Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tofu Terrific

Like many people, as a result of our family’s shrinking budget over the last year, my husband and I find ourselves getting creative in the kitchen. Anyone who supports organic and local food knows that buying responsibly can also sometimes feel like buying expensively. In addition to our local coop, my husband and I shop at Whole Foods, a great store we more often lovingly refer to as Whole Paycheck. It’s been a challenge this year to continue to purchase the products we want, and part of our newly found creativity in the kitchen has taken the form of vegetarianism. While eating tofu, beans, and other non meat proteins is cheaper and certainly better for the environment, we still love our meat and occasionally partake (which makes us something the Food Network calls “Choositarians,” although I’m not sure how technical that term is).

While we’ve eaten a lot of foods deemed “vegetarian” by American culture for a long while, tofu is one we admit we’re just starting to tackle. It has recently found a larger and larger place in our lives, much to our happy surprise. We’d had it plenty of times in restaurants and others’ homes, but we never considered ourselves to be FTCAOCPECE (Future Tofu Chefs of America and Other Countries for the Purposes of Environmentalism and Cost Effectiveness) material.

Being a tofu eater is something I never would have expected as a youngster growing up in the Midwest. My idea of soy back then was the oily soy cheese found on top of a chicken patty in our school’s cafeteria. If you’ve ever been to an all-you-can-eat buffet in the middle of Iowa, you know that the largest food group is meat/gelatinous “salads.” Okay, so that is encouraging a stereotype... but it's a pretty good stereotype. Where I grew up, meat is not only essential to the meal, it’s the main part. Tofu was not only not eaten in the household I grew up, but it wasn’t exactly looked upon favorably, either.

Fast forwarding (or rewinding, I’m not sure which since I was just flashing back to childhood, but am now talking about yesterday) to last night, I made the yummiest tofu lasagna after I found some hints online. Thought I’d share, because the results were great. Note, you also need a really great sous-chef, like mine pictured here:

My sous-chef, linebacker baby Jonas.
Unfortunately, he tries to cook with his feet as much as his hands.

I bought a package of extra firm tofu (which even at Whole Paycheck on the east coast only costs $1.99), which I then crumbled up into small pieces; it looked like something between feta and ricotta cheese. Then I mixed an equal amount of ricotta into it. At this point, any ravenous meat-eating bystander would think it was a whole bowl of ricotta cheese, the tofu is so disguised.

Tofu is great because it soaks up the flavors of food around it. I put some garlic salt (depends on how big of a lasagna you’re making, but I put in about a teaspoon) and chopped up basil into the ricotta/tofu mixture to give the tofu a flavor to absorb. (I like the flavor of tofu alone, don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t quite go with lasagna, so you sort of don’t want it to be the main flavor.) If you don’t want to do that, I just suggest using a very flavorful tomato sauce in the lasagna. The rest of the lasagna I made the same. Layering noodles and cheese and veggies/sauce, etc.

Yum! I totally recommend it! But remember, a good sous-chef is key!