Smoked Tofu Paella

May 19, 2010

Cross-posted at Mars Is Heaven.

Since the fall, the quality of the meals I make at home has been steadily declining. At first it was because of my (temporary) two-hour-a-day commute, and how tired and not-in-the-mood-to-cook I was when I got home. Then when I started taking the anatomy class, being totally unable to cook dinner two nights a week meant that produce went unused, decent leftover lunches taken to work got rarer, and I just sort of gave up on getting a healthy meal 10 times out of every 14. Lately BF and I have been living on burritos and pasta, and while Chipotle is by no means the same as McDonald’s, it’s still not the quality of food I was dishing up before things got so crowded in my life.

So, now that my class is finally over, I’ve recommitted to better eating. I threw out all the rotten onions, pored over my recipe books, and put together an enviable menu for this week that’s almost totally vegetarian. One of the bits of business that came into my life this week to help me out was this month’s issue of Yoga Journal, which has a bunch of recipes in it from yoga and mediation center kitchens all over the country. The first one I tried, from Tuesday evening, I found to be a great inspiration for anyone who’s committing or recommitting to a healthy lifestyle. Despite the length of the ingredient list, it’s fairly quick, it’s simple, and it’s got a lot of easy-to-find ingredients. It’s also a good way to introduce tofu to yourself if you’ve resisted it. I’ve modified the recipe, which is from Kripalu, with my own ideas, and I hope they’re helpful. (I don’t feel bad about printing it here because it’s in Yoga Journal this month, free to all who want to spend $4.99 on the magazine.)

To start, you’ll need to prep, marinate, and bake half a pound of firm to super-firm tofu. If you’re lucky enough to find firm tofu pre-cubed, use that; otherwise, slice the block of tofu into four thin slices. (If you bought a pound of tofu and are going to use the whole block, which is what I did, cut it into eight thin slices.) Get a large baking pan, and lay out paper towels three deep. Place the tofu slices on the paper towels, cover with two more layers of paper towel, and then cover with a second baking pan and some heavy food cans on top. The purpose of this is to squeeze as much moisture out of the tofu as possible so it can soak up another flavorful liquid later. (It’s a little trickier to do this with pre-cubed tofu, but it still works if you spread the cubes out.) After the paper towels are totally soaked, remove the tofu and cube it into wee 1/2 inch cubes.

Marinate it in this marinade, with the following changes: remove the Worcestershire sauce, use 2 tsp of liquid smoke, and, if you want, use a teaspoon of garlic powder instead of fresh garlic (I did, out of laziness). Tofu can marinate for a very short time, an hour or two, and still soak up as much flavor as if you let it marinate overnight, but for me overnight worked better in terms of timing.

While you’re preparing the rest of the paella, bake the tofu at 375F for 15 minutes, or longer if you like a tougher texture. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of marinating it, be my guest and use it plain, but if you haven’t tried tofu before, I don’t recommend it.

(If you can find smoke-flavored tofu, good on ya, and no need for the marinade. I know I couldn’t.)

4 cups vegetable broth or stock, plus one cup water*
1 tsp loosely packed saffron threads**
Olive oil
1 onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded & diced
1/2 yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded & diced***
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved  
1/4 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes, drained
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 cups short-grain rice, such as Arborio
8 oz smoke-flavored baked tofu, diced+
1/2 cup cooked frozen green peas (fresh if you can get ’em, which is generally unlikely)
1 tbsp truffle oil, optional++
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, or 2 tsp dried
Lemon wedges, for serving (totally unnecessary, I didn’t use ’em)

*The recipe calls for 5 cups of broth, but the 32-oz boxes of broth you can buy at the supermarket are four cups exactly, and I used one of those and a cup of water to tide it over, which is a hell of a lot easier than buying two boxes and having leftovers.

**Saffron is wicked expensive and hard to come by in decent quantities. A teaspoon could cost you $30. I had a few pinches in my pantry and used that, and didn’t really miss the flavor. I don’t think you’ll be ruining the recipe if you don’t use it at all.

***If you think it’s dumb to use half of one color pepper and half of another, use one whole one, I won’t tell.

+See above for the marinade that’ll give you about the same effect, in my estimation. I used a whole pound of cubed tofu rather than half a pound, but I don’t really mind tofu, and it gives a little more heft to the recipe.

++Shyeah. I totally have that on hand. IN CULINARY IMAGINARY LAND.

ACTUAL RECIPE, FINALLY: In a saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer over medium heat. Add the saffron, remove from heat, cover, and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a paella pan (??) or large frying pan over medium-high, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, garlic and bell peppers. Saute until aromatic and softened to your preference. The recipe recommends 5 minutes, but I cooked them until they were totally soft and brown on the edges, because there’s more flavor and I don’t like parcooked onions. That took a bit longer.

Add the fresh and dried tomatoes, the turmeric, and 1/2 tsp of salt, and fry ’em up. “Until the vegetables start to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes” is the recipe’s recommendation, but I think “to the level that you deem appropriate” is fine too.

Add ~1/2 cup of the hot broth mixture to the pan and stir to scrape any browned bits from the bottom. (It will probably sizzle up all awesome.) Add the uncooked rice, the tofu, and 1/2 tsp of black pepper (fresh-ground if you prefer) to the pan and stir, stir, stir. When all the broth is absorbed, add another ~1 cup. Each time the liquid is totally absorbed, add another ~1 cup, until it’s all absorbed. Keep the mixture at a simmer.

(I know, you’re making risotto, right? Except: “Adjust heat as needed to prevent scorching, but do not stir the rice.” I didn’t notice this weird-ass direction for the first few additions of broth. A few kernels of the rice came out uncooked, but I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t follow the recipe or because I did.)

After about 20 minutes, you’re almost finished. Turn off the heat, add the peas, and cover. Let it steam for about 10 minutes, and then add the parsley and mythical truffle oil, and (in my case) additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the superfluous lemon wedges. Serves, oh, five or six.

Delicioso. Muy muy. Hope you enjoy it as much as BF and I did. I promise it really is a good gateway recipe for tofu. And ah, so healthy.