Wednesday, May 29, 2013

First salad of the season! (or, how to make tofu croutons)

I think it is fair to assume that all of humanity can be divided into two groups - those who have an interest in something called "tofu croutons," and those who do not.  So I thought I'd be real upfront for those of you who don't, just so you know that buried within this post is information about this thing I've decided to call tofu croutons.  Don't shoot the messenger, carnivores.  You were warned.

The other night for dinner I decided to harvest some of the mesclun mix that is ready to eat.  I'd just bought some gorgeous looking strawberries and decided to incorporate the two into a salad.  Balsamic vinegar is a natural accompaniment to both salad and strawberries, so I mixed up a makeshift "balsamic vinaigrette" out of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, a little lemon juice, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.

I really would have loved to add some fresh basil, but as you can see in the picture, that plant is not quite ready for consumption!  So instead I settled for a little mint.

The salad was pretty, but nutritionally was not offering much as a dinner.  Enter the tofu croutons! To turn my block of extra firm tofu into crispy croutons, I followed the following steps (note that from start to finish this is a solid hour-and-a-half, so plan accordingly):
  • Open and drain a package of Extra Firm Tofu
  • Place between two plates with a heavy object on top (I used our juicer, since it was sitting on the counter anyway).  Leave for about 30 minutes -- this will press out any extra liquid and allow the tofu to better absorb the marinade.
  • Cut tofu into chunks (mine were about 3/4 inch cubes). 
  • Toss the tofu in either your own or store-bought balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  Allow to sit in a shallow pan or baking dish for another 30 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Spray a baking sheet with some type of non-stick cooking spray (I used olive oil spray)
  • Scatter tofu pieces on the sheet, and bake for 20 minutes on middle or upper rack.
  • After twenty minutes, check for crispness.  At this point, the "croutons" are cooked, but mine were still soft so I returned to the oven for another 20 minutes.  I like them very crisp on the outside.  You may want to set your timer in 5- or 10-minute intervals to be on the safe side.
  • When they meet your established level of crispy-ness, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.  Enjoy as a snack, on a salad, or in a stir fry.  I've also added them to soup.
I've experimented with many flavors on these little guys.  Another favorite thing is to do an Asian-influenced marinade (soy sauce, ginger, rice wine vinegar) and I toss in with stir-fry vegetables.  

When in doubt, Google "tofu marinade" for inspiration!

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