vegetarian

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Pigs In a Blanket - Veggie Style

Pigs In a Blanket - Veggie Style

I really should be ashamed of doing this, but tonight we’re kicking it old school with

Pigs in a Blanket … Veggie Style

And when I say old school, I’m talking like kindergarten.  You want healthy vegetarian cuisine?  Not on this Meatless Monday, my friend.  Not on this Meatless Monday.

See, a while back I threw a big Christmas bash for some friends.  I put together a nice little spread with some spring rolls, some chicken skewers, some nice vegan bread pudding, and some pigs in a blanket.  Knowing that there would be some vegetarians in the crowd, I bought both regular hot dogs and some Smart Dogs, which are my favorite brand of non-meat hot dog.  I wrapped both the vegetarian and regular dogs in croissants and baked them in the oven according to the croissants’ package directions.

Easy enough.

The thing is…every one seemed to like the food.  However, the one thing I couldn’t make fast enough was those pigs in a blanket.  Funny thing was, NO ONE fessed up to actually eating them, but somehow they kept disappearing.

So, go ahead, make these little guys for yourself.  I won’t tell.  I promise.

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Back on track being relative… *sigh*

Anyway, this is part four of my groundbreaking series on desuckifying tofu.  As a fan of tofu, I firmly admit that it takes some finessing (or some deep frying) to bring out what makes it truly good.  Which is why in Part 0 of How to Make Tofu That Doesn’t Suck, we looked at all the things you can do to prep your tofu before cooking.  Part 1 covered baking it, Part 2 deep frying it.  Part 3 examined how to stir fry tofu.  Now, we’ll look at it sauces that go well with tofu and then finish up with my recipe for ma po tofu made with nice, firm tofu.

Tofu is an interesting ingredient.  When I first started cooking it, I thought that because it was made from soy beans, it would taste good with soy sauce.  FAIL.  Tofu needs much more flavor than just soy sauce.  This lead me to thinking about other sauces for it.

My favorite dipping sauce for tofu (or really anything is):

  • 1 part sriracha or hot chili oil
  • 2 parts soy sauce
  • 1 part Oriental yellow mustard

It’s salty, it spicy, and it’s just a bit o’ sweet.  Deep fry the tofu and dip.

For baked tofu, I strongly recommend mixing:

After you have baked the tofu for an hour, mix the tofu in the sauce and baked until the sauce is warm.

For stir frying:

  • 1 tablespoon of tahini
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar
  • 4 broth, chicken or vegetable

Mix in a bowl and add after the tofu and vegetables are cooked.  Bring to a boil and add a mixture of one tablespoon of corn starch/one tablespoon of water to thicken.

Other ideas:

  • 1 part ketchup and 1 part of soy sauce
  • Sichuan bean paste, broth, soy sauce, red chili flake
  • Minced garlic, olive oil, tomato paste

Those are my ideas.  What are yours?

Phew!  It’s been a bit of a ride, but I am finally back on track.

In Part 0 of How to Make Tofu That Doesn’t Suck, we looked at all the things you can do to prep your tofu before cooking.  Part 1 covered baking it, Part 2 deep frying it.  Today we’re going to be looking at how to stir fry tofu.  Next, we’ll look at it sauces that go well with tofu and then finish up with my recipe for ma po tofu made with nice, firm tofu.

Also, very shortly, I’ll have all of this information packed up into one, nice, easy-to-digest PDF for you to download.  But more on that as we go.

For now…stir frying your tofu.

As a cooking technique, stir frying offers you a number of distinct advantages, most notably that if you are short on time, you can stir fry your tofu without pressing it.  The results will always be better if you can press your tofu first, but in a pinch, this is the way to go.

Cutting Your Tofu For Stir Frying

The trick to perfect stir fried tofu is all in how you cut it.  Stir frying is the ultimate application of a lot of heat, a little fat, and a whole lot of stuff moving around.  This means you are going to have to cut you tofu into small blocks.

If you have no time for prep, when I mean small, I am talking about one-eighth inch thick slices.  Take the entire block of tofu, cut it in half lengthwise, and then make cuts every eighth of an inch.

If you have time for prepping the tofu, I would still not cut it any thicker than one-quarter of an inch.

The Stir Fry

A lot of stir fry recipes have you cook the meat first, then remove it, then cook some veggies, and remove them and so on.  When you are stir frying tofu, what I recommend doing is getting the oil nice and hot and then throwing the tofu into the wok.  Let it stir fry by itself for 3-4 minutes or until it is starting to go from golden brown to just brown brown.

Then remove it if you must.  Better yet, start adding in the other ingredients and let the tofu continue to cook.  The longer that tofu cooks without burning, the better it is going to taste in the end.

Stir Frying as Secondary Cooking

If you have the inclination, what a lot of restaurants like to do is deep fry their tofu first.  What I would recommend doing is cutting the tofu into one inch by two inch by one-half inch pieces, coating them in cornstarch and deep frying then until golden brown.  Once they have drained, they can be added towards the end of the stir fry process (give them at least 2 minutes to cook) and make sure they get coated in whatever sauce you make as they should soak up of that liquid and taste that much better.

Okay, what are you waiting for?  Next time we are talking tofu sauces.

If you haven’t read it yet, Part 0 of the series on how to make tofu that doesn’t suck covers some important lessons in preventing sucky tofu.  Espeically the part on pressing.

If you have read Part 0, fantastic!  Let’s move on to the next step: baking it.  In Part 2, we will cover frying it, which is the easy way out.  Part 3 will dicuss stir frying your tofu, Part 4 will look at a few sauces for your tofu and Part 5 will be my favorite recipe for ma po tofu using extra firm tofu instead of silken.  But for now…baking your tofu for fun and pleasure.

This idea came to me while eating at Whole Foods with my wife.  She had filled up a to go container from the salad bar and added some “tofu croutons” to her salad.  These croutons were about an inch and a half long, half an inch wide, and half an inch tall and had obviously been baked for quite a while.

At this point in my veg*n cooking, I was pretty ho hum about tofu.  I knew I needed to eat more of it, but every time I had tried to make it, it sucked.  Thus, it was hunger alone that persuaded me to try one of the croutons.  Honestly, I was expecting mush.  Instead, I got somthing that was firm on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside, and had a mouth feel that in no way resembled soft tofu.  Score!

So, in order to make tofu that doesn’t suck

  1. Either before after the tofu has been pressed cut the tofu into 1 1/2 in by 1/2 in by 1/2 strips.   While the amount of water pressed out of the tofu is probably different if you cut first, I honestly can’t tell the difference.
  2. Cook the tofu low and slow.  In my oven, this means baking it at 250 degrees for an hour.  This produces a firm, crisp exterior and a succulently juicy interior.

I know it takes a long time and if you are in a rush, tune in tomorrow for how to deep fry the tofu which is much faster, it is just not as healthy.

So I’m vegan.  I don’t really talk about it too much on Blog Well Done because I am afraid I might scare off some of my hypothetical readers.

I wasn’t always vegan.  In fact, when I was still doing blogspot.wordpress.com, I was a carnivore, though given that my wife was vegetarian, I was at least veg-friendly.

In this post, I could recount my path towards going vegan or I can drone on endlessly about my vegan manifesto, but suffice it to say, I am not one of those vegans.  If you eat meat, more power to you.  I choose not to and I have good reasons for it which I will gladly share.  If you ask.

That being said, I find something awe-inspiringly frustrating about being vegan and life I guess.  When I ate meat, vegetarians called me a murderer (seriously.)  When I became a lazy vegetarian (for me this meant the kind that eats fish), true vegetarians and vegans told me it wasn’t enough.  When I became a true vegetarian, vegans told me I was stupid to eat dairy.  When I became vegan, the raw foodists told me I was stupid because I cooked things that were killing me from the inside. 

(Of course, many of them eat sushi so I could have chosen to turn my nose up at them.  I instead asked them how they justified use of a dehydrator.  I highly suggest asking this if you ever want to see a gaggle of raw foodists go on the defensive.  I swear it was an honest question.)

Oh, and now, of course, as a vegan, meat eaters make me a target for their scorn as well.  I have relatives apologizing that I have to eat disgusting things like portobello mushrooms and veggie burgers.  I have friends who worry about going out to restaurants with me.

I do not believe I realized how political this decision was when I made it.  I fully expected some backlash, especially from others who had had military veg*ns call them murderers.  What I did not expect was the food-circle-of-finger-pointing.  I naively believed that non-meat eaters were basically a unified front.  Silly me.  In fact, at one point, it was a bunch of veg*n animal rights activists that nearly drove me to eat meat again, just because I wanted to disassociate myself from their behaviors.

I guess what I am doing here, besides ranting, is reaffirming my personal creedo.  What you eat is nobody’s business but your own since you doubtlessly are going to upset someone.  (This doesn’t apply to cannabals.  I would kindly ask them to consider changing their diet.)  If you eat veal wrapped foie gras, great!  If you eat nothing but what falls from the trees, great!  If you are a vegan, great!

Ultimately, I have made my dietary choice and I believe it was the right one.  If you disagree, I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong.  I’m going to feed you vegan food.  And you’re going to love it.  Then we’ll talk about the benefits of a vegan diet.

Muwahahahahaha.

So I was talking with my wife the other day about being vegetarian and whether we should attempt being vegan.  I surprised myself.

I have been really pondering why I don’t eat meat.  At first, it was a health thing.  Not so much that a meat free diet is healthier (it is, by the way) but because part of my ability to lose weight depends on being able to control food. Vegetarianism = controlling food.  Hence I became vegetarian.

But the more I think about it, the more I find that I don’t really need to kill things to eat well.  I’m not sure if its the murdering that I am really finding distateful or the fact that commercial meat is full of fun things like mad cow and salmonella, not to mention cholesterol, triglycerides, and other things which cause a host of diseases.  But there is something about killing to eat that I find unnecessary.

Citizens of developed nations do not need meat to survive.  As a species, all humans once needed meat to have enough food to live.  Even after agriculture came along, we still needed meat.  The problem is industrialized countries (and non-industrial countries if the Developed Nations spent less time blowing up their neighbors and siding with dictators and more time building infrastructure and rooting out corruption) have enough technology and understanding of food science that if they so chose, they could live without meat. 

And frankly all we are doing by eating meat is killing ourselves.  People die of contaminated food (and yes, people died from bacteria in spinach, but that was traced to a pig farm next door…) and people die of the diseases that meat cause.  At the same time, the American Cancer Association is pushing people to eat vegetarian diets because they are healthy and they extend life.

Ultimately, I feel that not eating meat is the logical next step in cultural evolution.  I think it makes us more human and humane to stop killing the “lesser” creatures that live on it.  Yes, God made us dominion over all the land and all the animals on it.  However, the way we use that dominion is akin to me giving you dominion of my bank account and you losing it on slot machines or thousand dollar trinkets.  Yes, you had dominion over it, but wasted it.

So, to my mind: we don’t NEED meat.  We probably SHOULDN’T eat it and there are BETTER alternatives.  To me, it just makes sense that we find a new direction.

I expect a deluge of feedback for anyone who reads this.  I don’t consider myself a militaristic vegetarian, but I do wonder what would happen if we looked past our epicurean ways and tried to live a little healthier.

Part of my challenge with vegetarianism, especially as I head towards more strict vegetarianism, is getting protein.  For the human body to function, even at rest, the USDA recommends 50g of protein per day.  For those who do not eat meat,  ingesting that much protein can be tough, especially when many vegetarian sources of protein (notably beans) do not contain complete proteins and must be paired with other foods to get all the required amino acids.

The go-to protein food for many vegetarians is tofu.  Which is great, but the problem is that the way I like it (firm or extra firm tofu put into stir fries or fajitas) takes about 2 hours to do right.  When the boy is hungry, that’s way too much time.

Enter Seitan (pronounced, unfortunately, as say-tun or as everyone’s favorite bringer of evil, Satan.)

Seitan has allowed me to keep my vegetarianism once already and may be what lets me stay vegetarian a second time.  The first time occurred maybe two months after I decided to stop eating meat.  I had taken my son to a restaurant for dinner and sat down next to a man enjoying a slab of ribs.  The smell of the sauce from those ribs nearly threw me into an absolute frenzy to the point I wanted to reach across the aisle and take the ribs.  On pain of death if necessary.

After complaining to my wife that I could not do the vegetarian thing anymore, she reminded me of an article in Vegetarian Times where they did vegetarian pulled pork with seitan.  One trip to Whole Foods later, I had a package of seitan which I cooked in some barbecue sauce and voila! vegetarianism saved.  Crisis averted.

Anyway, I am finding myself in a situation where I need more protein.  Suddenly things I would not normally eat, namely kidney beans and cheese sandwiches, taste like gourmet food fit for royalty.  My wife again reminded me that seitan, made from wheat gluten, is very high in protein and that I should consider fixing it and eating it more often.

Last night gave me the chance to try out her suggest.  We invited a vegan friend over dinner.  My wife said she was going to fix stir fry, but when our son needed her attention, I ended up fixing dinner.  This is what we had:

  • 1 Package Seitan, cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons low sodium tamari
  • 2 tablespoons of soy ginger sauce (may substitute with 2 more tablespoons of tamari and 1 teaspoon of ginger)
  • 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of ginger powder
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil 
  • 2 medium or 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 pinches of kosher salt
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4in. coins
  • 1 leek, sliced into 1/4 in coins
  • 1/2 cup of broccoli florets
  • 1 broccoli stem cut into 1/4 in. coins
  • 3 portabellas cut into 1/2 in. wide strips
  • 2 ears of corn, kernels removed
  1. Boil the seitan over medium low heat in the 1/4 cup of tamari, soy ginger sauce, ginger, and garlic powder for 10 minutes or until it is soft all the way through.
  2. Bring the heat to medium high, add the olive oil, and sauté the seitan for three minutes to give it a little structure.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions.  Add 1 pinch of kosher salt.  Cook until the onions are soft.
  4. Add the green pepper, carrots, leeks, broccoli florets, broccoli stem. and another pinch of salt.  Cook until carrots reach desired softness.  This step is pretty much up to each individual cook.  I like my carrots to have a bite to them, so I cook them for maybe 10 minutes.   Some may want them to cook longer.
  5. Add the portabellas and the final pinch of salt.  Cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the corn and cook for about a minute.
  7. Add the last two tablespoons of tamari and cook for another minute.

Serve over rice and enjoy! 

Oh, and on a side note, I can’t wait to tell my family that liking seitan keeps me vegetarian.  Especially when I pronounce it properly.