Ginger & Garlic Roasted Tofu

I’m going to have used every one of my housewares in a shot in a minute, here.

Okay, I’m making some changes to this, which I’ve previously done with mushrooms included.

Tofu gets such a bad rap, even now, for not tasting like anything, when that, really, is the point. I had to acquire a taste for tofu – I certainly did not have one when I became a vegetarian. I’ll admit, I drink plain unsweetened soymilk, but I’ve been to a Japanese restaurant or two where there was plain ol’ unadorned tofu in my hot pot, and I found I had to try to just be all Zen about it to enjoy it. (Apologies to my friend the Asian philosophy expert for the colloquial use of be all Zen about it.)

There is tofu you can buy that not only tastes like something, it tastes great right out of the package – there’s all sorts of baked and marinated stuff, like the baked tofu from White Wave. It’s in half-pound packages, though, and plain tofu comes in pound packages, and the flavored stuff will really set you back.

So I’ve posted something like this before, but I’ve done it a couple more times and wanted to put it down, first of all, and build on it. I’ve increased the paprika as it improves the browning, and I’ve removed the lemon juice, as it adds liquid that needs to cook off but little flavor in this application. I realized I used more soy sauce than I had originally indicated. I haven’t used the fresh ginger here, as the idea was to create something that was really, really easy and could just come from pantry ingredients.

For now, I’ve got this one recipe worked out, but there are other flavors that could be applied to tofu that would benefit it. Consider this the first in an occasional development series.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

1 lb. extra-firm tofu
1/2 t. ginger powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 T. paprika
1 T. canola and/or sesame oil
1/4 c. tamari

First, liberate the tofu from its container and pat dry thoroughly. Cut into 1/2 in. cubes. Mix the remaining ingredients together to comprise the marinade. Add the tofu and stir to mix. It will only take it a minute or two to take up the marinade. Place the marinated tofu into a 13 x 9 inch roasting pan (glass will work better than metal) and spread evenly over the bottom of the pan. Place in the oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 30 minutes.

Makes about four servings, unless you are preaching to the tofu-converted, which may happen after they taste this.

Cheese Snacks

Yeah, not such a great picture, okay. I challenge you to take a good picture of crackers. Lining them up on their edges might be visually interesting, sure, but I don’t have that much time on my hands.

I’ve previously mentioned my particular tastes as a child – no butter is one, no bland cheese another. I only liked very sharp cheeses. I was particular when it came to cheese snacks, too – I would eat regular Chee-tos, but not cheese curls or cheese puffs. They tasted different.

I still like sharp cheeses best.

Now, it’s not unusual for kids to be hypersensitive to tastes and textures like this – I had one cousin who, growing up, would eat only one kind – and I mean only one flavor of only one brand – of salad dressing. My aunt brought it with them when they traveled on at least a couple occasions.

Chee-tos were a particular favorite of mine, and I often look longingly at the 365 Cheese Curls (Seven servings? Ha!) when I walk by them, though I very seldom purchase them. It’s been a couple years. They taste like I remember Chee-tos tasting when I was small, something I can’t say for Cheez-Its, which I last had while working for Big Midwestern Cereal Company a few years ago. They tasted bland and uninteresting compared to how I remembered them as a kid. Maybe the formula had changed; maybe I had. I don’t know how I’d like regular Chee-tos now; the ingredients list seems to have expanded significantly from my memory, and I don’t really want to get involved with MSG and artificial color.

There’s no need to, though, if you’re feeling cheesy (sorry). About ten years ago, I found out about Che-Cri, rich, delicate puff pastry crackers from Holland that are made mostly of Gouda cheese and butter, with just enough flour to hold them together. I don’t currently have a source for them, which is probably for the better.

However, I do have a recipe for cheese pennies, which are the next best thing to Che-Cri, as you can make them at home. Though they’re not puff pastry, the ratio of cheese and butter to flour seems about the same as Che-Cri.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

1 stick butter
1/2 lb. sharp cheese
1 1/2 c. flour
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
sesame seeds (optional)

Place all ingredients except sesame seeds in the bowl of a food processor. Process, pulsing, until the mixture comes together. Remove from bowl and form into logs of 1 in. diameter. Roll in sesame seeds. Place in freezer for 30 minutes. Cut 1/4 in. pennies and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Little space is needed if the logs are properly chilled – they will not spread far. Bake until lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes, watching carefully.

Fried Rice

This was an old post, but I made fried rice tonight and revised my method. I liked the results well enough to bring this to the front.

Fried rice is serendipity. If you look in the fridge and see leftover rice, you’re most of the way there. The other stuff you need you might already have – and it’s infinitely flexible – if you have no carrots, in goes a bell pepper. If you have no broccoli, in go some leftover green beans. Leftover brown rice is the best, but even basmati will work. Most Chinese restaurants put egg in their fried rice – and as we’ve previously established, I’m Not Much On Eggs, so I don’t. But you could, at the end, put in a well-beaten egg and stir until you got that bits-of-egg-everywhere effect. Easy enough.

This is what I do with leftovers instead of casserole. Because of that, a recipe isn’t really necessary – so I’ll offer a plan, as I sometimes do. (In one recent batch, the leftover tofu from the Tofu and Onions in Caramel Sauce went in.)

canola and sesame oils for the pan
1 onion, chopped

Heat the oil – about half and half canola and sesame – over medium-high heat in a large skillet or pot. Saute the onion until starting to color. Remove and set aside.


vegetables chopped as for stir-fry, including these – leftovers are okay:
bok choy
green beans
green onions

and vegetables that don’t need chopping:
snow peas
frozen peas
mung bean sprouts

Put the thick or dense vegetables (carrots) in before the quick-cooking vegetables (bean sprouts). Have enough vegetables that they won’t look paltry compared to the volume of rice. Once the vegetables have been stir-fried over high heat for a few minutes, remove them and set aside.

Have ready:
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 in. piece fresh ginger, minced
¼ t. red pepper flakes

Add a small amount of oil to the pan, put the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes into the oil and sauté until aromatic, just a few seconds.

Then add:
a quantity of rice (I’m usually dealing with about 3-4 c.)
a few dashes of soy sauce

and stir-fry until the rice and seasonings are incorporated. Add back the vegetables – at this point you can add frozen peas if you’d like – and stirl until all parties have all gotten to know each other quite well. If you have some leftover tofu, that can go in too.

Tortilla Casserole Redux

I’ve posted this before, with a loose recipe. I made it for dinner tonight, so I thought I’d take a picture and write out the version I did tonight, which was a little more involved.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

1 recipe Refried Beans
oil for the pan
12 corn tortillas
1 1/2 c. salsa
2 c. corn (frozen is okay, as long as it’s winter)
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
2/3 lb. cheese (queso fresco, jack, cheddar, whatever floats your boat), grated

In a small, shallow frying pan, heat over medium heat enough oil to cover a tortilla. When oil is hot, fry tortillas one at a time, draining on absorbent toweling. Set aside

Cook the corn (I microwaved); season to taste. Saute the bell peppers in any remaining oil from the tortillas. Set both aside.

Using a large casserole (about 10 x 10 or equivalent), assemble the casserole. Place three tortillas (torn if necessary) in the bottom of the dish and cover evenly with 1/4 c. salsa. Add one-quarter of the cooked beans, and spread evenly. Repeat with the same proportion of corn and peppers and then cheese. Repeat layers, eventually finishing with cheese on top.

Place in oven, uncovered, and bake for 40 minutes, until browned and bubbly on top.

Makes about eight servings.

Refried Beans

Refried – one of the greatest misnomers in food? Perhaps not quite up there with the difference between sweetmeats and sweetbreads, sure, but deceptive nonetheless.

This is more work than opening a couple cans. It’s very good, though, and dry beans are a much better deal than canned.

2.5 c. dry pinto beans, sorted, soaked for 8 hours or quick soaked

oil for the pan
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle chili, minced
1 jalapeno chili, minced
1 T. cumin
1 T. paprika
2 T. Whole Food Market 365 Hot Sauce
juice of one lime
1 c. minced cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

I use a pressure cooker for anything dry bean-related. It cuts the cooking time by at least half.

Place the soaked beans, water to cover and salt to taste to the pressure cooker. Bring it to pressure and cook for 20 minutes. Release pressure under running water. Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid, and set liquid aside. Mash beans coarsely, using a potato masher, adding cooking liquid as necessary to make workable.

While the beans are cooking, sauté the onion in a large pot. Cook until the onion is well-softened and some pieces have brown edges. Add the garlic, chilies, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring, for a minute or two, until the garlic releases its fragrance and the paprika colors slightly.

Turn the mashed beans into the pot, add the hot sauce, lime juice, and cilantro and stir to mix. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary and heat through.

Makes about eight cups cooked beans.

A Perfect Artichoke

Artichokes are one of my favorite vegetables – okay, all vegetables, save eggplant, are my favorite vegetables, which is a handy quality for a vegetarian, but artichokes are a special favorite. They’re coming into season now – there will be many more available around the country (from California) in a month or so, but at least in California, they’re widely distributed now.

On your way into Monterey, the last few miles before you can see the water, there are rolling artichoke fields to the left, silvery, spidery plants that seem in motion, creeping and starting over the crests and turning into the hollows.

I know I was offered artichokes as a child – I can remember pulling the flesh off a leaf between my teeth, probably on the cusp of a dinner party that took place after my bedtime – but I was never a fan of mayonnaise or melted butter, the traditional accompaniments. I am certain that the flavor of the artichoke alone didn’t appeal to me as a special treat.

I had very Spartan tastes as a kid: no butter on my baked potato, bread, toast or pancakes; no mayonnaise on anything. No butter, even, on broccoli, my favorite vegetable, another with a stem. Artichoke stems are even better than broccoli stems; don’t cut them off. Have a cardoon, too, if you can find one, which you sometimes can in California around the turn of the year – that’s the ultimate artichoke stem.

My father remembers that his mother cooked artichokes – he wasn’t sure whether to place his first experience with them in Argentina or Brazil, but he remembered mayonnaise being involved.

I still don’t tangle with mayonnaise in conjunction with artichokes at home. I’ll use a little good-quality bottled dressing if a plain artichoke doesn’t feel like enough of a treat. Out, I’ve had a number of red pepper and other remoulades that have been quite good.

If there is an artichoke on the menu, I will invariably order it. In Vegas last weekend I had fried artichoke hearts. They were beautifully done – pan-turned until golden and slightly crisp, with ribbons of Parmigiano-Reggiano, remoulade and a sliver of lemon.

On my trip out to New Jersey a couple weeks ago, I had one grilled and stuffed with breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs were forgettable, but having laid the artichoke on the grill did something magical just this side of burning to it. Some of the outside leaves were deeply browned and incredibly flavorful.

Now, this is purely a discussion of whole artichokes, not artichoke hearts – when we get to that perhaps I’ll dig up that invented appetizer Debbie and I did for Elizabeth’s going-away party – half artichoke hearts filled with romesco and run under the broiler.

To cook artichokes to perfection, here’s what to do.

First, set a large pot of water to boil. One you can fit in a saucepan. For two artichokes you’ll need a stockpot.

There are not many vegetables I boil, but this is one. I do feel sufficiently guilty for throwing out the water afterwards, don’t worry. I hereby absolve any followers of any guilty feelings they might experience from boiling an artichoke.

While the water works on coming to a boil, start by washing the artichoke as well as you can for a closed thistle. I usually force the top leaves open slightly and try to jam the thing on the faucet, hoping to drive out any beautiful black Castroville dirt that might be hiding in there.

Cut the cruddy-looking bottom of the stem, but not the stem itself, off the artichoke. Peel the stem lightly. Using a good paring knife and setting the choke head down on the cutting board is probably the easiest way to go at this. A few leaves may come off in this process; no matter, you would probably have pulled them off anyhow. If you have any wilted or badly split leaves around the outside of the choke, remove them now.

Do not worry about purplish leaves – those darkened tips are the result of cold temperatures and aren’t a problem. This year there haven’t been any frost-kissed artichokes so far – a warm winter out west is the reason.

I don’t bother lopping the top off the choke – more to hold onto when you’re eating, I figure, and it eliminates having to try to remember what type of metal your knife is, what type of metal is the problem, and to instantly rub everything in sight vigorously with a lemon as soon as you cut the thing in order to prevent discoloration.

Is that water boiling yet? If so, salt it – salt it seriously – and then taste it. You want it to be almost too salty to be used for soup in order to get the artichoke sufficiently seasoned. Add a good slug of olive oil – a tablespoon or so for two chokes. Plunk them in as well. Cover.

If you like, at this point you can add the juice of a lemon and its zest and/or a bay leaf to the water. Gilding the lily? You decide.

Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook the artichoke for 20 minutes, then turn it over (tongs) and cook for another 20 minutes. Check it at the end of 40 minutes for doneness. Remember that it is a very dense vegetable, and the inside will take longer to become tender. I generally cook artichokes for about 50 minutes. A leaf will come off easily and almost all of the flesh will scrape off without effort. Try pulling a leaf from further into the choke to check if you can – if you find that it looks white and waxy and the flesh will not pull, cook it longer.

When the artichokes are done, remove them from the water with tongs (tongs allow you to aim them head down and squeeze a little to get the water inside out) and place head down in a bowl to drain still further. Allow to cool somewhat.

Artichokes can be served warm or cold, but they don’t taste like much when steaming hot, and they’ll do nothing but frustrate you. You’ll think the thing is cooling, but as you remove layer upon layer of leaves, you’ll find that they’re a fine insulator, and the last row of leaves will burn your palate nearly as effectively as the first.

Dip leaves in melted butter, mayonnaise, or good-quality dressing if desired. If not, feel virtuous – even though you likely added a slug of olive oil to the water, an average artichoke has only about 80 calories – and it takes you about 20 minutes to ingest them.

Falafel the Third

There are already two falafel recipes on this site. There’s my raw chickpea falafel recipe, and there’s my mom’s falafel recipe. (Not to mention the so-so chickpea patties I tried out.)

To add a third (fourth?) falafel recipe, it would have to supersede the other two (three?) in some way. This one does so in ingredients and ease of preparation. There are no eggs or breadcrumbs in this, as there are in mom’s falafel, and, not to be indiscreet, but it is a little easier on the digestive system than the raw chickpea falafel.

You might say, “Deep frying? How is this ease of preparation compared to the pan-frying in your mom’s recipe?”

Sure, it takes more oil, and it requires a thermometer, but it takes a lot less time, and you can actually take the temperature of your oil when deep frying, something you can’t do with pan-frying. Controlling the temperature allows you to better control how much oil is absorbed into the finished product.

These taste less greasy than the pan-fried type, when done properly.

This recipe is adapted from 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes.

3 c. cooked chickpeas (canned or cooked from dry are both fine)
1/2 c. flour (I used King Arthur White Whole Wheat)
2 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. minced onion
6 cloves garlic
2 t. ground cumin
salt to taste (start with 1/2 t.)

oil for deep frying

Place the chickpeas, flour, parsley, lemon juice, onion, garlic, cumin, and salt in a food processor fitted with the steel S-blade. Cover and process, pulsing, until the chickpeas are broken down but not a smooth puree. (We are not making hummus here.) Turn the processed mixture out into a bowl and form into 1-inch-diameter balls.

While forming balls, set 1 1/2 in. of oil on to heat over medium-high heat in a deep saucepan.

Do as I say and not as I do; there is definitely not enough headspace for the oil in this pan. I had to take it off the heat a couple times while wearing an oven mitt to prevent it from going over and catching fire on the burner. You do not want to play these kinds of games.

Bring oil temperature to 280-300 F. Place several balls into the hot oil using a slotted spoon or spider. Cook until golden but not deeply russeted – mine took about four minutes. When checking for color, remember that the falafel will darken slightly on cooling.

Remove from oil and place on absorbent toweling. Repeat with remaining balls. Check your heat in the middle of each batch and before starting a new batch and adjust as necessary.

This made about six servings between two falafel lovers. It can be tucked into pita, the traditional way, but this time we happened to eat it sprinkled with chopped cucumbers along with garlicky cooked spinach and rice pilaf.