2010 Chefs’ Challenge – Appetizers

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The Chef: Mariano Gascon (The School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College, Chicago)

Mariano Gascon may be a professional flavor chemist, but that didn’t stop him from returning to the kitchen to get hands-on experience and a chef’s certificate. His recipe is a vegan reinterpretation of Chinese Kung Pao.

Kung Pao Sliders

Makes 16 sliders

Tofu Sliders

1 14-oz. pkg. extra-firm tofu, drained and patted dry

4 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce

2 Tbs. natural cane sugar

2 tsp. toasted sesame oil

1 tsp. cornstarch

16 white or wheat slider buns

Asian Slaw

3 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce

2 Tbs. vegan mayonnaise

2 Tbs. no-salt-added creamy natural peanut butter

5 tsp. natural cane sugar

2 Tbs. rice vinegar

2 tsp. toasted sesame oil

1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.)

1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Pinch cayenne pepper, optional

2 medium zucchini, julienned (8 oz.)

4 medium carrots, julienned (8 oz.)

1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped

1. To make Tofu Sliders: Cut tofu lengthwise into 8 slices, then halve slices to make 16 pieces. Transfer to baking dish. Whisk together soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch in small bowl. Pour over tofu slices, cover, and refrigerate 1 hour, or overnight.

2. To make Asian Slaw: Whisk together soy sauce, mayonnaise, peanut butter, cane sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, garlic, pepper, and cayenne pepper (if using), in large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray. Drain tofu slices, and transfer to prepared baking sheet. Bake 25 minutes. Flip tofu slices, and bake 20 to 25 minutes more, or until golden brown and crispy on the outside.

4. To assemble Sliders, fill rolls with 1 tofu slice and 2 Tbs. Asian slaw.

The Chef: Ylia Y. Perez (Institute of Culinary Education, New York)

Ylia Y. Perez always loved cooking and baking and toyed with the idea of going to cooking school. But seeing the movie Julie and Julia cinched her decision. For this contest, she paired two foods she loves–orzo and avocados–to create a delicate, creamy pasta dish that makes a great meal starter.

Warm Orzo with Avocado-Tofu Sauce

Serves 8

6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 16-oz. pkg. orzo

1/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling, optional

16 oz. button mushrooms, sliced

1 12-oz. pkg. soft silken tofu, drained

2 Hass avocados, peeled and cubed

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1/3 cup chopped cilantro

2 1/2 Tbs. lime juice

2 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce

1 Tbs. dried oregano

1 Tbs. ground cumin

1 tsp. ground coriander

1. Bring broth to a boil in large pot over medium heat. Add orzo, and cook 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente. Drain, and transfer to large bowl.

2. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, and saute 5 minutes, or until browned. Add mushrooms and pan juices to orzo.

3. Blend tofu and avocado cubes with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in blender until smooth and creamy. Transfer to small saucepan, and add basil, cilantro, lime juice, soy sauce, oregano, cumin, and coriander. Warm over low heat 3 to 4 minutes, or until hot, but not boiling. Stir avocado sauce into orzo mixture, and season with salt and pepper, if desired.

The Chef: Nathalie Montoya Curabba (Natural Gourmet Institute, New York)

Nathalie Montoya Curraba draws on her experience teaching English and yoga and traveling around the world to inspire her cooking. In this recipe (which was part of a school project), she wanted to use ingredients indigenous to the Americas and chose black-eye peas and quinoa. She recommends toasting whole cumin seeds then grinding them in a coffee or spice grinder for maximum flavor.

Black-eyed Pea and Quinoa Croquettes with Avocado Creme

Serves 8 (makes 24 croquettes)


6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided

1 cup black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and drained

2 bay leaves

1 1-inch piece kombu

1 medium celery root, peeled and finely diced

3 Tbs. olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing Croquettes

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained

1 medium red onion, finely diced (1 cup)

3 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)

2 Tbs. ground cumin

1 tsp. ground coriander

Avocado Creme

1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced

1/4 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt

2 1/2 Tbs. lime juice

2 Tbs. cilantro or fresh parsley

1 tsp. minced fresh ginger

1. To make Croquettes: Bring 4 cups vegetable broth, black-eyed peas, bay leaves, and kombu to a boil in large saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook 30 to 45 minutes, or until very soft. Drain, and discard bay leaves and kombu.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss celery root with 1 Tbs. olive oil on baking sheet, and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Roast 40 minutes, or until tender and slightly browned.

3. Bring quinoa and remaining 2 cups vegetable broth to a boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender and all liquid is absorbed.

4. Heat remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and saute 5 minutes. Stir in cumin and coriander, and season with salt, if desired. Saute 5 to 7 minutes more, or until onion is soft and translucent.

5. Mash 1 cup black-eyed peas, 1 cup quinoa, and 1 cup roasted celery root with hand masher. Add onion mixture. Continue adding black-eyed peas, quinoa, and celery root to mixture, and mash until well combined and slightly sticky. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

6. Preheat oven to broil. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray. Roll black-eyed pea mixture into balls about the size of golf balls and flatten slightly, then brush with olive oil. Place on prepared baking sheet.

7. Broil Croquettes 5 to 7 minutes, or until browned and crispy. Flip, and broil 3 to 5 minutes more to brown second sides.

8. To make Avocado Creme: Purée all ingredients in blender or food processor until smooth. Serve Croquettes topped with Avocado Creme.

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