Deliciously crispy tofu with a creamy sauce...
Tofu is one of those ingredients I really struggled with when I started my Vegan life. My first experience of it was at a restaurant and to say I was underwhelmed would be a huge understatement. It was floppy, pale, tasteless and added nothing to the dish. It was a while before I plucked up the courage to try it again. Fast forward almost four years and now I love it - as long as its prepared and cooked the right way.
This dish incorporates interesting flavours and textures and isn't hard to prepare. Whenever I'm making a dish where tofu is centre stage, I like to slice a large slab into three, lengthways, so my little family doesn't end up fighting over any leftover odd pieces, but you can cut yours into any shape you like.
I've used hazelnut and thyme here, but please feel free to experiment with other flavours. Almond and rosemary, for example, would be equally as good.
Ingredients for the crispy tofu
1 450g (approx.) packet of firm tofu sliced and prepared (* see note below)
1/2 cup (approx.) hazelnuts or hazelnut meal
1/2 cup panko or regular breadcrumbs
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
2 to 3 tsps. dried thyme
1 tbsp. chickn stock powder (I use Massel reduced salt in the tin)
Good grinding of black pepper
3/4 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup unsweetened plant milk (I use soy)
1 tbsp. chickn stock powder
Vegetable oil for shallow frying
Ingredients for the mushroom sauce
250g mushrooms sliced (I use Swiss Brown)
Garlic cloves finely grated (I'll leave the amount up to you)
1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashew nuts
1 1/2 cups unsweetened plant milk (again, I use soy)
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp onion powder
Knob of Vegan butter
Salt and pepper
Nutritional yeast (optional)
Firstly, place your cashews to soak in the plant milk ready to make your mushroom sauce later.
If you're using whole hazelnuts then blitz these to a course texture in a food processor or blender. In a bowl combine the hazelnut meal, crumbs, wholemeal flour, dried thyme, chickn stock powder and pepper. Don't be afraid to have a taste of the dry mix and add more thyme or pepper, etc if you feel it needs it. When you're happy, place onto a large plate and set aside.
Now mix together your chickpea flour, plant milk and stock powder to a creamy paste. It should be the consistency of thick custard. Place it into a wide shallow bowl and set aside along with the coating mix.
To make the mushroom sauce, add a glug of olive oil to a frying pan and throw in your sliced mushrooms and grated garlic. Sautee over a medium heat until the mushrooms take on some colour and most of the liquid has evaporated. Now add in your chopped thyme and butter, combine well, and turn the heat down to low.
Blitz up your cashews and milk until very smooth and add to the mushrooms in stages, stirring well. The cashew mix will thicken so you may need to add a little more milk depending on how juicy your mushrooms are. Season well with salt and pepper, add in your onion powder and keep tasting and stirring until you are happy with the consistency and flavour. Add in nutritional yeast to taste, if using. Turn out the heat and set aside while we deal with the tofu.
Heat about 1cm depth of vegetable oil in a frying pan. Set up a production line of your tofu, paste and crumbs next to your frying pan. Once your oil is hot enough, take your first piece of tofu and, working quickly but confidently, coat it in the paste, shake off the excess and then press it firmly into the crumb mix, turning and coating all sides then place to one side of the plate. Repeat the process with a couple more slices. Place them carefully into the hot oil and allow them to fry until you can see them gaining colour and turning crispy. Carefully turn each piece using a spatula and fry the other side. Once golden, transfer to kitchen paper to drain. Repeat if you have more slices of tofu.
Now all you need to do is gently reheat your sauce, adding a squeeze of lemon, and serve. This goes well with rice, polenta, potatoes, etc.
* One thing to note is that tofu is always better if its frozen and then thawed before using. The reasoning behind this is that the little gaps within the tofu form ice crystals which, when defrosted, means that more liquid can be expelled during pressing to give a firmer texture. I always keep a few packets in the freezer at all times. Simply thaw in the packet in warm water before slicing and placing in a single layer between several sheets of kitchen paper. Press the wrapped package between two chopping board and place a weight on top, such a books or a heavy pestle and mortar. You'll end up with a much denser, chewier finish that crisps up so much better as it contains less liquid.
I'm a married, mother of one, living in Melbourne. I've been Vegan since May 2015.