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Archive for March, 2009

Purple Potato goodnessI always get excited when cooking with purple sweet potatoes. Also known as Okinawa potatoes, or simply, as they were labeled at the Asian market where I purchased them, “JAPAN POTATOES.”  The closest place I was able to find that sells these potatoes is Assi Plaza in North Wales; sadly, no Asian market in the Valley seems to sell them (if anyone knows of a place that does, please enlighten me). These potatoes are sweet, but a completely different kind of sweet than their yam cousins.  

potato close-up

The texture is pretty dry – when I mash these, I make sure to mix in plenty of rice milk and olive oil.  The result is a creamy, sweet mash of vibrantly purple potatoes that go so well with sauteed bok choy and soy-glazed carrots.  This meal comes together in a snap and tends to really, really impress people.

my purple potato mis en place

I’m kind of cheating because I top the potatoes with the same miso sauce I wrote about in the last recipe. The miso plays a much more prominent role here, though, and the tangy flavors really shine through.

For the miso sauce:
-3 tablespoons white/yellow miso paste
-1 tablespoon Tamari
-1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
-1 tablespoon Mirin

So, whisk together the ingredients for the sauce.  Steam, then mash the potatoes (and have fun peeling them, these bad boys have some thick and quite inedible skin on them).  Be sure to mix in enough liquid of some kind until you reach your desired cream-tastic texture.  Saute some bok choy with a clove or two of garlic. Cut up several carrots into matchsticks, and saute in another skillet with a little bit of oil over medium-high heat.  After a few minutes, add in some Tamari, crank the heat up to high and then turn the heat off completely.  Hopefully a nice glaze will have formed over the carrots, thus rendering them salty and delicious.  Top a nice mound of potatoes with the bok choy and carrots, then proceed to smother in miso sauce.

with shrimpThrow in some shrimp for a non-vegan version of the Purple Potato Madness. 

Oh, these okinawas also go killer with vanilla bean brown rice and tomato dal:

Tomato Dal, Vanilla rice and Purple Potatoes

That completes today’s Wacky Colored Food Post, enjoy those purple ‘taters!

-Carolyn

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I finally tried the Blue Sage Vegetarian Grille Friday night after much hype and internet buzz.  This certainly doesn’t qualify as a Lehigh Valley restaurant (it’s in Southampton; 772 2nd Street Pike to be exact) but it’s well worth the hike, especially if you’re a vegetarian.  My meal at Blue Sage probably ranks up there in my top 10 meals of all time.  Well… for this month anyway :)  What can I say, I get excited about food!

Blue Corn & Asparagus TacosAppetizer #1: Blue Corn & Asparagus Tacos. Griddled blue corn tacos filled with grilled asparagus, jack cheese & sun dried tomato pesto. Served with black eyed pea and corn salsa.  These tacos, which were really more like quesadillas, were outstanding.  I only ate one of the wedges, since they were quite cheesy and I try to avoid cheese and all other dairy products at all costs.  So my carnivorous friend finished off the Asparagus Tacos and I went to town on the other (vegan) appetizer:

Green Curry BBQ Summer Rolls

Green Curry BBQ Summer Rolls. Rice paper rolls filled with baby spinach, mango, Thai barbeque glazed vegetables, smoked red onion, fresh ginger & basil. Served with soy syrup, dipping oils, and side of jicama slaw.  These were SO GOOD.  The Thai barbeque glaze was smoky and tangy, and there was some serious flavor going on in these little spring rolls.  I wasn’t crazy about the side salad – the salad/salsa accompanying the Blue Corns Tacos was way better, and luckily I was able to polish that off after I finished these spring rolls.  Why is it everyone I go out to eat with is such a light weight?

Blue Plate

My friend’s entree was the Blue Plate, which consisted of pine nut crusted, roasted garlic glazed portobello skewers, smoked sweet potato mash and a grilled avocado succotash salad.  I debated ordering this, but I’m glad I didn’t because the Blue Plate is a very meaty meal, great for someone who was wishing they could have ordered ribs instead.  In fact my friend said the mushroom skewers tasted just like “really good ribs” and that they were the best mushrooms he has ever had.

Cubano Supper

Now this entree was more my style: the Cubano Supper. Flaky plantain pastries stuffed with sunflower seed-smoked red pepper pesto, with a tower of yellow tomatoes & avocado corn salsa in the middle. Chipotle jicama slaw & mango-papaya relish surrounded the tomato mountain.  All I can say is wow.   There were so many different flavors and textures going on, each flavor complimenting the next so perfectly.  The plantain pastries (crispy on the outside, tender on the inside) were the perfect vehicles on which to pile the multiple sauces, relishes and salsas.  I wouldn’t change a single thing about this dish. 

My meal was so perfect I didn’t even bother with dessert, enticing as it may have been (Chocolate Panini?  um, yum).  Maybe next time.  And there will be a next time!

-Carolyn

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I had dinner at Asia the other night with an agenda: eggplant! Asia is located at 1102 East Susquehanna Street in Allentown. They offer classic Chinese fare as well as a sampling of Thai, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese. They also make the best freaking eggplant dish in the world. But first we needed some veggie soup: 

Veggie Tofu Soup
The Tofu Vegetable soup was nice and light and yummy, though it did need a dash of salt. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering, but it was a nice start to the meal. Now on to what I really came here for:

Arlene's Eggplant
Of the 2 or 3 other times I’ve eaten at Asia, I’ve only ordered one dish: Arlene’s Eggplant. I mean with the description they provide on the menu, how could I resist? In case you’re not familiar with the adorable story behind this wonderful eggplant dish, here it is: Arlene, an avid eggplant hater, had sworn off the nightshade forever. She was convinced she’d never enjoy the neutral fruit (yes, it’s actually a fruit). Well this is the dish that changed her mind, the chef made it for her one day and she loved it. Now her dish is a favorite on the menu, and for good reason. The large chunks of Japanese eggplant are baked to a creamy perfection, then I think they are just barely tempura-fried. Something happens, anyway, to give the eggplant the tiniest bit of crisp on the outside. The dish is then smothered in sweet & sour sauce, and it all goes perfectly with the nutty brown rice (that you need to request special). One of these days I’ll try something else on the menu, but for now, I cannot get enough of the eggplant.

Dora Yaki
The tiny dessert menu then came and I was intrigued by the Japanese Dora Yaki: two small pancakes sandwiched around a filling of sweet red bean paste. As a bean lover I simply had to try this somewhat-crazy sounding dessert.

mmm... beans
It was great – it didn’t taste beany at all, just sweet and delicious. And pancakey.

One pleasant and unexpected perk of this dinner was we were able to substitute the standard fried chips usually served at the beginning of a Chinese meal with steamed edamame. I don’t know if that’s a regular substitution though; I was there with Len Frenkel (founder of the Lehigh Valley Vegetarians) so I think that may have been a for-Len-only substitution. Overall, a wonderful meal with wonderful people.  If you haven’t tried Asia I highly suggest going, it’s worlds better than the standard Chinese take-out place.

-Carolyn

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Perhaps the best thing to happen to McAurther Road since they built five Sleepys on one block. Spice India (2407 Mickley Ave in Whitehall) came with a lot of build up; there were speculations and theories, and a lot of general excitement that the Raj Palace was finally revamped or replaced. As it turns out, the latter was true, and Spice India turned out to be a worthy rival indeed. Now the Raj Palace was a little bit before my time, I had only eaten there once, and I didn’t know how deep my love for Indian food actually was.  Once Spice India opened, however, I was hooked.  My boyfriend-at-the-time and I ate there for the Saturday lunch buffet every single week for over a year.  And if you’re thinking “Seriously, the same restaurant every week, what are you like 85 years old?  Doesn’t that get a little mundane?”  the answer is: heck no!  Spice India completely changes up their buffet each week.  Maybe even every day, I’m not sure (I’m not hardcore enough to go multiple times a week.  Though if I lived closer I absolutely would).  So every week there is something new, exciting, and delicious to try.  This past Saturday was particularly on, with the buffet featuring Gobi Matar (curried cauliflower and peas), Beans Masala, Sarson Ka Saag (which I thought was spinach but actually I think it’s mustard greens), Paneer Tiki Masala (cheese cubes in a delicious tomato-y sauce) and Vegetable Rice. They also had plain Jasmine; usually the buffet includes 2 different kinds of rice. 

The Buffet!

To the right of all the veggie dishes there are always 3 or 4 meat options, on which I can’t really comment as I’m a registered Vegetarian Who Eats Seafood Occasionally, but my carnivorous friends assure me the meat dishes taste just fine.

The Woks

Then to the right of the meat dishes there are 2 huge woks set up, usually one for veggies and one for meat.  This week’s Veggie Wok featured curried sweet potatoes, which were absolutely to die for.  I believe this was the first time I’ve ever seen sweet potatoes at an Indian buffet.  Holy crap were they good, and the accompaniment of fresh poori made the Sweet Potato Wok the star of the afternoon in my opinion.  Now alllll the way to the right of everything is the little dessert table, which this week featured Gajjar Halwa (fantastic carrot pudding), fruit custard, and some insane cubes of pulled lentil fragments, which Josh and I call Disintegrators, because they melt the instant they touch your tongue. I have no idea what the correct name is for these melting cubes.  But wait wait, back to the real food:

The Condiments!

To the left of the main dishes there is a huge table full of salad components, condiments and chutneys.  And there’s always 2 little trays full of fried goodness, usually veggie pakoras, wadas or samosas.

The Plate

 So, as I usually do, I filled my plate with every single veggie options available, and top it all off with some mango chutney. The naan (which the super-nice servers bring you several minutes after you’re seated) and the poori are perfect for stuffing with any combination of the above dishes.

Some weeks, Spice India is just good, some weeks it’s exceptional. And some weeks it is so unbelievably exceptional that I stuff myself beyond all normal capacity, and am fated to spend the rest of the day laying on the couch completely immobile, watching TiVo’ed Family Guy episodes. I’ve heard mixed reviews of the restaurant from people who have eaten there once or twice, finding the food that particular day a little less than piping hot, or the selection nothing extraordinarily impressive. To this I respond: give it another chance. Maybe Spice India isn’t as dully consistent as some other Indian restaurants in the area, but without their daring variety, we’d never have those earth shattering, eat-so-much-you-want-to-die days. I appreciate their willingness to experiment with a brand new menu each week, and I am more than willing to let them slide when they serve a dish that’s a slight miss. Chances are the next week’s buffet will make up for it.

Vegan Treats

Oh but if you think we’re done eating now, you’re wrong (silly you!).  My friend and I had planned on Vegan Treats after lunch, and Vegan Treats it was. Regardless of how full we felt, we were determined.  After a heated debate, we decided on (clockwise from the top) the Oreo cake, a Peanut Butter Cup Brownie, and the Chocolate S’more Cheesecake.  

The Aftermath

I honestly don’t know why I even attempt eating Vegan Treats cheesecakes, they’re so incredibly dense and decadent that I can’t handle them.  We didn’t do too bad though, considering we just ate our weight in Indian food.  As always, the VT desserts were out-of-this-world good, with the Oreo cake probably being my favorite.  Light, moist, and fluffy; the perfect post-buffet dessert.  Next time though, I think I’ll separate the Indian buffet and Vegan Treats trips.  That was just a bit too much food, even for me!

-Carolyn

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