As the days get short and blustery and we dig in for the holidays, I find myself pondering the Tofurky, and how we got here. Tofurky was designed to resemble a baked stuffed turkey with gravy—and it would, if a stuffed turkey resembled a plant-based cheese combo.
Most vegetarians I know are confident enough in their vegetarianism that they don’t feel the need to go through the motions of ritually eating the roast beast. In my experience, the vegetarians and vegans are often the best cooks in the room. If the cook is allowed to use bacon and butter, anything can taste good, but to satisfy an omnivorous body with herbivorous cooking is a trickier feat.
I’m in the camp that believes what vegetarians really want is vegetables. So I say cook vegetables that look and taste
like what they are, rather than
like a carcass.
Here are two recipes that will satisfy all of the vegetarians at your table, providing you make enough.
One, roasted roots, is as old as autumn. The other tastes like bacon. After all, vegetarians miss turkey once or twice a year, but they miss bacon every day.
My roasted roots technique is based on the potato, but several more roots can be added, such as carrots, celeriac, parsnip or yellow beets (red beets will make the whole batch look like it’s drenched in blood). Dense, greasy fingerling potatoes are my favorite.
Cut all the roots into similar-sized chunks so they cook at the same pace, and toss them in olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder. If you want to add herbs, like thyme, rosemary or sage, do it. Spread the roots on a baking tray and bake at 350 until they are done—about an hour depending on how thinly they are sliced, stirring every 15 minutes. When the roots are done, add grated or pressed garlic while still hot, stir one final time, and cool.
And here is how to make tofu taste like bacon: cook it with bacon. Then remove the bits. Watch your vegetarian friends melt in a vat of ignorant bliss.
But if that is too edgy for you, here is a way to get that tofu close enough to bacon that your guests will insist they need to take another bite, and another, before they can decide if it really does taste like bacon.
Cut a brick of extra-firm tofu into half-inch cubes, but do it sloppily, so that the pieces are uneven, with thick and thin parts, and add them to a pan on low heat, with about two tablespoons of olive oil per pound of tofu. Cook slowly, stirring as the water cooks off, and a layer of brown builds on the flat sides of the increasingly dense, crisping pieces. If the olive oil cooks off, add more. Add a few large chunks from a single onion layer along with a clove of garlic cut in half.
As the brown approaches irresistibility on all sides, sprinkle salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Add a teaspoon of honey per pound of tofu—or more, to taste—and soy sauce to taste.
Don’t worry about what to serve with it. Like bacon, these tofu bits can go on anything, from roasted roots to salad to a vegetable side dish.
And if they beg for your secret, tell them it’s bacon grease.