Tiptoe through the tofu

I’m trying to learn to love tofu. People tell me all the time that it doesn’t have any taste, that it absorbs the flavor of whatever you put on it. But I think it does have a taste, and it’s sort of weedy-beany. I also am turned off by the spongy texture and the way it sort of shreds.

I’m attempting to embrace the curd as part of a plan to work more vegetarian meals into the home eats. No, I have no plans to give up burgers, soft-shell crabs or deep-fried turkey. This is a guilt-lessening strategy. Complicating matters is The Hub. His dairy allergy means that I can’t add cheese as a protein option, and he dislikes most beans. That leaves eggs and tofu.

The cause was helped considerably when I discovered packages of super-firm tofu already cut up into cubes – just drain and toss in. For stir-frys, I have marinated the cubes in a combination of soy sauce, lemon juice and garlic. This time, I added them right out of the package to a vegetable curry. Making curry easy and quick depends on finding good spice blends which add flavor without a lot of work. I used a blend called Vietnamese Sweet Lemon Curry that I got at Savory Spice Shop. It contains sugar, lemongrass, coriander and other spices.

Veg Curry with Tofu

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon dried aleppo pepper (optional, makes it hotter)

6 cups assorted chopped vegetables (I used peeled sweet potatoes, sliced bell pepper and zucchini)

1 (15-ounce) can chopped tomatoes with juice

1 package extra-firm tofu cubes

1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk

3 heaping teaspoons Vietnamese Sweet Lemon Curry

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the onion until it’s golden. Add the garlic, ginger and aleppo pepper, cook briefly. Add the vegetables, tomatoes, tofu, coconut milk and 1 can of water or a bit more to make a not-too-thick consistency. Stir in the curry, turmeric and salt. Partially cover and simmer 20-30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Serve over rice.

Meatless loaf

When my husband and I visited Kansas City, MO last month, we started our trip with a large, highly appreciated hunk of meat at Blanc Burgers. The following day, we went next door. Within inhaling distance of the beef was Eden Alley Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant recommended by the same friend who clued us in to Blanc Burger. We felt in an atoning mood. The menu was creative – not loaded with sprouts and lentils. And my dairy-allergic husband was glad to see most items could be made vegan. We ordered a pizza-like item that featured cashew cheese. Cashew cheese was not a hit with either of us – it was more like a thin, orangy-colored sauce with a grainy texture (from the ground nuts, I suppose). But we enjoyed the entrees: a sweet potato burrito with fruit salsa, and spinach-mushroom loaf with tomato sauce. We liked the spinach-mushroom loaf so much – it tasted almost like real meat loaf – that I purchased the restaurant’s (rather pricey) cookbook.

I made the spinach-mushroom loaf last night, and it was as good as we remembered. I have a beef (ha, ha) with the recipe, though. It’s confusingly written and omits some information, such as what kind of tofu to use. I assumed extra-firm. The recipe also didn’t say how to prepare the spinach and mushrooms. I think both should be chopped to work with the other ingredients. Here’s my reworked version. And this makes two ways in which I will eat tofu. Could this be a sign of the apocalypse?

1/2 pound spinach, de-stemmed and chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons oregano

1 1/ 2 teaspoons thyme

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 pound chopped mushrooms

2 cups cooked brown rice

2 cups fine bread crumbs (in the canister from the store)

1/2 pound extra-firm tofu, shredded

Tomato Coulee (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the spinach in a large bowl and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onions, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper, chili powder and mushrooms until the onions are translucent. Pour the hot mixture over the spinach and stir. Add rice, bread crumbs and tofu. Mix with your hands and form it into a loaf on a sheet pan sprayed with cooking spray. Bake 50 minutes. Let cool for at least 20 minutes to let it set. Top with Tomato Coulee.

Tomato Coulee

1 medium onion, chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar (original recipe said 1 tablespoon, but I reduced it)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook onions, garlic, sugar, salt and black pepper until the onions are translucent, then add the tomatoes. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the basil. Use immediately or cool and refrigerate.