January 10, 2013

tofu, otherwise known as whale snot

A couple of months ago I mentioned that our family is meandering toward vegetarianism. Or not really vegetarianism, since we do eat meat, albeit rarely. Maybe it would be better to say "a more plant based diet".  Except with bacon. And by our family I mean Will and I because Evie doesn't eat meat really (except bacon) but she doesn't really eat plants either. And Briton IS NOT A VEGETARIAN, MOM. So, yeah. It's really just Will and I. Whatever.

It's going well, believe it or not. I don't really find myself missing meat. And when we do, we cook meat. And Briton has his ham and cheese sandwiches to fill his meat lover moments.  But we are eating less and less and are pretty happy with it. It's expanding all our horizons, and that's a good thing. The other day I made quiche with rainbow chard and Evie asked what "that stuff" was and I told her rainbow food. She only picked out the really obviously green pieces, so I count that as a win.

I also mentioned that I have been a vegetarian once before, and that I was, I freely admit, a terrible vegetarian. I didn't really know how to cook much at all and cooking vegetarian food mostly meant replacing all meat in recipes with TVP and eating a lot of pasta. Which wasn't hugely successful, but I tried. I was young and dumb and poor and the three cookbooks I owned weren't much help. Especially the one all about meals colonial Americans would have eaten which, as a history major, I found fascinating, but I've never cooked a single thing from it. This time around I've been experimenting with all sorts of things. Faro and barley and crazy cheeses and meals that wouldn't need meat anyway instead of meals where the meat is just missing. But I've been resolutely avoiding one thing, one very "vegetarian food" thing. Tofu.

The thing is, tofu and I have a long, sordid history. When I was a kid, probably around Evie's age, we learned about tofu at a health food demonstration at school, came home and asked my dad what it was.

He told me that the word tofu was Japanese for "whale snot."

So, yeah. Being one of those kids who believed pretty much everything her parents said. I didn't try the tofu the next time it came around.

In fifth grade we had another tofu demonstration (and now that I think about it, it's weird that in Northern Idaho we were discussing tofu in the 1980's, because I honestly don't remember having tortillas back then, and tortillas seem way more accessible that tofu) this time we made tofu lasagna and I came away with the impression that tofu (which I still semi-believed was actually whale snot) was good in lasagna because it just tasted like lasagna. And who doesn't like lasagna?

So most of my life, that's been tofu. Just whale snot that you add to things when you wont notice there is tofu in them. If you have to. Otherwise. Yuck.

Fast forward to this week. Will, wonderful guy that he is, bought me one of Heidi Swanson's cookbooks for Christmas because I mentioned at some point that I liked the recipes on her blog, and, after thumbing through, I decided to try a soba noodle dish with, gasp, tofu.

Naturally I didn't tell my family. Even after it was made and waiting in the fridge, I just told them dinner was in the fridge and left for a PTO meeting. I only told Will later that "that stuff in the noodles" was tofu. Because surprisingly, it was really good. Really good. Snack on it the next day good.

Amazingly, I've figured out how to make tofu not taste like whale snot.

This was not, clearly, my own discovery. I read through the recipe, which called for dry frying the tofu and then went in search of more info on dry frying and came across some ideas for dry frying and then marinataing thinly sliced tofu and man, seriously? Where has that been all my life. Not a hint of whale snot! Will loved it, Briton liked it and Evie ate more than two bites. Holy cow. I feel like a whole new world of food has opened up.

So now that I'm not steering clear of the whale snot, I'm curious, does anyone out there cook it in an interesting way that I should try?