09 Oct 2016 – 16:23

Korean Soft Tofu Stew (Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post)

Korean Soft Tofu Stew (Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post)

By Joe Yonan / The Washington Post

I’ve made no secret of my affection for the cooking of Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, the couple behind Vedge, the Philadelphia bastion of vegetable-focused fine dining, and its more casual sibling, V Street. As executive chef, Landau coaxes powerful flavors and textures out of the humblest produce, while Jacoby brings similar pop to her desserts (not to mention drinks). Soon, they’ll offer a fast-casual take on their cooking at Wiz Kid, and sometime next year, they hope, they’ll open an outpost of V Street in Washington.

At V Street, the focus is on street food, found at places around the world with “lawn furniture and picnic benches, little stands and shacks with smoke billowing out the roof, and sand floors and dirt floors, where you can pick up the food with your bare hands, douse it with hot sauce, and wash it all down with a cold drink sipped right from the bottle,” as they write in their new book, “V Street: 100 Globe-Hopping Plates on the Cutting Edge of Vegetable Cooking” (William Morrow, 2016).

The book aims to help readers bring those flavors home, suggesting almost two dozen pantry staples that can span various cuisines and including shopping lists for seven types of ethnic markets. And that’s before you even get to the recipes, which include peri-peri tofu, kung pao string beans, Korean fried-tempeh tacos and more.

As you can see, Landau and Jacoby aren’t looking for authenticity: After all, as vegans they are often adapting traditionally meaty dishes into something that captures the spirit of a place, without the animal products. I talked to them about the new book, traveling as vegans and more. Edited excerpts follow:

Q: How do you seek out vegan food without becoming those annoying American travelers who want to make everything about them and their needs – something I struggle with, frankly.

A: Landau: We do a ton of research. In a lot of cultures and cuisines, the seeming vegetarian dishes are cooked with some kind of meat or stock, so we have to be very careful. We ask a lot of questions. It doesn’t always go our way. In the Azores, they have a dish called cozido, a stew they make by burying vegetables and meat and fish and cooking it all day. So we went to this restaurant in the morning and tried to communicate with them in our broken Spanish/Portuguese, saying, “We just want the vegetables, no meat, no meat.” But that night when we started eating it, we realized there were indeed little bits of meat in it. They cooked it all together, then served us just the vegetables we wanted.

Jacoby: Sometimes it’s a language thing. In South Korea, someone in the hotel wrote us a card that we took to a restaurant, and we had the most amazing tasting menu, all vegan. But it’s also about understanding not just the ingredients but the process. For the cozido, we thought it would be our own little pot that would be submerged, but they cook it all together. It’s a matter of being as prepared as possible, but we’re not going to lose our minds if everything doesn’t go according to plan.

Landau: We have just as much trouble in America, anyway. We’ve been served a veggie burger with bacon on it, so it’s not just when we’re out of the country.

Q: What are your sources of inspiration for dishes from places you haven’t traveled to? How do you nail it?

A: Landau: We want to be inspired by world cultures, not make what we say are authentic versions of dishes in places we’ve never been. Do you really need to go there to experience it, especially if you can’t eat it because it’s not vegan? People who love falafel and consider themselves falafel aficionados have probably never eaten falafel in Israel. It’s about knowing what tastes good, what you like, how you cook, how you work. A lot of what we wrote about we have firsthand experience with, but there are other places in the book we’ll probably never get to, like Afghanistan. But we have an Afghani restaurant in Philadelphia, so we kind of got it.

Q: What ingredients are you particularly enamored with that you think home cooks who want to bring global flavors into their kitchen should know about?

A: Jacoby: For me, black vinegar is huge. I love it, and if we don’t have a bottle of it at home I start to feel a little anxious. I also feel Szechuan peppercorns have been great to integrate into our cooking. That one’s on the top for me.

Landau: We were worried that people might be intimidated by the book – that they would think, “I have to run around town and fill up a bag at every ethnic market.” But it’s amazing how many of these flavors have connections across world cuisines. We were in Morocco last year and found the food very similar to Indian and Middle Eastern. It didn’t taste like either, but they used some of the same seasonings, blending them differently. And not just there: Garlic, cumin, scallions, ginger – they’re all unifying ingredients. I like to joke that you can use scallions to garnish a dish from almost anywhere in the world.

Korean Soft Tofu Stew

4 to 6 servings (makes 9 cups)

This fiery, funky dish is called soondubu jjigae in Korean.

You can find gochujang in Asian markets and some large supermarkets.

Adapted from “V Street: 100 Globe-Hopping Plates on the Cutting Edge of Vegetable Cooking,” by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby (William Morrow Cookbooks, 2016).

Ingredients

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1/2 cup diced onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

4 cups finely chopped napa cabbage

7 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth

2 cups kimchi

1/4 cup low-sodium tamari

2 tablespoons gochujang (see headnote)

2 teaspoons sugar

Kosher salt

16 ounces soft tofu, rinsed and brought to room temperature, cut into 4 to 6 portions

1/2 cup chopped scallions (green parts only), for garnish

Black sesame seeds, for garnish

Steps

Heat the sesame oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat until it ripples. Add the onion and garlic; cook until browned, stirring constantly, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the cabbage; cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the broth, the kimchi with its juices, tamari, gochujang and sugar. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring often. Taste, and add salt as needed.

Place 1 portion of tofu in each serving bowl. Traditionally, a large piece is presented, but you can cut it into 1-inch cubes if desired.

Ladle the stew over the tofu. Garnish each portion with the scallions and sesame seeds. Serve hot.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 6): 180 calories, 9 g protein, 19 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 830 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 12 g sugar

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