Saturday, January 06, 2007

Grub For Thought

One of my favorite things about our new neighborhood is the big, airy public library that is just around the corner (lucky lucky me). I was especially overjoyed to see the generous aisles devoted to cookbooks, including shelves upon shelves of vegetarian cookbooks. One of the books I have been reading over the new year is Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen by Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry.

Lappe and Terry define Grub as wholesome food that is good for the body and good for the food that is sustainably raised and locally procured. As opposed to mass-produced, highly processed food. The first part of the book talks about the principles that the authors believe in, and tips on how to incorporate "grub" into our kitchens. The second half consists of seasonal recipes.

Did the book tell me anything I was not already aware of? Well, not really. By now, the politics of food has been discussed in magazines, newspapers and on local radio, and most of us are already aware of "grub" in our own ways. I know that I certainly get angry when I think of mega-corporations taking over my kitchen. And most people I know do feel sad about living in times where a contaminated batch of spinach from one factory causes illness in five states across the continent. Still, at the beginning of the new year, the book was a reminder to cook and eat with consciousness.

Some tips and reminders from the book:
1. Our food dollars are powerful: we can use them to influence the world around us.
2. The extra time and money spent in procuring "grub" (rather than reaching for the closest mass-produced food product) is an investment in precious things: our health and the future of our planet.
3. The average American household throws 14% of its food into the trash (i.e., we waste nearly a sixth of the food we buy). So, wasting less food would be the first (and easiest) step towards a green kitchen.
4. Buy from Farmers Markets as far as possible, and try to buy fruits and veggies that are in season. How do you know what fruits and vegetables are in season? Here is where the book provided a great tip (if you live in the US): On the internet, search for your state's department of agriculture (eg. Google "Missouri Department of Agriculture"). The Department of Agriculture website provides a host of resources, like the locations of farmers markets, as well as harvest calenders.

Here, for instance, is the Harvest Calendar for Missouri:

Winter has lean pickings, but I am waiting for spring and summer and for a host of produce to come into season! If you live in St. Louis, don't forget to check out Veggie Venture, where Alanna has put together a tremendously useful list of several local food sources.

One of the recipes from "Grub" caught my eye: spicy barbecued tofu. I love eating tofu, but don't cook it nearly as much as I would like to. In this recipe, the tofu is pressed, shallow-fried to a golden brown, then drenched in a home-made barbeque sauce and baked to perfection. This is probably the tastiest tofu I have ever eaten, and I knew I had to share the recipe with you (my adaptation of it, anyway).

Barbeque Tofu

(adapted from Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen by Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry)

served 2-3 as a main course

Prepare the tofu:
1. Pressing
: Start with 1 block of extra-firm tofu (I used Trader Joe's). Drain out the water and wrap the block of tofu in a clean freshly-laundered kitchen towel. Place in a plate/ bowl, and weigh down the tofu to press out as much liquid as possible. I did this by balancing an empty heavy pasta pot on the wrapped tofu, and placing 5 lb packets of lentils and flour in the pot. Press the tofu for 1-2 hours.
2. Slicing: Hold the block of tofu sideways, then cut into three slices. Cut each slice across one diagonal, and then the other, such that you get 12 small triangles from one block of tofu.
2. Frying the tofu: Heat 2-3 tbsp olive oil in a non-stick skillet. Fry the slices of tofu (in batches if necessary) to get them golden-brown on each side (takes several minutes).

Prepare the marinade: This can be done while the tofu is being pressed. A good barbecue sauce has such a complexity of flavors...this is what I used (with the original recipe suggestions in brackets).
Base: Canned tomato sauce 3 tbsp + soy sauce (tamari) 5 tbsp
Sweetness: Honey (maple syrup) 3 tbsp
Spice: Cumin powder 1/2 tsp
Acidity: Lemon juice (lime juice) 1 tsp + Apple cider vinegar 2 tbsp
Smoky flavor + heat: 1 dried chipotle chili (1 canned chili in chipotle sauce)
+ 1 tbsp olive oil to form an emulsion

Now, I entirely eyeballed the proportions of the marinade ingredients, and I would suggest tasting as you go along to find the right balance you like. In the end, the sauce was finger-licking good, way better than any store-bought BBQ sauce that I have tried.

Baking the tofu: Place fried tofu in a baking dish and pour the marinade over it. Cover dish with a foil and bake at 350 degrees F for one hour, turning pieces half-way through baking. The 12 pieces of tofu fit snugly in one layer in a standard 9x9 baking dish:

Tofu Tangram, anyone?

I served up the barbeque tofu with some smashed garlicky roasted potatoes (potatoes and garlic can be roasted in the same oven, while the tofu is baking). All in all, a delicious and off-beat Sunday lunch:

It was nice to start off the new year with some resolutions to eat and live better. But Alanna shares a cartoon depicting the resolution that beats all resolutions: Check it out!


  1. Barbecued tofu sounds amazing! I tried slathering tofu with BBQ sauce and grilling it, along with some peppers and onions, and rolling the whole thing in a pita. This recipe looks much better than the one I tried. Thanks!

  2. Well. Um. Hello there. Thanks for all the link love! Your book sounds great, I'm not reading much these days so must rely on you to keep me current! BTW I'm experimenting w different kinds of tofu from Global Foods in Kirkwood. They're amazingly different. Watch for a post, some time, after I plow my way through all the choices! Hugs all around!!

  3. oo. sounds delicious. This is PJ's *favorite* way to order tofu in a restaurant... now i'll have to try it out at home some point.

    anyways - if i find the time, i'm going to try and give you a call. Looking for your advice on how you make your dazzled rice. i remember to steam the basmati, but then to cook it afterwards with mustard seeds, something yellow (tumeric?) and ... ? will try to call. :)

    hope the mph is off to a great start!! -l

  4. Hi Nupur,
    That sounds delicious! Glad to have you back to blogging...I've been trying lots of recipes from the blog...your pav bhaji recipe has become my standard one, and the egg rassa does much to spice up dreary evenings...I have been completely off blogging for a while now, but I do make the rounds to see what everyone else is doing. The oil and spice rub technique you spoke of in a previous post on grilled tofu worked really well, and I am really looking fwd to trying this one next! Cheers to you, AA
    PS.On your profile: Isn't Missouri MI rather than MO?

  5. Lydia, I was a little foxed about how to serve this tofu...and your idea of rolling it into a pita with peppers and onions sounds *amazing*!

    Hi Alanna, would love to read your tofu post! Although I have to admit that I usually love plain old tofu much better than the flavored tofu that I have tried so far.

    L, this is *so* easy to make at home...give it a shot! and "dazzled rice" :) :) you are so cute! Call anytime (you have my new #s, right?)

    Hey there AA, I can totally understand not blogging yourself and blog-hopping instead :) it is so much fun with the explosion of new blogs! Glad you tried some of the recipes :)
    Oh, Michigan is MI and Missouri *is* MO (too many "M" states, maybe?) Check this link.

  6. Hi Nupur, this is such a nice recipe...and so easy too! Tofu marinated in Chaat masala,yogurt and Tandoori powder is also great for grilling...

    Cheers from Newfoundland,

  7. Thank you for the timely reminders about the importance of good, wholesome food in our lives. I am a real advocate for this issue with all my friends! "Convenience" foods are neither convenient or good for the body or the budget. I love to cook, and fear this is an art that's being lost in the US.

    For all those interested in finding local farmer's markets, this link is a great one.

    Best wishes for the New Year (and PS - we have the same placemats...)

  8. hey nupur,

    am new to cooking,surprisingly i found out abt ur blog,n i dont hv the wrds toexpress how much i love and adore ur recepies,great job girl ;-) keep going ,thx for making cooking so easy for mi,u r an excellent cook!! i do chack the blog everyday for new recpies great job girl keep going,
    with love rasshmi

  9. Barbeque tofu and garlic potatoes sound awesome for sunday lunch nupur. I liked reading through the book review and tips, reminders. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Hi Trupti, love your idea of tandoori tofu! mmm :)

    Hi Diane, thanks for the helpful link! I love how cooking is going through such a great revival in the US, with many more people taking up cooking as a fulfilling hobby. Happy new year to you too!

    Rasshmi, thank for saying all those nice things! I am afraid I am far from being an excellent cook though. But I am working towards it :)

    Thanks for visiting, Mandira!

  11. Hi nupur,glad that u are back...I discovered the beautiful world of food blogging recently and i am glad that I did :)...Loved ur A-Z marathi foods... hope u find time to start yet another amazing series...

  12. Welcome, Nupur! I'm glad to see you back.
    I checked out "Grub" too, and liked its sensibility - kinda hip, kinda crunchy. Have you read "The Omnivore's Dilemma"? It's probably my favorite food book of the year, and very well written.


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