It's not often that I feel limited by not eating meat. I was, admittedly, a serious carnivore for the first 20 years of my life. To this day I can taste steak when I see it, I dream of nibbling fennel and orange pork sausages with my wine, and most heart wrenching of all is the smell of barbecue. I could easily be convinced to bathe in it. Despite all that hifalutin talk, meat is not something I covet.
What I do get an honest to goodness hankering for, like everyone, is comfort food. I know some people are drawn to macaroni and cheese, other people crave creamy mashed potatoes and some people seek solace in a pint of ice cream. Not me. I dreamt of chicken fried steak and gravy. And honestly, that gravy is all fine and good, but I could stick to the chicken fried steak and call it a day.
As a rule I don't eat fake meat products and I tend to stay away from any recipe claiming to mock meat in some way. I have great reverence for the taste of meat, why would I dare tarnish my memories of such fine fine flavors with the subpar chemically taste of something purporting to be similar to something it's not. This has left me searching for new ways to get my comfort food fix, and it's been an interesting journey to say the least.
Now my cravings have shifted to accommodate all of the new flavors I've discovered by restricting my diet. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it's actually been a fantastic adventure. My current go-to comfort foods include (but are by no means limited to…) beets, steamed greens, anything with Dijon mustard in it, rice and beans swimming in salsa, avocados, caramelized sugar in any way imaginable, purple potatoes, cauliflower melted into stewed tomatoes, deep fried eggplant, and nuggets. Okay so that last one is rather indiscriminate, and dare I say, unappetizing sounding. I'll explain… sometimes you want something bite sized and tender, of multitudinous and expansive flavor, swimming in an exotic, saucy slurry. To call these little somethings I'm trying to describe dumplings does an injustice to their flavor. Dumplings are usually a flour and water concoction primarily used as a vehicle for sauce. My little nuggets are flavor explosions in and of themselves. Couple that with a sauce that plays on the intriguing flavors of the nuggets and you have the comfortiest comfort food I can imagine.
These nuggets clearly offer themselves to endless variations, suiting any one of a variety of comfort-food needing moods. When I'm in need of some nuggets I run to my Moosewood cookbooks for inspiration. I think one thing those books do well is comfort food. I like to experiment with the flavors they recommend and really boost them up. I've always thought their recipes used too little spice, but where they stumble in proportion they make up for in inspiration.
The nuggets I made last night were apparently inspired by a Bosnian style of shish kabob. I used the yogurt sauce they recommended and added a strong reduced tomato sauce for a high note. I changed their recipe quite a bit. Two of the things I left out were fennel and caraway seeds, because I'm of the opinion that those flavors are best in bread and meat. I mention it though, because if you do like those flavors with your vegetables you might want to toss those in too.
Now you're all set to grab a glass of wine and a plate of saucy noodle-y nuggets, pile yourself in blankets and cozy up in front of a [insert favorite highly addictive TV show here] marathon.
Bosnian "Cufte" in Yogurt Sauce
Adapted from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant by The Moosewood Collective
1 large onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium carrots, grated
1/2 - 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup almond meal
1 1/2 Tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 Tbsp dark sesame oil
1/8 tsp ground cayenne
1 tsp dried oregano
pinch of dried thyme
1/8 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup tofu, pressed and crumbled
splash of light soy sauce to taste
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
10 oz. egg noodles
For Yogurt Sauce
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 tsp dried dill
pinch of garlic powder
salt and black pepper to taste
For the Tomato Sauce
1 Tbsp butter
1/2c. crushed tomatoes (canned)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil for about 6 minutes, until transparent and beginning to turn golden. Add the carrots, salt and black pepper and cook for about 4 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, mix together the eggs, breadcrumbs, almond meal, mustard, sesame oil, herbs and spices and baking soda. Crumble the pressed tofu into this mixture (the press tofu set a plat on top of it and weight it down for about 30 minutes so the water is pressed out of it). Pour sauteed vegetables into this and mix by hand. Taste and add soy sauce and salt as necessary. Mixture should be moist and sticky and easy to roll into balls.
Form balls about 1 inch in diameter. I made much larger balls and think smaller is better. Place them on an oiled baking sheet and bake about 20-30 minutes so they brown a bit on the outside and form a thin crust.
To make the yogurt sauce mix together all of the ingredients. Heat on very low heat for about 15 minutes, whisking as it cooks so it does not curdle. Taste for flavor.
For the tomato sauce add the ingredients to a small saucepan. Cook on medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes. You want the tomatoes to get very intensely sweet and garlicky. It's a big flavor, so you only need a little.
To serve cook 10 oz of egg noodles according to package instructions. Top with yogurt sauce and cufte. Dollop with a spoonful of tomato sauce.