Chopped Returns: Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Fresh Plum Salsa

Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Plum SalsaOn the show Chopped, chef contestants are given random mystery ingredients and are then forced to figure out a way to use them in one cohesive entrée, appetizer, or dessert (depending on the round).

A few years ago a Chopped-style competition was added to the Vegan MoFo fun with all vegan ingredients. (I entered one of the competitions with this stacked polenta with cashew cream.) It’s loads of fun trying to make a meal out of incongruous ingredients, and it’s an exciting creative challenge.

Well, last Friday Chopped returned! The challenge ingredients were:

  1. Jalapeño
  2. Radish
  3. Oolong tea
  4. Fresh prune plums

So just like your average ordinary everyday dinner, right?

Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Vegetables and a Plum SalsaLike some alternate universe food-themed Tetris, I spun the ingredients in my mind until they would all fit together. And in the end, I sided on this – Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Vegetables and topped with a Fresh Plum Salsa.

I started by cooking the barley in oolong tea with a pinch of saffron. When the barley was nearing the end of its cooking time, I pulled out my favorite grill pan to grill radishes, artichoke hearts, and slabs of tofu.  In a separate pan, I sautéed onions and garlic, added the barley, grilled items, and chopped Castelvetrano olives. Then I topped the tofu with healthy dollops of a spicy plum salsa made with jalapeño, onions, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice. Finally, I served the barley paella with cilantro and more lime wedges for squeezing.  (While the grill pan was hot, I also grilled a plum for dessert.)

Saffron-infused Barley Paella with Fresh Plum SalsaHooray! The dish really worked! The spicy sweet salsa added a wonderful fresh kick against the salty paella. And the grilled radishes were a revelation. I’d never cooked them that way before. I tend to just add sliced radishes to salads and not much else, except for the occasional banh mi sandwich. Cooking them took away a lot of their pungency, while making room for the smoky grilled flavor.

Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu and Spicy Plum Salsa

Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Fresh Plum Salsa

Serving Size: 3 to 4


    Fresh Plum Salsa
  • 4 plums, pitted and chopped medium to small
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped onion
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 fresh jalapeño, chopped small (or more depending upon your heat preference)
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Pinch of salt
  • Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Vegetables
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 Tablespoon loose oolong tea
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup pearled barley, rinsed
  • Organic canola oil for brushing tofu & vegetables + 1 teaspoon
  • 1 10 ounce package super firm tofu, cut into 4 equal slabs (I like the sprouted tofu from Wildwood.)
  • 10 small radishes
  • 8 jarred artichoke hearts, drained & halved
  • Squeeze of lime
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped small
  • 12 Castelvetrano olives, pitted & chopped
  • Garnish: slices of lime, cilantro leaves


    For Fresh Plum Salsa
  1. In a small bowl, combine plums, onion, garlic, jalapeño, lime juice, cilantro, and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
  2. For Barley Paella with Grilled Tofu & Vegetables
  3. Fill a small bowl with hot water. Add loose oolong tea to a tea ball, and steep the tea in the hot water along with a pinch of saffron and salt. Steep for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the tea ball from the bowl, and add the tea/saffron water to a medium-sized pot along with pearled barley. Bring the liquid to a boil, and then turn the heat to low. Cover the pot and cook for 40 minutes.
  5. During the last 15 minutes of cooking the barley, bring a grill pan to a medium-high heat. Lightly brush the tofu and radishes in oil and grill on all sides until browned, flipping when necessary. Squeeze a bit of lime juice on the tofu, along with a pinch of salt. (Depending on the size of your grill pan, you may have to work in batches. You don't want to overcrowd the pan, so that everything grills evenly with dark grill marks.)
  6. The artichoke hearts won't take as long to grill, and so simply brush them with oil and lay them cut-side down on the grill for the last three minutes of grilling.
  7. In a separate medium-sized skillet, bring the final teaspoon of canola oil to a medium heat, and sauté the garlic and onions until translucent and fragrant. Add the cooked barley to the skillet and Castelvetrano olives. Stir to evenly combine.
  8. Top the paella with the grilled radishes, tofu, and artichoke hearts.
  9. Serve immediately with slices of lime and cilantro leaves for garnish. Top each slab of tofu with a healthy dollop of spicy plum salsa.

Thanks to the folks at Vegan MoFo for a fun challenge! To check out the other contestants, visit the links in the comments of this post.

Eat Like a King Friday: Rich and Creamy Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Vegan spinach and artichoke dip - made from cashews & carrotsA month of foods that make me feel like coming home - Cadry's KitchenOne of my favorite foods on the whole planet is artichoke hearts. I like them steamed, grilled, dunked in vegan garlic butter or dipped in eggless aioli. But best of all, I like the jarred variety in all of their briny glory. They take a pizza up a notch, give flair to an antipasto platter, and turn a 10-minute pasta into something special. And if you’re really looking for comfort food, let’s talk about spinach and artichoke dip.

I was introduced to spinach and artichoke dip back in the late 90’s and was immediately obsessed with the one from T.G.I. Friday’s. In fact, I loved it so much that I wouldn’t order it as an appetizer for the table. I ordered it as my meal. There are some things you just don’t want to share. I loved the hot, indulgent dip, the occasional bite of artichoke, and the warm tortilla chips that added just the right amount of crunch.

Eat Like a King Friday: Vegan Spinach & Artichoke DipSomewhere along the line, long before I went vegetarian, I stopped going to T.G.I. Fridays. Other people must have stopped going too, because I don’t think there are any locations left in my state. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a little part of my heart that belongs to spinach & artichoke dip.

Now over the years, I’ve seen vegan spinach & artichoke dips. They often involve a vat of vegan cheese and a vat of eggless mayo in equal parts. I’d totally dip into that at a party, but it’s not the kind of thing I tend to make at home.

Then one night, I made the Life Affirming Warm Nacho Dip from The Oh She Glows Cookbook. (The recipe is fantastic by the way. Highly, highly recommended.) It is made with a base of cashews and carrots, but you would never in your life believe that from taste alone. It’s thick and gooey in a way that seems impossible with carrots. (Those carrots have been holding out on us all this time with their goody-goody health nut act.)

It occurred to me that with some changes, it could be a great starting point for a spinach and artichoke dip.

Spinach & Artichoke Dip - so rich & velvety, you'd never believe it's made from cashews & carrots!Oh. My.

Spinach & Artichoke Dip - all veganWelcome back into my life, Spinach & Artichoke Dip. I’ve missed you.

If you are a spinach and artichoke dip lover like me, you must make this. It’s dense and velvety with generous chunks of artichokes, smooth and cheesy by way of nutritional yeast flakes & white miso paste. (If you would prefer a soy-free version, just omit the miso paste. It gives some depth of flavor, but the dip is still delicious without it.)  One bite and it’s hard to stop.  It ticks all of the pleasure sensors.

Spinach & Artichoke Dip - a healthy take on that classic dipThis dip is the perfect size for two, or if you’re like me, the perfect size for one with leftovers. (It reheats just fine in the microwave.) You may never look at carrots the same way again.

Vegan spinach & artichoke dip - a healthy take on the classic dip

Rich and Creamy Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Serving Size: 2


  • 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 2 hours or overnight
  • 1/2 cup carrots, chopped
  • Water for boiling carrots + 1/3 cup water for sauce
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion granules
  • 1/2 teaspoon white miso paste (omit for a soy-free version)
  • 1 big handful baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup quartered artichoke hearts (about 4-5 hearts) from a jar, drained
  • 1/4 cup yellow onion, chopped small
  • Handful of tortilla chips + extra for serving


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Drain the cashews and set aside.
  3. Put carrots in a small pot, cover them in water, and bring the water to a boil. Cook for five minutes or until they are fork tender, and then drain the carrots.
  4. In a blender, add the soaked and drained raw cashews, cooked and drained carrots, garlic, nutritional yeast flakes, salt, onion granules, 1/3 cup water, and miso paste. Blend until completely smooth. (Add extra splashes of water, if necessary, for blending.)
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sauce from the blender, baby spinach, artichoke hearts, and onion.
  6. Transfer the mixture to a small casserole dish (around 18 ounces). Smooth the top. Crunch a handful of tortilla chips in your hands and cover the top of the dip.
  7. Place the dish in the oven and bake uncovered for 25 minutes.
  8. Serve immediately with tortilla chips for dipping.


Adapted from the Life-Affirming Warm Nacho Dip in The Oh She Glows Cookbook

Side notes: Partners have been assigned & emailed for the postcard swap.  If you sent me your address but didn’t get a partner, let me know.  

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