A colleague and I were chatting about Dean Foods’ sale of the White Wave meat-alternatives business (but not the cash cow of Silk soymilk, ha ha) to Hain Celestial and she filled me in on a bit of news I had missed – Kroger Foods is adding soymilk production to its Hutchinson, KS dairy facility, making Kroger the first retailer in the nation to have its own private-label soymilk production. The wave of the future? Certainly seems like a natural progression from decades of retailer-owned milk bottling and dairy-processing plants.
I’ve been flipping through The Foods of India in the last week or so. It’s been sitting unused for a long time.
I have a pile of Indian cookbooks; this is the only one that isn’t vegetarian. I’ve never bothered to buy non-veg Indian cookbooks as a matter of course. It was a gift, though, and I love the look of the book. However, it’s rather amazing that a book could be written about the food of India and end up predominantly devoted to meat dishes. But it’s absolutely beautiful; a coffee-table book, for sure.
Though large, (too tall for my cookbook shelves in its coffee-table sized format) this book isn’t comprehensive, of course, no volume on the food of India could be. It’s mostly focused on Northern Indian dishes, and actually, it’s a pretty good guide to the foods of India that you would usually see in an Indian restaurant in the U.S.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, if you want to learn how to make Butter Chicken, or just look at a phenomenally beautiful photograph of it, why not?
But I’ve always felt bad about not making better use of it, since Indian food is by far my favorite thing to cook, and I always need new ideas to try out. It appeals to the part of me that likes complex problems and well-developed concepts. I find it more rewarding to make an Indian dish than something in which the method is easily revealed, as all the component parts are readily identifiable. Making vegetables on top of pasta just doesn’t light my fire.
I’ll admit, I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to Indian meat dishes. There’s never been any reason for me to learn them. The fortunate thing about them, though, is that unlike dishes in Continental cuisines, which tend to focus strongly on particular cuts of meat that must stand on their own, many Indian meat dishes are sauce-based. This is a boon for vegetarians, as it’s far easier to replace cubed pieces of meat than a rack of lamb. (Replacing the rack of lamb is where we get into the Compensating Vegetarian territory, already discussed.)
The Rogan Josh recipe I ran across in this book was one such. The sauce sounded great. I knew that Rogan Josh was lamb, but I really didn’t know any more about it than that. Reading around, I figured out that it’s a Kashmiri dish. Chunks of boneless lamb, onions, garlic, ginger and yogurt are common to all the recipes. Beyond that, the spices vary, but the closer-to-the-source recipes seem to include cardamom, cinnamon, bay, cloves and paprika. (The original in the book bears a very striking resemblance to Madhur Jaffrey’s Rogan Josh.)
Chunks of boneless lamb could just as well be chunks of boneless tofu, I thought. (Some omnivores may guffaw here, but the herbivores might nod along.)
So I made it, with tofu and cauliflower instead of the lamb. As always, this is an adaptation with significant changes from the original recipe. Chimp thinks this is great – I think it still needs a little work. If I do this again, I’ll probably deep-fry the tofu first instead of roasting it near the end – that would help the texture be more meatlike.
I’m back from Boulder. Though the work to be done was immensely enjoyable, the scenery breathtaking and I’d love to go back, I’d take supplemental oxygen next time. Last night as I opened my bottled water and then, in turn, each of my toiletries that had sucked their sides in, I said to Chimp, “That was my lungs, too.”
There were no complaints to offer about the hotel, that’s for sure. Everything about the room was wonderful: great fluffy-soft bed with a variety of pillows, a heartbreakingly nice bathroom with a spotlit tub that drew me in for a soak that left me feeling absolutely boneless – even the hairdryer was a really good hairdryer. Additionally, everything about the hotel in general was delightful, including the jazz trio in the lobby in the evening near a window-backed gas fireplace and during the day, a panoramic view of Flatirons Mountain.
I didn’t have the opportunity to try breakfast at the hotel – we had it at our meeting both days – but I did take a look at the card they provided to be left on the door at night for breakfast service, and when I did, I was sorry I wasn’t going to have a chance to order. Here’s part of the card:
Check out the bottom of the first column of the “A La Carte” section.
Yes, that’s right, you can order tofu for breakfast. No more information than that, unfortunately, so I don’t know if it was scrambled tofu or roasted tofu or just a big honkin’ block o’ tofu with a little piece of parsley on top of it. I suppose I’ll have to go back someday with my oxygen tank to find out.
But seriously, this is the first time I’ve ever seen tofu on a breakfast menu anywhere, and I was so pleased at just the idea that I could get some protein for breakfast. This is Boulder, of course, so perhaps I should not be surprised. I’ll be pretty happy, though, if there ever comes a day when menus are like this everywhere and I can confidently travel without an emergency stash of suitable food.
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.
Oh yeah, doesn’t that sound awesome?
Really, if you’ve never liked tofu, this is a good place to start. The time in the oven does away with the squishy cloudlike blandness, reducing the tofu to crispy-edged little hunks of protein and the mushrooms to an intensely flavored chewy adjunct. It really is good.
As a bonus, once the initial chopping is done, this dish requires very little tending – it goes in the oven and requires only an occasional stir.
This is a fine thing to toss with just about any stir-fry. The reason for doing it in the oven is that browning tofu in a pan takes a lot of time, attention, and oil, and adds enormously to the time it takes to get a stir-fry together. If you can do the tofu part in the oven, where it can tend itself, everything else goes much easier. At the end, serve yourself your rice, stir-fry, and then some tofu and mushrooms on top.
There is garlic powder in this recipe, which I hardly ever use – I have it on hand for garlic bread. Sure, I love bruschetta with fresh garlic rubbed across its surface, but I also like the more pedestrian butter and garlic salt broiled until bubbling. The reason it’s here is because fresh garlic would scorch, and the idea of the dish is really more in line with that broiled garlic bread. You could make this without the garlic powder and then toss in a couple cloves of fresh garlic at or near the end, which I’m sure would be wonderful as well, but the idea was for this to be easy.
Now you know I’m a garlic powder apologist. (That phrase does not currently appear on Google…am I the first?)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
1 lb. extra-firm tofu, drained and thoroughly patted dry (I’ve used Nasoya and White Wave in this recipe with equal success), then cut into 1/2” squares.
1-6 oz. package cremini mushrooms (look for “baby bellas” if they’re not labeled as cremini), stems removed, cleaned, and finely chopped
1 T. fresh ginger, minced
1/2 t. ginger powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 t. paprika
2 T. tamari
2 t. sesame oil
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt to taste
Place the tofu and mushrooms in a 13×9 glass baking dish. Combine the seasoning ingredients and pour over the tofu. Toss all ingredients to combine. Place in the oven on the middle rack, and roast, stirring every ten minutes or so, until the tofu is well-colored, the mushrooms have reduced in volume, and the whole mixture is more dry. This will take 30-40 minutes. The tofu will continue to firm up and shrink after it is removed from the oven, so it does not need to be completely dry when removed from the heat.
This method is also quite nice when the mushrooms are replaced with red peppers.
Another from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen, though this is a Thai classic. This is great along with some stir-fried green beans and rice. Having a Thai Basil plant that’s trying to overrun all the other basils in its planting bed is a great boon when making this recipe.
2 T. soy sauce (I use tamari)
2 T. water
2 t. light brown sugar
2 T. oil (peanut or canola)
2-3 fresh chiles, (preferably red Thai chiles), stemmed, seeded, and minced
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 pound extra-firm or firm tofu, crumbled and blotted dry between several layers of paper towels
1 small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced
1/3 c. thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
Combine the soy sauce, water, and brown sugar in a small bowl, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add the chiles and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the tofu and stir-fry until lightly colored and firm, about 2 minutes. Add the bell pepper and soy mixture and stir-fry until the pepper has softened and the liquid has evaporated, about 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in the basil and stir-fry until wilted, about 20 seconds. Serve immediately.
Another one from New Vegetarian by Celia Brooks Brown. This would be a good dinner party dish for a group that included both veggies and non-veggies. I tried this recipe because I liked the picture. Like her potato salad recipe, I looked at the ingredients on this and thought to myself, “Fennel and leeks? With teriyaki?” but I was right to go along with her idea here. It’s all quite harmonious. I’ve made some minor changes to the preparation method & ingredients, though (not enough cornstarch in the original). I marinated the tofu all day, something Brown doesn’t suggest, but I had a chance to start the preparation in the morning. It wouldn’t hurt the recipe terribly not to. She suggests to serve this over egg noodles, but being anti-egg as I am, I served it over whole-wheat noodles. Udon, whole-wheat spaghetti, and rice would all work fine.
1 lb. firm or extra-firm tofu, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 c. dark soy sauce (I used tamari)
1/2 c. mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
1/2 c. sake
1 T. sugar
4 fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms, cleaned
To make the marinade, put the soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar in a large skillet and heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Add the tofu and mushrooms, if using. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes, turning the tofu over halfway through cooking. Leave to marinate here or transfer the tofu steaks to a lightly oiled baking dish or roasting pan. Spoon a little of the marinade on top and roast in a preheated oven at 425 for 10 minutes. Keep warm.
Remove the mushrooms from the remaining sauce, squeeze dry, and slice finely. Reserve the sauce.
2 T. oil
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 c. broccoli rabe or rapini florets, cut in 4 in. long pieces
1 leek, white and light green parts finely sliced
8 oz. baby bok choy, quartered lengthwise
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and finely sliced
4 t. cornstarch mixed with 1/4 c. cold water
2 scallions, finely sliced diagonally
1 T. sesame seeds, toasted in a dry skillet until golden brown
To make the glazed vegetables, heat a wok or large skillet until hot, then add the oil. Add the garlic, broccoli, leek, and sliced mushrooms, and stir fry for 2 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pan, add a little oil if necessary, and place the bok choy and fennel in the pan. Stir fry for 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and place with the broccoli mixture. Add the reserved sauce, heat, and then add the cornstarch mixture. Stir until thickened. Remove a few T. of the sauce and pour it over the tofu to glaze it. Place the vegetables back in the skillet and mix briefly into the remaining sauce. To serve, put a nest of noodles or rice on the plate, then pile on the vegetables and top with the tofu. Sprinkle with the scallions and toasted sesame seeds and serve. Serves 4.