WND – Food Snobbery or No Tofurky Please

June 5, 2008

Here’s the thing. I’m a food snob. I freely admit this, and while I don’t always say it out loud I’m pretty sure it’s not going to come as shocking news to anyone who knows me.

It’s not so much that I don’t believe in tofu, it’s that I think that tofu has a time and place and if I chose to mostly avoid that time and place that’s my own business. What I emphatically don’t believe in is tofu dressed up to taste like bacon or sausage or beef. If you want to be a vegetarian, that’s fine*. As long as you don’t try and make me a vegetarian I don’t really care. But, I think if you’re going to be a vegetarian – or gasp! vegan – then I think you need to commit to it and not eat meat. This means that you don’t flavor tofu to taste like chicken or beef or pork. Partially because it’s weird and unnatural, and substituting artificial flavors and preservatives for a perfectly natural product strikes me as inane. Partially because it doesn’t taste like meat no matter much you insist that it does. And partially because I think that if you want to eat something that tastes like beef, you should eat some beef – unless it’s tofu that’s been marinated in beef fat and then grilled because I think that’s a brilliantly subversive food idea**.

I have similar opinions about diet foods. If you want to avoid butter because you think it’s unhealthy, either consider just eating less butter because heaven knows moderation never killed anyone, or slather something else on your bread. Don’t use things like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” because really, I have no problem believing that it’s not butter. How can something that includes soy lecithin, vegetable mono and diglycerides, potassium sorbate and artificial flavors possibly be healthier for you than something that’s made of milk?

And why? Why whenever people decide to make something lower fat do they then add soy protein to it? I do not understand this. Soy protein may have its place in the world – I’m quite fond of edamame for example, especially if you douse them in spicy garlicky salt – but I’d venture to assert that milk isn’t it. Or ice cream. Or tortilla chips.

The Spring issue of Cook’s Illustrated this year was all about making recipes low fat and I fell helplessly in love with all of their staff because each and every single recipe started with – well, we went and looked at a bunch of low fat cookbooks and tried to recreate that recipe and it was weird and terrible. And then they affirmed that tofu has no place in lasagna and pureed prunes don’t belong in brownies. Their varied exclamations of horror and bewilderment were awesome to behold. Then they proceeded to make lower fat versions of classic recipes that still tasted good which is a feat worthy of commemoration in and of itself.

I’m all for eating healthier, but I’d like to see the concept of eating healthier include less in the way of low fat soy chips and more in the way of portion control and the use of natural ingredients, and more things sautéed in a little olive oil rather than deep fried.

Dinner this week wasn’t actually designed to be low fat, mostly it was designed to avoid dairy products (allergy issues – not mine thankfully, because my life without cheese would be a sad sad place). However, the lack of butter, cream or eggs helps make this reasonably healthy, despite the apricot jam used in the glaze on the chicken.

* All due respect to people who suffer from allergies or have a restricted diet for religious reasons, you are not a part of this rant.
** Courtesy of a rainy Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago and a marathon of this season’s Top Chef on Bravo.

Apricot Glazed Chicken
Spicy Sesame Noodles
Salad with Asian(ish) Dressing

Apricot Glazed Chicken

Recipe previously given: Oscars!

I said it would be making a repeat appearance at Dinner.

Spicy Sesame Noodles
(serves 8-10)

4 Tbsp smooth peanut butter
5 Tbsp Asian sesame oil*
3 Tbsp soy sauce
½ cup water
4 tsp minced garlic
4 tsp minced peeled fresh ginger
4 tsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp sugar
½ tsp Asian chili paste or dried hot red pepper flakes

1 lb angel hair pasta (or some other thin pasta)

3-4 cups thinly sliced mixed vegetables**
¼ cup peanuts, coarsely chopped

Put first nine ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Cook the pasta until al dente and then drain well. Toss with a little vegetable oil (max 1 Tbsp) to keep it from turning into a solid mass. Allow to cool slightly and then dress with half the sauce. Allow to cool completely and then toss with the vegetables and the rest of the sauce (I find the easiest way to do this is with my hands – messy, but more effective than tongs). You may not need all of the rest of the sauce, use enough to be moist but not goopy. Sprinkle with coarsely chopped peanuts

* You can adjust how spicy the sauce is by using spicy sesame oil vs plain sesame oil and being generous or abstemious with your chili paste/red pepper flakes. Bear in mind that even if it tastes spicy on it’s own it will be toned down a lot by the pasta.
** I use a wide variety of vegetables – carrots, red peppers, scallions, snow peas, radishes. Pretty much anything that’s not too watery will work, e.g. I wouldn’t use cucumbers but thinly sliced zucchini might be good.

Notes: You can make this a day in advance, but save some of the sauce to add to the salad just before you serve it. When you leave it overnight the pasta soaks up the sauce and makes it a little dry.

Asian(ish) Dressing
I wanted to continue the Asian theme I had going on with the soy sauce in the chicken glaze, and the ginger and sesame oil in the noodle salad. Balsamic vinegar and olive oil seemed like they would be jarring on the salad in conjunction with the other flavors.

Little bit of minced ginger
Zest and juice of 1 orange
Rice wine vinegar
Olive oil
Dash of sesame oil

The usual proportions for salad dressing apply.


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