“Now I’m plant-based, I get really stuck with what to put in a sandwich.” Does this sound familiar? I get sent a lot of messages about this or it comes up in conversations with my nutrition clinic clients. And of course, no matter how much you love hummus (and I do love hummus!), you don’t necessarily want it every day, and neither does your microbiome. Those friendly bacteria that hang out in the gut love a bit of variety; the same thing every day can make them fade not flourish. Continue reading “Smoky tofu slices”
Going plant based can be challenging at times, especially if you are being entertained and your hosts don’t know what to cook for you or you are doing the entertaining and your guests are not ones for a full-on veg dining experience. I had this problem recently, and spent some time wracking my brain about what to do. The starter was easy – tasty spring salad; the dessert a no-brainer – raw banoffee pie, as no-one can argue with that. But what to do for the mains?
Finally, I remembered a delicious Leon spicy coconut fish recipe I used to love in my pre-plant days. Each portion is individually wrapped in tin foil then covered with a gorgeous sauce consisting of coconut cream, garlic and ginger. As the sauce is the same for all, the solution was simple – one parcel was chicken based, three fish and two tofu. And as each person has their own parcel, the flavours can be altered according to taste, as the chillis and spring onions are sprinkled over the top. So you end up cooking three different dishes, without having to cook three different dishes – inspired!
Tofu is a great plant based protein and contains good amounts of iron and calcium as well as other vitamins and minerals. As it’s made from soya, tofu contains phyto-oestrogens that mimic the actions of oestrogen produced in the body. Because of this, it’s been link with reducing breast cancer as well as helping ladies of a certain age deal with the unpleasant effects of the menopause.
Unfortunately, soya products have become unpopular in some circles, mainly due to the fact that most soya in the US is now genetically modified. I always check where my tofu has come from, and if I can’t find out, buy organic.
Many people don’t like tofu as by itself as it’s pretty bland and unpalatable. But it absorbs flavour brilliantly, so if cooked in the right way, it’s a great plant based product to work with.
This recipe uses extra firm tofu. It still needs to be drained of any packaging fluid, then pressed for a while to remove more fluid to stop it falling apart when cooked. To press, place a few sheets of kitchen roll on a plate, pop your tofu block on top, place some more kitchen roll on top, then put another plate with a weight on the top (like a tin of beans) and leave in the fridge for an hour or so. Water is pressed out and you’ll end up with tofu with a firmer texture.
This dish is great served with sticky red rice and steamed pak choi or spring greens. And it doesn’t take ages to prepare or cook, leaving you more time to enjoy your entertaining.
Spicy coconut tofu (or fish or chicken!) Serves 6
150ml tin coconut cream or the thick cream off a tin of coconut milk
1 small clove garlic chopped
4 spring onions, 2 finely diced, 2 chopped obliquely
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
15g fresh grated ginger
1 red chilli finely sliced
10 lime leaves
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil
100g extra firm tofu per person (so if
feeding 6 you’ll need 600g (see below)
* if you are serving this with chicken it will need cooking for 25 minutes, the fish for 15; they both need to go in the oven before the tofu.
Pre-heat the oven to 200oC.
Place the coconut cream, garlic, finely chopped spring onion, turmeric, zest of the limes, ginger, fresh coriander, a couple of crumbled lime leaves and salt together in a bowl and mix well so everything is combined.
Tear off a piece of tin foil about 30cm square and spray a little olive oil in the centre, wiping around with a piece of kitchen roll. Pop 2 lime leaves on the middle of the foil, then place the tofu on top. Spoon over 1/6th of the coconut mixture, then sprinkle some of the sliced spring onion and chilli according to diner’s taste. Drizzle a dash of sesame seed oil over the top, then close the foil up, sealing each edge firmly to create a parcel. Place on a baking tray and repeat the step.
When you’re ready, pop the parcels in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to rest until you’re ready to serve. At the last minute, open up the foil and squeeze in a shot of lime juice straight away. Slide onto your plate with the rice and greens, and delight your tastebuds with the sumptuous flavours!
NB: I sliced each 100g portion into two thick slices just because it looked better, but it also absorbed more flavour so is definitely worth doing.
Wouldn’t it be great to find a dish that is quick and easy to make, and suitable to eat at any time of the day? Well, I’m happy to say that tofu scramble fits the bill just perfectly. A great breakfast alternative to scrambled eggs, a quick and easy lunch option or bulked up with a range of vegetables for a more substantial evening meal, tofu scramble is super easy and packed with masses of flavour as well as a shed-load of nutrients.
I first came across tofu scramble in India on one of the cooking courses I attended. There’s an Indian breakfast dish called Akuri that is basically scrambled egg with vegetables and chilli. Replacing the eggs with tofu created tofu akuri and I have to say I really didn’t like it! Looking back, I think it was the type of tofu used but I avoided trying it again for some time. Then whilst in New York last summer, we found a fabulous boutique cafe that served tofu scramble, so I decided to give it a go and was delighted I did. It was amazing and I’ve been making it at home ever since.
There’s a lot of mixed opinions on tofu. Tofu is made from fermented soya milk, and it’s the humble soya bean that courts controversy. Many people are concerned about genetically modified soy that is grown mainly in the States along with the fact that vast swathes of land, including previously pristine rainforests, are used to grow it. But most of the soy grown is actually used for animal feed, not for direct human consumption, and as long as you know where your soya and tofu comes from, or buy organic, you can make sure that you’re not unwittingly consuming GMO if you don’t want to. My favourite is Dragonfly tofu, made down in Devon, but there a number of different options in the shops, it’s all a matter of taste.
Strictly speaking, tofu is a processed product and not whole food as the soya bean has been cooked and strained to get milk then strained again to separate off some of the fluid. Calcium carbonate (or traditionally seaweed) is added to help it set in a block. But even with this processing, it’s still a great product to include in a plant based diet as it’s high in protein as well as calcium, iron and manganese. Being dairy free, it can be used in dishes as an alternative to cheese and cream, as well as an ingredient in it’s own right. Soya products also contain phyto-oestrogens that are particularly useful for women especially around the menopause and research shows that it can help reduce the incidence of breast cancer. It can also help lower bad LDL cholesterol so suitable for both women and men!
There are a number of different types of tofu – silken, firm, extra firm, smoked or flavoured. By itself, it doesn’t score high on taste or texture, but it absorbs flavours really well and so can be a great asset in the plant based kitchen. For tofu scramble, firm works well. Silken is lovely and soft but can be a little watery, extra firm can be a bit dry. I have used lightly smoked and it gives a different flavour, but I prefer to use plain so I can taste all the flavours. The key is to experiment and discover which one you find most enjoyable.
There is an ingredient you can add to recreate the ‘eggy’ flavour and aroma of egg – kala namuk or Indian black salt. Which is not black but pink! You can find it in Indian food stores and online. Give it a sniff and your nose is hit by seriously strong sulphur wafts. It’s has a strong flavour too, so if you use it, use with caution – a pinch really is enough.
Cooking this for breakfast, I tend to go simple and just add in a few herbs or mushrooms. But if I’m using this for a quick but substantial supper, I cook a pan of additional vegetables such as courgette, mushroom, peppers and spinach, and stir them in at the end with whatever fresh herbs I have to hand. You can serve it on toast, or with saute potatoes or salad. Really, it’s up to whatever you feel like, and what ever you have in the fridge – there are no rules! So why not give it a try and see what combinations you can come up with. Let me know what your favourite turns out to be.
Tofu scramble (serves 2) basic recipe
- 200 g tofu - silken, firm or extra firm drained
- 1 small onion or shallot
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 tablespoon tamari
- pepper to taste.
- pinch kala namak or Indian black salt (optional)
- Heat 2 tablespoons of waterl in a small pan over a medium heat and sauté the onion until soft. Crumble in the tofu and cook gently for a minute then add the turmeric, tamari, pepper and kala namuk if using. Continue to heat gently for another few minutes then serve.
As a child, I was never that bothered about chocolate. Not that I didn’t like it (there can’t be many than don’t) but my pocket money would go on sweets and candies rather than chocolate treats. Fortunately, I’ve never been plagued by chocolate cravings like many I know, but I do appreciate there are moments when only chocolate will do!
Once I became dairy free, my chocolate intake dropped to almost nil, as I only really like milk chocolate, and the only dairy free alternatives I found were carob bars. I tried it once. And only once!
Fortunately, there are more and more dairy free chocolate alternatives around. There were so many free samples on offer at last year’s Vegefest, I can say I was truly chocolate-stuffed by the end of the day. And many of these are now available in supermarkets, which does make life rather easy.
One chocolate dessert I’ve always had a passion for, though, is chocolate mousse. Decadently rich yet beautifully light and airy, its a pudding that you can savour teaspoon after teaspoonful. Not good for your hips, but a delight on your tongue and worth the extra workout the next day!! Recently, I had a sudden urge for a chocolate mousse so decided to find a dairy free version – and I have to say this works so much better than I could have hoped.
It’s really quick and easy and tastes stunningly chocolaty. As tofu is used to replace the double cream element, it’s much healthier too as it’s low in saturated fat, although go easy on the agave syrup as this sweetener will rack up the refined sugar content some what. Although marketed as a healthy alternative to refined sugar, agave is just as processed and can even have a higher sugar content than the nasty high-fructose corn syrup that’s added to so many processed cakes and pastries. Mind you, this IS a chocolate pudding, so has to have a little devilish nastiness to it!!
Dairy free chocolate mousse
350g silken tofu
170g dairy free chocolate
3/4 tablespoon agave syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
fresh berries/berry coulis to serve
First, melt the chocolate in a clean bowl over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool slightly. Meanwhile, drain and dry the tofu and puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add the melted chocolate, agave syrup, vanilla essence and salt and blend again until smooth and well m
ixed. Spoon out into four individual ramekin dishes and chill in the fridge for 1 – 2 hours or until set. Serve with whole fresh berries or a berry coulis and enjoy your divine chocolate treat!
One of the first curries my children took to was Matar Paneer – or cheesy peas as we called them. It’s fairly sweet, not too spicy with two clearly recognisable ingredients – cheese and peas. It was something the children could really identify and enjoy.
Our local curry house made a beautiful matar paneer; once I embarked on my dairy free quest, it was a matter of watching the others devour this delicious dish with it’s rich creamy sauce – no more cheesy peas for me, or so I thought!
Matar paneer is one of those dishes that has been seriously anglo-philed. During our time in India, I realised that the Indian version has a much deeper, richer flavour than the one on offer at our local Tandoori, with very little sauce and definitely no cream. In fact this was one of the main differences we found between Indian and English curries – the Brits do like a lot of sauce!
Apart from the cheese and the peas, one of the key ingredients for matar paneer is ghee, or clarified butter. Theoretically it’s dairy free; the protein and lactose molecules are separated from the fat itself in the clarifying process. But modern manufacturing methods have altered the quality and purity of mass produced ghee. I’ve certainly ended up with a migraine after inadvertently consuming it, so I tend to steer clear, which is a shame, as the ghee gives the dish a rich, luxuriant flavour.
For the cheese, I use extra firm tofu, well squeezed. This was easier in India as you could actually buy tofu paneer, it’s texture and taste pretty close to the real thing. I’ve not seen this back in the UK. To make tofu suitable for frying, you need to remove it from it’s packet and drain away the fluid. Place some kitchen roll on a plate, put the tofu block on top and cover it with more kitchen roll. Then put another plate on the top with some kind of weight – a jam jar for example – and leave in the fridge for a few hours. If your tofu is really wet, you may want to change the kitchen roll after a couple of hours. And use a large plate on the bottom otherwise tofu water drips everywhere!! You should end up with firm, dryish tofu ready to fry.
Vegetable oil replaces ghee – you need to heat the pan up pretty high before popping in the tofu to brown (another reason for getting rid of excess water). Leave it in the pan long enough to get a firm crispiness before turning it, as this adds to the texture of the dish. I tend to use much less oil than many recipes or restaurants – having a dish served with a puddle of fat lying on top just puts me off!
Dairy Free Matar Paneer
225g pack of extra firm tofu, drained
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, chopped
200g peas, fresh or frozen
chillis or chilli powder**
5cm fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
fresh coriander (to serve)
Make sure your tofu is drained and pressed (as above). Heat the oil in a pan and fry the tofu on all sides until brown and crispy. Remove from the pan and put to one side whilst you fry the onion until soft and slightly browned – you may need to add a little more oil and/or turn the heat down a bit. Then add about 5 tablespoons or so of hot water and a pinch of salt and the peas. Stir well, turn down the heat, pop on a lid and cook for 5 minutes until the peas are nearly cooked. Add the browned tofu, ginger and ground coriander and simmer for a few minutes, stirring gently. Add a little more water if you want a saucier dish. Stir in the garam masala and fresh coriander, taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve with warm chapati or roti and enjoy!
** Chilli. You can use fresh chillis or chilli powder for this dish. I haven’t put an amount as it depends on how spicy you want it to be. I tend to use one medium sized fresh green chilli or a flat teaspoon of chilli powder. This gives it flavour without much kick. Use more, or less, according to your taste – you can always add more if necessary