NOVEMBER NATURE – CHEF JP DOES TOFU
Chef JP celebrates vegan month this November with some tasty tofu dishes
As I have mentioned before, I love balance not just in my life, but when it comes to food. By that I mean maintaining a healthy balance between nature and nurture in order to keep our minds, bodies and souls in equilibrium.
Of course, my passion is food so I will be narrowing things down and looking at keeping those scales in sync from the kitchen to the plate.
Yes, I love my crispy pork, my medium rump and other foodie feasts – but I also concur that if we overdo everything that we love, we will not only lose the novelty of a special dish or celebration but also find ourselves at a T-junction or cul-de-sac along the journey of life.
As we all know, there has been a massive growth in the number of people who are “going vegan” whether because it is fashionable or because they simply feel a greater sense of both physical and mental wellness as a result. One message that is coming through loud and clear as both researchers and foodies do their work is that we need to reconnect with the world of vegetables – or, more technically put, plant protein.
Because November is vegan month and I’m going to show you how to enjoy plant-based protein on a next-generation level with all those essential nutrients and vitamins enhanced by one of the things that many who enjoy both animal protein and heaps of carbohydrates miss – plenty of flavour.
I guess that we are kind of over those cheesy No Meat Mondays and Fish Fridays, so let’s club the clichés from the outset. I think that we all realise that we can achieve a perfect balance of protein, plant or non-plant, throughout the week, through consciously knowing when and how to pair this will our meals and listening to our bodies rather than our ultra-busy lifestyles when it comes to deciding what to eat.
All that said, it’s an interesting fact that, back in the day, the early human was born with an appendix simply because he or she was predominantly a plant eater and this was needed to help digest this herbivorous diet. As man became both a hunter and a gatherer, the appendix suddenly became as redundant as a vinyl record. Add plenty of super processed food in supermarkets and it became totally obsolete because diets were so easily digestible. Good or bad, today, some kids are even born without an appendix. I guess we could call that meal time evolution.
NUTRIENT RICH NOVEMBER
But, I’m going to say it again. If we are to attain that perfect balance between health and taste, we do, quite literally, need to go back to our roots.
So, let’s embark on a journey into veganism and even vegetarianism – and when we get to our landing page next week, there’ll be a foray into mood food with a look at how food and body frequency and our personalities all play an amazing role in what we eat and determining how and why what we put in our mouths can be either good or bad for our mental health.
Tofu – aka bean curd – is coagulated soy which is then cold pressed into white blocks. Most people confuse it with paneer which is an Indian delicacy that is made the same way as cheese and is essentially dairy.
Tofu is extremely rich in natural calcium, iron and magnesium and, interestingly enough, dates back to the Han dynasty in China 2000 years ago. It was then brought to Japan by the Zen monks. The stinky type of tofu that has everyone pulling up their noses (quite literally) is because of the fermented fish sauce in which they brine it – but the more user-friendly Chinese version is just fermented in a vegetable and salt brine.
Tofu is regarded by many as tasteless. But I think we need to relook at this. The one thing that I love about tofu is that, because of its density, it absorbs any flavour with high potency.
MISO SOUP WITH TOFU
The relaxed approach – which equates to the dietary therapy that is inherent in traditional Chinese and Japanese food – is a wakeup call for good health and the reason for more and more of us making conscious good food decisions
Tofu became quite famous when the Japanese brought miso soup to the west. Like the folklore that tells us that Chinese chicken soup heals all ailments, the real truth is in the detail and Miso soup is probably more likely to play that role.
Sadly, miso soup is not available freely in Durban where I live and can be quite hard to find in other centres, too. My favourite restaurant Daruma , made the best authentic miso soup. But, since relocating to the Pearls in Umhlanga, took it off their menu. So, now, the best place to source miso is in my kitchen. I make fresh miso once a month. It consists of tofu, miso paste, fish stock (although in this case veg stock is just as good), mirin sauce, soy, mushrooms, garlic chives and seaweed. This soup will make you get out of bed any day…
GRILLED TOFU AND VEGETABLE RICE PAPER ROLLS
When it comes to healthy vegan fare and tasty colourful options, this dish is the way to go.
The ingredient list is as healthy as you are going to get:
1 diced red onion
1 medium carrot, cut julienne style
a handful of finely chopped kale
1 Israeli cucumber, finely sliced
10 grams pickled sushi-grade ginger
100 grams tofu, cut into squares
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
a few sprigs of cilantro / coriander
4 sheets of rice paper
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
a handful of breadcrumbs (gluten free)
half a cup of rose water
salt and pepper for seasoning
After 5 minutes in the steamer, let the vegetables rest, add some salt and pepper. Heat up a wok and dry fry the vegetables on high heat. Don’t let them burn. Keep on moving them around for 2 minutes before turning off the heat and spreading out the vegetables on a tray to ensure that they cool down completely.
Once all your vegetables are prepped, paying attention to the fine details makes this dish super crunchy and keeps all the nutrition wrapped inside your rice paper.
Steam all the vegetables in a bamboo steamer with half a cup (more or less) of rose water. This will give your vegetables a subtle fragrance as rose water has a very hi food frequency – but more of that next week.
Coat your tofu cubes with gluten free crumbs and place them in your air fryer on 150°C for 3 minutes. Then, change your setting to 180°C for a further 2 minutes. Set them aside to rest and cool down to room temperature.
This dish is served at room temperature, so lay your rice paper on a flat surface and spray with a little water. The paper will now be translucent and ready for you to assemble your vegetables. When you are happy with the combination, roll the paper gently – remember that rice paper is very fragile so you need to do this very carefully.
You can garnish your dish with some sweet chilli sauce and drizzle with some soy before adding some cilantro and some extra seasoning if required. Then you can crunch away on one of the more colourful vegan snacks out there.
VEGAN CARBS AND GREENS
Sometimes, you need to load your meal with a bit of bulk and morecrispy freshness. This tofu based dish is ideal for that because it includes creamy gluten free pasta with a hint of miso infused coconut cream, some grilled cucumber and baby marrow.
Air fryers are not just a good invention, but also reduce our carbon footprint whilst, most importantly, being a far healthier cooking option. Making this dish requires two easy steps – cooking your gluten and egg free tagliatelle pasta in a pot with a dash of olive oil in order to separate the pasta and ensure that it doesn’t go gooey. then we’ll add the rest of the ingredients to complete the dish.
Cooking pasta well actually goes beyond the instructions on the back of the packet. Some tips – whilst cooking your pasta, add a dash of salt to reduce the boiling point and balance a wooden spoon on the surface of the cooking pasta to prevent it from boiling over… see, I’m not just a pretty face!
YOUR PANTRY IS NOW OPEN:
2 medium baby marrows
100 grams pasta
20 grams Portobello mushrooms
a few garlic chives
25 ml coconut cream
20 ml olive oil
1 small English cucumber
50 ml miso paste
5 grams sesame seeds
100 grams soft tofu, cubed
a small handful of red peppercorns
salt and pepper
Rinse your vegetables in salt water and start prepping by slicing your mushrooms and your green vegetables into wafer thing slices. We want to keep them crisp.
Pre- heat your air fryer to 150°C, rub your cubed tofu with some olive oil and place in the fryer for 7 minutes. Then, place your vegetables inside with the tofu and crank up the heat for 3 minutes.
The contents should now be crisp and golden brown.
Your pasta should also now be cooked al dente. Strain the pasta and, in a medium frying pan, pour in you coconut cream together with the miso paste and the vegetables. Stir them all around and let the heat from the warm pasta infuse into the other ingredients.
Cook for a minute or so. You are now ready to plate with some seasoning and peppercorns.
Not sure if you’ve noticed, but we are in summer rainy season and those clouds are certainly releasing their treasure – in the cookery sense, bean sprouts and tofu.
This dish is a perfect summer snack, full of finesse. In essence, it is a simplistic grilled tofu and cucumber salad plated to actually look like rain drops with thinly sliced Israeli cucumbers to garnish. You can add some pickled ginger and some crunchy micro herbs.
This dish is very popular in South East Asia. As it is just so fresh, I sometimes add some soy sauce to provide some natural sodium and saltiness.
Remember that bean sprouts are packed with plant protein and are the perfect alternative to eating a crunch bar or MSG induced unhealthily processed snack bar.
So, we have started November by speaking about food that is as good as nature intended. Next week, I’m going to turn to the subject of nurture and the ways that we can embrace food as a way to enhance our mood and mental health through cultivating good eating habits. Although we may feel trapped in our fast paced and fast food lifestyles, I am going to guide you with my personal experiences with health food and dig a bit deeper into the soil and how our bodies and minds can truly reflect the goodness of Mother Nature.
So, even if a vegan diet is not in your immediate horizon, I am sticking to my story – everything in life is about balance. If you balance your lifestyle elements with good earthy food, not just one day of the week but every day, you can look forward to a quality lifestyle.
Feed your body and soul with positive food …