Temple food and braised vegetables

braised bok choi

I haven't posted here this past week, mainly because I have been very busy, and haven't had much time to do any sort of serious cooking. I've also felt that I'd overindulged a bit over the past weekend, what with my birthday and all. So I've been trying to have some simpler food to get back to some sort of state of balance.

These are the times when I turn to the sort of cooking that Nigella Lawson calls Temple Food. It's about very simple food, mainly vegetables with simple starches (plain rice, plain noodles) low fat, and just a little meat, if that. It's about giving your body a rest, especially your digestive system, from rich foods. It's not necessarily diet food, though for the most part it is low calorie. After eating for a few days like this, we do feel a lot better - and wish we ate like that all the time (though, being the foodies we are, we don't.)

During Temple Food time I make a lot of braised vegetables, especially in the winter months. The picture here shows bok choi, but you can braise many kinds of vegetables. Some of my favorites include chinese or regular white cabbage, red cabbage, Belgian endives, fennel, Swiss chard - especially the stalks only, and onions. Basically the recipe is very simple: briefly sauté the vegetables in oil or butter depending on the vegetable, add some soup stock in some cases, and lower the heat and cook for about 20-30 minutes with the lid on, turning occasionally. Season to taste. You end up with almost sweet, slightly caramelized on the outside (depending on how long you cook it) and very delicious dish that's great as an accompaniment to a roast or something, or just good on its own.

Here I give two recipes, one that is Chinese in flavor with bok choy, and one that's very European using Belgian endives. Each is delicious in its own way.

Braised bok choy

  • 8-10 small bok choy, or pak choi
  • Vegetable or chicken stock (from cubes or powder is fine)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Small dried shrimp (optional)
  • 1 tsp. of cornstarch
  • Salt and pepper
  • Splash of soy sauce

If the bok choi or pak choi is large, cut it into quarters.

Heat up a large frying pan or a wok. Add the oil, and briefly sauté the bok choi until just coated. Add about a cupful of stock and the dried shrimp, lower the heat and put the lid on. Cook slowly over low heat, turning occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes, until the bok choi is limp but still green.

Dissolve the cornstarch in a little water, and add to the vegetables. Turn until the cornstarch mixture coats the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper and a bit of soy sauce.

This is great with plain white rice.

(The dried shrimp add to the Chinese-ness of the flavor. You can also try adding small peeled shrimp.)

Braised Belgian endives

  • 8-10 small endives
  • 1 Tbs (or more, but not too much) butter
  • Salt and pepper

If the endives are large, halve or quarter them.

Heat up a large frying pan. Melt the butter until it's just turning a bit brown. Add the endives and sauéte until it's just a bit brown around the edges. Lower the heat, and put the lid on. Cook slowly, turning occasionally, for about 20-30 minutes (longer than the bok choi) until it's almost caramelized on the outside and is very tender. (Note that you don't add any water to this, since endives are mostly water anyway.) Season with salt and pepper. This has a wonderfully bitter flavor that goes well with many things.

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