spicy peanut stew with ginger and tomato

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when I think of the word “international”, a few cities jump to mind: new york city, london, washington, d.c. three starkly different cities with completely different atmospheres, and yet when I think of each one, the first word that comes to mind is “international”.

new york is bustling, its immigrant population in full display in the crowded streets and its immigrant-welcoming history commemorated by the statue of liberty. skyscrapers tower like trees fighting for sunlight in a concrete jungle. businesses from around the world are located in nyc, from large global corporations to small, immigrant-run bakeries.

london, on the other hand, feels like an old european city. there are the famous bridges, the castles, the colossal, centuries-old government buildings and museums. and yet there is undoubtedly an international presence felt in the communities of immigrants, many from former colonies, where the smells of spices not native to europe and the sounds of foreign languages spill into the streets.

and then there’s washington, d.c., the seat of the federal government and so wholly american, yet international. where embassies of small countries are tucked in basements of residential neighborhoods, where every block seems to have some sort of foreign language learning school or university building or government office. in washington d.c., one truly feels how internationalism is interwoven with american government and culture. so many parts of d.c. feel transient, from the revolving foreign staff to our own elected officials to the large student populace and young professionals.

even in my apartment building, I hear different languages in the elevator and in the halls and around dinnertime, delicious odors waft into my apartment. sometimes, it’s a whiff of kimchi, other times a roast chicken. while frying up the aromatics for this peanut stew, a riff on west african peanut stew, the scents of cumin, cayenne, peppers, and shallots quickly filled my kitchen. I can only hope that someone else in the building enjoyed the smells and that it perhaps inspired them.

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makes eight servings

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-in dice
1 tsp kosher salt + more to taste
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 inches ginger, peeled and minced
1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
1 onion, chopped
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
3-4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup natural unsweetened peanut butter
1 medium-sized zucchini, cut in quarters lengthwise, then sliced 1/2 in thick
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped + more for garnish
chopped peanuts (optional)

julia moskin. spicy peanut stew with ginger and tomato. new york times. 24 january 2007. accessed 12 september 2017.

1 in a colander, toss eggplant with 1 tsp salt and set aside for 30 minutes. dry off with paper towels.
2 in a small bowl, combine cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne; set aside.
3 in a large pot, heat 3 tbsp oil over medium-high heat. add shallots and fry, stirring often, until soft, crisp, and caramelized, ~10 minutes. using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots to a large bowl, leaving oil in pot. raise heat to high and add eggplant. cook, stirring often, until lightly browned and just tender, ~10 minutes. transfer to bowl with shallots.
4 add remaining 1 tbsp oil to pot and heat over medium-high heat. add ginger and chilies then cook, stirring for 30 seconds. add spices and cook, stirring, for another 30 seconds. add onion and cook, stirring to scrape up any browned bits, until softened and translucent, ~5 minutes. add tomato paste and cook, stirring, ~1 minute.
5 add diced tomatoes, vegetable stock, eggplants, shallots, and sprinkling of salt. bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. place peanut butter in a medium bowl, add 1-2 ladlefuls of hot soup and stir until emulsified, then pour mixture back into soup.
6 reduce heat to a simmer, add zucchini, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes, until vegetables are tender. turn off heat and stir in lemon juice and chopped cilantro. let cool slightly and taste; add salt if necessary.
7 serve with rice, garnished with cilantro leaves and chopped peanuts.

*ingredients are flexible – juice of 1/2 a lime works well if you don’t have lemons; you can also add sweet potatoes (pan-fry with eggplant), collard greens/kale (add with diced tomatoes and vegetable stock), and/or chicken (1/2 chicken breast added after onions are softened and cooked for 3-4 additional minutes).


vegan momofuku milk bar funfetti cake

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well that name’s a mouthful.

anyways, some backstory. the other day, a friend sent me a picture of christina tosi’s visually arresting funfetti cake. she’s one of the most creative bakers out there – it’s a treat to read through her recipes and marvel at the playful presentation of her desserts.

I actually took on the milk bar funfetti cake years ago. thankfully no pictures survive. my sister had requested it, and even though at that point the only cake products I’d made were muffins and brownies, I took on tosi’s recipe. it began to feel like the inception of cake recipe – layers upon layers of preparation of different components, then the assembly of said components into one round 6-inch cake.

first of all, man, does tosi have a sweet tooth. anyone who knows me (even if they’ve known me for only one day) can attest that I’m an unabashed sweets fiend, but even I have a limit to how much saccharine sweetness I can handle. the icing was fine, but the cake itself was sweet to the point that we all had two bites and just couldn’t take any more. I had also tried to assemble the cake without the acetate, and even though my cake layers were quite squat, the cake still managed to sag to one side. if I remember correctly, I also dumped too much liquid into the icing, so by the end of the meal, the icing had started to squelch out into a sad moat around the cake. so that was the last time in a looooong time that I tried to make a layer cake.

then earlier this year that I attempted a tosi-inspired cake again. and it actually won an office competition! (and made some enemies – success!) when my friend sent me that funfetti picture, I figured it was time to take on a real tosi recipe.

except then I didn’t. I veganified it so all my friends could enjoy it, and would you believe me if I said you really can’t tell it’s vegan? it’s just a really awesome, intensely vanilla cake filled with sugary pops of color. tosi recommends clear vanilla extract, which results in a whiter cake and a true boxed mix flavor, but I just love the savory undertones of vanilla beans. also, be careful with the sprinkles, I recently learned that some sprinkles use confectioner’s glaze, which is apparently the excrement of some kind of beetle?! (sorry if I just ruined your appetite…but hey, at least this cake is excrement-free!)

p.s. if you’re wondering, I’ve heard mccormick makes some vegan sprinkles, but I had no luck at my supermarket. I found my generic brand confectioner’s glaze-free sprinkles at a value store.

vegan funfetti
makes one 6-inch, 3-layer cake

360g almond milk + 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
210g sugar
68g vegetable oil
18g vanilla paste
250g all-purpose flour
27g cornstarch
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
53g + 1 tbsp rainbow sprinkles
vanilla frosting
153g vegan butter (I used earth balance)
102g vegetable shortening
285-330g powdered sugar, sifted
13g vanilla paste
2 tbsp almond milk
cake crumbs
100g sugar
25g light brown sugar
90g cake flour
2g baking powder
2g kosher salt
20g rainbow sprinkles
40g vegetable oil
9g vanilla paste
milk soak
27g almond milk + 2g vanilla extract

christina tosi. momofuku milk bar. new york: clarkson potter, 2011.
isa chandra moskowitz. vegan cupcakes take over the world: 75 dairy-free recipes for cupcakes that rule. new york: da capo press, 2006.

cake|1 mix together the almond milk and apple cider vinegar and let sit for at least 5 minutes. grease three 6-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper. preheat oven to 350ºF.
2 in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat together sugar, oil, and vanilla paste until frothy.
3 in a medium bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. using a spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined, then gently mix 2/3 cup sprinkles in to the batter.
4 pour into the cake pans (~330g/pan), tap on the counter to level the batter, then bake for 22-25 minutes, until the tops are springy. let cool in pans for another 15 minutes, then invert onto wire racks to cool.
frosting|1 in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and shortening for 2-3 minutes, until light and creamy.
2 add powdered sugar and beat on low to incorporate, then beat on medium-high for 2 minutes. add vanilla paste and beat for another minute until well-combined.
crumbs|1 preheat oven to 300ºF.
2 in a small mixing bowl, combine sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles. using a fork, stir ingredients until well-combined.
3 add oil and vanilla and mix again with the fork until the mixture forms clusters.
4 pour crumb mixture onto a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. let cool completely before using.
milk soak|1 combine almond milk and vanilla. set aside.
assembly|1 if cakes are domed, level each layer. place the 2nd best-looking layer on the bottom and brush with the cake soak. dollop some icing on top, then spread almost to the edges. scatter some birthday crumbs on top, then press into the icing (with the back of your hand or a knife). spread some more icing over the top of the crumbs.
2 place the worst-looking layer on top, brush with cake soak, dollop icing on top, scatter crumbs, press them into the icing, and spread on more icing.
3 place the remaining cake layer on top. cover the top with icing, then crumb coat the cake with the remaining icing. press the remaining birthday crumbs into the top of the cake.
4 transfer the cake to the freezer and freeze for at least 12 hours to set the cake. at least 3 hours before serving, pull the sheet pan out of the freezer and defrost in the fridge.