By SHANNON WATKINS
Possibly you’re the jaunty sort who gets up early with vigor, whistling and beaming and generally being the complete opposite of, say, me. You like making a full breakfast, eggs and bacon and toast and coffee, and sitting down to relish every forkful.
Or maybe you were, and then the doctor did some routine tests the last time you were in the office, prodding you and frowning and “hmm”ing while looking at various results. This was not the behavior you used to get from your physician, but you’re reminded sternly that you’re older now, and remember that cholesterol problem that runs in your family, the one you were fully convinced skipped a generation? Turns out it didn’t.
Or maybe it’s not that; maybe you found out that while your tastebuds love eggs in any form, your stomach has started rebelling, and you pay for one small omelet with a roll of Tums. Allergies? Indigestion? You’re too busy moaning and clutching your stomach to care which is the cause.
Now breakfast is bran everything with skim milk and fruit (you don’t mind the fruit, but you’d prefer to eat it without the equivalent of shredded cardboard) and maybe, on a wild day, oatmeal, which makes for at least a hot breakfast but perhaps not exactly what you would have preferred.
You secretly don’t miss the bacon as much (truth be told, it was starting to make you feel a little heavier than you’d like after you ate it), but the eggs, such a simple, reliable pleasure, you honestly miss, and now your day is missing a small pleasure.
There’s no going back to them, sadly, but there’s a substitute, a perfectly natural one, that’s equally delicious, healthy and much easier on your insides.
Those pioneering vegans, with their insistence on shunning animal products, whether for ethics or health, have necessarily developed the creativity and cunning to make vegetables and plant-based cuisine in general into something appealing and adventurous, which is how we have come to have the tofu scramble.
I first bumped into this week’s recipe via an Australian friend of mine who is devoted to Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who is a celebrity among vegan chefs and whose “Vegan Brunch” cookbook our dish this week is from. (Yes, I know we just did brunch/breakfast not that long ago, but this is too good to keep quiet about). The tofu scramble is seen by many as the golden mean of vegan breakfasts, and it is, speaking as a devout carnivore, one of the yummiest things you’ll have.
Tofu, sometimes mocked by meat-eaters – myself included at times, if I’m being honest – is essentially bland, and encountered by itself is offputting to people who’ve never tried it before. Tofu’s role is somewhat like rice or pasta, in that it’s really more a vehicle for other flavors and ideas. Taken that way, it’s fun to experiment with. Best of all, it’s fairly cheap.
To make the best version of this, you’ll need some spices and a substance called nutritional yeast, which I’m afraid you’ll probably need to travel a bit to get your hands on (Eats in Blacksburg, at the end of Prices Fork Road, carries it in bulk). If you observe that it bears an uncanny resemblance to fish flakes, you wouldn’t be the first, but it tastes nutty, savory and slightly salty, and you’ll end up sprinkling it on everything.
The tofu comes out best if you press it, which means putting a couple of paper towels on a plate, plonking your drained blocks of tofu on it, putting a couple more paper towels on it, putting another plate on top, and weighting it with a can of something; this squeezes out additional moisture and makes for a better result. It can be left anywhere from five to 30 minutes; I’d say start a pot of coffee, catch the top stories on CNN just long enough to crack your eyes open, and get started.
Basic Tofu Scramble
2 tsps. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. salt or to taste
3 Tbsps. water
2 Tbsps. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, (or your preferred amount), minced
1 lb. extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
¼ c. nutritional yeast
Fresh black pepper to taste
Mix your spices together with the water and keep this and the nutritional yeast handy. Chop up your tofu into bite-sized or smaller pieces (it’s going to break up a bit more, and in the end it’ll resemble scrambled eggs). Heat a large skillet to medium-high and add the oil and garlic; saute until the garlic starts to give off a fragrance and colors slightly. Add the tofu and toss and stir much like you would eggs. Continue for about 10 minutes and scrape the bottom of the pan frequently to prevent sticking. Add the spice mix, yeast, salt and pepper, and continue stirring for about 5 more minute (if water isn’t evaporating or the results just look too wet for your tastes, turn the heat up a little and keep stirring). Serve warm and enjoy in amazement.
This makes quite an abundance, and can be stretched even further by adding in cooked veggies, but that’s no shame; unlike eggs, tofu reheats very well. You can get most of a week’s worth of breakfasts out of one recipe, if you pair it with whole-grain toast or something else your doc would approve of each morning. You’ll certainly have enough to share. Feel free to bring me a plate! You might have to knock though; I’ll probably still be asleep.