Friday, January 20, 2012

Sweet & Sour Vegetables

It seems like winter has finally caught up with us Minnesotans.  By late January, we're usually accustomed to bundling up, wearing arctic-approved boots and mittens, and having our eyelashes freeze during the brief walk from car to work.  But we've been spoiled this year, lured into a false sense of prolonged mild weather.  Then BAM!  Sub-zero temperatures and blistering windchills snap everyone back into reality.  I know it's truly winter when my car is reluctant to start in the mornings. 

Brrrr...that's chilly.  When it's this cold, I like to eat heavier, saucier, meatier (mushrooms!) dishes that will stick to my bones and keep me and my kitchen warm.  But after a few days of indulgence, I begin to crave healthier versions of these decadent meals.  I turned to a favorite cookbook of mine for some inspiration: Global Vegetarian Cooking. 

The cover doesn't lie -- this book is filled with recipes that are both quick and easy.  And as I learned this week, the recipes also lead to excellent food.  It features appetizers, salads, soups, main courses, and desserts from around the world.  I bought my copy at Ten Thousand Villages in St. Paul.  A sound investment on my part.

I decided to cook up some sweet-and-sour vegetables.  I wanted the fresh, healthy snap of veggies, but the soothing comfort of sweet-and-sour sauce.  I used the recipe in the cookbook as a jumping off point, and added a multitude of fresh, colorful vegetables that I found at Whole Foods.  The carrots added a crunch, the cucumbers added a surprising sweetness, and the kale wilted perfectly to round off the dish with some vitamin-packed greenery.  Look at all of those beautiful colors!  You can add any combination of fresh or frozen vegetables you have on hand to create this dish.

I was also excited to break out my wok for the first time.  Turns out, cooking in a wok is pretty great!  A wok allows you greater cooking surface at higher temperature, perfect for stir frying vegetables before drenching them in a sweet-and-sour sauce.  Speaking of which, the sauce was delightfully easy to prepare and had a perfect balance of sweet and sour.  I added a touch more soy sauce than the recipe called for originally, mostly because I have a love for all things salty.  All of this served over a serving of hearty brown rice and you have a great cure for these new, winter blues.

Sweet and Sour Vegetables
adapted from Global Vegetarian Cooking
serves 2

for the rice
1 cup long-grain brown rice
2 cups of vegetable stock

for the stir-fry
1 small white onion, sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup of English cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced (it's about 1/3 of a medium-sized cucumber)
Large handful of cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, stemmed, and sliced
1 cup kale, washed, stemmed, and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup frozen corn
1/4 cup frozen green beans
1/3 cup diced pineapple
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
*optional: 1 cup of a protein of choice

for the sweet-and-sour sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons pineapple juice
3 tablespoons tomato sauce

In a small pan or rice cooker, cook the rice in the stock according to the package directions.

In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the sweet-and-sour sauce.  Use a fork or small whisk to incorporate everything.  Set aside.

Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large sauce pan or wok.  Once hot, add the sliced onions and stir-fry until the onions are soft.  Add the minced garlic and saute for another minute.  Then begin to add the vegetables.  Start with the veggies that will take longer to cook, such as carrots or bell peppers.  Once those have begun to soften, add your remaining vegetables and pineapple.  Stir fry for a minute, then add the red pepper flakes.  Continue to cook until the vegetables are softened. 

Pour the sweet-and-sour sauce over the vegetables and saute until the sauce has completely coated the vegetables. 

Spoon a serving of rice onto your plate and top with the saucy veggies.  Breathe in the delicious aroma.  Then dig in. 

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