Having worked in restaurants of all levels and types for a number of years, I can tell you with absolute certainty exactly what most 20 to 50-something year old ladies gravitate towards on a menu at lunch time without fail. Ready? It’s a leafy green salad with a big old piece of (usually animal-sourced) protein on top cooked in a minimal amount of fat, served with an oil and vinegar-based dressing, other vegetables etc. And if that option isn’t on the menu, there are inquiries that hint around the possibility of one being made anyway. If answered in the (very accommodating) affirmative, the next question/demand is usually along the lines of “Oh but I need the dressing ON THE SIDE **woman’s hand expressively pushes imaginary carafe of dressing to the side for clarification**.” Right, got it.
Fancy lady salads.
As much as I despise dealing with peeps ordering this kind of thing, I actually adore those make-it-a-meal-kind of affairs in a bowl (totally conflicted over a salad–I know, I know). Lots of green leafies, beans, nuts, seeds, a handful of cooked grains, vegetables, good pinches of salt and pepper, maybe some pecorino or crumbly goat cheese for a salty tang. And in this version, some lightly charred and garlicky balsamic tofu on top. Oh yes.
I always kind of forget about tofu and come back to it, wondering where it had been for the last little while. It’s not something I buy/cook frequently. I’m pretty particular on the preparation methods I apply to this protein and even more persnickety on what brand/types I’ll buy. So here are some things I’ve learned through trial and error and a fair bit of reading.
Buy organic and local. I mean it on this one.
Choosing organic soy foods does point to one obvious thing: you’re avoiding pesticide consumption and radiated foods. This practice also points to one much larger thing: you’re saying no to a largely genetically modified crop with your dollars, snubbing the efforts of agro-giants like Monsanto. What efforts? Well there’s a lot pertaining to deforestation in the amazon, putting decades-old family farms out of business, instilling fear into the economically sensible act of seed-saving, dousing those roundup-ready crops in pesticide, depleting soil quality… I could go on and on. I hate being preachy, but a simple course of action means a lot here. Worthy of note: the price difference is marginal when switching from conventional to organic tofu.
Is tofu even healthy?
There’s been some hoopla surrounding soy-based products and soy in general over the last few years. I’ve read a lot of alarmist literature on this particular food, but the reality is that it has been consumed for hundreds of years in many parts of the world. Studies are frequently conflicting (soy foods cause hot flashes, no wait soy foods prevent hot flashes etc) and there is always a new, very strong opinion. I’m no authority on whether consuming soy is right for you or anyone for that matter, but Dr. Weil (way more of an authority than me) provides a good summary here as well as some other links within his website. At its core, tofu is made from a coagulated fresh soy milk. The curds produced from this process are pressed into blocks of varying firmness. If you have access to good, locally made tofu without any junk in it, I don’t see any problem with consuming it on a weekly basis. Ingredients should include (organic) soybean curd, whatever acid/salt/enzyme the manufacturer chooses as the coagulating agent, and water. That’s it.
If you are applying high heat (sauteing, grilling, roasting etc) to this wondrous substance, pressing it beforehand is going to help you enjoy it so much more. In effect, you’re removing the flavourless packing water, which makes way for a more enjoyable, chewy texture and a higher likelihood of golden brown-happiness once cooked. Also! Removing the no-flavour packing water leaves room for (duh) really delicious stuff in the form of a marinade or just a quick spice/flavour rubdown. Subtract water. Add tasty stuff. That’s easy math.
Or freeze it.
Very cool things happen to tofu when you freeze it in some sort of liquid (either the packing water or a marinade). The first time I tried it like this was when we were making a “thousand layer” tofu green curry during a vegan cuisine-focused lab in culinary school. The curry itself was amazing, but the tofu! It blew me away. Once you thaw and cook it up, it develops this layered interior. The texture is insanely agreeable, leaning towards chewy and meaty, but still soft/almost unctuous on the inside. For such minimal effort, it’s a really cool little tactic to try.
Are you afraid of making tofu at home? Or do you cook it often? Are your cooking methods super specific or tried and true? I would love to hear about your reasons for aversion or outright love of this stuff.
Hope you’re all enjoying these beautiful and long end-of-summer days. Big love, sunshine and bean curd to yas :)
high protein salad with garlicky balsamic tofu
notes: According to my non-scientific nutrition calculations, this salad has approximately 28 grams of protein per delicious serving. Let’s. Get. Pumped.
1 454g block of firm to extra firm tofu, pressed (great instructions for pressing here)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 big clove of garlic, minced
handful of chopped herb of your choice (I went with basil)
salt and pepper
salad greens for 4 people (about 2-3 cups per person)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 cup cooked quinoa
2-3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
big handful of pine nuts (toasted if you like)
Cut the pressed tofu into 4 slabs: cut it in half down the middle on the smaller, rectangular side. Then proceed to cut those 2 slabs in half in the same manner. You should end up with 4 big squares of tofu that are about 1/2 inch thick.
Place the slabs of tofu into a large dish. Pour the balsamic vinegar and oil on top. Season with salt and pepper. Scatter the chopped garlic and herb all over the top. Marinate for 30 minutes or so, gently flipping the pieces of tofu around here and there.
Preheat the grill to medium-high. Place the tofu pieces onto the grill. Wait for about 4 minutes or until good char marks appear. Flip the pieces over. Cook until char marks appear on the reverse (about another 4 minutes) and tofu is browned to your liking. Remove from the grill and set aside. Don’t have a grill? You can always roast it.
Toss the salad greens with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Divide greens evenly among 4 plates. Distribute the chickpeas, quinoa, pine nuts and tomatoes amongst the 4 plates as well.
Cut tofu slabs into triangles if you like and arrange on top of salads. Serve.