I’ve never thought of the 70’s as a particularly shining moment in our nation’s culinary history. What comes to mind is usually either canned-soup-based casseroles, or at the other end of the spectrum, austere and flavorless “health food”. But one of the things that stands out from the health food craze are those rice or grain-based salads that incorporate veggies, herbs, and some sort of vegetarian protein (nuts/ tofu/ tempeh) into a one-dish meal. With the right ingredients and spices, these can be fresh and flavorful, and they’re really convenient and economical. As much as I love making a decadent French meal, I also enjoy balancing it out with stuff like this.
On the weekends, I try to make some sort of big dish of food that I can take in my lunch or eat as a quick dinner on nights I have rehearsal and don’t have time to cook. Marvin has expressed interest in eating healthier too, so I decided to make a big batch of brown rice salad for us to eat this week. The Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special cookbook has a lot of good recipes in the “grain salad” department, but in my New Year’s effort to make more use of my neglected cookbooks, I found inspiration for this particular salad in a book called “The Way We Cook” by Sheryl Julian & Julie Riven. I made a few small modifications and got a good result- so good, in fact, that I had to persuade Marvin not to eat his share all in one sitting, and save some for the next day’s lunch as planned!
1 1/2 cups brown rice (I actually used a red rice called Wehani that I got at the Natural Food Patch), or substitute kamut (see notes)
1 8-oz brick unseasoned tempeh
1 red bell pepper (see notes)
1 1/2-2 cups grated carrots (about 3 or 4 large carrots)
3-4 scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced (see notes)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup unsalted cashews
2 tbs ginger, finely minced
2 tbs soy sauce
3 tbs rice vinegar
3 tbs peanut or canola oil
1 tbs plus 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/3 cup chopped parsley, cilantro, or a combination
-If you want to keep this dish on the economical side, feel free to omit the red bell pepper if it’s not in season. If you don’t have scallions, substitute some finely chopped red onion.
-For the grain, you could substitute kamut in this salad- if you’re unfamiliar, it’s a chewy, nutty grain that looks like brown rice and is somewhat similar to wheatberries in texture.
-For the protein, if you want to omit the tempeh, increase the amount of cashews to perhaps 2/3 cup. If you are using the tempeh, feel free to omit the cashews, since the tempeh does have a nutty flavor and texture. However, I do like it with both.
Directions: Prepare rice or kamut according to package directions, adding 1/2 tsp. of salt to the cooking water. You may want to use slightly less water than indicated- I used the full amount (a 2:1 ratio of water to rice) and my rice was a little wet/ overcooked.
While your rice is cooking, mince the ginger, chop the pepper, scallions and herbs, and grate the carrot. Cut the tempeh into small bite-sized cubes. Toast the cashews in a dry non-stick skillet over low heat, taking care that they don’t burn. When they are golden brown, remove from heat and let cool. Heat 2 tbs oil in the skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the curry powder, raisins, and ginger. Cook for a minute or two to bloom the flavors. Remove mixture to a small bowl. Using the same pan (you don’t have to wash it), heat another tbs oil and the 1/2 tsp curry powder. Fry the tempeh, adding 1 tbs soy sauce and stirring well. Cook for 2-3 minutes to allow the tempeh to absorb the seasoning.
When your rice is done, stir in the curry-raisin mixture, the tempeh, and the rice vinegar.
(You can do the above steps ahead of time, if desired, and add the vegetables later. The cookbook I used recommended letting the salad “rest” in the fridge overnight to mellow the flavors. I would recommend at least letting the rice cool to lukewarm/room temp before adding the vegetables and herbs, so they don’t get mushy or wilty.)
Before serving, stir in the cashews, carrots, peppers, scallions and herbs. Taste for seasoning and add additional rice vinegar and/or the other 1 tbs soy sauce if needed. Serve only slightly chilled or at room temperature for best flavor.