Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Peanut Kale with Delicata Squash: A culinary freak flag?

"Weird." I thought. "This is definitely weird."

I'd been home for a good ten minutes, but hadn't actually made it inside the door. Or even out the car door for that matter. I was sitting in my hot, parked Toyota reading Twitter because I didn't want to move. Didn't want to get up and carry my purse, lunch tote and keys the approximately 30 feet to my front door. It seemed so daunting a task -- far too daunting for me to handle at the moment.

And it wasn't the first occasion.

I regularly arrive home and sit in my car reading emails as I wait to build up the resolve to finally lug myself the momentarily insurmountable distance to my apartment.

I was convinced that no one else could be this weird/lazy/freakish until dinner with a girl friend last Monday night.

"I do the same thing too, Diana!" She confided.

And just like that, I didn't feel so weird any more. The following day I proudly sat in my car for 15 minutes refreshing my Twitter feed while I psyched myself up to open the door and get out. Since I knew at least one other individual was engaging in this bizarre ritual on a regular basis as well, I suddenly felt exonerated to sit and tweet as much as I liked. To wave my freak flag confidently, like only a freak who knows she isn't the only freak can.

The same, of course, extends to food and food combinations that I'm convinced no one else in the world would possibly want to consume. I shamefully eat them in private like I'm a teenage boy watching porn -- pouring milk over my quinoa to eat as cereal; washing chocolate down with Coca-Cola, and drenching everything I can in obscene amounts of lemon juice and garlic -- until someone admits they do the same thing too. That person becomes my savior -- someone whom I look to for reassurance that it's totally normal to use four cloves of garlic and the juice and zest of an entire lemon in a single serving of food, regardless of what the general population thinks.

This past Friday night, as I was whipping up some peanut kale and tofu (a fairly standard pairing, inspired by the version at M Cafe de Chaya), I suddenly got the urge to add delicata squash to the dish. Even though my kale was already lightly steamed and enrobed in a thick mess of peanut sauce, all I could think about was how it would taste with sweet cubes of squash mixed in.

I couldn't shake it. I needed to try it.

"Weird." I thought, as I fired up the oven and began chopping up the squash into neat cubes. "This is definitely weird."

But when the final dish came together, I couldn't get over how not weird it tasted. The sweet, lightly caramelized cubes of squash were an addicting contrast to the salty peanut sauce. It got even better the next night when I added cayenne-spiced roasted squash seeds to the mix. The heat completed the flavor trifecta, adding a sharp bite that helped cut through the muddiness of the sauce.

"I can't be the only one..." I mused as I typed "peanut squash" into Google (from my couch, not my car). The search immediately returned a myriad of recipes for peanut squash (or pumpkin) stew, a common African dish that also incorporates heat, usually in the form of chilies. Yet as I realized just how sane my seemingly insane pairing was, I felt the slightest twinge of disappointment. As though I actually wanted the peanut squash combination to be my culinary freak flag, inspiring horrified whispers of, "She eats squash with peanut butter!"

Deep down I sort of liked the idea of being the only one. Just like deep down I kind of enjoy being the crazy quinoa lady who can't go to Whole Foods without stocking up on at least 2 lbs.of the grain that's actually a seed.

As much as I like feeling that interconnectedness with other "freaks" who find moving from one's car akin to Homer's Odyssey, and as glad as I am to have friends whose taste buds have also become immunized to garlic, every once in a while it's fun to be the only weird one. The definitely weird one.

And the one who might some day eat peanut squash in her car, while reading emails and refreshing her Twitter feed.

Peanut Kale with Delicata Squash, Spiced Seeds and Tofu
Serves 4

2 cups cubed Delicata squash, seeds reserved
1 large bunch kale, washed well and coarsely chopped (approximately 8 loosely packed cups)
1 medium red onion, finely chopped (approximately 1 cup)
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Cayenne pepper
Sea salt
10 ounces extra-firm tofu, cubed

Peanut Sauce:
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Shake of red pepper flakes

For serving:
1 cup quinoa, prepared according to package instructions (optional)

For peanut sauce: Whisk together ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside. If needed, can thin out with rice vinegar or splash or water.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Soak squash seeds in water for 15 minutes to ensure all the squashy bits are cleaned off. Drain and rinse well, then rub dry with a paper towel. Drizzle with a teaspoon of olive oil, a good shake of salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Stir to coat evenly, then spread out on a cookie sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, for approximately 30 minutes or until nicely toasted. Set aside.

Meanwhile, toss squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil, season with salt and roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure it achieves a light caramelization on both sides.

While squash and seeds are roasting and toasting, heat large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the tofu and stir fry until browned on all sides. Remove and set aside. Add the last teaspoon of olive oil to the pan, then add the garlic and onion. Stirring frequently, cook onion and garlic over medium heat until onion is translucent -- approximately 7-10 minutes. Reduce the heat, add the kale, then a good shake of salt. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes or until the kale is lightly steamed/braised.

Remove the lid, toss in the squash, tofu and then stir in the peanut sauce. Serve immediately, preferably over quinoa. Top with spiced squash seeds.


Gastronomer said...

I love you, Weirdo! I have a lemon and garlic problem too ;-)

the actor's diet said...

i just got back from m cafe - where i had the kale salad with kombucha - so it makes perfect sense!

Anna A. said...

This is so not weird - this is pure deliciousness. In fact, thanks for not making me feel so weird!

Emily said...

I just visited m cafe last week - I'm hooked! Can't wait to try the kale and peanut sauce combo!

yutjangsah said...

I like to sip olive juice out of the jar. Then I make a face. Then I takes another sip. And so on. I used to eat nondairy creamer as a snack. But yeah, quinoa and milk is wrong. btw, the word verification word below is f-a-t-e-r . Thanks a lot.