You know how with sex there’s a couple of things that you simply won’t do? That’s how I am with cooking, although sometimes my “rules” feel like they have a lot more to do with ethical objections than personal preference. I’m not talking about vegan ethical objections, which are obvious, I’m talking about culinary ones. I’m talking about including Gimme Lean Sausage or Tofutti Sour Supreme as part of a recipe. And I am conscious of being just a little ridiculous in calling it ethical but that’s just how it feels.
My main problem with that kind of cooking, is that it stops being “cuisine.” It starts being 30 minute meals or semi-homemade cooking. And that is fine for a weeknight in front of the TV or just to get something on the table, but it doesn’t foster respect for vegan cuisine. And there is a difference between cuisine and food; cuisine is a style of cooking and food is stuff we eat. I don’t want vegan cuisine to be thought of as fake, or as that stuff that comes from the freezer section next to the frozen hamburgers or the weird dairy case. (Every supermarket has that weird dairy case filled with stunt meats and casein cheese, right?) I want vegan cuisine to be a real force, a real style – a contender.
When it comes to vegan cream sauces my “won’t” list expands. I won’t use soymilk, because it tastes like soymilk, not cream. I won’t use coconut milk in something savory unless I want it to be a bit sweet. I won’t use nooch for everything. I won’t use Tofutti brand anything because that is just plain cheating. So, my options are limited. But I am trying to broaden them.
The thing I will use is nuts; cashews, pine nuts, almonds, sometimes walnuts. But I still try to be careful, because even though vegans know not to exactly expect cream when they hear the word cream, omnivores don’t. And I really, for the most part, try to make my recipes omnivore-friendly. This usually means not using the word cream at all, unless it’s a dessert thing where I completely cheat and use Earth Balance, but that’s another story.
So when I set out to make Tofu Paprikas in honor of my friend Jason Das’ Hungarian heritage, I was a little nervous. Paprikas is nothing if not creamy, and god am I sick of everything tasting like nutritional yeast. I knew that I was going to have to work with the dreaded tofu cream sauce.
Silken tofu is great for texture but the taste has ruined many an otherwise scrumptious sauce for me. Some people describe the taste as bean-y, but it just translates as bitter for me. At some point in working on Veganomicon I stumbled on a possible solution that I used in a couple of dips and sauces; Horseradish Dill Sourcream, Cilantro Cream and Creamy Kalamata Spread. If you look at the titles of those recipes I bet you can figure out what the trick it. I suppose it isn’t such a trick at all, it’s simply overpowering the tofu with flavors that are strong enough to cover up the bitter taste, basically beating the tofu into submission.
Another thing I learned is to use the silken tofu that comes in a fresh package (like Nasoya) and not the vacuum packed kind (like Mori-Nu). It has a better taste and the beaniness isn’t as apparant. I also prefer the texture. As a bonus, it’s easier to find.
Finally, it needs a little heat and a little sweet. No heat and it tastes like blended tofu. Too much heat and it tastes like rubber. I found that sauteeing garlic in oil and adding it still hot to the sauce gave just enough warmth, with a little wiggle room for a gentle heat through at serving time. And since sweetness counteracts bitterness, just a touch of agave or maple syrup will do the trick. Although I didn’t actually end up using any in this recipe because the sweetness of the onions worked wonders.
From looking at a few Paprikas recipes, I deduced that the dish was really rich, calling for not just cream but sourcream as well. I decided to toast a few pine nuts to blend into the sauce, not only because I have 5 pounds of pine nuts in my freezer but I thought that would give the sauce some body and “depth of flavor.”
Justin and I ended up really enjoying this, maybe a little too much as there were no leftovers. I honestly meant to save some that I could give to Jason the next day. He lives only a few blocks away so I could even have walked it over. But I didn’t! I would consider it a cream sauce success, although I think there are a few more things I’d like to try before I declare it perfect. It’s definitely good enough to share, though!
I made this with frozen thawed tofu for a chewier texture, and I really wanna’ get to the recipe so let me just quickly tell you what I do for frozen tofu. Freeze overnight then thaw on the counter the next day. Don’t heat it up to thaw, just leave it out. It usually takes 10 hours to thaw. Once completely thawed, wrap it in a kitchen table towel and press it overnight in the fridge. That makes it really nice and chewy but without the freezer burn, discolorization or sponginess sometimes associated with frozen tofu.
Click below for the recipe. And damn you VeganMoFo, for making me write so much!
Also, you can see I’ve spelled it “Paprikas” but it is pronounced Parikash. I think pronouncing it Paprikas is a little bit adorable, though. Since this dish is really all about the paprika, try to find a good Hungarian paprika. Normal supermarket brands might be lacking in the flavor and color needed or may even contain artificial dyes. Also note that heat of paprika varies, so taste first before deciding if you want to add the last tablespoon of paprika. I likes the spiciness of the dish, you could feel it but it didn’t burn. I used saffron ribbons for the noodles, but fettucini broken into thirds would work as would rhombi or any wide, flat noodle. And really, any pasta will be fine so don’t worry too much about it. If you don’t wanna go through the whole rigemarole of making this entire recipe, the marinaded, sauteed tofu actually tasted quite good on its own.
1 lb extra firm tofu, frozen, thawed and pressed
1/2 pounds noodles
1 large yellow onion, sliced into thin but not too thin half moons
Fresh dill for garnish (optional)
For the marinade:
1 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the Sauce
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon paprika
1 pound silken tofu (not the vacuum packed kind)
In a medium mixing bowl, mix together all the marinade ingredients. Slice tofu widthwise into eighths. Then, slice those rectangles corner to corner, so that you have long thin triangles. Place in marinade and marinate for at least an hour, turning occasionally.
About 15 minutes before the tofu is done marinating, toast the pine nuts. I like to use just one pan for this meal, so use a big (preferable cast iron) skillet because you will reuse it to cook everything else. Place it over medium heat, add the pine nut and toast, stirring frequently, until pine nuts are amber brown. Transfer nuts to a blender or food processor and let cool.
Turn the heat up to medium-high. Add a tablepoon or so of oil, just enough to coat the pan, and add the marinaded tofu pieces in a single layer. (Important: RESERVE THE MARINADE!) Cook on each side for about 5 minutes, until well browned.
Meanwhile, boil salted water for pasta.
Once the tofu is done, transfer it to a plate and keep it warm (cover it with tin foil or another plate.) Now we”ll prepare the sauce in the same pan.
Lower the hear to medium. Add a little olive oil to saute the garlic in, being careful not to burn. Add the white wine and turn the heat high, until the wine has reduced be about half. Add the reserved marinade, and bring to a boil for about 3 minutes.
While sauce it boiling, turn your attention back to that food processor. Pulse a few times to get the nuts chopped up. Add the silken tofu and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides to make sure get everything.
Once the sauce has been boiling for a bit, turn off heat and add sauce to the food processor. Mix in with the blended tofu, and blend until completely smooth. Taste for salt and spiciness, add the extra tablespoon paprika if desired. (I recommend it!) Don’t clean out that skillet just yet, cause we need to do a few more things with it. But right now, add the pasta to the water and cook according to package directions.
Turn the skillet heat to medium high and saute onion in just enough oil to get it nice and brown, for about 10 minutes or however long it takes the pasta to cook. Once pasta is cooked, drain it.
Lower the skillet heat to low, add the sauce from the food processor to the onions and mix in. Add the pasta and toss to combine (a pasta spoon works well here), and lastly add the tofu and mix. The sauce should be throughly heated through, and then it is ready to serve. Garnish will extra paprika and a little dill, if you’ve got it.