I'm not a vegetarian, but I do enjoy ordering dishes that showcase in-season vegetables accented with grains or a meat substitute like tofu.
During a recent dinner at Benjy's on Washington, I forwent ordering meat-centric dishes like the braised short rib with a creamy cashew butter and cranberry jam, and a personal favorite, the nut-crusted crunchy chicken with a bourbon glaze and mac 'n' cheese. Yes, all these items are tasty, scrumptious and downright delicious, but my eyes (and stomach) kept looking at the curried quinoa dish with cauliflower, broccoli, tofu and pumpkin seeds.
Cauliflower and broccoli are tricky ingredients to serve in a restaurant. Most people won't say they are their favorite vegetables. In fact, I'd be willing to bet most people say they are two vegetable they won't eat. But I am not one of those people.
Growing up, I always ate broccoli and cauliflower, either blanched or microwaved. My taste buds were never opened up to the possibilities of pan-searing broccoli or cauliflower, frying them (seemed counterproductive to me) or even baking the tender vegetable heads in the oven with a crispy coating. Now that I know all the possibilities for cooking broccoli and cauliflower, I'm on the lookout for dishes that will show me the ways they can be made. This is why I ordered the Curried Quinoa dish at Benjy's on Washington.
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Although the dish appears to be focused on the quinoa, that's only one component. Crispy florets of broccoli and cauliflower are dispersed throughout the giant bowl of soft yet textured quinoa. The quinoa and florets are coated in curry seasoning, adding caramelization to each ingredient.
The tofu is treated the same way; squares of tofu are transformed from soft, gooey structures into crispy, caramelized pieces. Trust me, if you're turned off by the slimy texture of raw tofu, you will not find that in this dish. The tofu is not rubbery, it is not slimy and it does not have the strange aftertaste sometimes found in tofu. The pan-seared edges are crispy and sweet, while the inside is firm and tender.
But the best part of this dish? The sweet and spicy toasted pumpkin seeds. These hidden treasures are coated in oil, curry seasoning and something sweet. When you take a bite, the oil and seasonings burst, making your taste buds do a happy dance.
The best bite is a scoop of sweet quinoa with caramelized tofu, crispy curried cauliflower or broccoli (if you can get both on your fork, do so), toasted pumpkin seeds and bits of fresh cilantro. It's the perfect combination of salty, sweet, savory and spicy. Not to mention it's only $13.