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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, July 3

Gapers Block

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I've eaten several meals over the last few weeks that have involved duck, I ate a steak with all the typical American fixings, I've had a burger, I've had some french fries and tater tots, and I've eaten quite a bit of cheese. Ugh!

See what's missing up there? Vegetables! A piece of iceberg, slice of tomato and an onion ring on a burger do not count as a serving of vegetables. And I'm starting to feel it.

After talking to several friends over the last week who are delighting in this 'going vegan' thing they're doing and then thinking about how much tasty, tasty fat I've eaten over the last few weeks, I decided that I needed to introduce some vegan recipes into my personal mix.

I'm not willing to give up on the bacon altogether yet, and there is still plenty of duck fat in my freezer, but I knew it had to be possible to eat a healthful meal of vegetables and tofu that would be tasty and still let me feel full.

Which led to me grousing with a friend who has been a vegetarian for a very, very long time about how hard it is to prepare tofu. There have been a number of times that I've purchased the firm tofu and pressed it and pan fried it or tried to bake it and it's just crumbled and turned to goo because I let it sit for too long in a sauce.

She gave me a serious "pshaw!" followed by, "Honey, you're doing it wrong. Think broil, not bake." And I knew I'd finally found a solution to my tofu dilemma. The answer was so obvious that I seriously considered smacking my forehead with the palm of my hand.

I hit the grocery store and happily plunked a couple boxes of tofu into my cart. And then I headed to the produce section to see what looked good. The first thing I spotted was dill. Mounds of fresh dill for 69 cents a bundle. Even though the snow plows hadn't been down my street, I wanted something that tasted fresh and green and dill seemed like the obvious choice. I snagged some broccoli, a couple of sweet potatoes, a package of whole wheat tortillas, and a yellow onion and headed home to get busy in the kitchen.

What follows, is a totally accidental meal so don't feel like you have to follow it exactly. Grab the vegetables you like, feel free to substitute a can of beans for the starchy sweet potatoes, swap out arugula, cilantro, or even basil for the dill, and feel free to experiment with oil. I'm using olive oil, but grapeseed oil would also be good.

Dill Marinaded Vegetables with Tofu
1 8-ounce package of tofu
1 bunch of dill
1/4 cup of sweetened rice wine vinegar (or 1/4 cup of rice wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon of sugar)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 jalapeƱo that has been cut into large chunks, or 1 to 2 teaspoons of hot sauce
1/4 cup of olive oil
2 sweet potatoes
1 small yellow onion
2 teaspoons of olive oil
1 bunch of broccoli
whole wheat tortillas, or other wraps

Remove the tofu from the package and drain. Slice the tofu into 1/2-inch thick slices. Cover a baking tray with a couple layers of paper towels. Place the tofu slices on the paper towels and cover with a few more layers of paper towels. Place another baking sheet on top of the tofu and place a heavy book or a couple of cans of food on top. Let this sit while you make the dill sauce and peel the sweet potatoes.

Rinse the dill under cold water and remove any pieces that have turned brown or seem mushy. Cut the bottom 2 or 3 inches from the stalks of dill and discard. Cut the rest of the dill into a couple of sections and sprinkle into a food processor or blender. Add the vinegar, salt and pepper. Pulse several times until the mixture seems more liquid and moves easily in the food processor, chopping everything. Once the mixture seems pretty well mixed, slowly pour in the olive oil. It should emulsify slightly. Taste and add more hot sauce, salt or vinegar as needed to make it a little too salty and tart. Since not many flavorings will be added to the various ingredients, this mixture is what will be flavoring everything.

Using a potato peeler or sharp knife, remove the skin from the sweet potatoes. Slice the potatoes into 1/2" thick slices and then cut those slices into 1/2" thick chunks. Remove the top baking sheet from the tofu stack. Pour the sweet potato chunks onto the tray and place toward the bottom of the oven. Set the oven to broil. Remove and discard the paper towels from the remaining tray and brush both sides of the tofu with olive oil. Place the slices on the tray so they don't touch and so they're located under the broiling element. Set a timer for 7 minutes and place the tray about 6 or 7 inches from the element. Check them after 7 minutes and if they're evenly dotted with dark spots and hints of golden texture, remove the tray and carefully flip them over to cook for 7 minutes on the other side. If your pieces don't look like this, check them every minute until they do and cook on the other side for the same amount of time.

Once they're cooked, remove the tray from the oven and set the oven to bake at 350° F. Stir the sweet potatoes and move the tray to the middle of the oven. Slice the tofu into cubes and place in a bowl. Cover with the marinade it and let it sit on the counter. It should take about 20 minutes for the sweet potatoes to bake. While they bake, chop the onion and chop up the broccoli into smallish pieces (larger pieces are fine if you're skipping the tortillas). Stir the potatoes after 10 minutes to prevent sticking. Once the sweet potatoes seem soft when pierced with a fork, place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil and onion. Let it cook until it starts to turn golden brown, stirring every minute or two. Once the onions have browned, toss in the broccoli and pour the tofu and marinade over top. Stir lightly to coat, cover with a lid and let it cook for about three minutes. Now stir in the sweet potatoes and add more of the marinade if desired. Let it cook until the broccoli seems done and then serve with tortillas. Feel free to garnish with the leftover sauce, chopped avocado, diced onion and lime wedges.

Without the dill marinade, this would be a very simple wrap and it wouldn't hold enough flavor to keep me interested for the full meal, nor would it be flavorful enough to make me satisfied with it. But with this sauce, I'm in love with this meal and am looking forward to taking the leftovers to work for lunch. I'm also looking forward to putting the leftover marinade over some fish, or even a chicken breast — or even just dipping lots and lots of carrots into it.

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About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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