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The Husband embraces superhero tofu

Tofu is not universally celebrated in our house. The Husband considers it ‘blandness incarnate’. In some ways I guess he’s right. A bit like bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, tofu’s basically a vessel for flavour. But just look at the miraculous flavours and textures you can create using these superhero vessels.

If you are ambivalent about tofu, read on.

Our favourite tofu dish to date has been the ridiculously easy to prepare chilled tofu with soy sauce, ginger and katsuobushi (dried fermented tuna flakes) from Tim Anderson’s inspiring JapanEasy. In his introduction to the dish, Tim concedes that the dish sounds unprepossessing. However, he also says it’s a cracking dish. He’s right: it’s lipsmackingly delicious. A perfect introduction to bean curd for the tofu sceptic.

Tim Anderson’s chilled tofu with ginger and soy sauce (no katsuobushi – so vegan)

However, it’s time we branched out. London Daughter and I agree that Meera Sodha’s dry-fried beans with minced tofu sounds both straightforward and intriguing – a good weekend supper dish. Confession time: it was the mention of Sichuan peppercorns that caught my eye. I’d bought a sackload of them when London Daughter took on Ixta Belfrage’s (from Ottolenghi Kitchen) biang biang noodles with numbing oil and tahini soy sauce.

London Daughter's take on biang biang noodles using Sichuan peppercorns.
London Daughter’s version of biang biang noodles

That was from Guardian Feast back in November 2020 before my self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 began. And so to Issue No.180 and week 25 of the challenge.

Bring on Meera Sodha’s vegan dish: dry-fried beans with minced tofu

London Daughter and I both decide to cook Meera’s plateful. We head out for ingredients – me in Northumberland, her in North London.

I manage a pack of green beans from our Saturday market and pressed tofu and dried shiitake from our local organic gem the Green Shop. I receive a WhatsApp from London Daughter: ‘Got fresh shiitake but no green beans 😂. Only in Crouch End!’

Got fresh shiitake but no green beans 😂. Only in Crouch End!

London Daughter

London Daughter cooks her version of Meera’s beans and tofu the night before I do. From the pics, I’d say she makes a better job of the dish than me. I rather overdo the burning of the beans but hers look just right.

The combo of minced tofu and mushrooms gives an almost meaty chew to the dish and both the daughter and I opt to chuck in a few extra red chillies on top of the crushed Sichuan peppercorns as suggested by Meera.

London Daughter declared the dish ‘salty and crunchy, quite different’. For The Husband it ‘makes tofu interesting – no small achievement!’.

Meera’s dish ‘makes tofu interesting – no small achievement!’

The Husband

Praise indeed for this underrated superhero of vegan food.

Erchen Chang’s dan dan tofu noodles

Clearly at a loose end, London Daughter decides to use up her block of pressed tofu on another dish in Issue No.180 of Feast: Erchen Chang’s dan dan tofu noodles. I suggest she might like to blog about it for me. She sends pics and comments instead:

Erchen describes the noodles as a ‘simple, savoury dish’. London Daughter describes it as:

Sweet, salty, tangy, hot-hot-hot. Complete SULA… sweaty upper lip alert!

London Daughter

London Daughter couldn’t lay her hands on any black vinegar and used balsamic instead. In the taste test she judged it as having ‘lots of oil, not much veg, but it’s very tasty’. She thought the heat might defeat her, but slurped down the whole bowl. She says I should definitely cook it.

Rachel Roddy – gateau au yaourt

We were completely beguiled by Rachel Roddy’s wonderful tale from an Italian kitchen this week which involves an elderly gentleman, yoghurt and a careless supermarket trolley driver. The Husband, London Daughter and I agree it would make the youngest daughter weep. We discovered through lockdown that anything involving elderly men and vulnerability (in films, cartoons, stories) will for some reason set her off.

London Daughter was so beguiled by Rachel’s story that she cooked the yoghurt cake of the tale. In the end, she was a little underwhelmed by it. She wondered if it was to do with ingredient quantities: the cake rose magnificently but remained rather dense and a ‘a bit bland’. Fortunately the youngest daughter is on her way to London to visit her sister and loves an olive oil cake (and she’s always hungry!).

I’ll sign off this week with three cheers for two superheroes of the kitchen: tofu (and its sidekicks heat, rice and noodles) and London Daughter.

Original recipes:

Tim Anderson – chilled tofu with soy sauce, ginger and katsuobushi

Ixta Belfrage (for Ottolonghi) – biang biang noodles with numbing oil and tahini soy sauce

Meera Sodha – dry-fried beans with minced tofu

Erchen Chang – dan dan tofu noodles

Rachel Roddy – gateau au yaourt (yoghurt cake)

London Daughter’s beautiful version of Meera Sodha’s dry-fried beans with minced tofu

MĂ©lange Ă  trois: jelly, empanadas, rice rolls

Some weeks the urge to mix it up is irresistible. With our lockdown clan (The Husband, the two daughters and me) reunited for my birthday, this was just such a week.

We needed celebration. We needed snacking. We needed playful food.

We needed celebration. We needed snacking. We needed playful food. Enter Guardian Feast Issue No.178 the let me entertain you issue with Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly, Felicity Cloake’s perfect cheese empanadas and Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls.

My challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), continues apace. This week it was lovely to have the return of the eldest daughter’s nimble fingers and strict kitchen protocol.

Read on for the usual useful insights into tackling unknown recipes and tempting mouthwatering deliciousness.

The photo of Ravneet’s beautiful pineapple and coconut jelly was simultaneously droolingly succulent and terrifying. I wanted to grab a spoon and plunge it into the photo but I wanted Ravneet to make it for me. However, part of my reason for tackling a recipe a week from Feast is to wrestle through recipes I would otherwise skip over. Here goes.

Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly

We only have one jelly mould in the house and I felt a tad offended that The Husband considered it ‘eccentric’ for the jelly in hand. I mean, it is ‘a great jelly mould’ as required by Ravneet, perhaps just not the one she had in mind (see below).

My lobster jelly mould. Perhaps not quite the ‘great jelly mould’ for Ravneet’s spectacular pineapple and coconut jelly

It’s a wibbly wobbly pina colada!

Since the coconut jelly (a delicious smooth, creamy panna cotta) must set before the pineapple wobble is poured on top of it, I made this over two days (I’m learning to read a recipe properly before I start it!). I used the gelatin powder I had in stock, rather than the recommended platinum leaves. It seemed fine. I ended up with more of both jellies than required – a small ramekin of the coconut and double pineapple and lime! My daughter was clearly right in her interpretation of the recipe: ‘400g pineapple, trimmed, peeled and cut into small chunks’ means the unpeeled and untrimmed weight. Oh well, double dibs on pineapple jelly? No one’s complaining.

If I were to make this gorgeous party centrepiece again – it’s a wibbly wobbly pina colada, why wouldn’t I? – I would clingfilm the surface of the coconut panna cotta to prevent it forming a slightly rubbery skin while it’s setting (although The Husband loved the ‘texture’).

Wibble wobble, lobster jelly on a plate: my take on Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly. Pina colada on a plate!

The eldest daughter picked up the baton for Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls and Felicity Cloake’s perfect cheese empanadas to create a welcome home feast for the youngest daughter.

Feleicity Cloake’s the perfect… cheese empanadas

The eldest daughter ordered in masarepa (pre-cooked cornmeal) specially to make these golden cheese toasty wraps.

The biggest challenge was (as Felicity hints) handling the corn pastry. Felicity counsels ‘handling it with wet hands at all times’. The issue for us was that the pastry tore and holed really easily. Wet hands helped but the biggest breakthrough was using extra masarepa and greaseproof paper in the envelope creation. That way you barely need to touch the empanadas with your hands.

Felicity suggests a range of acceptable extras to add to your cheesy filling. To be honest ours needed a bit of flavour-plumping – the blend of mozzarella and halloumi was not the most flavoursome. We all agreed that we’d add jalapeno peppers in the mix next time and probably change the cheese combo for something with a bit more oomph. We baked ours – although I can see the appeal of deep frying!

Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls

Like Ravneet’s jelly, Yotam’s vegan rice rolls look so pretty and appealing on the page. We couldn’t wait to recreate them. Yotam’s right to call them ‘zingy’. Bursting with pine nuts, sesame seeds, chestnuts, ginger, garlic and chilli, they have exactly the right balance of chew and crunch and zest and heat.

The eldest daughter took charge of prep while I got the shitake shrooms soaking and searched out the rest of the ingredients. Instead of adding the fried ingredients to the cold marinated tofu, we popped the tofu in the pan and let it warm through and soak up the soy saucy flavours. Other than that, we stuck to Yotam’s instructions. Bish bash bosh: top nosh.

Original recipes:

Ravneet Gill pineapple and coconut jelly

Felicity Cloake the perfect… cheese empanadas

Yotam Ottolenghi – zingy tofu rice paper rolls

MĂ©lange Ă  trois. What a feast!

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