With Thanksgiving now past and Christmas on the horizon, I recently found myself pondering the Tofurky, and another Tofurky-brand item, the Hasselback baked ham, each sold to help vegetarians and vegans pretend to eat roasted beasts during the holidays.
The Tofurky would indeed resemble a baked turkey with gravy if a stuffed turkey resembled a plant-based cheese combo. I haven’t actually tasted one, but a pal with impeccable taste says it’s “horrible tasting and acts like rubber.” (He does, however, extol the virtues of the Tofurky mushroom gravy.) I also haven’t tried the Hasselback ham, as I’m just not out for a meal that resembles a dead animal.
My guess is many of the folks who buy these are holiday hosts who don’t know what to feed vegetarian guests. By serving Tofurky on Thanksgiving, and fake ham on Christmas, the hosts figure guests can go through the ritualized motions of pretending to carve an animal. But most vegetarians I know are confident enough in their vegetarianism that they don’t feel the need to go through those motions to fit in. And in my experience, vegetarians and vegans are often the best cooks in the room. If a cook’s allowed to use bacon and butter, anything can taste good, but to satisfy an omnivorous body with herbivorous cooking proves a trickier feat.
So, for impressing guests with real cooking, I offer two recipes to satisfy the vegetarians or vegans at your table, and carnivores too. One, roasted roots, is as old as autumn. The second, a tofu dish, tastes like bacon, because vegetarians may miss turkey or ham once or twice a year, but they miss bacon every day.
My roasted roots technique is based on the potato, but several more roots can be added, such as carrots, celeriac, parsnip, or yellow beets (red beets make the whole batch appear drenched in blood). Dense, greasy fingerling potatoes are my favorite for roasted roots. Cut all the roots into similar-sized chunks for even cooking, and toss them in olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Add herbs like thyme, rosemary or sage if you wish. Bake at 350, about an hour, depending on how thinly they’re sliced, stirring every 15 minutes. When the roots are done, add grated or pressed garlic while still piping hot, stir a final time, and allow to cool.
Now to the tofu. Cut a brick of extra-firm tofu into half-inch cubes. Add them to a pan on low heat, with about two tablespoons olive oil per pound of tofu. Cook slowly, stirring on occasion as the liquid cooks off, and a layer of brown builds on the increasingly dense, crisping pieces. Add more oil as needed, until the cubes are saturated — this is, after all, bacon we’re going for. Add a few sheets of onion, that is, large chunks from a single onion layer, to the pan, along with a clove of garlic, halved. Then sprinkle in light amounts of salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. At the tail end of cooking, add a teaspoon of honey per pound of tofu and soy sauce to taste.
Like bacon, these tofu bits can go on anything, including the roasted roots … and, yes, I suppose even on top of a Tofurky or Hasselback baked ham.