huge challenges to getting a Super Natural dinner together for my little family. The first is that I have to make dinner, every day. The second is the timing of making dinner. Every day. Dinner-making just keeps coming, and it comes at the worst time – everyone is a little bit tired, a little bit cranky, a little bit bored, a little bit at the end of their freaking ropes with that gosh darn “train-conductor-voice” Jacob is experimenting with that sounds rather like a drunken adolescent moose careening around the woods of
Alaska Sweden, bellowing at the top of his lungs.
Point being, sometimes five o’clock arrives and even the best laid dinner plans can’t save me from a sense of overwhelming panic. How am I going to occupy my kids for thirty minutes and get something healthy, nutritious, and God help me Super Natural prepared for all of us?
There are lots of answers to this question, and some are better than others. Leftovers or meals that you make ahead are a good idea. If I planned better we would do it every day. Homemade pizza is nice, being a veggie-and-protein catch all, and if I have thought ahead an hour or two and prepped a crust I can then improvise some toppings and just go with it. (Making a double batch of dough for crust and keeping some in the fridge is almost never a bad idea). Scrambled eggs with lots of greens and some tortillas is pretty fail-safe. And I will admit that we have done pancakes, or poached eggs on toast (that’s right, no veggies on either of those! none!). On those nights when I really can’t get it together at all, and find myself wondering if kids actually need to eat dinner or if it’s just an incredibly overrated precursor to brushing teeth and reading stories, we do PB&Js.
But if I can finagle myself just twenty minutes, I can usually get a quick stir fry together, and that is always good. If I have thought even a few extra minutes ahead I can have a soda bread or some rice with that stir fry. And if my kids don’t eat dinner because I finagled that twenty minutes by strapping them to their seats and letting them gorge themselves on frozen berries, well … at least they’ll be eating leftover veggies for lunch tomorrow. Super natural ones, at that.
There are endless variations on this theme, but this is a particularly good one. The recipe as it appears in Super Natural Every Day (Pan-Fried Mung Beans with Tempeh) is excellent, and uses broccoli and cilantro instead of spinach and onions. I like using spinach instead of broccoli because it is so so easy and requires no additional thinking to cook – and I always have onions in the house, where cilantro is iffier (we have garden cilantro in summer, but otherwise I have to remember to have it on hand!) We use sugar snaps from our garden when we have them (like now), but a big handful of frozen green peas, thawed, would also work. If you are a lentil fan who has not yet embraced mung beans – this is the perfect time to give them a try! They are pretty, and green, and like lentils they do not require a soak before cooking. For this recipe, cover half a cup of dried mungs with a couple inches of water in a pan, and simmer (don’t boil hard, they will burst and turn to mush! Well, that’s fine too, and nice for tacos – but not for this recipe) for about twenty minutes. I like them still to have nice bright color and a little bite.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons shoyu sauce (or soy sauce)
1-2 tablespoons dark maple syrup
8 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch thick squares
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large or 2 small sweet onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup cooked mung beans (see head note)
2-3 lemons, zest and juice
4-5 cups loose packed spinach leaves (remember, they will cook down down down)
1-2 cups sugar snap peas, strings removed, cut in half
Optional, for serving:
Greek-style yogurt or creme fraiche
Additional lemon zest
Whisk together the olive oil, shoyu and maple syrup in a wide shallow bowl. Add the tofu squares and toss gently to coat. Let marinate for at least 5 minutes, longer if possible.
While tofu is marinating, cook the sliced onions over medium heat in a large cast iron skillet. Once they have started to soften, push them to the edges of the pan and add the tofu squares (see photo). Let tofu cook on each side until browned, a couple minutes (in the photo above, the lower tofu squares have already been flipped, the top ones not yet).
After putting the tofu into the pan, put the mung beans into the bowl with the remaining marinade (there should be a tablespoon or two). Zest and juice the lemons into the mung beans.
Once the tofu is cooked, remove it from the pan and cut it into baton shapes. Add the mung beans and lemony marinade to the pan, and stir with the onions. Cook until they are heated through, a minute or two. Add the peas and cook another minute or two. Turn off the heat and add the spinach. Stir it into the mixture until it wilts down – about a minute of stirring. Add the tofu, and stir everything together.
Serve over rice if you’d like, or with some bread. Big dollops of Greek yogurt with a little lemon zest and some scallions are really nice over the top. Heidi recommends salting the yogurt, which you can certainly do – but I like the clean bright taste of the lemon against the sweet-salty marinated tofu instead. Either way, enjoy, and give yourself a little pat on the back – you made dinner, after all. And that is an accomplishment. Every day.