Monday, January 5, 2015

Spicy Peanut Tofu Tacos {Meatless Monday}

Tofu gets pumped up with a spicy peanut sauce and topped with good for you sautéed chard, radishes and red onions before getting enveloped in a warm tortilla. You won't mess the meat with these satisfying tacos.



It took me a while to come around to tofu and soybean products. It wasn’t until college, living away from home and making my own food choices, that I discovered mock “chicken” at a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. I had to ask the waiter what the mock chicken was made from because I hadn’t a clue. I thought it was pretty good but meat-eating me thought it didn't really compare to the real thing.

Later, in my mid 20s, for the love of this guy (isn’t that usually the reason?), I did something I never thought I would do: I stopped eating meat and went full on macrobiotic for almost two years, re-learning how to cook using tofu and miso and seitan and giving up all things dairy and spending more money than I made on organic everything. My meat-loving Mexican food-eating family were so beside themselves. Looking back, I don’t blame them. That was a tough time for holiday eats!

The moment I gave up on the dude, I went back to my meat eating/loving ways. But now I had a learned appreciation and love for soybean products. Usually though, I simply cubed the tofu and threw it into a pot of simmering miso or tossed it into a veggie stir-fry for some added protein, never having eaten it any other way. Until the morning I had breakfast with a friend at the newly opened Mission Cafe in North Park. That's when I decided to try their Zen Breakfast. I was working out extensively with a trainer at the time and thought it sounded the most healthy: scrambled egg whites, braised organic tofu, brown rice, grilled zucchini and squash with tomato and onion garnish.

Seriously? Doesn’t that sound delicious? Oh man! It didn’t disappoint and to this day it remains my favorite dish on their menu. I tried for the longest time to duplicate that tofu at home and simply couldn’t do it. Theirs had a bit of a crunchy exterior with a tender interior and full of teriyaki yumminess. 




Fast forward to just last year and I’m perusing the food queue at work of incoming food stories from our wire services and I stumble upon a story discussing the merits of tofu and discover that it should be pressed to remove as much of the packing liquid as possible. Who knew? I didn’t! And that slightly crunchy exterior? Well, that’s usually because it’s been baked prior to marinating. Pressing and baking dries the tofu out enough to prime it for soaking up whatever tasty sauce you marinate it in. That very weekend I brought home my favorite sprouted tofu, sliced it up, pressed it for 30 minutes under heavy weight, baked it and then proceeded with my braising. I had the best home prepared tofu of my life that night. More than 25 years now of eating tofu at home and I had no idea I was missing out on a much better tofu-eating experience.

This recipe might seem like a lot of work, but it really isn’t if you break it down and follow it as I’ve written it. While the tofu is being pressed, you can prep the veggies. Once the tofu goes into the oven to bake the first time, you sauté the veggies and and make the marinade. When the tofu is golden and crispy, toss it into the marinade and let it sit for 5 minutes then back into the oven it goes to caramelize which gives you just enough time to clean up and set the table. 10 minutes later, it’s taco time! For these photos, I served this batch of spicy tofu on cauliflower tortillas but I’ve used regular corn tortillas as well as whole wheat so you can use your favorite tortilla. It’s also delicious served on a bed of scrambled eggs if you don’t want any added carb calories.

A note on the sprouted tofu

Regular tofu is made from cooked soybeans whereas sprouted tofu is made from soybeans that have been sprouted first. This makes them more easily digestible and sprouted tofu is higher in protein, calcium, iron and good fat (high in omega-3) than regular tofu as well as being lower in carbohydrates. My favorite is Trader Joe’s Oragnic Extra Firm Sprouted Tofu which comes in a 15.5 ounce package. 





SPICY PEANUT TOFU TACOS
Yield: 5 servings (two tacos per serving)

INGREDIENTS
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15.5 ounce package of Trader Joe’s Organic Extra Firm Sprouted Tofu (or your favorite extra firm tofu)

FOR THE TOPPING
5 large leaves red chard
½ medium red onion
3 large radishes
1 ½ teaspoons olive oil
2 capfuls of rice vinegar
pinch ground black pepper, or taste

FOR THE PEANUT SAUCE 
¼ cup sesame oil
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon smooth peanut butter, preferably unsalted natural with no added sugar
¼ cup low sodium soy sauce
1 garlic clove, pressed or finely minced
½ teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger
3 teaspoons chili paste or harissa
¼ cup water


DIRECTIONS
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1. Cut tofu into ½-inch slices; place onto a towel-lined plate or rimmed baking sheet and cover with a second towel. Place a second baking sheet or plate on top of the tofu and weight it down with several heavy cans evenly spaced. Allow to press for 30 minutes. Continue by prepping vegetables while you wait.

2. First, begin by removing and chopping the stems from the chard; rinse chopped stems, drain and set aside. Slice the leaves in half length-wise, then slice each half length-wise again. Stack the slices, chop into bite-sized pieces then place into a large bowl of cold water, swooshing leaves around to remove any dirt. Drain the chard then pat dry with paper towels or use a salad spinner to dry; set aside. Thinly slice radishes; set aside. Thinly slice onions; set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil (preferably, use a Misto if you have one*). Remove weight from tofu. Cut tofu into bite-sized pieces and place on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes; remove from oven, flip tofu and bake for an additional 10 minutes. 

4. Make the sauce by combining all the sauce ingredients into a medium-sized bowl and whisking to create a smooth marinade; set aside. 

5. Set a sauté pan on medium high heat; drizzle olive oil in pan. Toss in the chard stems and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the onions and radishes; cook until tender, 1 - 2 minutes longer. Add the chard leaves, stirring until leaves begin to wilt. Splash the rice vinegar over the vegetables, stirring to incorporate. Season with a pinch of black pepper, or to taste; set aside.

6. Remove baked tofu from oven; add to the marinade and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Generously spray the same baking sheet with olive oil, then use a slotted spoon to add the tofu to the pan in a single layer reserving the leftover marinade. Return to the oven and bake until the tofu starts to caramelize, about 10-15 minutes.

7. To assemble tacos, place two tablespoons of tofu on a warm tortilla. Drizzle a bit of the peanut sauce over the tofu, if desired, then top with the veggies and serve immediately.

•Unlike commercial cooking spray, using a Misto, or other refillable oil spray container, is less likely to leave that gummy residue on cookware and bakeware as it uses a pump to aerosolize instead of chemicals. The added benefit is being able to fill the Misto with any of your favorite cooking oils. 


Nutritional data estimates for two tacos …
With corn tortillas: CAL 357 CARBS 33g FAT 20g PROTEIN 14g SODIUM 498mg SUGAR 7

With cauliflower tortillas: CAL 311 CARBS 19g FAT 20g PROTEIN 17Gg SODIUM 730mg SUGAR 8

A big thank you to my sister Ellie who came over to help me make these for the post. Such a treat to have action shots! Until next time … Happy eats. 
xo, Ani

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