You know that random produce that you find in the drawer that needs to be used right now before it goes bad? We worked with that this week, and also came up with a new taco filling.
I had a four-day weekend the past week due to a day off to prepare food for my niece’s birthday party on Friday, and Martin Luther King Day on Monday. I finally got around to making some tempeh taco filling. I’ve been meaning to try this for a while. I didn’t really follow a recipe. I simmered the tempeh loaf in a shallow pan for about 20 minutes, cooled it a bit, then broke it up with a fork. In the same pan while it was cooling, I sauteed some onions, and added Penzeys Arizona Dreaming seasoning (one of my favorite spice blends ever), smoked paprika, salt, and some vegetable broth. I think it could have used some tomato paste, but I didn’t have any on hand. I tried to approximate the proportions of water and seasonings that one would get using a dry packet of taco seasoning.
Our tacos had lettuce, onions, salsa, and cilantro.
Lance requested scrambled tofu for breakfast, with mushrooms. I was using the last of the mushroom blend that I chopped and cooked up before the mushrooms went past their prime. I like this technique for vegetables that are about to go bad. I can always cook them up and freeze them to add to soup later, or to blend into something like a sauce or even a smoothie. I’m getting better at not wasting produce. We also added spinach and mini sweet peppers to the scramble. It seemed like the right thing to do.
This salad is made with some lovely Blue Moon Farms golden beets, apples, dinosaur kale, romaine lettuce, chickpeas, and pomegranate seeds. I’m a fan of fruits and vegetables in a salad, and chickpeas go with everything. It’s not pictured, but I topped this with a simple honey dijon dressing (dijon mustard, agave syrup, a bit of onion powder, and black pepper.)
The leftover chickpeas were made into chickpea salad, in which I used the remainder of the green onions before they went bad. (See the theme here?) I was going for a chicken salad-like version this time with fresh celery, onions, and some Penzeys BBQ 3000 seasoning. We picked up a few new spices over the holidays and are trying some of the blends.
This is the first time I’ve actually enjoyed star fruit. I bought it as a garnish for a fruit salad, but it’s tasty when it’s properly ripened. Here we had it with sliced kiwis and a banana that needed to be eaten that day.
On Sunday, Lance was our special guest on Food for Thought Radio, with Vegan Linda and myself. (A 7-year-old on live radio… what could possibly go wrong?) He did a good job talking about things he likes to eat, and packing lunches for school. For some reason known only in the mind of a 7-year-old boy, he also dreamed up a race in which the participants run 100 miles and drink beer. (I know a few people who would actually attempt something like that.)
I’ve been trying to add more variety to breakfast lately.
Here’s my favorite tofu scramble with potatoes, sweet red peppers, and onions. Served with Ezekiel sesame toast and cranberry salad.
Maple cinnamon chip pancakes, made for Lance. These were ok. I like the base pancake recipe I use (this time minus the sweet potatoes), and I added maple flavor, brown sugar instead of granulated, and some cinnamon chips (vegetarian). I was not impressed with the cinnamon chips.
Cherry flax granola with pomegranate seeds and coconut milk.
I picked up an immersion blender last weekend, and it’s handy for making sauces. The measuring cup included with the blender allowed me to measure the cup of broth, then spoon in the peanut butter until the liquid level reached 1 1/2 cups. It is a lot easier than scraping peanut butter out of a measuring cup.
This is the first recipe I’ve made with tamarind. I used a very thick wet-pack tamarind paste, pictured at the end of the recipe.
Peanut Tamarind Noodles
Makes 4 servings.
1 cup no-chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup creamy natural peanut butter
2 tbsp wet tamarind chunks, minced
1 tsp lime juice
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp agave nectar
1/2 jalapeño pepper (seeded if you like it less spicy)
1 garlic clove
few dashes white pepper, to taste
6 oz Chinese noodles
2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 lb french green beans, cleaned and cut in half
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into thin strips
1/2 lb firm tofu, dry-fried
Chopped cilantro, for garnish (optional)
Chopped peanuts, for garnish (optional)
Combine sauce ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Or, use an immersion blender.
Cook noodles according to package instructions. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
Heat a wok or wide pan over medium high heat. Add 2 tbsp canola oil and heat until nearly smoking.
Stir fry green beans, stirring frequently. Add carrots a few minutes later, and stir fry until just about tender-crisp. Add tofu, noodles, and sauce. Stir and cook a few minutes longer.
Garnish with chopped cilantro and peanuts to serve.
Sometimes I’m in the mood for channa masala, but I’m out of canned (and fresh) plain tomatoes. So I grab whatever tomatoes I have – in this case, Muir Glen Organic Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes with Adobo flavor. They said “NEW” on the label, yet were on clearance at the grocery store. Go figure, but I stocked up. I’m glad I did, because I think they have been discontinued. Boo! If you can’t find them, you could probably use their regular fire-roasted tomatoes, and add two or three tablespoons of adobo sauce.
For the tofu marinade, I had some cilantro and jalapeños that needed to be used. The immersion blender was already out from blending the tomatoes (nobody around here likes tomato chunks except me). So I decided to throw some fresh cranberries in the blending cup with the cilantro and jalapeño and make a tart and spicy chimichurri sauce to marinate the tofu. I left the seeds and ribs in the jalapeño, and the resulting sauce was quite spicy. You can de-seed your pepper if you want less heat.
I love how this marinade worked. Some parts of the tofu immediately took on a pink color from the cranberries, and other parts were dyed green with cilantro. Pretty tofu!
Smoky Mexican Chickpeas
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 tsp cumin
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 14.5 oz cans Muir Glen Organic Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes with Adobo flavor
1 15 oz can chickpeas, or your own fresh-cooked chickpeas
1 cup water
salt and pepper (to taste)
In a heavy pan, heat olive oil and saute onions until translucent. Add oregano, cumin, and garlic. Saute until fragrant.
Add paprika, tomatoes, chickpeas, and water. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes or longer, until chickpeas are tender. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve over hot basmati rice.
Cranberry Chimichurri Grilled Tofu
1 pound extra firm tofu, pressed and sliced into squares or triangles
3/4 cup cilantro, leaves and stems, packed tightly
1/2 jalapeño pepper, chopped (de-seeded if you want it less spicy)
1/2 cup fresh cranberries
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients except tofu in a blender, food processor, or cup for an immersion blender. Blend thoroughly until smooth.
Pour sauce over tofu and marinate for at least a half hour.
Grill tofu on a oiled indoor grill or outdoor grill until browned on each side.
I love tofu, but I haven’t always felt this way. I had to fail at tofu many times before I learned to prepare it in many tasty ways and appreciate its versatility.
Lance always liked tofu in miso soup, but I give credit to Scrambled Tofu for fully recruiting him to Team Tofu. Dave will eat it too, usually with seitan chorizo in a burrito. If you are skeptical about the taste, texture, or mere idea of tofu, try the scramble. The texture and taste are very similar to (and in my opinion, better than) scrambled eggs. If you don’t like it, we’ll help you eat it.
Tofu can be used in a lot of ways. It can take on a “meaty” when grilled or fried. As a nutritious, low-fat, and cholesterol-free source of complete plant-based protein, it can stand in for meat in sandwiches, stir fries, kebabs, soups, stews, casseroles, or just eaten on its own.
One of my favorite tofu preparations is to simply slice and grill extra-firm tofu on my Breville Panini Press. I marinate the slices on a cutting board with a simple mixture like tamari, sesame oil, and a few drops of liquid smoke. The oil isn’t necessary for my press because it’s nonstick, but if you’re grilling this outdoors, you will want to start with a very clean and well-oiled grill grate and use some oil in your marinade. It’s fun to skewer larger chunks of marinated tofu and grill them kebab-style.
I like to let Lance blend his own spices and use them on his food. He gets to know flavor and spice, and a sprinkle of “Lance’s Special Seasoning” works like magic to get him to eat all sorts of vegetables. Tofu is the perfect “blank canvas” to let him test new flavors. Getting your kids used to a wide range of flavors at an early age is likely to make them more adventurous eaters. They might even turn into better cooks – and be more likely to eat a larger variety of healthy foods throughout their lives.
You might end up with a kid like Lance who asks for the Frank’s Red Hot, sriracha, Cholula, and Tabasco. But I digress! Back to tofu. Wanna try some?
It can be intimidating to crack open that odd little watery plastic tub and pull out a wiggly block of… whatever it is. Tofu is simply coagulated soy milk that forms a curd – a bean curd.
If you’re new to tofu, it helps to have some bean curd background.
Tofu comes in two types: “regular” and silken. Regular tofu is just soy milk that’s coagulated (like cheese) to form curds, which are then pressed into blocks. It’s firm and slightly brittle, almost like cheese. This type of tofu is most suitable for slicing, crumbling, or cubing. This is the variety you want for frying, baking, grilling, skewering, stuffing, simmering, or scrambling. Regular tofu comes in varying degrees of firmness, from medium to super-firm. I have found that the extra-firm is the most versatile, but use what your recipe suggests.
“Silken” tofu is made with a different process, resulting in a smooth and more gelatinous texture. Silken tofu is more suited for dishes in which the tofu is pureed to a creamy consistency. I use silken tofu in recipes, and it’s a key ingredient salad dressings, sauces, and yummy vegan desserts like Maple Pecan Pie and Vegan Chocolate Mousse.
Silken tofu is usually packaged in aseptic cartons which do not require refrigeration, so it might be located in a different section of the store than regular tofu.
Tofu must be drained and (usually) pressed. If you’re using regular tofu (not silken) the first thing you want to do is pour off the water in which the block of tofu was stored. Then you need to press out some of the water that is still in the block. Pressing helps the tofu absorb more of your marinade and gives it a firmer texture when cooked.
A simple pressing technique is to slice the block into pieces about 1/2 inch thick (or however thickly you want it sliced to grill, fry, or bake). Place the slices on a clean white dishtowel (not terry cloth) or paper towels, and press the slices firmly but gently with another towel to blot out the excess water. I’ve found that my favorite kind of tofu from Common Ground Co-op (pictured above) doesn’t contain a lot of water, so I can get by pressing it in this manner.
You can also set the block of tofu on a cutting board, and slice it in half so you have two flat rectangles. Place a clean dishtowel (or several paper towels) on top of the tofu and top with another cutting board of flat plate. Weight the plate down with a few books or heavy cans, and place it in a sink or area where the water can drain off. You can press it for as long as you’d like, but it should usually be pressed for at least a half hour if you really want to remove a lot of water.
Regular tofu can also be frozen, right in its little pack of water. Freezing will change the texture of the tofu, making it more spongy and crumbly. I’ve made tofu taco filling with frozen tofu, and it looks just like ground beef taco filling.
When your tofu has been pressed, you’re ready to…
Marinate it! Tofu is very bland. If you’ve tried it straight out of the box and said, “I don’t like tofu” then you need to try it again and add some flavor. Tofu takes on the flavors of the marinade or sauce in which it’s cooked. I will eat it plain because I like the taste if it’s very fresh and extra firm, but I usually marinate and cook it.
There are a ton of tofu marinades out there, if you search for them on the web. (Here: five basic marinades to get you started.) You don’t need to look for a marinade that’s specific to tofu either, you can use your favorite marinade meant for meat. I’ve marinated tofu with steak sauce, and it tastes great grilled on a sandwich. The longer you leave your tofu in the marinade, the stronger the flavor will be. And if you have leftover marinade, you can always throw it in a hot pan and reduce it to a thick sauce to top your tofu.
Cook it correctly. My favorite ways to cook tofu are scrambling, grilling, dry-frying, and simmering.
Scrambling tofu is quick and easy. There are lots of recipes for it on the web and in cookbooks, but the scrambled tofu recipe I follow most often is from Savvy Vegetarian. I vary the vegetables I toss into my scrambles, but they always contain tofu, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, white pepper, turmeric (for yellow color and “mustardy” flavor), tamari or soy sauce, and nutritional yeast. Sometimes I don’t even measure ingredients, I just eyeball and season to taste.
Grilling tofu is easy on an indoor or outdoor grill. I like to add a little liquid smoke to indoor grilled tofu, but it’s not necessary for outdoor grilling. As stated above, keep your outdoor grill clean and oiled to avoid sticking, or use a nonstick grill basket. You could also use one of those baskets meant for grilling fish, so you could turn all your tofu slices at once. I haven’t tried this, but it seems like it would work.
For the texture and flavor of tofu used in Chinese restaurant dishes, dry-fry your extra-firm tofu, then add a marinade. Dry-frying removes a lot of the water from the tofu as it cooks, and it results in a crispy, chewy exterior. It will really soak up the flavor of a marinade. And it’s a great low-fat way to prepare tofu, which is already a relatively low-fat food.
I like to simmer cubes of super-firm tofu in Indian dishes to simulate the texture and flavor of paneer. We eat a lot of Indian food that we make at home, and tofu is a good way to add protein to our dishes. I cut the tofu into 3/4 – 1 inch cubes and add it near the end of cooking. Stir the pot gently to avoid breaking up the tofu cubes. I’ve also had success placing tofu cubes in to-go containers when dividing the leftovers out into lunches for the week. I just ladle warm sauce over the tofu cubes, and they marinate in the refrigerator and during reheating. By the time I eat the dish later in the week, they’re infused with flavor.
Tofu cubes are also a great addition to curries and soups. We love miso soup made with small cubes of tofu, and curries with tofu cubes cut about the same size as the veggies.
But is tofu good for you? I’ve heard that soy is bad, causes cancer, will “turn you gay”, etc. There is a lot of conflicting information circulating around about the healthfulness of soy, but many of the arguments against soy consumption are based on sketchy evidence, or from studies hand-picked to show a desired conclusion. Many articles warning about the alleged dangers of soy are put forth by individuals or organizations who have economic interests in promoting a meat-centric diet. It’s important to scrutinize the scientific methods and funding sources behind all nutritional recommendations, especially for or against specific foods. I’m talking about animal products too. There’s plenty of research out there! For me, the most consistent and strongest conclusions point to the health of a vegan diet.
(I am not a doctor, so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you have specific questions of adverse reactions to soy, because there are some medical conditions like goiter in which soy should be avoided.)
Thankfully, most reputable studies show that whole soy foods can be a healthy, beneficial part of a well-balanced diet. The key is to consume soy in its less-processed forms – such as tofu, tempeh, miso, edamame, and soy milk. Fermented and sprouted soy products like miso, tempeh, and sprouted tofu are living foods with active enzymes which make them easy to digest.
I try to avoid highly-processed soy protein isolates. They are present in a lot of highly-processed vegan meats and cheese substitutes. And because soybeans are among the most highly-genetically-engineered food products, I always buy organic soy foods.
Some of the most long-lived people in the world, the Okinawans, eat soy every day in the form of miso and tofu, and not processed soy products. It can’t be said enough: eat real, whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible. (For more information on Okinawans and other long-lived populations, read The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner.)
I hope you’ve learned something about tofu. It’s nutritious, versatile and easy to keep on hand in your refrigerator (regular-type) or pantry (silken). I hope you also learn to love tofu, if you don’t already. It will love you back.
On Friday night we made homemade pizza with a lot of improvisation. First, I ran out of semolina flour for my usual crust recipe, so I substituted garbanzo bean flour. It worked! Then I ran out of Daiya mozzarella, so I decided to make a Mexican pizza and use the cheddar I had.
It’s topped with smoky oaxaca salsa, seitan chorizo, onions, portabella mushrooms, avocado, cilantro, and Daiya cheddar. It was delicious.
August’s Meetup for the C-U Vegan Meetup Group featured the most underrated meal of the day: brunch. Our small group gathered at Jason’s house to admire his staghorn fern (vegan taxidermy!), discuss how it gets watered, contemplate restroom fixtures and the people who love them, and enjoy some delicious vegan brunch dishes.
Amber scrambled up a delicious combination of Soyrizo, tofu “eggs”, potatoes, peppers, and onions. I could eat this every day.
Dana found a great sale on red raspberries and shared the bounty, along with some cucumbers from her CSA.
Dana also made Masala Spiced Donut Bites from Meet the Shannons. She did not disclose the calories per bite, which she actually dared to calculate. They’re baked, but rolled in melted Earth Balance and spiced sugar, resulting in deliciousness.
Amelia baked a delicious coffee cake, filled with cinnamon streusel and walnuts. It contains yogurt, and was extra rich and tasty.
Amelia and Chase also brought delicious Herbed Breakfast Sausage Patties The recipe is from Vegan Diner, and the author, Julie Hasson, is a genius with seitan. I need to make these at home NOW since I found vegan English muffins last week. Veg McMuffin, anyone?
And on top of all this goodness, this weekend I found the scribbled-on-a-post-it recipe I made for Seitan Gyros! So now I just need to find some sumac and give it a little tweak, then unleash it upon the world. I’m contemplating shaping it into a big cone and steaming it that way for a little more authenticity.
Firm Tofu Banh Mi from Xinh Xinh Cafe. Cucumber, daikon, onion, carrot, super-hot jalapeños, cilantro, and delicately fried slices of tofu. There are herbs embedded in the tofu. I don’t understand how this is done, and I can’t question the deliciousness.
Here’s another installment of random things I have eaten this week.
Best photo first! This is Curry Udon Noodles with Tofu and Vegetables, from Cravings Restaurant in Champaign. “Meat-Free” Mike from Food For Thought suggested this, and it was excellent. I love the shape of the carrots. Thanks, Mike!
Next on the carb parade: Macaroni with Beer Cheese Sauce. We made fondue last weekend, and I tossed the leftover vegan beer cheese sauce with some hot pasta and seasoned it with black pepper. The beer cheese sauce is based on Classic Fondue from The Uncheese Cookbook. It was delicious as a fondue, but subbing all beer for the wine in the original recipe meant the beer flavor was a bit too strong. Next time I’ll go with half veg broth and half beer. Very creamy, cheesy, and easy to make in a blender.
Here’s a version of one of my favorite vegetarian sandwiches, the Tofulatta from Strawberry Fields in Urbana. The original sandwich contains grilled tofu, lettuce, tomato, provolone, and olive salad. No provolone here, but plenty of yummy olive salad. It’s the Tofuletta!
I am thrilled to have successfully grilled tofu. And now I can’t stop eating it. I used an indoor panini maker, and it was fast and easy.
The Best Tofu In The World is from the deli case at Common Ground Food Co-Op, sold in bulk. Thank you to Sarah, my vegetarian friend and colleague, for the suggestion. It’s the perfect firmness, and requires very little pressing. I slice it about 1/2 inch thick, press it briefly between towels, spread it out on a plate, and brush it with a soy/garlic marinade, then grill for about 3 minutes. The texture is great for sandwiches: chewy and a little crisp on the edges. I’m working on a post featuring several marinades. I prefer these a lot over vegan deli slices.
These smoky white beans and kale were awesome, and so easy to prepare. I started with roughly-torn kale, sauteed in some olive oil, with garlic and black pepper. When the kale was slightly wilted, I added about 2 cups of leftover canellini beans I had slow-cooked earlier this week, and 1/2 cup of vegetable broth with a few drops of liquid smoke mixed in. I also added vegan bacon bits. In about 10-15 minutes, the kale was tender but not completely mushy – just right.
This is a weird late-summer combination resulting from excessive heat and too many produce odds and ends.
The corn is topped with mayonnaise and lime juice, like elotes served from a local Mexican food truck. I’m really not a fan of mayonnaise on corn, but at least I tried it. The tomatoes have bacon bits on them, because I really wanted something with tomato and bacon flavors. The zucchini is sliced into ribbons with a vegetable peeler. This is the first time I have tried that, and I found that I liked slicing off the outer part of the zucchini only, just down to the seeds. I sliced the leftover seedy “core” I was left with and saved it for smoothies later. Let no vegetable go to waste, right?
The sauce on the zucchini isn’t very visible, but it’s a leftover white bean and basil dip that I made over the weekend. I will definitely post this recipe later, because it’s AWESOME. I was surprised how well it transformed into a creamy sauce over the warm zucchini. I think serving it over wheat pasta would be too bland, but the zucchini “pasta” really works.
This cup of noodles is from Doodles in Champaign. It’s a little restaurant on campus serving customized bowls of ramen noodles. You can choose your broth flavor (a few flavors are vegan, most surprisingly the “beef” flavor; must be a hydrolyzed soy-based flavoring) and top it with whatever you want. There are a number of meats, of course, and plenty of vegetable options, including vegetable gyoza (not sure if they’re vegan, though).
The process took about an hour. All components except the refried beans were prepared from scratch. A lot of the time was not hands-on, such as when the rice was simmering. I could have used two separate skillets for potatoes and scrambled tofu and cooked them simultaneously, but I wanted to keep dirty pans to a minimum. I cooked the breakfast potatoes in the skillet, followed by the scrambled tofu.
The breakfast potatoes are simply diced potatoes sauteed in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper.
These burritos are very filling. I prefer to let them thaw a little in the refrigerator overnight (or longer) before microwaving. I heat them on medium power to avoid hot ends and a cold middle.
I tossed one in my bag this morning and it was an excellent post-run breakfast.
This recipe makes more than double what you need for ten breakfast burritos, but reheats well. Use any type of rice you prefer, including long-grain or basmati. I used a medium-grain rice because that’s what I had on hand.
3 cups medium-grain rice
1 tbsp canola oil
1 8-oz can tomato sauce (not spaghetti sauce)
2 tsp vegetable stock concentrate (Better Than Bouillon is what I use, or substitute 2 cups of broth)
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
In a deep saucepan, heat canola oil over medium heat. Add rice and stir to coat. Toast rice for a few minutes while preparing liquid mixture, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, in a 4-cup measuring container, combine tomato sauce, spices, and vegetable stock concentrate or broth. Add enough water to make a total of 4 cups of liquid.
Stir liquid into rice. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 20 minutes. (Be sure to follow cooking time guidelines for the rice you’re using.)
Uncover rice and remove from heat. Stir to separate grains and let stand for about 10 minutes before serving.
Tip: When reheating rice, it helps to sprinkle a little water on it before microwaving, in a covered dish. It keeps the rice moist.
My kitchen is not a mess. It is a celebration of expression.