Who says traditional has to be either boring or dead? Breast of Tofu with Herb Cornbread Stuffing is lively enough for the most discerning palate.
Holidays can be tricky times for vegetarians, especially inexperienced ones. There's inevitably pressure from family members to cook something "traditional" that involves dead animals. What's a committed vegan (no, that's not a tautology) to do?
As I mentioned earlier, I've experimented with a variety of large centerpiece substitutions over the years. Lately I've read a few recipes that involve pressing several pounds of tofu and stuffing it, a la Tofurkey, but they all sounded hokey and blah and, well, unfestive.
But I decided to try it anyway this year. Seitan and its main ingredient, gluten, are hard to find here, and as for tempeh, forget it. So, I loaded up my trolley with tofu and decided hokey might at least be fun. And besides, no one was invited for dinner, so if it was blah who cares?
Well, you could have knocked me over with an edamame pod. The result was not only delicious, but sophisticated enough to serve to your most gastronomically discerning guests. Of course, instead of calling it "tofurkey" I suggest the above title.
The recipe made plenty for four people at two sittings, plus enough left over for my husband's lunchbox the next day. It sounds like a lot of tofu, but the expense is still less than anything bearing the name "Butterball". Next time I'll try giving it a more upmarket appearance, by surrounding it with homemade cranberry sauce and garnishing it with a few sizzled sage leaves.
And I'll invite the Queen.
Breast of Tofu with Herb Cornbread Dressing
4 lbs tofu
1/2 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
2 teaspoons powdered vegetarian chicken-stock
1 batch of cornbread, crumbled into small pieces (recipe below)
1 large onion or 2 small, minced
4 stalks of celery, trimmed and minced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup of mushrooms (about 8), chopped
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon rubbed sage
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon celery seed
ground black pepper
1/4 cup tamari
1/4 cup prepared vegetarian chicken stock
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tamari (or soy sauce)
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
For the tofu layer:
Crumble tofu, preferably in a food processor. (You may have to do this in two batches.) Add herbs and seasonings and incorporate thoroughly. Line a colander with damp cheesecloth. Set colander inside a large bowl. Add 3/4 of the tofu mixture to the bowl, pressing to the sides of the cheesecloth until you have a cavity about 3/4-inch thick.
Find a bowl that fits inside. (If you have a set of nesting mixing bowls, one will surely fit.) Place a heavy object inside the empty bowl. (A jar of salsa worked for me.) Place the whole thing in the refrigerator and let sit for 3-4 hours, or overnight.
Make the cornbread dressing:
Heat olive oil in a saute pan. Add onion, celery, garlic and mushrooms. Saute 10 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Add seasonings, then add this mixture to the crumbled cornbread. Add tamari, and vegetarian chicken stock. Mix well and set aside.
Make basting mixture:
Combine all ingredients in a bowl with a pouring spout. Set aside.
Now, back to that tofu:
Remove heavy object and bowl. The water from the tofu should have drained into the large bowl. You will have a more compressed tofu cavity. Fill this with cornbread dressing until you have filled up the empty space, leaving enough room to top with the remaining tofu.
Press the remaining tofu onto the top (really the bottom) and then invert the whole thing onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Baste with the basting mixture and bake at 350 degrees for one hour, or until tofu is golden brown. Baste a couple of more times throughout. (Don't worry if the tofu splits; this merely provides an opening for the basting mixture to seep through. Be sure to carve it on the split!)
Notes on ingredients: Use regular water-packed Chinese-style tofu, firm or extra firm. I actually used one block that had been frozen, which changes the texture. I'm not sure if this affected the results, but if your tofu is frozen, don't worry overmuch about it. Just be sure to squeeze.
I used oak-smoked garlic I happened to have bought at the farmers market. Regular garlic is fine.
Vegetarian chicken stock is available at natural food stores. It does not contain any animal ingredients. You may leave it out if you wish.
Some recipes call for 5 lbs. of tofu. If you're expecting guests, use this much and adjust the other ingredients slightly upward. The dressing amount called for here made extra.
1 cup flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt*
1 cup soy milk
1/4 cup canola oil
Combine dry ingredients. Add milk; stir. Heat oil in 8-inch cast-iron skillet over a medium flame. Pour oil into mixture and mix well. Return to pan, and cook over medium flame for a minute or two. Then place the pan in a 425 degree oven. Cook for 25 minutes or until cornbread is beginning to brown.
*For the dressing recipe, go easy on the salt, since there are other salty ingredients added.