Buddha's delight

When you don't want to cause suffering just to get your protein fix, Tofu might be the answer.

tofu 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
tofu 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I find it isn't easy to eat these days. The dairy products are full of hormones; the chicken you buy is full of junk feed and junk medicine; the stories from the beef slaughterhouses are horrendous, and the cattle are suffering. I used to live in a rural moshav in Upper Galilee, and saw all of this going on every day. Food production has gone from little-house-on-the-prairie to the horrors of the Inquisition in a blink of a historical eye. This basically means that getting your protein fix without causing acute suffering and eating who-knows-what additive is almost impossible. Organic meat or fish isn't widely available and is usually pricey. One good everyday alternative is tofu. Compared to most meat and dairy products it's inexpensive, and kosher organic tofu is readily available all over Israel. The problem is that tofu just isn't fun, is it? Well, a raw egg or a boiled potato isn't fun either. The key is to always use the right cooking technique to maximize the good in whatever you have in front of you. And, in tofu, it's all about flavorings - namely marinades and spice rubs. Tofu acquires all kinds of flavors well, and proceeds to showcase them wonderfully in the final dish. It's a foodstuff, rather appropriately to its Buddhist roots, without ego. It doesn't disrupt the flavors you're trying to create by shouting out 'hey, I'm in here too!' It's an extremely healthy (providing you don't overdo it), environmentally sound protein that can take on infinite shades and tastes. A truly bold and creative approach needs to be taken with tofu to make it an inspirational foodstuff in the kitchen. This is not the place to use understatement in the kitchen; tofu is all about strong flavors. When cooking with tofu, think of your favorite bold flavored marinades and spices. Tofu will do well with any tasty marinade. It can be as simple as BBQ sauce or as complex as a saffron emulsion - the key is to let the strong flavors really soak into the tofu. The tastiest ways to cook tofu are pan frying and oven roasting - they give it a flavorful chewy crust and a very attractive consistency. PAN SEARED THAI CURRY TOFU WITH BASMATI RICE Serves 6, needs at least 5 hours to marinade 800 gr. firm tofu FOR THE MARINADE/SAUCE: 4 1/2 tsp. peanut or sesame oil 2 medium cloves garlic, minced 1-2 fresh hot chilies (optional - if you like spicy food) 3 tsp. finely grated ginger 1 Tbsp. good quality curry powder 1 Tbsp. Thai red curry paste (kosher pastes are imported, available in most supermarkets and oriental stores) 1 Tbsp. sweet paprika (as opposed to the spicy variety) 1 1/2 tsp. coriander seeds, toasted and crushed 1 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and crushed 2 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk 5 Tbsp. canned tomato puree 4 tsp. soy sauce 3 Tbsp. dark brown sugar FOR THE RICE: 2 cups white basmati rice 50 gr. butter (can be replaced with 3 Tbsp. sesame or peanut oil) Salt and freshly ground pepper TO SERVE: 2 Tbsp. sesame or peanut oil 1/2 cup washed and thinly sliced coriander leaves Method: 1. Make the sauce: Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the ginger, garlic and fresh chili. Cook until light brown but not burnt, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, and add the curry powder, curry paste, paprika, coriander and cumin. Saute for about 2 minutes more until fragrant. 2. Add the coconut milk, tomato puree, soy sauce and brown sugar. Bring to a very light simmer without boiling the sauce (which might cause the coconut milk fat to separate and 'break' the sauce), and turn off the heat. Let cool. 3. Cut the tofu into 2-cm. cubes and marinade in the sauce for at least 5 hours, preferably 24 hours. 4. About 25 minutes before the meal, make the rice: Place the butter in a medium pot with a tightly fitting lid over high heat and add the rice. Stir well to coat the rice with butter and to toast it lightly, about 2 minutes. Add 4 cups water and season to taste (taste the water to get a sense of the saltiness). Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to minimum and cover. Cook for 18 minutes, turn off and let rest for 5-10 minutes.� 5. In the meanwhile, heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. Using a slotted spoon, take the tofu out of the sauce and place in a strainer. Toss to shake any liquids off. When the skillet is really hot, add 2 tablespoons sesame oil and the tofu. Sear on all sides until dark brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes. 6. While frying the tofu, bring the sauce up to a simmer in a small pot. Serve the tofu over the rice, and drizzle with sauce. Garnish with lots of fresh coriander.� CHARCOAL GRILLED TOFU IN A BLACK PEPPER AND VANILLA MARINADE This marinade was inspired by a vinaigrette world-renowned chef Charlie Trotter makes. The elegant combination of vanilla and black pepper is enhanced by the subtle smoky flavors from the grilling process. The result is a fascinating, haunting taste that makes you take just one more bite to get to the bottom of it. Serves 4-6, requires 2-3 days marinade 800 gr. firm tofu 4 Tbsp. freshly orange lemon juice 3 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar 1 vanilla bean 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 1/2 peanut oil 1/�4 cup olive oil 1. In a food processor: Cut the vanilla bean into several segments and blitz with a few tablespoons of the oil. Add the rest of the ingredients and blitz for a minute. By hand: with a chef's knife, chop the vanilla bean finely. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add all the rest of the ingredients except the oils. Whisk while slowly pouring the oil in to emulsify the marinade. 2. Cut the tofu into 3-cm. cubes and marinade for 2-3 days under refrigeration. 3. Light up a charcoal grill, and skewer the tofu cubes. Grill, brushing with the marinade every minute or so. DEEP AMERICAN SOUTH BBQ SAUCE ROASTED TOFU Requires 2-3 days to marinade 800 gr. firm tofu For the marinade: 2 cups quality ketchup 1 cup brown sugar 2 teaspoons dry mustard 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 2 shots (120 ml.) whiskey, dark rum, or cognac (doesn't have to be high quality) 4 tablespoons sherry vinegar 4 tablespoons soy sauce 1/2-2 (depending on how hot you want it to be) teaspoons ground dry chili pepper (a smoked chili variety would be best) 1. Combine all the marinade ingredients in medium sauce pan and place on medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce will thicken and turn darker in color. Cool. 2. Slice the tofu into 1-cm. thick slices and marinade for 2-3 days. 3. Preheat the oven to 190�C. Place the tofu squares on a roasting pan, and roast for about 25 minutes. Brush with the marinade every 5 minutes. Serve with creamy mashed potatoes.