Meat eater applauds vegetarian recipes


Dishes packed with flavor

October 16, 2002|By Cynthia Glover | Cynthia Glover,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Most vegetarian cookbooks seem like compendiums of side dishes. So sue me: I'm a confirmed carnivore. But lately, with so much in the news about the health benefits of soy foods, I decided to explore the wonders of tofu and tempeh.

After some experimenting, I still felt they weren't the most intriguing foodstuffs. Sue me again: I'm not going to eat something just because it's good for me.

Then along came Ken Charney's new The Bold Vegetarian Chef (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2002, $29.95). My mouth started watering just reading the "Outrageous Soy" chapter. You can add texture by freezing the stuff? You can grill it? It doesn't have to taste like wallpaper paste? He shows us all the tricks - pressing, marinating, saucing, coating - for enhancing the taste and texture of tofu and tempeh.

From Amazing Tofu Teriyaki to grilled Tofu Kebabs to Thai Tempeh Red Curry to North African Tempeh Tagine, these dishes are packed with flavor. Charney, a graduate of the National Gourmet Cookery School in New York and chef for PCC Natural Markets, knows how to bring depth and meaty satisfaction to the basic vegetarian pantry of soy foods, beans, grains and vegetables.

I especially like that his creations don't mimic nonvegetarian dishes. He doesn't subject us to vegetarian boeuf bourguignon or a fake steak fashioned out of tofu and kidney beans.

Instead, he applies a global palette of flavors from Mexico, Southeast Asia, Europe and beyond to an understanding of the intrinsic qualities of his ingredients. The result is wonderfully raucous flavors and stylish recipes worthy of serving to even nonvegetarian guests.

Soy isn't the only food to receive this treatment. Charney has chapters on soups; burgers, fritters and loaves; beans; pasta, risotto and polenta; desserts; and vegetables and grains as side dishes. The more I cook from this book, the more I trust him to take me places I want to go.

And while I'm still not making and cooking my own seitan (a wheat-based meat substitute) and doubt that I will ever be vegetarian, I am now happily dining on tofu and tempeh with a pleasure I never anticipated.

Amazing Tofu Teriyaki

Serves 2

1 tablespoon soy sauce

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar

4 to 5 dashes Tabasco sauce

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger


1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 pound extra-firm tofu, sliced in half or thirds lengthwise

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, mirin, sugar, Tabasco, ginger and a light grinding of pepper. Stir to mix well.

In a large cast-iron skillet or heavy-duty frying pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot and almost shimmering, fry the tofu, turning once, until lightly browned and crisp on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Pour out excess oil from pan and set aside.

While the tofu is still warm, cut it into cubes. Add the marinade and mix until very well-coated. Set aside until ready to finish them off in the skillet. If you have the time, let the tofu marinate for 30 to 60 minutes.

Increase the heat to high. When the skillet is very hot, pour the marinated tofu and all the marinade back into the pan. Fry, stirring constantly, until the marinade is completely absorbed and the tofu is well-coated.

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