tofu incognito

So here were my kids, visiting for Christmas, and my daughter has become a vegetarian. In lieu of the traditional heap of goose, I cooked my spinach salmon for her (the occasional bit of fish is okay with her), while my son and I hacked away at an over-sized and unfortunately somewhat too dry bit of ham in a bread crust (there’s no recipe needed for that one – only that I salted a fresh ham for a week together with herbs and spices, that I overdid the crushed juniper, that I half-cooked the ham and wrapped it in bread dough, which I baked in the oven until done).

But on New Year’s Eve, we had a problem. The Dutch tradition calls for huzarensla, a decorated heap of mashed potato salad with pickles, bits of meat and mayonnaise (all recipes I know are a bit boots-on and can easily be improved and refined, which I usually do on a trial and error basis – a little differently each time. Here’s one recipe. You’ll find more). I needed something that could stand in for the strips of pre-cooked pork that I usually put into my huzarensla – something to provide a certain chewiness. I decided that westernized tofu was my solution. This is what I do:

I select a block of organic Tofu of a medium-firm kind. Taking the whole block in both hands I take my time to squeeze out as much of the water as possible without crumbling the block (otherwise, I prefer frozen/thawed tofu, but it tends to become brittle, which I want to avoid here). I cut the block into bite-sized bits.

I heat a healthy dose of olive oil in a large frying pan up to medium hot at most. All the tofu bits go into the oil. They should cook really quite slowly.

I dust the tofu with only the slightest hint of curry powder and let them sizzle for a minute or two. Then I turn the bits one by one and repeat the curry action on the other side.

I take my best bottle of Tamari (or, if it is empty, some ordinary soy sauce, with regrets) and distribute very little of it drop by drop over the tofu. I turn the pieces back and repeat this action. I also add two or three drops of sesame oil.

Now the tofu needs to cook until nicely light brown on all sides. Also, since I do not want to use so much soy sauce as to create a tofu-in-soy taste (which I love otherwise…), I will have to add quite some salt. This is a matter of trying and adjusting, and not giving up. Shortly before everything is finished, I also add not more than half a teaspoon of vinegar to the pan and stir.

Granted, this is a really shy approach. The very objective is to prevent any of the aromas from sticking out. The true difficulty turned out to be the salt balance; to get it right it takes more salt than I thought (but overdoing salt is disgusting, so be wary).

Use this shy tofu in your vegetarian huzarensla.


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