Cooking Anne Hilton’s Christmas chapbook

My friend Anne made a chapbook of vegetarian recipes for her mother’s Christmas present this year, and I was lucky enough to get a copy too! Entirely handcrafted, “from paper cutting and ink mixing to typesetting and the actual printing,” this little chapbook took me back to my first glimpse, in some dimly remembered college course, of the complicated construction of early letterpress books. Preparing the paper and ink, assembling the type into forms for each page and color, making each impression– every single stage calls for huge care and precision.. And no trivial task, either, to get from a flat sheet of paper to a folded booklet! (Try it! Using these pictures as a guide, take a sheet of printer paper, mark off one side into eight sections, and fold yourself a copy of Anne’s book.)  Anne tells me that the whole project took more than 100 hours of work.

The project also weaves together threads of the story of Anne and her mother; Anne explains that “while I was living in Korea, my mother sent me a book of vegetarian recipes for Christmas one year that she had written by hand. I still have and use that book, so I wanted to return the favor.” What could make a better gift?  The Korean character on the over of the chapbook means “good fortune, luck, or happiness;” Through her craftsmanship, I think Anne has made a little bit of all three–certainly luck for me!

Turning through the booklet, I noticed a recipe for “seitan” and green bean curry. Seitan?–Never heard of it. (At what point will I stop running into new ingredients?) Seitan, it turns out, is seasoned wheat protein–essentially, a very dense reduction of wheat gluten. (Not for everybody, obviously.) Look for it in the same case as tofu. Some people consider it “meat-like;” I bought a version called “chicken-style.” (I used to scoff at vegetarians who ate “pretend meat”–think veggie-burgers–but the more I learn about the costs of diets like my own Texas-size carnivore fare, the more inclined I am to explore alternatives. If a plant food can satisfy a meat craving, so much the better!)

This recipe came from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, one of numerous excellent cookbooks put out by the famous Moosewood Collective in Ithaca, NY. I went ahead and bought the book, but you can also find the recipe online (for instance in Google Books).

Here’s your list of ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped (~2 cups)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh chile, or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne)
  • 4 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces (~3 to 3 1/2 cups)
  • 1 pound seitan, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup water
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • toasted unsalted cashew nuts

This dish is essentially a stir-fry; you want to have all these ingredients ready to go, so that you can work rapidly. Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok and add the onions and garlic. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes before adding the chile or cayenne, garam masala, and cumin. Stirring, sauté for another 2 or 3 minutes. Add the green beans, then the seitan, and mix well. Stir in the tomatoes, coconut milk, and water. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook, covered, for about 10 minutes, until the beans are firm-tender. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve topped with toasted cashews for a nice contrast in texture. It came out very nicely! Instead of rice, I cooked farro to go with the curry. Farro (also called emmer) is also a new food for me, although I gather that it is an ancient grain, even collected in the wild by pre-agrarian people as long as 17,000 years ago. My farro, though, was grown by Lentz Spelt Farms from Foundation Seed in arid eastern Washington, in Marlin over by Moses Lake.

This is not a demanding dish to prepare! But as I cooked, I thought about Anne’s mother writing down recipes for her to cook in Korea, and about eighteen hippies in Ithaca, NY forming a collective back in 1973 in to celebrate vegetarian fare, and about Washington farmers carrying forward the life of an ancient grain, and about Anne spending 100 hours crafting her chapbook. And as I serve dinner, I break into a grin: “we made this!”

(By the way, Anne also has a food blog!–be sure to visit her!)

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