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It's now been fourteen years since I went vegetarian. I was already an avid home cook adept with Thanksgiving turkeys and London broil, but beans and grains and ... tofu? It was learning to cook all over again without bacon grease and chicken broth, and the learning curve was steep. My early efforts with tofu were mostly piles of tasteless mush and/or burned-up crumbles.

Today, tofu is a staple in my kitchen. It remains inexpensive, high in protein, and incredibly versatile. Notoriously bland out of the package, it has a natural affinity for whatever flavors it gets cozy with. The tricky part is getting the flavor in there, then cooking the result to an appetizing texture. The most common way of flavoring tofu is to marinate, then bake, saute, or grill it.

Tonight I'll show you how to make flavorful tofu without marinating. One evening I was craving a vegetarian version of Buffalo wings, and this recipe was the result. It takes less than an hour to prepare and is yummy hot or cold. We'll add a protein-packed side of quinoa salad to round out a meatless grazer's delight!

Follow me below the carrot curls for the goods.

This recipe is closer to a spice rub and results in tofu that's crispy outside while maintaining a soft, lightly seasoned center. Even better, it's made with minimal added fat. I'm showing it with wing sauce, but you can use barbecue, teriyaki, honey mustard, whatever you like.

Baked Tofu Strips

Ingredients:
16 oz block extra firm high protein tofu, Trader Joe's or similar
1 tbsp oil (or use cooking spray) for baking pan

Seasoning mix*
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp dried dill
- 1 tsp dried parsley
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
* Feel free to sub your favorite seasonings, just keep the flour:herb ratio at 1:1 and add salt sparingly
1/2 cup your favorite wing sauce
Ranch or blue cheese dressing, for dipping

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400F. Measure all ingredients of seasoning mix in a small bowl and stir until combined. Place in a gallon-size sealable freezer bag or airtight container and set aisde. Slice tofu into quarters, then eights, then sixteenths as pictured.

Heat a DRY pan over medium high flame and saute tofu strips until they just start to brown, 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove pan from heat and turn the strips a few more times until they're just cool enough to handle.
Lightly oil a baking sheet or coat with cooking spray. Place strips in container with spice mixture, seal, and gently turn over several times so they're all coated, being careful not to break them. Wait a minute or two, then turn a few more times. Shake excess spice mix off the strips and place on baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes at 400F, remove from oven and turn each strip over with tongs. Return to oven for another 10-12 minutes, or until strips are light golden brown and getting crispy.

While strips are baking, shake leftover spice mixture from its container and discard. No need to rinse, just place 1/2 cup wing sauce in the container and set aside until strips are done. Let them cool a couple of minutes after coming out of the oven. Using tongs, place strips in container with sauce and toss gently until all are evenly coated.

Serve like traditional wings, with carrots, celery, and blue cheese or ranch dressing for dipping.

But we can't have just wings (or twings, shall we say?) for dinner. We're going to need some salad, and I don't mean rabbit food. This heavenly hash features the protein power of quinoa and edamame, the smoky sweetness of roasted peppers, and the micronutrient bonanza of seaweed. Tied together with a toasted sesame vinagrette and topped with creamy avocado, it takes salad to a whole new level.

Quinoa (KEEN-wah) is an ancient grain native to South America. It's a complete protein high in fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and calcium, gluten-free and considered easy to digest. Like tofu, it requires a little TLC to unlock its true potential. The key to nutty, slightly crunchy quinoa is rinsing and toasting. First I'll show you how, and then we'll make salad. Note that this method works with any grain; I also like to toast my brown rice before steaming.

Note that I'm using Trader Joe's tricolor quinoa, which was not the brightest idea. The pictures don't really do justice to the level of toastiness -- when in doubt, give it the sniff test. If it smells at all burned, get it off the heat.

Measure one cup of quinoa and place in a colander. Rinse under cold running water about 30 seconds, tossing until it runs clear.

Preheat a large frying pan over medium high heat. Do NOT add oil. Add rinsed quinoa and toss frequently until water cooks off, about five minutes. When the quinoa is dry, it will start to snap, crackle, and pop. This is good. Keep tossing until it gets a nice toasty aroma and just starts to brown, 2-3 more minutes. Remove from heat and let cool in pan, continuing to toss every few minutes.

Now that the quinoa is toasted, it's time to steam! I use a rice steamer with equal parts quinoa and water and steam for 30 minutes. If you don't have a rice steamer, here are directions for making quinoa on your stovetop. On to the salad.

Steamed quinoa
Quinoa Salad

Salad:
1 cup quinoa, toasted, steamed and cooled
1 cup shelled edamame, steamed and cooled
1 medium red pepper, roasted and diced (OK to use jarred)
1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
1 medium carrot, grated
2 tbsp crumbled dried seaweed (nori or wakame work well)
Avocado, for garnish

Dressing:

1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp honey or sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
Few drops hot sauce, to taste

Directions:
Combine all salad ingredients in a sealable container. Combine dressing ingredients in a bowl and whisk until emulsified. Pour dressing over salad, seal container, and toss until thoroughly combined. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight to allow flavors to blend. Garnish with avocado slices and fresh lime juice.

I was going to do one more recipe, but I'm up against the clock so maybe another time. What's for dinner at your place tonight?

Edit 20:33 EDT: Thanks for the questions, comments, and rec list! Typo fixed and photo added.

Originally posted to What's for Dinner on Sat Apr 12, 2014 at 04:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by Meatless Advocates Meetup.

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