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

Posted Oct 10 2012 11:43am
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.
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