Vegan Spaghetti Carbonara

Though I have no clue why, a few days ago I was seized with the idea of cooking a vegan carbonara—despite never having eaten carbonara in my life, vegan or otherwise. Perhaps I saw a recipe while perusing Pinterest and it lodged in my unconscious? Or maybe I’m just nostalgic for the Sims 2 and preparing a Goopy Carbonara for my hapless Sims? Who knows. But I had to try it.

I fully intended to follow an existing recipe for this pasta dish. I had no frame of reference for how it should taste, and I only vaguely understood the premise: add uncooked eggs (and maybe cheese?) to hot pasta; wait for eggs to cook through (but not scramble!) and create a rich “sauce” that clings to the pasta. Top with bacon?

But as I opened up tab after tab of vegan carbonara recipes, nothing seemed quite right. One recipe relied solely on silken tofu, which seemed like it would give a decent texture but would risk the end result tasting overpoweringly of soy. Another recipe used an entire half cup of Follow Your Heart’s VeganEgg—a product I appreciate in theory but am frequently disappointed with in practice—to get that clingy, eggy texture, which made sense, but I didn’t have a whole package of the product on hand. And a third recipe employed that ubiquitous vegan favorite, cashews, to add a nice rich mouthfeel, but that method seemed like it would create a more generic cream sauce, not carbonara. All these elements seemed useful in the end goal of creating a true carbonara, but not by themselves. I had to mix them.

Vegan pasta carbonara
And thus, my very own vegan carbonara. A small addition of the VeganEgg provides that clingy texture, cashews offer a creamy and slightly cheesy flavor, and a small amount of silken tofu adds bulk. I included black salt to approximate eggy flavor and threw in a few scoops of nutritional yeast for cheesiness. Topped with crispy bacon, my carbonara was a surprising and delicious success. It’s quite filling, too—I had leftovers for lunch the next day. Now that’s the measure of a true winner.

Vegan Carbonara

Serves 3-4

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1/3 cup cashews, soaked for as long as your blender requires it
  • 2 T VeganEgg + 1/2 cup cold water
  • 7 oz soft silken tofu (half a vacuum-sealed block)
  • 1/4 cup almond milk (or other nondairy milk)
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1 T nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 tsp kala namak (black salt; if you don’t have it, just use regular salt)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 pieces your favorite vegan bacon, chopped into small pieces (1/2″ or so)
  • 12 oz pasta
  • Parsley for serving (optional)

Method

Set your cashews soaking. If you have a high-powered blender, you can soak them briefly (I soaked mine while prepping the rest of the sauce); if not, be sure to start ahead of time as required by your blender.

In a small bowl, add the VeganEgg and the cold water and whisk forcefully until the powder is incorporated. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium. Add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic. Cook for another 3 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Turn off the heat and set aside, but keep the pan on the stove for later.

At this point, start boiling a pot of water for your pasta.

Drain the cashews and add them to your blender, along with the VeganEgg mixture, silken tofu, cooked onions and garlic, almond milk, lemon juice, black salt, nooch, and a few grinds of pepper. Blend on high until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasonings as necessary. Set sauce aside.

Heat a small amount of oil in the pan you used for the onion and garlic and add the chopped bacon.

By now, the pasta water should be boiling. Add pasta and set a timer for al dente pasta, following the package’s instructions. As the pasta cooks, monitor the bacon. It should heat through and become somewhat crispy. When the bacon is done (about 7 minutes), you can either leave it in the pan (so that it mixes in with the pasta and sauce) or scoop it into a small bowl (so you can top the pasta with it). Either way, turn the heat off but leave the pan on the burner.

When the pasta is finished cooking, drain it and immediately add it to the hot pan. Pour the sauce over it and cook for about 4-5 minutes on low heat, using a spatula to coat all the pasta. When the sauce starts clinging to the pasta and darkening a bit in color, it’s ready. Serve topped with bacon and parsley (if using) and a few more grinds of fresh pepper. Enjoy!

Notes

  • I used Sweet Earth Natural Foods‘ Benevolent Bacon, but you can go with any brand you prefer. You could also make your own crumbles from tofu or tempeh, although a fattier product works best here—the fat released in cooking helps everything cling together at the end.
  • If you don’t have the VeganEgg on hand, I think you can forgo it. You’ll just lose some of that clingy, eggy texture. Feel free to experiment with other ingredients in its place!
  • I used linguine for my pasta, but spaghetti and rigatoni are also common choices.
  • A quality vegan parmesan would be a perfect addition here. If you have it, swap it for the nooch and use as much as you need to get a nice cheesy flavor.
  • Timing is important here; you want the spaghetti to be nice and hot when you add the sauce. For that reason, make sure to follow the steps as written.

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Vegan pasta carbonara // govegga.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Frittata for Friends

VeganMoFo 2016 graphic

Week Three: Rainbow Week

Quick post on this Wednesday morning! Our magazine goes to press today, so the team is bringing in snacks to tide us over as we work to finalize photo credits, tweak titles, and double-triple-quadruple-check literally everything.

Vegan frittata

I opted for a hearty breakfast item, since I know we’ll have a table chock-full of chips, chocolate, and lots of snack-y things. Enter this bright-yellow frittata! I followed this recipe; it’s your standard tofu frittata with the addition of roasted potatoes and onions. (Side note: I burnt some of those onions and, who knew, but crispy, slightly burnt onions are kinda delicious!)

What’s your go-to breakfast for a crowd?

Back to Basics: How to Cook with Tofu

back to basics -- how to cook with tofu; how to use tofu

The very first time I cooked tofu was, to put it mildly, an unpleasant experience. I’d been a vegetarian for nearly five years at that point and really should’ve known better, but alas: I made the classic error of purchasing silken tofu instead of regular tofu. (Not sure why that’s such a big no-no? This post is for you — read on!)

There I was, a college senior excited to be mostly off the meal plan and to cook for myself at the townhouse I shared with two of my best friends. My college was in walking distance of a lovely co-op, and I’d purchased the tofu with stars in my eyes, ready for a meat-free meal I’d share with my friends to wow them. As I basted the slices of tofu with barbecue sauce, their squishy jiggliness should’ve been a dead giveaway that something was amiss. “Maybe they’ll firm up in the oven,” I thought.

Of course, there was no magic firming action, and my baked tofu slices came out just as jiggly as their unbaked selves… except they now had a very thin, chewy crust of barbecue sauce on them. Not exactly the gourmet dinner I’d been envisioning.

Needless to say, this was not a meal I shared with my friends.

Seven years later, I’ve come a long, long way in my tofu knowledge. It’s now a staple in my kitchen, and I use it every which way, in all its forms, for savory and sweet recipes alike.

So today, let’s get back to basics and talk all about tofu! Read on for tips on how to cook with tofu, which type to use, and how best to take advantage of everything this beautifully neutral protein has to offer.

Green beans and tofu in a spicy sauce -- how to cook with tofu.

A much better use of tofu.

What is tofu?

Simply put, it’s bean curd. Less simply put, it’s “a food made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks.” (Thanks, Wikipedia.) It’s been used for thousands of years in various East Asian cuisines, and happily made its way to the western world in the late 19th century. That’s good news for us western vegans, because tofu is high in protein (with about 40 grams in a 14 ounce block) and often calcium (because it’s frequently treated with calcium sulfate, a coagulant).

Tofu comes in a few varieties, which can be hard to keep straight at first.

  • Silken tofu. This is very soft and almost gelatinous in texture. It’s quite delicate; silken tofu falls apart easily and easily blends into something like a cream. (And it’s what I mistakenly used in place of regular firm tofu!) Within the category of silken tofus are different levels of firmness. For example, you can find soft silken tofu and firm silken tofu, but remember that any kind of silken tofu will be softer and more delicate than regular firm tofu. Silken tofu is available in both shelf-stable and refrigerated varieties. I personally use them interchangeably.
    • Shelf-stable silken tofu comes in small boxes and doesn’t need to be refrigerated. You can keep it in your pantry for quite a while.
    • Refrigerated silken tofu needs to be, well, refrigerated. The block of tofu is packed in water in a sealed plastic container.
  • Regular (firm) tofu. This is much hardier than silken tofu and almost grittier. It’s always refrigerated, packed in water in a sealed plastic container. The most common varieties are firm and extra-firm, although you might see super-firm. You can also find sprouted tofu, which is made from soybeans that were allowed to sprout first.

Where can I buy tofu?

Good news — most grocery stores sell tofu. Even big-box chains usually have at least one variety. Fresh tofu needs to be refrigerated, so it’s typically shelved by the dairy or veggie section. (If the store sells faux meats, they’ll usually be here too.) Shelf-stable silken tofu is typically housed with the Asian foods. (Mori-Nu is the most common brand.)

At health food stores, co-ops, and other specialty stores, you might want to check the faux-meat/non-dairy section to find refrigerated tofu. Just ask if you can’t find it! Shelf-stable tofu will likely still be alongside Asian ingredients.

At Asian markets and some health food stores, you might get lucky enough to find fresh tofu. You can get it in the refrigerated section, usually stored in a big bucket filled with so-called tofu water. In this case, the store will usually have plastic bags available for you to transport the tofu. (You could also bring your own container.)

Finally, recall that not all silken tofu is shelf-stable — in other words, you might find silken tofu in the refrigerated section, right alongside the firmer tofu. Always double-check the label, or you might end up making a mistake similar to my college-era error! ;)

What kind of tofu should I use?

To avoid mishaps, follow these general tips:

  • If using a recipe, heed the author’s advice! Any quality recipe will tell you what kind of tofu to use. It’ll usually be written like “extra-firm tofu” (meaning the extra-firm variety of the regular kind) or “soft silken tofu” (meaning the soft variety of the silken (usually shelf-stable) kind). So you need to know the kind (regular vs. silken) and the level of firmness (e.g., soft, firm, extra-firm).
  • If a recipe calls for extra-firm regular tofu but you can only find firm, don’t sweat it. You can usually substitute a softer tofu by being a little gentler with it and making sure to press it. (More on that below.)
  • In general, savory recipes use regular tofu (because the tofu is a specific component of the meal, designed to stand on its own) whereas sweet recipes use silken (because it’s going to be blended up to create a creamy texture, like in a pudding or cream pie). This is not a hard and fast rule, of course, so always read the recipe and ask the author if you have questions.
Eggless tofu sandwich -- how to cook with tofu.

Tofu for lunch.

How do I prepare tofu?

  • Press it. If you’re using firm or extra-firm regular tofu, the recipe might call for it to be pressed. Why would you do this? Well, pressing the tofu squeezes out the excess liquid, improving the texture and getting the tofu ready to soak up more delicious marinade or seasonings. Is it necessary? Strictly speaking, no. But it does tend to improve the overall consistency and mouthfeel, especially when it’s a main component of your meal. How do you do it? There are a few methods:
    • The old-fashioned way. Wrap a block of tofu (the regular, refrigerated kind, remember?) or individual slices of the tofu in either a regular towel or paper towels. Put it on a shallow plate and put something heavy on top of the wrapped tofu. People often use books for this. The goal is to squeeze and drain all the water you can. The longer you press your tofu, the better, but if you don’t have 24 hours to spare, any time at all will help.
    • The new-fangled way. Get yourself a fancy-schmancy tofu press! There are a few designs on the market, but I use a Tofu Xpress Gourmet Tofu Press. It served me well for years, although recently the plastic spring housing broke and I’ve yet to replace it. There are some simpler, less expensive options available (like this EZ Tofu Press), but I can’t vouch for them personally.
  • Freeze it. When you freeze tofu, the texture magically changes into something a little more toothsome. Simply take regular tofu out of the package, drain it, press it (or not), and freeze it in a freezer-safe container. When you’re ready to use it, thaw it in the fridge for about 8 hours ahead of time. (You can also try to thaw it in the microwave if you’re short on time, but I don’t recommend this.)
  • Marinate it. People like to describe tofu as a sponge because it’s always ready to soak up delicious flavors. I personally find that description a little off-putting, but it’s also spot-on. You can use any marinade or flavor combo you’d like (see below for suggestions). Here are some tips for infusing your tofu with as much flavor as possible.
    • Slice or cube the tofu to increase surface area. Marinating a whole block won’t be as efficacious as marinating individual pieces.
    • Use a fork to poke tiny, not too deep holes so the marinade has more of a chance to permeate.
    • Start marinading as early as possible, but don’t sweat it if you only have 15 minutes. It’s better than nothing, and it’ll still help!

How do I cook tofu?

Pshhh, don’t cook it at all — eat it raw! Just me? Okay then. If you’re set on cooking your tofu, here are some basic methods.

  • Bake it. You can’t go wrong with baked tofu. I like to bake marinated cubed or sliced tofu at 400˚F for 20-30 minutes, flipping once on each side. To get nice crispy edges, be sure to use a shallow pan (better yet, one without rims) and use a little oil or aluminum foil underneath the tofu.
  • Dry-fry it. If you’re avoiding oil or just want a super-simple way of preparing tofu, this is the method for you. At the end, you’ll have chewy, golden-brown tofu. Keep in mind, though, that this is for plain tofu, not flavored, so it’s best in a recipe with lots of other flavors going on. This is the method I use.
  • Pan-fry it. Unlike the previous method, this one uses a little oil and works great with marinated tofu. It couldn’t be simpler: Heat 1-2 tablespoons of your favorite oil (vegetable, olive, or coconut all work, although coconut will add a little flavor) in a nonstick or cast-iron pan, then add the tofu and cook for 7-10 minutes, flipping every so often, over medium. Every pan and every stove is different, so keep a watchful eye on your tofu as it cooks. You don’t want it to burn, but you do want it to start crisping up. Once you get the hang of how your setup works, you can adjust the amount of oil and heat level.
  • Scramble it. Vegans freaking love scrambled tofu. It’s a protein-packed stand-in for eggs that can be prepared so many ways and with so many different flavor profiles. I’ll include some recipes below, but at its core, scrambled tofu is just what it sounds like: crumbled tofu mixed with seasoning and often additional liquid, cooked like you’d cook scrambled eggs.
  • Grill it. Got a grill? You’re in luck — tofu stands up well to heat! Marinated tofu is great on the grill, but make sure to keep the slabs nice and thick so they don’t fall apart. You can also use it in kebabs with lots of veggies! For tofu cooked directly on the grill, make sure the grill is well-oiled and opt for lower heat and a longer cooking time (~20 minutes should do it). Remember to flip occasionally, especially if you want sweet cross-hatch action.
Marinated Tofu Sandwich -- how to cook with tofu

A tasty way to enjoy marinated, pan-fried tofu.

Okay, sold — I’m ready to cook! What are some great tofu recipes?

Yes! Here’s the fun part. These are some of my favorites.

  • Scrambled tofu. There are two main styles: egg-like and, well, tofu-like.
    • For a classic vegan tofu scramble, start with this recipe (yes, you can use soy sauce instead of the shoyu). Once you get the basic method down (sauté veg, add tofu and spices, scramble till your preferred level of doneness), you can play around with ingredients and flavor palettes. Try this one for a full-bodied scramble packed with veggies, or this red-curry version for something Thai-inspired.
    • For a more scrambled-egg-like tofu (one that doesn’t included added veggies and works great as a side dish for brunch), you just can’t beat the Tofuevos recipe from Vegicano. (Tip: reduce the soy sauce if you’re salt-averse.)
  • Tofu that stands on its own. Ready to show off your mad tofu-cooking skills? Read on!
  • Tofu that shares the spotlight. Tofu is an integral part of these recipes, but it works alongside other ingredients to create a final product that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Tofu that’s masquerading as something else. This versatile protein easily plays many roles.

Where can I learn more?

Books, duh. Here are some you should check out from your library. (I haven’t personally read or used them all, but they seem worth a look!)

  • 101 Things to Do with Tofu by Donna Kelly and Anne Tegtmeier. I owned this book for a while and was impressed by the range of recipes. It’s vegetarian, not vegan, but many of the recipes are easily veganizable.
  • The Great Vegan Protein Book by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes. The dynamic duo is at it again with recipes that focus on protein — and unsurprisingly, many of them feature tofu. We own this cookbook and it has quite a few neat ideas.
  • Making Soy Milk and Tofu at Home by Andrea Nyugen. I know, I know — we just covered how to use tofu at all, never mind how to make it from scratch! But this looks like such a neat deep-dive into soy-based foods, and I’d imagine that homemade tofu has a depth of flavor unmatched by its store-bought counterpart.
  • The Tofu Cookbook for Vegans: 50 Vegan-Friendly Tofu Recipes by Veganized. (Yeah, I dunno what’s up with that byline either.) This is a bit of a wild card, but I love the idea of a cookbook dedicated solely to vegan tofu recipes. If you try it out, let me know what you think!
  • Tofu Cookery (25th Anniversary) by Louise Hagler. I’m almost ashamed not to have at least looked through this book — it’s a bit of a legend. Even Isa Chandra herself name-drops it on occasion!

But isn’t soy bad for you?!?

Nope. See here, here, here, and here.

~~~

Okay — what did I miss?! Or do you feel ready to conquer tofu cookery? Let me know!

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Simple Spicy Green Beans and Tofu

Two  months ago, Steven and I bought a house. We’d been looking for for something old, with lots of character, in the country(ish).

We bought an early ’70s midcentury-inspired, contemporary-as-all-heck house in the suburbs. And we love it.

What I love perhaps most of all is having a beautiful backyard where I can garden and my pups can hang out. My wonderful parents came down to help us move, and my dad built us two raised garden beds. He also brought plants galore and taught me all about the best ways to transplant various little plantlings. (It pays to have a master gardener who spends most of his free time at a greenhouse for a dad!) We planted relatively late in the season and had a little deer-eating-all-the-baby-tomatoes incident, but things are finally starting to pick up out there. I have more basil than I know what to do with, and everything is coming in beautifully. I love it. Just look at these sweet filius blue peppers — aren’t they cute?!

Cutest lil peppers that you ever did see.

A post shared by Kelly (@kelmishka) on

 

I also love living a mile from a wonderful weekend farmers’ market. On Saturday mornings, I walk over to the market to stock up on lush fresh veg and fruit, then treat myself to a cold-brew coffee from Brewing Good Coffee Co., a local craft coffee roaster that just happens to be run by vegans. (Their motto is “Drink coffee. Save animals.” Done.) By the time I get home, I’m extra sweaty from being weighed down by all that veggie goodness, but at least I’m caffeinated!

This Saturday, I picked up a big ol’ carton of green beans and knew I had to gobble them up right away. They starred in a spicy dish alongside some tofu and hot peppers from the garden (not the ones in the photo above). I finished everything off with a nice spicy sauce and served over brown rice. Yes, this recipe is super simple — in fact, it’s barely a recipe at all. But this time of year, when all this gorgeous produce is in its prime, I like meals that are simple enough to let the veggies shine. Plus, who wants to spend hours in the kitchen when the sun is shining and you’ve got a backyard calling your name?! :)

Green beans and tofu star in this simple, spicy vegan dinner.

Simple Spicy Green Beans & Tofu
Serves 2-3

  • 1 T coconut oil
  • 1 T freshly grated ginger
  • 2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 small purple cayenne hot peppers, diced OR 1-2 t dried red pepper flakes*
  • 2 T low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 T brown sugar
  • 1 tsp seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 lb extra firm tofu, cubed
  • 1 lb green beans, chopped or snapped into roughly 1″ pieces

Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, then add the ginger, garlic, and pepper/pepper flakes. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the garlic starts to brown, then add the tofu.

Cook the tofu over medium-low for 7-10 minutes, turning every few minutes, until the cubes start to get crispy and golden. Keep the heat on medium-low so the tofu doesn’t burn.

Add the green beans to the saucepan and cover. Cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Remove the lid and pour in the sauce. Stir to coat, and cook for another minute or two until the sauce is absorbed. Serve immediately over brown rice.

*You can really use any fresh hot pepper you’d like — I just happened to have two of these little guys ripe and ready to go.

~~~

What’s your favorite easy summer veg-forward dinner?

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My Favorite Sandwich + a Savory Marinated Tofu Recipe

VeganMoFo 2015 banner

Day 5: Best sandwich ever.

I love and hate today’s prompt. Love, because a good sandwich can be sublime. When quality bread meets fresh veggies, a savory protein, and a spreadable fat, beautiful things happen. Hate, because best ever?! How am I supposed to decide? I haven’t tasted all the sandwiches! It’s too much pressure! I can’t do it!

What I can do, however, is share my absolute favorite go-to sandwich, the one I make when I have a little prep time. It doesn’t sound like much more than a glorified TLT, but the flavor profile is totally different thanks to sauerkraut and Dijon mustard. This “recipe” is also flexible; you can modify it based on whatever veggies and toppings you have in the house. Just make sure to include the marinated tofu!

Marinated Tofu Sandwich

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Quality bread. Homemade is great, but today I’m using Trader Joe’s sourdough pane. I usually prefer a grainier bread, but this is what I have!
  • Spread. Vegan mayonnaise and a good Dijon mustard work perfectly here. Don’t use anything with too much unique flavor, like pesto.
  • Sauerkraut. It adds such a perfect tang!
  • Sprouts. I used home-sprouted mung beans. You don’t need anything fancy; these were only sprouted for a day! I use a Handy Pantry stacking sprout garden and love it, but you can go old-school with a jar and cheesecloth.
  • Marinated Sandwich Tofu. See below! You can make this in advance and use it cold, or eat it hot off the pan. Mmm.
  • Veggies. Sliced fresh tomatoes and a few pieces of lettuce are my go-to. I’ll also add some avocado if I have it!

Marinated Tofu Sandwich

Marinated Sandwich Tofu

Serves two to three

  • 1 block extra-firm tofu (14-16 oz), pressed for at least an hour (if you have time)
  • 2 T low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • Scant 1/2 T vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce like Frank’s (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp maple syrup or maple sugar
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • Dash liquid smoke (more if you’re particularly fond of the flavor)

In a large container with an airtight lid, whisk together all the marinate ingredients (everything except the tofu). It might not look like much marinade, but it’s enough!

Prep your pressed tofu by laying it down on a cutting board and cutting it in half. Turn those two halves on their sides and slice them into four wide slices each, for a total of eight large slices.

Using a fork, poke a few shallow holes in each slab of tofu. Don’t poke too deeply; you’re not trying to go all the way through. You just want to create a few more nooks and crannies for the marinade to penetrate.

One slice of tofu at a time, place each side of the tofu in the marinade so all sides are coated. Depending on the size of your container, you might have enough room for all the tofus to lay flat. If not, you can stack them once they’re coated on each side. Cover the container and refrigerate it.

Marinate for at least 30 minutes, gently flipping the container over halfway through.

When you’re ready to cook the tofu, heat a little vegetable or olive oil in a heavy pan on low-medium heat — I like to use cast iron — and cook as many tofus as fit comfortably at a time. Don’t overcrowd it, though, or you’ll break a tofu! Cook for about 4 minutes on either side, but you can cook for longer if you want a crispy crust.

To assemble the sandwich, toast two slices of bread per sandwich very lightly. Spread liberally with mustard, mayo, or whatever spread you’re using. Place two slices of tofu on one slice of bread and a pile of sauerkraut on the other, being sure to let the sauerkraut drain for a second before adding it so the sandwich isn’t too watery. Then pile on the other ingredients, smoosh together, slice in half, and get your nom on!

Spicy Potato Casserole with Tofu “Chorizo”

One of my favorite workday lunches (and quick weeknight dinners) is a baked potato smothered in baked beans, chili, or broccoli and a cheezy sauce. Keeping a few baked potatoes ready in the fridge or freezer is a great form of insurance against going lunch-less or having to go out and grab something. Cover that tater with last night’s chili or that can of baked beans you stashed in the pantry, and you’re good to go with a filling, hearty meal.

Last time I had a baked potato, I enjoyed it with Trader Joe’s veggie chili. As I ate, I began to wonder why potatoes and chili don’t meet more often. The flavor combination is perfect! I started picturing a dish that would take advantage of the flavors of chili but rely on potatoes for bulk. This casserole is the result, with layers of thinly sliced potatoes doused in a spicy tomato-based sauce. Adding black beans and tofu “chorizo” increases the protein content and gives lots of texture to a saucy dish. Cooking the potatoes right in the spicy sauce really infuses them with the spicy flavors, but it also adds substantial baking time. If you’re in a rush, feel free to boil or steam the sliced potatoes ahead of time and then bake the assembled casserole for 15-20 minutes.

Spicy Potato Casserole with Tofu Chorizo

I opted for a smoky, back-burner type spiciness, but if you love big, bold spices, go wild with adding more chili powder or red pepper flakes! The sauce is customizable to your tastes.

Spicy Potato Casserole with Tofu “Chorizo”
Serves 5-6

For the Tofu Chorizo

  • One block (14 oz) extra-firm tofu, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Cholula (or your favorite hot sauce)
  • 1/2 teaspoon achiote powder or chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • A few dashes liquid smoke
  • A dash cinnamon

For the Casserole

  • 1 tablespoon sunflower or canola oil
  • 1/2 large yellow onion (about 7 oz), diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 28-oz can tomato puree
  • 1 15-oz can black beans

First, prepare the tofu chorizo. In a container with a watertight lid, mix together all chorizo ingredients (except the tofu) and whisk to combine. Using your hands, crumble the tofu into the spice mixture. The tofu crumbles should be small but not fine; it’s okay if they’re not uniform. Put the lid on the container and shake until all the tofu is coated with the mixture. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425˚ F.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil on medium. Add the diced onions and cook for about 4 minutes, then add the minced garlic and the tofu chorizo. Cook for another 5-7 minutes, or until the onions are translucent, stirring periodically. While this mixture is cooking, prepare the potatoes. Leave the skins on and slice them lengthwise into about 1/4″ slices. It’s okay if some of them are larger. Once you’ve prepared the potatoes, set them aside.

By now, the onions, garlic, and tofu should be cooked. Turn the heat down to low and add two cups of the tomato puree and all the black beans. Stir to combine and let sit for a minute while you prepare a 9″ x 13″ casserole dish. Spray or lightly brush the dish with a little oil, then pour the remaining plain tomato puree into the dish so it covers the bottom.

Taste the chorizo-tomato mixture and add additional seasonings to taste (chili powder, salt, etc.). Turn the stove off.

Place roughly 1/3 of the sliced potatoes into the prepared baking dish, right on top of the tomato puree. Create a single layer; it’s okay if there are some open spaces, but don’t overlap the potatoes. Using a ladle, spoon 1/3 of the chorizo-tomato mixture over the potatoes and spread to cover them. Repeat with another 1/3 potatoes and 1/3 chorizo-tomato mixture two more times, until everything is used.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for an hour. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. If you’re feeling fancy, top with your favorite vegan cheese shreds or cheezy sauce and broil the dish for another 3-5 minutes.

Enjoy!

***

(A note about the tofu chorizo: I based the spice blend on Vegicano‘s Lentil Chorizo. That chorizo de lenteja is out-of-this world delicious! I highly recommend making it and serving it with corn tortillas, pico de gallo, guac, and a simple cabbage slaw. HEAVEN.)

Lazy Sunday I

Hooray! We’ve made it through the first week of MoFo. I’m feelin’ pretty pleased with my progress so far; I’ve shared more original recipes in a week than I had in the previous… I dunno, six or so months. Go me.

But now it’s Sunday, and I promised myself to take it easy on Sundays. (Plus my apartment is a mess, my dog has bowl-you-over vomit breath, and I am plum tuckered out.) So, in lieu of a legit post, I’m going to answer a few of the “official” blogging prompts from the folks at MoFo HQ.

Share your first experience cooking with tofu.

Ahh, this takes me back. It was autumn of 2008, and I was beginning my senior year of college. I lived in an on-campus townhouse with two of my very best friends. I’d been vegetarian since the end of high school, but somehow I’d never made tofu for myself (hey, I had a meal plan for the first three years of college!). Now, though, with a full kitchen at my disposal, a burgeoning interest in veganism, and time to spare (ha ha jk) while working on my senior comps project, I decided to branch out. I hied myself down to the local co-op and picked me up a package of tofu. It looked somethin’ like this:

Box of aseptic packaged extra firm silken tofu.Oh yes, you know where this is going. I gamely cut the pale block into cubes, coated it in some barbecue sauce, and put it in the oven, hoping that some sort of magical tofu fairy who lived in the back of our little gas oven would wave her wand and transform the jiggling cubes into toothsome bites of savory soy.

Alas; no amount of kitchen wizardry can transfigure silken tofu into regular ol’ tofu, and the cubes were as quivery as ever when I removed them from the oven. I ate them, but reader, I did not enjoy them. It took a shameful amount of time for me to realize that I could not ignore the word “silken” on the front of the package and assume that all “extra firm” tofu was the same thing.

Five years later, I consider myself much more knowledgeable. I can recognize tofu that’s been frozen, tofu that’s been pressed… and tofu that’s from a little aseptic package.

Is there something you do in the kitchen that you know you’re not supposed to (knives in the dishwasher, soap on cast iron, etc)?

Well, I can get a little lazy when it comes to certain types of cleaning—if I used a measuring cup for some soy milk, for example, I might just rinse it with water instead of washing it with soap. It just seems like overkill to go through alllll the trouble of turning the faucet to “hot,” pumping some dish soap on a washcloth, and scrubbing away at a single barely used measuring cup. Ugh. (I’m pretty cleanly otherwise, I swear!)

Also, I put some of our crappier knives in the dishwasher, because they are crappy and I don’t really care.

I have been known to eat food that had mold growing on it. Not the actual mold, ew.

Let’s move on.

What’s your favorite accidentally vegan product?

Honestly? Oreos. I know—potential bone char sugar, super processed, questionable corporate ethics… mmhmm. Got it. It’s not like I buy them every month, but damn it, sometimes you’re on a late-night grocery run with your man and you want a snack to eat while you get home and binge watch The West Wing and you just do not feel like baking. In situations like that, I do not hesitate to pick up a package of Oreos. They go great with almond milk.

A single Oreo with a bite taken out of it.

What’re your answers to any/all of these questions? What are you doing on this Sunday?

Vegan Staples: Tofu, Scrambled

Orange rectangle with the white VeganMoFo fist logo and the text "Vegan Staples: tofu."

Somehow, I’ve totally neglected tofu so far in my Vegan Staples series. A travesty! Tofu is definitely one of my staple foods. I don’t usually eat it more than once a week, but it’s so versatile that I just can’t help but add it to many meals. Last night, I used it in dish that’s really a bedrock of vegan cookery – tofu scramble.

Shallow plate of tofu scramble with visible red peppers and avocado. In the background is a plate of pumpkin French toast.

Scrambled!

Tofu scramble is probably the easiest tofu-based dish to make. As long as you add ample spices and don’t make it too watery, you really can’t mess it up. For this batch, I used a locally made tofu, and it had the perfect texture after a stint in the Tofu Xpress. I added canned diced tomatoes, chopped mushrooms, lots of onion, garlic, red Bell peppers, and all sorts of spices – turmeric, cumin, coriander, chili powder, freshly ground black pepper, salt, and a spray or two of Bragg’s. I topped it with diced avocado, which really takes a scramble over the top. I completed my breakfast-for-dinner theme by using some stale French bread in pumpkin French toast. Both dishes were super simple to whip up, yet S called them, collectively, the best dinner I’ve made in a while. If only I’d known it was so easy! :)

What are your go-to tofu scramble ingredients?

Friday Favorite: Tofu Balls!

Bright orange rectangle with the white VeganMoFo fist logo and the text "Friday Favorites: Tofu Balls."

Not six months ago, I shared a delightful discovery: tofu balls, despite their unappealing name, are really good. Like, really, really, really good. So good that when S reminded me of them a couple days ago, I couldn’t get them out of my head and just had to make up a batch last night. As usual, they didn’t disappoint.

Small white plate with a mound of spaghetti, bright red pasta sauce, and three small "meat"balls.

Balls!

This time around, I chopped the onion finer than ever, and I definitely noticed that the balls held their form much better than in the past. I also substituted panko for about 1/4 the amount of breadcrumbs and added lots of dried basil, oregano, and garlic powder. We ate them with spaghetti, a locally produced pasta sauce, and a very simple salad. And by “very simple salad” I really mean “romaine lettuce shredded and thrown in a bowl.”  The romaine was a fast-wilting holdout from our most recent CSA share, but it perked up after an ice water bath and a vigorous turn in the salad spinner. The only thing that would’ve improved this meal was some thick, crusty bread, but alas – we had none. No matter; it was still a quick, satisfying weeknight dinner.

What’s your favorite vegan meatball recipe?

Tofu Balls: A Delicious Surprise

Tofu balls are a game-changer.

…that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say, but I am now saying it with complete and utter confidence, along with a healthy dose of humility. For many years, I associated tofu-based “meat”  items as the sole purview of 70s hippies, vegetarians who wore giant bell-bottoms and flowers in their hair and cavorted in meadows. I didn’t think I needed to bother with them – it’s 2012! We have Daiya and Gardein and Smart Grounds and hoverboards! Sure, I love a good slab of marinated tofu (…and tofu scramble and tofu “egg” salad…) as much as the next vegan, but I never felt the need to work tofu into my more traditional meat analogues, like burgers or meatballs.

Oh, how stupid I was, because I was missing out on these:

Tofu balls – not just for 70s hippies.

These are Isa’s Tofu Balls, based on a recipe from a book called Tofu Cookery. They are, in a word, delicious. The super simple combination of tofu, onions, soy sauce, bread crumbs, herbs and peanut butter all pan-fried in olive oil somehow creates an addictively tasty ball that crumbles pleasantly with some pressure but doesn’t fall apart on its own. Perfection.

I decided to make them last night after being reminded of their existence via this post about tomato sauce over at It Ain’t Meat, Babe. Paired with a variation on the tomato sauce in that post, served over whole-wheat fettuccine, and rounded off with a slice of roasted garlic bread, this was comfort food heaven.

Consider me roundly chastened. Never again will I doubt tofu’s adaptability and versatility, and never again will I doubt my hippie forebears. (Well, maybe I will… I’m pretty over bell-bottoms.)

What recipe pleasantly surprised you? Have you tried these tofu meatballs?