Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tofu Shipwreck


I have learned to love tofu, but it is easy to see why it gets such a bad rap in the food world. Tofu's white, nearly flavorless, gelatin-like texture is not very appealing straight out of the box, but it does provide a big kick of protein to the vegan diet. My appreciation for this culinary underdog started with this dish which morphs tofu into a rather convincing substitute for scrambled eggs. The addition of turmeric and paprika add a yellow hue that  fools both the eye and the palate to such a degree that I have served this to meat eaters and they didn't even realize it was tofu.

This 'Shipwreck' makes the most of masking tofu's deficits by providing a backdrop of complimenting textures in the form of potatoes, onions, and pepper. Mushrooms are also a terrific addition, but what makes the dish really come together are the pepperoncini and/or banana pepper rings which provide just a spot of heat and an acid element that perfectly accentuate all the rest of the flavors.

One thing I've learned over the years of making hashbrowns is that the best are cooked in far more oil than you would ever want to admit. The second trick I've stumbled upon is that the onions and peppers have to be added at the end to keep that lovely crisp/sweet bite otherwise they burn/brown/dissolve into oblivion long before the potatoes get to crispy (and they release water which keeps the potatoes from browning.)
Any potatoes will work in this recipe, but hands down the best hashbrowns are made from baked russet potatoes. My second choice is frozen hashbrowns (cubed or shredded), since raw cut potatoes tend to get slimy and greasy when fried if not soaked in water to remove the starch first -- not to mention they are just a lot faster and easier!  So don't let the potatoes intimidate you, buy frozen if you don't have baked and season them to your taste; just make sure they are cooked until golden and crispy.

Both the tofu and the potatoes take a bit of cooking time, so it helps to have two nonstick skillets to make this dish. Don't try to cook them together. Tofu is loaded with water and if cooked with the potatoes in the same pan, nothing will ever get a golden-brown surface (and we all know golden-brown is good!) If limited by only one nonstick skillet (tofu sticks like crazy) cook the tofu and the veggies first and remove to a platter, cook the potatoes next, combine it all at the end and bring it back up to heat before serving. Serves 4-6

Tofu Shipwreck

3/4 cup margarine/butter
19 ounces Firm tofu
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
3-4 large baked potatoes, chopped OR 1 package frozen hashbrowns of your choice
salt and pepper to taste
cayenne pepper, dash
1 small onion, chopped
1 red/yellow pepper, chopped
1/4 cup pepperoncini and/or banana pepper rings, chopped

Melt 1/4 cup margarine/butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pour off the water surrounding the tofu and crumble it into the pan by hand, squeezing it into small chunks similar in size to clumps of scrambled egg. As the tofu fries it will release its moisture, then add the spices, turmeric, paprika, salt, garlic, and onion powders and toss well for even coverage. Allow the tofu to firm up by cooking until enough water has simmered off to the point where it just begins to brown.  This takes some time, start the potatoes frying while the tofu cooks and turn down the heat once the tofu is to the browning stage.

In a second large nonstick skillet melt half of the remaining oil and add potatoes. Fry potatoes until gold brown on all side, adding remaining oil and perhaps some additional vegetable oil as they fry, watch that the potatoes remain frying in the pan (oil should be visibly frying the edges, but not sitting in oil.) Salt and pepper to taste, and add the cayenne as they cook.

When the potatoes are nearly done, (they should be golden and crispy) add the the peppers and onions to the tofu skillet, increasing the heat, tossing occasionally and cooking the vegetables just until tender. Combine the fried tofu in the potato skillet and add the chopped peppers.  Toss to combine, salt to taste if needed and serve.

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