05 October 2011

A Full Plate

"Plate lunch" is a catch-all term for a casual and very filling, Hawaii-style combo meal. The concept is similar to that of Chinese take-out combos (rice or chow mein with an entree); a typical plate lunch consists of two scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, and an entree. If one is feeling particularly hungry or simply craving variety, it's not difficult to make it a two-entree situation. For diners with lighter appetites, smaller "mini-plates" are usually available--basically, slightly smaller portions of the aforementioned components--although I've always found them to still be quite filling.

At the risk of falling into a midday food coma, I made a hearty plate lunch with two entrees. Both are Japanese-inspired dishes one may easily find on restaurant menus in Hawaii. The first dish, Japanese curry with tofu, is a completely homemade, vegan version of something my family enjoyed occasionally when I was a kid. Firm tofu replaces the meat in this sweet-and-savory dish. This particular batch has satsuma imo instead of regular potatoes, so it's a little sweeter than versions I've made previously, and not quite as saucy. The recipe is available here, if it interests anyone.
The second entree, seitan "chicken" katsu, was yet another spin on a dish I loved as a kid. Chicken katsu, is a breaded, pan-fried chicken cutlet. As a child with picky eating preferences, one of the foods I disliked was any sort of meat with the bone attached. (The thought of it is even more disgusting to me now.) I was a white-meat-chicken-only, chicken nugget- or strips-eating type of girl, so it makes sense that I would really enjoy chicken katsu. Panko (flaky, Japanese bread crumbs) made the dish extra crispy, which is really the best part of any fried, breaded food, in my humble opinion.

As with any breaded or battered, fried protein, katsu takes a bit of work to make, especially the way my mom used to make it: she pounded the cutlets quite thin, which not only took awhile to complete, but also produced more pieces for breading and frying. My vegan adaptation (using meat and egg substitutes) requires no such violence, but still technically takes a certain time commitment and patience, assuming the seitan itself is made from scratch (which I always do). I happened to have a batch of chicken-style seitan in the freezer, so I just thawed them in the refrigerator before proceeding to actually making the katsu. Whenever I've made meatless katsu, I always pan-fried the cutlets the way my mom always did. However, I decided to try oven-frying them this time around. Admittedly, the results weren't quite as delectable as pan-fried versions--the pieces weren't evenly golden or as juicy as something cooked in a half-inch of oil--but they were still quite crunchy and flavorful.
Because a plate lunch isn't complete without its signature starchy sides, I included a scoop each of steamed white rice and macaroni salad (not the typical two-to-one, rice-to-salad ratio, but the plate was already larger than I knew I could finish in one sitting). Traditional Hawaii-style macaroni salad is incredibly simple, consisting of elbow macaroni, mayonnaise, milk, shredded carrot, salt, and pepper. Given the sparseness of ingredients, the salad has a strong mayo flavor and is quite creamy and rich. I've never been a big fan of mayo, but I remember tolerating mac salad in small amounts, for some unknown reason. For the sake of rounding out the plate lunch, I threw together a small amount of vegan macaroni salad, based on a standard formula, such as this one. Egg-free mayo and nondairy milk were the obvious vegan substitutions. I also used brown rice elbow pasta, just because that's what I had in the pantry. It worked out just fine.
Despite being short a scoop of rice, my plate lunch was no mini-plate. It was huge--too large, in fact, for me to even think of eating all at once. The nice thing about plate lunches is that they seem to keep well as leftovers.
By the way, I revised my cornbread recipe just a touch. There is now a gluten-free version available, too.

4 comments:

  1. woo, gluten-free cornbread! 
    That seitan chicken katsu looks pretty good. I haven't ever had seitan (I don't really eat veggie substitute type foods) but I have been seeing a lot of recipes using it on MoFo lately and I have been thinking about giving it a go.

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  2. veganinbrighton10/5/11, 2:12 PM

    That looks like a great plate of food, especially the mac salad & the tofu curry.

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  3. Yum! looks super tasty. =)

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  4. Dayum!  That looks delicious!

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Thanks for reading! Your comments are always welcome and appreciated. :)