On 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:
- Oolong tea
- Fresh prune plums
So just like your average ordinary everyday dinner, right?
Like 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.)
Hooray! 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.
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.