Every once in a while, I hear someone making an adorable comment as they enjoy or remember a tasty vegan dish or meal. “It’s so good, you wouldn’t even think it’s vegan” or “I don’t know how they make it taste so good.”
Um. Really? It’s not hard. The ‘secret’ to tasty vegan food is identical to the ‘secret’ to tasty food of any sort. Season it and it will taste good. And pick textures you enjoy to ensure that you and others chowing down will, in fact, enjoy it.
Tofu still somehow has the ability to reduce otherwise intelligent human beings to blank-eyed nitwits incapable of stringing together a series of seasonings and basic cooking preparations. Example: the chef at a hotel on that last family vacation who proudly brought out my ‘special vegan meal’.
Upon unveiling the treat waiting under the fancy metal cloche, I found an utterly gourmet chunk of tofu boiled in its plastic container, served to me whole (plastic still intact). The look of unearned pride on the chef’s face (yes, he delivered this delicacy to the table personally, and stood by to watch my reaction gleefully) at having managed to cook tofu was almost worth having to down a few courtesy slivers of steaming hot unseasoned boiled bean curd before retreating to the buffet line for a nourishing meal of salad and french fries.
Don’t enjoy unseasoned curd boiled in its own plastic baggie? I suggest these tips for enjoying tofu:
1. Use grated onion and garlic in the preparation. Grating allows these pungent, flavourful ingredients to permeate the tofu nicely. Especially helpful if, like me, you are a last minute cook as opposed to one who preps and assembles marinades hours or a day in advance. Bonus: grating also helps create a sort of ‘batter’ for flours to adhere to, when you want a crispy coating.
2. Use salt. Moderately, but don’t be stingy. I like a good quality Himalayan salt, and use it wisely, but without guilt, since I rarely use packaged, canned, or highly processed foods that tend to be needlessly high in poor quality sodium.
3. Use herbs. I use thyme myself, but you might favour rosemary, basil, sage, oregano…or some glorious blend of them all. I vote for fresh over dried.
4. Include umami ingredients. Personally, I favour toasted sesame oil, or a little nutritional yeast, for that savoury, yum-yum factor.
5. Find a texture you like. Unless I’m pureeing tofu for a lasagna filling or crumbling for a scramble, I almost exclusively use pressed tofu now, as I personally like its rich, dense texture more than the more crumbly, squishier medium firm, and even firm, textures. Also nice: a slightly softer tofu (the same medium firm and firm varieties I’ve so deliciously described as ‘squishier’) that has been frozen, then thawed. Freezing transforms tofu’s smoother texture into an interestingly layered, chewier one. Hard to describe, easy to eat.
Oven-Fried Tofu makes use of these tips, and a technique I remember well from my pre-vegan days (thanks, Mummy!). Bonus: it’s gluten-free.
1/4 cup water
1/4 medium onion, grated
2 large cloves garlic, grated
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/4 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup quick-cook oats, blended until fairly fine
2 tsp nutritional yeast
a few pinches salt
1 tsp fresh thyme
200 grams pressed tofu (organic and non-GMO)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1. Put oven to preheat to 375 F.
2. Cut pressed tofu into about 1/2 centimetre slices. Gently break slices into rough squares and place in a deep dish.
3. Combine marinade ingredients and pour over tofu. Set aside to marinade 10-15 minutes.
4. Combine coating ingredients.
5. When tofu is done marinading and oven is hot, pour 1 Tbsp olive oil into a very large cast iron pan. A baking dish would work too; I favour cast iron as it heats up very quickly, and is so heavy that it bakes or roast savouries efficiently.
6. Remove tofu from marinade and gently pat into coating. Try to get as much of the thick part of the marinade–the grated onion and garlic, and the thyme–onto the tofu first. It will help the coating to stick. Place coated tofu into the pan and drizzle with remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil.
7. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven, carefully turn each piece (I like using a regular old soup spoon and a dinner fork). Return to oven and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until both sides are golden brown.
8. Serve and enjoy!