Friday, June 22, 2012

Variations: Salad with Baked Tofu

As I sit watching the thunderstorm, and changing my plans for the afternoon, I'll share the salad lunch I had today. (Well - I wish I could actually share the salad - it was delicious - but really,  I'll just tell you about it.)

Today was a blend of two lettuces - red leaf and Boston, washed ahead, as I discussed last week. Then I added chopped vegetables - scallions and radishes, carrots, and kohlrabi. You didn't know you could put kohlrabi in a salad? Neither did I, until a year or so ago... It has to be young and tender, and you do need to peel it - the top layers are tough and stringy. But it is nice and crunchy, and tastes good - and it a little more variety.

Then I added cooked chicken - and cooked tofu, the real subject of this post. In theory, one can just cube tofu and drop it in, but I prefer it firmer, and with some flavor added - and this is a good way to do that.

I take a block of firm tofu, and cut it in slices. Then I wrap them in a clean cotton dishtowel - you can use paper towels, but I think the fabric works better. The package sits on the edge of the drainboard for a while, while I get other things ready - this just dries the tofu off, and removes a bit of the moisture.

Then I need some kind of flavorful liquid - I've used plain vinegar, or a vinaigrette salad dressing. I've used lemon juice. I sometimes add herbs or other seasoning. Soy sauce, rice vinegar, and a few drops of sesame oil give an Asian-inspired flavor. You can use broth, though I don't usually do that for a  salad. (No good reason not to - just doesn't sound enticing to me.) Use whatever sounds good to you.

If I am using the oven for something else, I slice the tofu in smaller pieces, and put them in a baking dish. I add the liquid and slosh it around a bit to make sure it is on every surface. I don't usually use enough to cover the tofu - that takes much longer to cook away -  perhaps half a cup or less. If I'm doing this, I may go ahead and use two blocks - just as easy, and I'll use it for something... Pop it into the oven, and bake until the liquid is evaporated/absorbed and the tofu is a bit golden. Timing will vary depending on temperature. It's nice to turn the pieces part way through - which I may or may not get around to doing. If there is just a little liquid left when I'm finished cooking the other dish, I may just turn off the oven and leave it a while - but make sure you don't forget it!

I'm not going to heat the oven just for this in the summer, though. If I'm not using it, I just put the slabs of tofu in a non-reactive frying pan, add the liquid to come about halfway up the side,  and simmer until it is absorbed. I do turn this part way through (one reason I do not cut it in little pieces before cooking... though you can.) Right now, I'm using a good quality non-stick, and I just let the liquid cook away completely. With a stainless steel pan, I'd take it off the heat just before it dries completely, and let it sit, so the tofu will release from the pan.

See - you don't need to pay a fortune for baked tofu in the store! This is nice and firm, with a good flavor. You can go ahead and use it for all kinds of things - in a salad, tossed into a vegetable saute, dropped in some broth... I like to have it on hand, for a fast, easy protein to add to a meal.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Theme: Salad

I often find myself, lately, talking with people about salads. I eat a salad for lunch  most days, much of the year. For many years, that was a goal, but I never managed to reach it - and my greens would sit limply in the crisper... A few years ago, though, when I was carrying a lunch to work every day, I got a system going, which I think may help other people.

The major shift was to preprep my food. Absolutely, in a perfect world, it is better to wash and prepare lettuce and other salad vegetables immediately before eating them. If you are doing that, and it works for you, by all means continue. But I was running out to work without a lunch, because it would take too long to fix something. And *if* I remembered a salad at dinner, it was plain lettuce, because, at the end of the day, chopping one radish, one scallion, and half a carrot was just too fussy.

I got a good vegetable keeper, though. And I had used Zip-Loc produce bags, which have tiny holes to let air circulate, and keep vegetables surprisingly fresh. And, somehow, I got the bright idea...

Washing lettuce and storing it, carefully dried, was just the first step. I collected little one cup containers, and started washing and cutting up other vegetables. I ended up with a little stack in the refrigerator, with four or five assorted vegetables. Scallions and radishes, sure - but also cut snap peas in spring, and broccoli or zucchini later on,  and whatever other vegetables I want. Without planning it, I find that I often finish one container a day - and it's easy, then, to wash it and refill it with the next vegetable from my refrigerator.

So, that is all I need for a good side salad. But for a meal - I need to add some kind of protein. Again, I preprep. I try to have at least three things on hand, and then choose two, so my salads have some variety over the course of the week. And I often have more than three...

Cheese. I like feta for salads (usually lower fat, and a nice bite - the salt isn't a problem for me.) But others are good, too.
Cooked beans. I add a little vinegar, so they keep well. Sometimes I use a nice salad dressing, instead, to vary the flavor, or add herbs. Or I just make a classic three bean salad, or lentil salad.
Tofu. I know some people just cube it as is - I like to cook it a bit to firm it up - and again, I may add a marinade.
Meat. If I'm cooking chicken for dinner, I may add an extra piece. If I cook ham, I definitely keep some for salads.
Hard cooked eggs.

Again, I have a stack of small containers - though, in this case, they may be of different sizes.

When I want to make my salad, I just take out the bag of washed greens, and the stacks of add ins - and proceed as if I were at a salad bar. Personally, I like to mix one animal protein source  with one vegan source - but that's my taste. You do what works for you. I may also add  olives, or capers, or... a bit of something to fancy it up.

If I'm carrying the meal, I put salad dressing in a smaller leakproof container. I make my own vinaigrette, but I find creamier ones are better for carrying - they're less likely to dribble a bit after you use them, if you don't have facilities to wash your dishes right after use. I'll be experimenting with more salad dressings over time.

I eat  whole grain bread or crackers with it. I may have a topping for them, too - but that's another post.

(Edited to add pictures...)