One of the highlights of my trip to Portland happened after Vida Vegan Con was over. That Sunday night, I got to meet my friend and long-time reader Maria, whom many of you know from the comments as Moonwatcher.
Maria traveled ten hours to visit her son in Portland and timed her trip so that she’d be in town at the same time I was. On Sunday night, Maria, her son Mike, and his girlfriend Kelly picked me up at my hotel and whisked me off to dinner at Blossoming Lotus, where a vegan friend of theirs joined us.
The meal was delicious but what made the dinner special was sharing it with someone I’ve gotten to know by email and, since we live across the country from each other, never thought I’d get to meet in person. Maria had mentioned Mike and Kelly often in her emails, and it was a joy to get to meet them all.
Maria turned out to be just as warm and perceptive in person as she is in her emails. She’s an expert in adapting my recipes to make them gluten free, so if you’re looking for help in that area, be sure to search the blog for her comments. One day I will have to get her to write a guest post about the reasons she follows a low-fat vegan diet and how it’s improved her health. She is an inspiration!
At the time of our dinner, I was still suffering from a sinus infection and was taking antibiotics that left me with no appetite and a bad taste in my mouth. All weekend I’d been barely picking at the probably delicious vegan food we’d been served at the conference, but nothing tasted good to me.
When we got to Blossoming Lotus, I was in the mood for comfort food, so I ordered a bowl of spicy lentil soup, which was so flavorful that it was the first thing I felt like I’d actually tasted all weekend, and its warmth was soothing.
Though I was glad I’d ordered the soup, I couldn’t help but wish I’d been up for some of the interesting salads on the menu. The one that caught my eye was the Crispy Thai Barbecue Salad, which was described as “romaine, mixed greens, shredded cabbage, carrot, cucumber, raisins, crispy rice sticks, curried cashews and Thai spiced barbecue soy curls, with creamy sweet ginger dressing, fresh herbs and toasted coconut.”
When I got back home to Mississippi, I was still thinking of “the salad that got away” and resolved to make my own version. I wanted to use tofu instead of soy curls, and I wanted to make a barbecue sauce that is free of refined sugar.
Have you ever looked at a barbecue sauce recipe? Almost invariably it contains sugar, corn syrup, molasses, honey, agave, or all of the above! I needed to find ingredients that would give me the sweet-sour taste of bbq sauce without using sugar. So I turned to one of my current favorite foods, pineapple, and added pitted dates for some natural sugar. And, to thoroughly infuse the tofu with flavor, I first froze it, making it porous and spongy, and then cooked it all day in my crock pot. (Since meeting Kathy Hester, author of The Vegan Slow Cooker, in Portland, I’ve realized how much I’ve been neglecting that appliance.)
I served the tofu over a mixture of spinach, romaine, and red cabbage lightly dressed with my Low-Fat Tahini Dressing and accompanied by raisins, raw almonds, and clover sprouts. It was one of the best salads I’ve ever had!
Note: Slow cookers are all different. Some people are reporting that they had a better outcome using the oven, so an oven option is included at the end of the instructions.
Slow-Cooked Tofu in Pineapple Barbecue Sauce
If you don't have a slow cooker, follow the Oven Instructions instead.
- 2 14-ounce packages extra-firm tofu frozen and defrosted
- 1 large onion chopped
- 8 large cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup pitted dates about 2.5 ounces
- 1 1/2 cup crushed pineapple in own juice
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 fresh hot chile peppers chopped
- 2 inches ginger-root peeled and minced (about 3 tablespoons minced)
- 5 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons tamari or lite soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- generous grating of black pepper
- Salt (optional), to taste
- At least 1 day before you plan to cook, place two packages of extra-firm tofu (water-pack style, not silken) into the freezer. Freeze at least 24 hours (this makes it firmer and sponge-like, which helps it hold up to long, slow cooking). Remove from freezer and allow to defrost in the refrigerator or use a quick defrost method (microwave or hot water bath).
When tofu is completely defrosted, cut each block into halves horizontally and cut each half again vertically. Take each piece of tofu between your hands and gently press over a sink to squeeze out as much water as possible. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
- Saute the onion in a non-stick pan (or on the browning setting, if your crock-pot has one) until it begins to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Scrape the onion/garlic into a blender and add all remaining ingredients except tofu and salt. Blend on high speed until sauce is a uniform consistency.
Place the tofu into the slow cooker (sprayed with non-stick spray or canola oil, if necessary) and pour the sauce over it. Stir very gently to make sure all sides of the tofu are covered. Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours or until sauce is absorbed and thickened. (Note: some crockpots run hotter than others so check once or twice to make sure the tofu isn’t sticking or falling apart.) Check seasonings and add salt and extra lime juice as needed. Serve over salad greens.
- Follow steps 1-3 above. Combine tofu and sauce in an oiled casserole dish. Cover and bake at 350 for a half hour. Remove cover and bake for 15-30 minutes, until sauce has thickened.
Slow cooking mellows out the flavors of the garlic, ginger, and chile peppers, so if you want a spicier dish, either start with more or add extra after 6 hours.
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