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NW Life | Food | local | Cooking

'PNW Veg' Recipe: Tofu That Actually Tastes Like Something


Seattle culinary journalist and teacher Kim O’Donnel — a transplant from the other coast — meandered through the Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University a couple of years ago and experienced that moment. “I came upon the DeNoble stand and could not believe that a farm could grow artichokes and bring them to market,” she says.

Early on, Kim O'Donnel penciled "PNW Veg" on a notepad, shorthand for the book she wanted to create.

Early on, Kim O’Donnel penciled “PNW Veg” on a notepad, shorthand for the book she wanted to create.

That’s how Planked Artichokes with Lavender-Rosemary Crumbs and Miso Butter ended up on the cover of her new “PNW Veg, 100 Vegetable Recipes Inspired by the Local Bounty of the Pacific Northwest.” It’s one in a growing number of vegacious cookbooks that bypass the whole notion of fake meat to glory in our plant-centric abundance.

“Increasing access to fresh, seasonal produce is a major factor in the Pacific Northwest leading the charge” in the fast-developing veg-forward movement, O’Donnel says. She sees legumes as part of that future, nutritionally and environmentally. Her explorations took her to the Palouse region spanning the Washington-Idaho border, where “abundant, varied beans and lentils are produced — a lean, inexpensive source of protein.”

O’Donnel made up a carnivorous “mythical creature” to advise her in recipe development and, while taste-testing, asks, “Would Mr. Sausage like it?” The recipes, including many gluten-free and vegan options, spark with lively ingredient combinations. But especially appealing are O’Donnel’s instructive, encouraging tips and kitchen notes that remove obstacles almost before they can be formulated.

“PNW Veg” is being marketed as a regional book because “not everyone has access to stinging nettles or fiddlehead ferns,” says O’Donnel. But home cooks everywhere can wade in and improvise if a particular ingredient is not available. Think fresh blueberries for the Huckleberry Polenta Cake or Blackberry Tofu Pud.

O’Donnel will be at Powell’s City of Books at 7:30 p.m. June 13.

After years of experimenting, Kim O'Donnel found a way to pan-fry tofu — usually so bland — until spicy-crisp. Here it replaces fresh mozzarella in a classic caprese salad, but it can be layered into sandwiches or added to her Viet-Style Herb Salad. 

After years of experimenting, Kim O’Donnel found a way to pan-fry tofu — usually so bland — until spicy-crisp. Here it replaces fresh mozzarella in a classic caprese salad, but it can be layered into sandwiches or added to her Viet-Style Herb Salad. 

Photograph by Charity Burggraaf

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Crispy Salt-and-Pepper Tofu Caprese

“Pan-fried salt-and-pepper tofu takes the place of fresh mozzarella in this iconic Italian salad. In lieu of the dairy fat, this salad gets a lip-smacking boost from a slick of basil-infused oil. It’s a lovely composition bursting with summery color.” — Kim O’Donnel

Kitchen notes: Both the basil oil and the tofu can be made in advance. Store any leftover oil in the refrigerator and use in vinaigrettes or to lather a bowl of pasta or your favorite grain. Reheat the tofu in a dry skillet. Look for extra-firm or firm tofu packed in water in the refrigerated section of the supermarket.

Prep time: 45 minutes (excluding tofu) |
Average | Gluten-free, vegan
 
6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 heaping cups basil leaves, stemmed as needed, plus 6 to 8 torn leaves for garnish
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium slicing tomatoes (heirloom varieties are extra wonderful and interesting), cut into wedges or 1-inch slices
  • 1 recipe Crispy Salt-and-Pepper Tofu (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, for garnish (optional)

 To prepare

  1. First, make the basil oil. Bring 4 cups water to a boil over high heat in a medium pot and add the basil. Boil for about 30 seconds, drain, and immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water. Using your hands, squeeze the basil firmly to extract as much water as possible.
  2. Combine the basil and oil in a stand blender or mini-chopper and blend until fairly smooth. Pour the oil over a strainer into a glass jar, gently pressing on the basil to extract as much oil as possible. This may take up to 20 minutes. Set aside until ready to use.
  3. Arrange the tomatoes on a platter or large plate and generously spoon the basil oil over the top. (You probably won’t need all of the oil.) Arrange the tofu over the top, estimating about 4 triangles per serving. Decorate the perimeter of each plate with cherry tomatoes. Scatter the basil leaves on top.

Serve on a big platter family-style or individually, suggests O’Donnel. To make a more substantial meal, add cooked fish like grilled halibut or wild salmon; another protein like brown rice pilaf or quinoa; or gazpacho or her Velvety Asparagus-Mint Soup with Lavender-Lemon Goat Cheese.

Crispy Salt-and-Pepper Tofu

“For years I tried countless ways to season (and prepare) tofu so that it actually tastes like something. Nothing resonated until I discovered this simple two-step method — coating the tofu with oil and spices, then searing it in a hot, dry skillet. The seasonings can be as basic as salt and pepper, as they are here. This versatile preparation is like a little black dress; you can dress it up (or down) and figure it out as you go along.” — Kim O’Donnel

Prep time: 30 to 35 minutes (draining plus 15 minutes hands-on) | Easy | Gluten-free, vegan

4 to 5 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 (14-ounce) package fresh extra-firm tofu (preferably organic or non-GMO)
  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

To prepare 

  1. To press and drain the tofu, remove from the package, discard the water, and place on a dinner plate. Set a smaller plate on top, then weigh down with a heavy object (such as a can of beans or a jar of jam) to press and release the water. Let sit for about 15 minutes. Drain the residual water.
  2. Lay the tofu flat on a cutting board. Halve on the diagonal so that you have two right-angle triangles. Lay each triangle on its longest side so that the right angle is at the top, like a mountain peak. Cut lengthwise into four identical triangles about 1/2 inch thick. (You will end up with eight of these). Now lay each triangle down flat and cut crosswise into three smaller triangles (they will not be identical), for a grand total of twenty-four pieces. Arrange the tofu on a tray or large plate.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, salt, and pepper with a fork until the salt is nearly dissolved. Generously brush the tofu on both sides with the seasoned oil.
  4. Heat a 10- to 12-inch skillet (cast-iron works great here) over medium-high heat until nearly smoking hot. Cook the tofu in batches for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and crispy, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent burning. 

The tofu is best eaten the day it is made, though it will keep for 1 to 2 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator; reheat in a dry skillet.

O’Donnel suggests using this crispy tofu with pita bread or a soft baguette or sandwich roll: Pesto or tapenade (but not ketchup!) makes a good spread; add roasted peppers, pickled carrots and/or radishes. Try mixed salad greens, romaine or arugula – “you can drizzle sesame oil inside the lettuce,” she says. 

Excerpted from “PNW Veg” by Kim O’Donnel, copyright 2017. Photography by Charity Burggraaf. Republished with permission from Sasquatch Books.

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