caribbean stew + baked jerk tofu + coconut rice

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Just before the new semester stretched and yawned and rolled itself out of bed, my old friend Michelle (of mushroom risotto fame) read my tarot cards. The first of the five-card spread seemed rather ominous: “DEATH,” read the card, above a painting of a wilting rose. Rough start. Michelle, however, was quick to allay my fears. It’s actually a great card, she insisted. It means change, often unexpected. It means a new beginning. It means something dies so that something better can take its place.

I like tarot for two reasons: first, for the memories I associate with it. (My Grandma Fields laughing as she reads the cards, empty wineglasses and turquoise-bedecked fingers catching the candlelight. A sunny street in New Orleans with my college roommates, trying to focus on the reader’s words but distracted by the joy of being twenty-one in Jackson Square.) And second, for the very old and very familiar ideas each card represents. It’s not hard to find aspects of one’s life reflected in a card like “Death,” and it can be comforting, too.

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The year ahead will be fraught with change. There’s the global-sized one this Friday, of course. And (because this is my blog) there are big ones in my own small world, too: death of my graduate study so that my professional life can begin. Death of my comfortable routine in Bloomington to make way for a new one elsewhere. And so on. The comfort comes from remembering that, as unprecedented as these changes may seem, the cycle of difficult endings and new beginnings is an ancient one — old enough, even, to be immortalized in a tarot deck half a millennia ago.

In other words, people have been turning over the “Death” card, and sighing with understanding, for centuries, knowing that what it really foresees is hope.

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Not that any of this relates to the recipe du jour, which is actually a three-in-one, all inspired by the wonderful Moosewood Restaurant Favorites cookbook (the same cookbook that led me to this roasted eggplant salad). So let’s put the cards away (for now) and get cookin’.

baked jerk tofu

jerk sauce

1 yellow onion, chopped
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic (2 cloves)
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon brown sugar

14-ounce package extra firm tofu

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Combine all of the sauce ingredients and blend (I used my handy-dandy immersion blender). Set aside.

Drain the tofu between paper towels. Slice into cubes or triangles. On a greased rimmed baking sheet, toss the tofu with the sauce until well coated then lay flat in a single layer. Bake 30-45 minutes, or until browned and chewy. Don’t forget to flip the pieces every 10-15 minutes, to make sure all sides are evenly baked.

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caribbean stew
Serves 6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
1/2 head of green cabbage, chopped
2 colored bell peppers, diced
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 bunch curly kale, destemmed and finely chopped
zest and juice of 1 lime
peanuts (optional)

Chop everything!!

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Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add onions and cook for several minutes, then add salt, pepper, nutmeg, thyme and ginger. Cook for 10 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Stir in cabbage–

Wait, can we say something about chopping cabbage? Has anyone ever told you how to chop a cabbage? Me neither. Here’s the trick:

First, chop the cabbage into quarters, then cut away the hard core from each quarter. Now you can peel off a few layers at a time, press them flat on your cutting board, and slice or dice to your heart’s content. Isn’t that cool?!

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Continuing with the recipe: stir in cabbage and bell peppers, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Add sweet potatoes and enough water to just barely cover them (I added about 3 cups). Bring to a boil then cook at a rapid simmer for 10 minutes, or until potatoes are very tender. Add tomatoes, kale, lime zest and juice, and simmer for a final 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning as needed.

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coconut rice
Yields 6 cups

2 cups brown jasmine rice
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup coconut milk

In a medium saucepan, combine rice, oil, turmeric, and salt, and cook for one minute over medium heat. Add water and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed.

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At long last, we put it all together. Pile up your bowl with a generous helping of rice, topped with a fragrant and colorful mess of Caribbean stew, a few crispy wedges of jerk tofu, and finally a smattering of peanuts. It’s vegan! It’s crazy good for you! And it’s a surefire way to beat those grey-sky blues for which January is infamous.

If you decide to listen to a little reggae while you enjoy the meal, then you are extra cool. Here’s a French one to get you started.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. granna2c says:

    Thank you, Claire, for the perfect imagery of my Mom (your grandma) reading the tarot for you. We, of course, love the tarot around here and Melissa, Lauren and I read our tarot cards on January 1st for the new year. Good luck on your new beginnings and transitions. I enjoyed the reggae song and am looking forward to making and eating your recipe for Caribbean stew with jerk tofu and coconut rice. 🌹

  2. Jan Fields says:

    Good one, Claro! As yo mama and I go to work today in our new vocations, the death card (as you’ve interpreted it) seems very apropos. xoxo

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