During Lent, even those who don't give up beer or Godiva do tend to think about meatless meals. And rightfully so, since going meatless is seen as a sacrifice by many of us. Vegetarians, on the other hand, have been going meatless forever and most seem to suffer no ill effects from their properly planned diets featuring protein sources other than "meat." (And that includes beef, poultry and seafood, people.)
One easy meatless way to get that protein is to turn to tofu, aka soybean curd. When combined with veggies — especially those rich in vitamin C — tofu can provide a substantial part of our daily protein needs. Further, it's lower in calories than many meats (88 in four ounces) and has no cholesterol, but is high in iron and magnesium and proffers some calcium and a bit of zinc.
Tofu comes in several forms — firm, extra firm, silken (creamy). The firm and extra-firm are great for cooking as they can be stir-fried, baked, even grilled or broiled.
Tofu's only drawback, if you can call it that, is that it's rather perishable, which is why it comes packaged in water. Do rinse it before using. And if you're not using an entire package, cover it with more water and store it in a sealed container. That way, it'll keep about a week in the fridge. Of course, you can freeze it for up to three months, but the texture becomes chewy, and watery.
We begin with the obvious, something Asian. Surely, you've made an eat-in dinner out of take-out fare from your local Chinese food emporium. Serve this with steamed rice (white or brown, 1 cup for each serving) and fruit. Green tea, served in little cups, adds to the ambience. So do chop sticks. And fortune cookies.
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 large)
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger root
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (10-ounce) packaged firm tofu, drained, cubed
1 cup chopped Vidalia onion
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 cups shredded Chinese cabbage
1-1/4 cup bean sprouts
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/3 cup sliced scallions (white and green parts)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
6 cups cooked rice
In a medium bowl, combine lemon juice, soy sauce, ginger root, sugar and garlic. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Add tofu and onion. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. (Or refrigerate 2 to 3 hours.) Drain tofu and onion, reserving marinade.
Drizzle oil around the top of a well-seasoned wok or large, deep non-stick skillet. Heat over medium until oil begins to shimmer. Add drained tofu and onion and stir-fry about 8 minutes, until tofu begins to brown and onion is tender. Remove tofu and onion from wok/skillet. Set aside; keep warm.
To wok, add cabbage, sprouts, red pepper, mushrooms and scallions. Stir-fry 2 minutes until vegetables are crisp-tender.
Combine reserved marinade and cornstarch and stir well. Add to vegetables and stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, until thickened. Return tofu mixture to wok and stir-fry about 30 seconds, until well heated. Serve with rice, 1 cup per serving. Makes 6 servings.
Baked tofu pilaf
A good way to include tofu at supper time is to use it in dishes that are familiar to the little dears. Surely, you've foisted vegetables on them in the form of rice pilaf, a la Middle East. Here's a way to add some protein, too.
P.S. A little time in the oven, helps the pilaf flavors meld with the tofu.
P.P.S. We use vegetable broth for this, but you can go ahead and use reduced fat/sodium chicken broth if you don't want to get too carried away.
Serve this main dish with some warm whole wheat pita bread. Add a side of fresh fruit salad.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup uncooked basmati rice
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 (14-1/2 ounce) can vegetable broth
1 cup sliced baby bella mushrooms
3/4 cup chopped carrots (or get shredded at the grocery salad bar)
3/4 cup packed baby spinach leaves, stems trimmed if needed
1/2 cup chopped celery
1-1/2 teaspoons peeled, shredded fresh ginger root
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-2/3 cups cubed firm tofu (8 or so ounces)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced, fresh cilantro
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large, deep, non-stick skillet, over medium-high, heat oil. Add rice and onion and saute 1 minute. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add mushrooms, carrots, spinach, celery, ginger root and garlic. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes, until rice is tender and liquid is pretty much absorbed.
Remove from heat. Gently stir in tofu, salt and pepper.
Spray coat a 2- to 3-quart casserole. Add veggie/tofu mixture. Cover and bake 20 minutes, until thoroughly heated. Sprinkle cilantro over pilaf before serving. Makes about 6 servings.
At last, some pasta. In this dish, we use extra-firm tofu (cubed) to take the place of veal, turkey or chicken cutlets in a piccata-style (meaning lemon-y) main dish, which we serve with linguine. Add a salad and some impeccably fresh Italian bread.
3 (10.5-ounce) packages extra-firm tofu, drained, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 teaspoons lemon juice
About 1/2 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
4 egg whites, plus 1 tablespoon cold water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound linguine, cooked al dente according to package directions
About 4 cups favorite marinara sauce (homemade or store-bought), heated
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained
Additional Parmesan cheese, for serving
Lemon wedges, optional for serving
In a large plastic bag, combine tofu cubes, lemon juice and cornstarch and shake gently to coat tofu. Let stand 30 minutes.
In another plastic bag, combine the 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, seasoned bread crumbs and parsley and shake well to combine.
In a small bowl, beat egg whites and water until frothy.
Dip tofu cubes into egg white mixture, shaking off excess. Add to bag with Parmesan cheese, crumbs and parsley. Shake well to coat tofu. Do this in batches, if necessary.
In a large, deep non-stick skillet over medium, heat olive oil. Add tofu cubes (in batches if necessary) and cook until browned, turning occasionally, about 8 minutes.
To serve, line a large, warm platter with hot linguine. Spoon on fried tofu. Spoon heated marinara sauce over tofu. Sprinkle with capers. Serve extra marinara sauce, Parmesan cheese and lemon wedges on the side. Makes 6 or more servings.