The Gateway Tofu Recipe

Tasty Tofu Guaranteed

Back when I was in high school, there was lots of talk about marijuana being a “gateway drug.” You smoke a little weed then, before you know it, you are plunged into a scene from “Sid and Nancy.”

If you try this recipe, I doubt you will find yourself curled up in front of a PETA headquarters on a Saturday morning after a protest of an industrial farm complex in Oklahoma. I do think you will see (if you don’t already know) that tofu can be tasty. You may even commit to eating one meatless meal a week as the Meatless Monday campaign suggests.

Why?

The amount of evidence that eating less meat is better for you and the planet we inhabit is overwhelming. Michael Pollan has extensively researched and written about our food system and came to the following simple recommendation: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He explains further, “populations that eat like modern-day Americans — lots of highly processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains — suffer high rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. But populations that eat more traditional diets don’t. Our great-grandmas knew what they were doing.”

Mark Bittman is another advocate of what has been called the flexitarian “diet” (I put diet in quotes because this is not a weight loss plan, but rather a way of eating).  He, along with Pollan, has written extensively about the effects of  factory farming, a deeply flawed system that gobbles up resources in the name of widely available cheap meat. “Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.”

Even chicken came under fire recently. Nicholas Kristof recently wrote about “new scientific studies suggesting that poultry on factory farms are routinely fed caffeine, active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl, banned antibiotics and even arsenic.” So along with eating local, ethically raised meat, why not incorporate some meatless options into your cooking repertoire? It isn’t painful, I promise. This particular dish earned A ratings from everyone in my family – the picky 4 year-old, the 8 year-old food critic, and the meat and potatoes vegetarian spouse. Even cattle-raising Pioneer Woman has posted some tofu recipes this year.

Try this  . . . or any other recipe I have shared here. I promise you won’t find yourself in a Vegetarians Anonymous meeting any time soon. You will, however, be taking steps towards creating a healthier family and planet.

Spicy Basil Tofu and Noodles

adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen

Serves 4 generously

1/4 cup low sodium tamari or soy sauce

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (You may need a little more.)

1 serrano chile, seeds and ribs removed, then minced

1 pound extra-firm or firm tofu, cut into slabs, blotted dry with paper towel and crumbled

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 small heads broccoli broken in small florets

12 ounces Chinese noodles

1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh Thai or Genovese basil (I prefer the Thai basil for this dish.)

Put a large pot of water on high heat on the cook top to boil the noodles.

Combine soy sauce, water, and brown sugar in a small bowl, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve.

Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until shimmers. Add the crumbled tofu, seasoning with a pinch of salt. Resist the urge to stir the tofu. Let it fry for at least 5 minutes. Stir when you see the edges of some of the crumbles brown. Cook until most of the tofu bits are light to medium brown. The key here is not disturbing too much. After the tofu is cooked, toss in the garlic and chile and cook until fragrant – less than a minute. Transfer the tofu mixture to a bowl.

Heat about a teaspoon of vegetable oil in the skillet over medium high heat. Add broccoli florets and a pinch of salt and stir fry until bright green and brown in spots. Put 1/4 water in the frying pan and cover. Steam broccoli to desired tenderness.

When broccoli is done, put a few tablespoons of salt into the boiling water. Put noodles in and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes. We found out the hard way that Chinese noodles cook fast. Overcook them and they are a gloppy mess. I start tasting them 2 minutes in. You could also try this with linguine pasta if you can’t get your hands on Chinese noodles. The linguine takes longer to cook – about 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the tofu mixture and cooked noodles into the skillet with the broccoli. Add the soy sauce-brown sugar mixture and carefully stir to combine. Incorporate the basil. Serve immediately.

Ratings:

Me:  A+  (One of my favorite tofu dishes. I love, love the basil.)

Scott:  A (He wasn’t here for dinner, but said “I love it!” after eating leftovers for lunch.)

Luca:  A (Just an A, not an A+)

Alia:  A+, B+ (“The best rating I give.”)

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