This week's recipe comes from the most amazing cookbook writer you might not know, Najmieh Batmanglij. Her classic Food of Life is my bible when it comes to Persian food, her recipe for ghormeh sabzihaving once caused an Iranian dinner guest to start weeping in remembrance of his departed grandmother and her kitchen back home. True story; it doesn't only happen to the French.
This recipe for chickpea battered vegetable fritters comes from a different book, Silk Road Cooking, a vegetarian cookbook that traces the communication and exchange of culinary tropes along the centuries old byway from Asia to Europe. Like so many of Batmanglij's recipes, the whole here is more than the sum of its parts. Chickpea flour, a light-handed mix of a few spices, and zap, you're in Kansas no more. Earthiness, pungency, a hint of spice, all in harmonic balance. It's impossible, yet Batmanglij makes it easy.
For the vegetables themselves, let the produce aisle be your guide. That's what we've done below, adapting Batmanglij's list to what looked good at our local co-op. Whichever veggies you choose, get ready for a party size yield. Is it finally time to have a dozen friends over? Here's the appetizer to help toast old memories and inaugurate new ones.
The earliest English-language documentation of the word towfu appeared in a 1770 letter from an English merchant to Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was apparently too pre-occupied with his own inventions – bifocals, the Franklin stove, America – to pay the soybean curd proper attention, or we might not have had to wait two more centuries for tofu to enter our national diet.
Yet, a dearth of celebrity endorsements might not be tofu's sole setback. The whitish block, usually a pound in weight and marked ready to eat, is inscrutable at first approach. Bland and sometimes jiggly, it can present as a medium striving to become matter, or matter yearning, Buddha-like, to find perfection in freedom from flavor. But that's not fair. Tofu, like life, is what you make of it. Marinated, it absorbs; fried, it crisps; enrobed it in a righteous sauce, it high steps like a chorus dancer.
In today's recipe we arranged a playdate of tofu, green beans, garlic, and sesame seeds, with an à la minute teriyaki sauce playing the dance music. I hope you'll give it a try and let it serve as inspiration for further experiments with an underused ingredient that's also a powerhouse of cheap, sustainable protein.