Saturday, February 13, 2010

Vintage Tofu Salad

“Vintage tofu salad”?! You’re probably thinking I’m way off my rocker here, but stay with me a moment: This recipe harkens back to the good ol’ days of Columbia Specialty Foods, for many years the mainstay grocery of my hometown’s health-food community.

And don’t go all “yuk” on me, either. Sure, you can laugh at tofu, it’s an easy target. The reason most people hate tofu is that it has, like, zero flavor. It tastes like egg whites, which is to say it tastes like nothing. But then, like egg whites (or a potato, or cottage cheese, or the like), it’s a blank slate, and you can spice it up and flavor it however you want, ranging from savory to sweet. It’s a real chameleon, and as you’ve probably heard, full of protein.

Here’s one of my all-time favorite recipes using tofu. I acquired it from someone who worked at the old Columbia Specialty Foods health food store back when I was an undergraduate at MU.

For you folks who don’t remember it, Columbia Specialty Foods used to be on Business Loop 70, near the intersection with Coats Street; it opened in the 1960s and was owned by a remarkable man, Richard Catlett, a pacifist and progressive way ahead of his time. In 1991, the crunchy-granola business was bought and turned into Clover’s. (Nowadays, I think that building is a “dating” service, strip club, or payday loan place. Skank!)

Anyway, this recipe is for the tofu salad sandwiches that Columbia Specialty Foods used to make and sell, back in the day. They would make them in the morning, wrap them in plastic wrap, and have them in a cold case, ready for you to pick up. Healthy fast-food!

After classes, I used to pick up one of these, an organic apple, and a jar of organic juice, and head for the hills. (Gans Creek.) This constituted many lunches while sitting on logs or boulders out in the fresh air.

I recommend halving it, if you’re cooking just for one or two folks. This original recipe makes a ton.

I also suggest using a firm-textured tofu: You want the tofu to retain some texture and not get all mushy.

It’s basically a mock egg salad, and rather mild. Sometimes you want mild, eh? But jazz it up however you want; you’re the boss. This is the kind or recipe you can fiddle with to your heart’s content.

Tofu Salad Sandwich
From Columbia Specialty Foods, ca. 1987

1 lb. tofu
1/4 – 1/2 cup mayonnaise (try an organic, soy, or vegan kind!)
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/3 – 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 tsp. no-salt herbal seasoning (see note below)
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
alfalfa and onion sprout blend (see note below)
“Super Salad Mix” sprouts (see note below)
pita pocket bread for stuffing

Mix together the salad ingredients (all of the above, excluding the sprouts and pita bread). Stuff the salad into pitas along with the sprouts to make sandwiches.

On the “no-salt herbal seasoning”—I think they used “Herbal Seasoning Blend” from Frontier Foods. The blend is definitely strong on the dill, and it works very well in this recipe. But you can use whatever you want. Fresh dill would be lovely. Or use “Mrs. Dash.” Or concoct your own blend (thyme, oregano, tarragon, parsley, all would be good).

On the sprouts: Well, around here, you used to be able to buy particular sprouts blends; you could get a combo blend of onion and alfalfa, and you could get one called “Super Salad Mix” that had lentils, radish, mung, and other sprouts. Alas, you can’t get these specific blends around here anymore. It was some local grower that made them. Oh well.

The super salad mix was nice and crispy, a little peppery (because of the radish sprouts); and the alfalfa-onion sprout blend added crunch and just enough onion flavor to make it taste right without becoming overpowering. (Soooo many vegetarian cooks habitually overdo the onions and garlic, in my opinion.)

So regarding sprouts, you just have to make do with what ya got. Onion sprouts plus clover or alfalfa oughta do it. Use your best judgment, and have fun!

And be healthy.


veggal said...

Looks good! If you like Indian food, here are some recipes you might like:

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thank you for the tip, Veggal. I consider Indian cuisine to be the "home" of vegetarianism as well as some of the very best food on Earth. Namaste!