You might have heard from pro-meat eaters that switching to a plant-based diet is difficult, incomplete and leads to a slew of deficiencies in various vitamins and nutrients. Let me just say that it is literally and figuratively a pile of Bologna.
I took the plunge into a fully plant-based diet in the Spring of this year and I have to say it was the easiest transition I have ever made. Apart from ditching all animal foods (meat and dairy) and learning a bit about the preparation of Tofu, Tempeh and trying out Seitain once there really wasn’t anything else that is foreign to me. All other foods that are part of plant-based diet were either already very familiar to me or already present on my plate. So let’s talk about protein sources for a minute.
Tofu (bean curd) and Tempeh are pretty much the same in that they are both made out of Soybeans: Tofu out of soy milk and Tempeh from whole beans. The only difference between them is how they are made: Tofu comes in several firmness levels, from silky smooth (almost yogurt like consistency) to extra firm. Tofu texture is very smooth void of any resemblance of soybeans that’s because soy milk is coagulated and then the resulting curds are pressed into soft white blocks that are submerged in water in a plastic enclosure when you buy it at the grocery store. Tempeh on the hand is made by natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds the actual soybeans into a cake form that yields a very textured product. However, the preparation for consumption of both can be very similar….
1. Get rid of the water from your Tofu.
Tofu preparation is slightly more involved because since it’s immersed in water while sitting on the shelf of your grocery store you will need to get rid of that water that penetrated your Tofu before cooking for best results. What you want to do when you bring your Tofu home is to take it out of the plastic packaging (that is if you plan to cook it fairly soon) and pat it dry with a paper towel. In fact, you can try to squeeze as much water out of it as possible by pressing it in your hands. You will notice that the paper towels get immediately soaked – it doesn’t look particularly wet but Tofu does hold a fair bit of water. Once you’ve squeezed as much water out of it as you think is there take a cutting board and line it with a double layer of paper towels, lay tofu blocks on top of the paper towels and cube it into 1/2 inch pieces keeping the integrity of the block intact. Place another layer of paper towels on top of the cubed tofu blocks in such a way that there is an edge of the paper towels left to tuck underneath of your tofu on all 4 sides. Once this is assembled take another cutting board and place on top of the paper towels and lay something fairly heavy on top that will squeeze the water out: think an iron cast pan or a heavy kitchen appliance or a plant, anything really will do. Do not worry, your tofu will be intact, it will not flatten out ;). Ideally, you want to leave this contraption overnight, but if you haven’t planned that far in advance, a couple of hours is better than nothing. When you go to retrieve your tofu you will notice that the paper towels are swimming in water. Transfer the dried out tofu into a bowl and whip up a marinade.
Some vegans prefer to skip this step by frying their tofu and in the process drying it out. They place sliced tofu in a dry frying pan and dry it out that way and then add cooking sauces to it to sautée. I do not fry my tofu because I find by frying it I am not able to impart as much flavor into it as I can when I bake it, which brings me to my next step..
2. Add tons of flavor to your Tofu and Tempeh
While your Tofu waits patiently in a bowl, take a large plastic container with a lid and whip up a marinade. This step is the same for both Tofu and Tempeh (tempeh doesn’t require the first step so you can jump right in with tempeh by cutting it up any old way – I usually slice mine it into little chicken tenders-like shapes). For my marinade I tend to keep it fairly simple, making sure whatever I use isn’t full of salt, sugar or preservatives. I use the combination of the following, depending what’s currently kicking around my pantry:
For my marinade I tend to keep it fairly simple, making sure whatever I use isn’t full of salt, sugar or preservatives. I use the combination of the following, depending what’s currently kicking around my pantry:
- Tomato Paste (no sugar added)
- PC Chipotle Hot Sauce
- Liquid Smoke
- Lemon Juice
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- A couple of drops of stevia or freshly squeezed orange juice for spicy flavor profile.
- Nutritional Yeast as a thickener
- Salt and Pepper
- Any other spice blends I might have (think Mrs. Dash type seasoning)
- Water to help integrate all the ingredients and to achieve the right consistency (you don’t want the mixture to be too thick, but you also don’t want to dilute it too much, as it won’t stick to your protein)
I won’t use all these at the same time, I will pick and choose depending on what flavor profile I want to create. Once you have your marinade mixed and ready, transfer your Tofu cubes or Tempeh strips into the marinade container and coat the protein evenly, snap the lid on and put in the fridge until ready to bake.
Once your Tofu/Tempeh has spent some time in the marinade, line a baking sheet with some parchment paper and transfer Tofu/Tempeh on the parchment paper. I find parchment paper best for controlling how much the protein sticks to the surface. You can sprinkle your Tofu/Tempeh with some more Nutritional Yeast or Unsweetened Coconut Flakes for an added flavor and crunch effect. Put in the oven at 350-400 degrees and bake for 30-50 minutes. I find tempeh requires less time in the oven and most times 30 minutes is perfectly sufficient, but you do have to keep an eye on it as it can very easily turn into a wood-like unedible mass. Tofu, however, does better when it’s left in the oven a bit longer. It’s never a matter of it being cooked through, but rather the flavor of the marinade penetrating the cubes while it bakes. Note, though, you don’t want to leave it in the oven too long as it has a propensity to dry out too much. Keep in mind that if you are like me and like to prep in bulk, you will be reheating it at a later time, so you don’t want it to become a solid block that is difficult to chew and enjoy. Well prepared tofu should be somewhat spongy.
Those 2 proteins will mimic meat in a plant-based diet for the most part, but that doesn’t mean boredom, quite the opposite. Just like with meat you will find you can play around with different flavor profiles. In fact, you can easily impart any meat flavor to them since both products do not possess any inherent flavor themselves and usually absorb the flavor of whatever accompanies them.
At work, I get asked about my food daily and while I stick pretty much to the same basic ingredients I do try to vary my flavor, so when I march back to my desk with my reheated portion of the meal (protein and a cooked vegetable such as squash, potato or beans) I get a lot of heads turning in my direction trying to figure out what’s in my container. I’ve had people exclaiming various things like “Somebody is eating something yummy” OR “It must be pizza or a burger” just to discover that it’s none of the above. Upon my unveiling of my food, most proclaim that they would not touch it with a 10 foot pole (my exaggeration) because they don’t even know what Tofu or Tempeh is. So here is a quick video of what these 2 proteins look like straight out of the package and how I prep them.
If you think that this is limiting as far as protein source is concerned, then think again. This is not it for protein sources. Most people don’t realize that the sources of protein are pretty much indefinite, we tend to think “meat” when we want to put protein on our plates. However, that way of thinking is actually pretty limiting. To find out where you can derive your protein from, other than meat and soybeans, stay tuned for part 2 of #veganlife