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Apr. 8 2010 - 12:30 pm | 163 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

T&T Challenge: Kitchen Reports From Honor Rollees

Meet Melissa, Ilene and Bev, an interesting cross-section of the T&T Honor Rollees.  Melissa is a married meat eater; Ilene is a single vegetarian after growing up with meat and Bev is a vegan mom and wife in a mixed diet household.  Hats off to them for sharing their stories.

********************ENTER TO WIN!***********************
Today’s giveaway comes from Nasoya, a gift pack (valued at $60) that includes a signature tote bag and apron, the TofuXpress tofu press, recipes and coupons. To enter, answer the following question in the comments section below by 6 p.m. PT: True or False: Tofu and dessert go together. Discuss/elaborate. A winner will be randomly selected from the comments. There will also be a VegNews giveaway during my Culinate chat today (1 ET).
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The Newbie
Melissa Mauk is a late 20-something who enjoys cooking and experimenting with new recipes and foods. She and her husband receive a monthly share of local, sustainable meat and are looking for new meatless recipes to supplement the CSA share. They live and cook in Chicago, Ill.

Melissa Mauk's first foray into tofu. Photo: Melissa Mauk.

Until this weekend I have only tasted tofu in miso soup. I’ve never ordered it in a restaurant (always wary of the texture), nor I have prepared it at home, wary of all the specific instructions.

My intention: To see how tofu would work as a meat substitute at dinner.

Here’s what I did:

I bought a 14oz package of tofu made by a local company for $1.37 including tax.  I drained the tofu with  two plates and several textbooks for about 40 minutes.

Then I soaked it in a soy-ginger marinade (2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup peanut oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced, and pepper) for about an hour.

Panfried, it cooked quickly and looked like a french toast stick in the pan.  The tofu ended up being a little crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. It did not pick up the flavor of the marinade quite like I expected.  I’m unsure if  I  drained it well enough or if maybe the oil in the marinade stopped the tofu from absorbing the flavor.

But on the flip side, the texture was not nearly as frightening or off-putting as I had imagined it to be.  We served it with steamed bok choy and steamed rice. I’m not sure at this point I could easily substitute it for meat as a focus of a meal, but the next time I plan to stir-fry, I will definitely use it in place of meat. Given the low cost, I can easily afford to keep experimenting with tofu to see what will work well.

The Novice
Ilene Arnsdorf, part time food writer and vegetarian, is currently working as a teacher in Washington D.C. You can read more about her at You Only Get Three Meals a Day.

Let me preface this treatise by saying that in no way, shape, or form do I come from a vegetarian family.  My mother, grandmother and great aunt — the culinary gurus of my family — all cook from a traditional Ashkenazic Jewish tradition, or in other words, “Would you like your chicken matzoh ball soup with a side of salmon or roast beef?”

But in the fall of 2003, I was a freshman at Cornell University, where I was left to fend for myself in the immense dining halls of the Big Red campus. I can’t speak for other campuses, but the salad bar at Cornell was green and fresh, and was always stocked with a variety of different ingredients.  It was here that I first came across tofu, cut into perfectly square dice.  Perhaps my palate is more tolerant than most, but I found it to be a delicious, light (while still filling), addition to my salads.

For the duration of my college years, I only remember continuing to use tofu in the more obvious ways — as a last-minute addition to a stir fry or occasionally tucked into an omelet. Not until a few years later, after graduating from Cornell, that my cooking repertoire really took off.

I moved to Phoenix, Ariz., for a Teach for America program.  I’m not exactly sure what prompted my transformation, but all of a sudden I was cooking more and more, and the more I cooked, the more I liked it.  The more food journals and cookbooks I read, the more I found that I wanted to make, and the more I made, the easier it became.

Slowly, without even realizing it, I began phasing meat out of my diet.  I found it so much easier and more satisfying to whip up a batch of roasted vegetables, tossed with virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic, or a quick quinoa salad than to spend time knuckle deep in a piece of fish or chicken.

One of the things that I love about tofu is: it’s bland!  That might sound strange, but that just means you can add it to everything, and it will taste good.

Some of my favorite ways to use tofu:

Added to a big pot of soup, either pan fried before or just tossed in while the soup cooks.  Heidi Swanson has a good Vegetarian Tortilla Soup recipe to which I added tofu.  I have also added it to Moosewood’s Spicy Mexican Stew (Butternut Squash and Peppers!) as well as Nava Atlas’ Curried Coconut Stew!

As extra protein in a stir fry, whether it be egg fried rice or pineapple cashew stir fry (also a good one from 101cookbooks or from Veganomicon!)

Kim’s Jamaican Jerk Tofu is a tried and true favorite! I press the tofu, and then do a rub with cumin, cinnamon, coriander, and cayenne.  Then I pan fry it, and serve it in a salad with lettuce, cucumber, tomato, black beans and avocadoes.

I have brought many of these lunches to work on any number of occasions, and I have definitely had more than one co-worker approach me and ogle jealously at my lunch, asking, “WOW, what is that?!?”

Cooking with tofu provides so many delicious and healthy options, and I feel good for taking the steps to prepare delicious food for myself that will feed my body and keep it healthy and strong!

The Vegan Mom, Stacked Against the Odds
Bev Hahler is a vegan Brit who followed her heart to be with her American meat-loving husband. They live in Grand Rapids, Mich., with their six-year-old vegetarian daughter, who’s recently become meat-curious. She has just started writing a blog called Red Hot Vegan Momma.

Bev Hahler's daughter reviewing Mom's tofu burgers. Photo: Bev Hahler.

“You’re kidding me, really?”

This was the reaction from meat-eating hubby, when I told him I’d been challenged by Kim to make something out of tofu or tempeh this weekend that the whole family needed to try.  To his credit, he try tofu once before when I ordered a Buddha Delight at a local restaurant, but he hated the texture and promptly made one of those faces that kids make when they don’t like something.

“Tofu tastes disgusting, I don’t want any.”

This was the reaction from my 6-year-old vegetarian-since-birth-who-now-wants-to-eat-meat.

So you see my dilemma? I would eat tofu and lentils all day every day if I could, but I have to please the masses. So dinner is usually a vegan version of a meaty dinner using TVP or faux meat instead of meat.

When I was thinking about what to make, I knew it had to be something that looked like a meat alternative. (Or a dessert, but that felt like the easy way out.)

For this challenge, I wanted them to be conscious of eating tofu. Since hubby would eat burgers three times a day if I let him, I settled on this tofu burger recipe from the Savvy Vegetarian.

I had most of the ingredients in the house already and homemade bread rolls ready to sandwich the yummy patties. My daughter was interested in helping me whiz up the burgers in the food processor (always a good sign), but said they smelled weird when I cooked them.

I served them with salad and offered her half. She looked pretty unsure when she took a bite, but eat it she did. “I like it!” she said, wolfing down the other half.

Hallelujah!!! One down, one to go

Hubby had just gotten up when he had his (he works 2nd shift, but he was still game to try it).

“It’s alright, actually.”

I almost fell down at this point! I think he would prefer it covered on blue cheese and onion strings a la Red Robin, but he didn’t make that just-chewed-a-wasp face so I’m a happy bunny!

In fact, I’m very happy they both tried it. My daughter has since said that she prefers Boca Burgers (which we normally have), but she would have the tofu burgers again. Hubby said that meat will always be first in his book, but he would eat one rather than starve. Hmm… he was smiling, so I guess that’s a compliment!


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  1. collapse expand

    I am a vegan with a non-vegan but tofu-loving husband. Tofu or tempeh is on the menu in our house almost every day.

    To Melissa, a few tips from many years of experimenting… You drained the tofu for more than enough time, but I would recommend just soaking it all day (I usually put mine in the marinade in the morning before work). I don’t think you need nearly that much oil in the marinade (I usually add less than a tablespoon, if any).

    Then, rather than pan-frying, try baking (on a baking sheet with foil, 375 or so for about 30-40 mins, flip once or twice). It will be chewy and meaty and delicious. Add to stir fry after it’s baked, or make sandwiches or salads. The grill works well too, just make sure you have extra firm.

  2. collapse expand

    T&T flavored chat with experts Ellen Kanner (Romancing the Tofu), Fran Costigan (tofu-licious desserts) and Isa Chandra Moskowitz (tempeh, Fri) was top-shelf. Check out the transcript: http://ow.ly/1vJCo

  3. collapse expand

    True! I’ve never tried it but I can imagine that tofu would be perfect for desserts, especially anything that would require gelatin in non-vegan cooking. Hmm, my thinking cap is on now lol!

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