MouSUCKAH – That’s TOFU!
Mike is a very good partner. He’s loving, thoughtful, compassionate, and funny as all get out. I will fully and easily admit that I’m a better person for knowing him, and I wonder every day how I got so lucky as to have him in my life. Bearing that in mind, when I saw three lovely large Asian eggplants looking up at me out of the vegetable crisper, a nicer person would have thought, “Hmm. Those would be perfect for the spicy Thai eggplant dish that he loves so much!” Or even, “Oh, I haven’t made Mike any baba ganouj in a while even though he’s been asking for it.”
But not me. Oh no. I thought about three eggplants and the container of silken tofu that I’ve hiding in the back of the fridge behind my pickled beets…and then I thought: VEGETARIAN MOUSSAKA! Hey look, there’s my lovely man who takes out the recycling bins when they’re full and always cleans the bathrooms. Why don’t I try to trick him into eating a food item that I know he adamantly loathes and despises? And with that, the Tofu Tribunal continues…..
My rationale for this dish was two-fold:
1. It’s likely not going to taste exactly like a traditional moussaka (which it didn’t), so I would be wise to market this as a vegetarian option from the get go. It doesn’t matter how hard you squint and engage an active imagination, kidney beans will never taste like ground meat, so why pretend? Let it be what it is so there is no false pretense or expectations.
2. For the tofu, I’m going to have to rely on false pretense and expectations if he’s going to try it….so I’ll opt for smothering it in cheese. After all, isn’t everything just a bit more palatable when it’s covered in gooey, melty cheese?
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while then you likely remember the first initiation into the tofu tribunal, a curried dill tofu dip. I think that the pictures say it all. That’s okay though, when you start out at the bottom you have nowhere to go but up…..
MouSUCKAH – That’s TOFU!!!
Serves 6 regular adults, or 4 people like me
- 3 large Asian eggplants
- 1.5 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 4 large cloves of garlic
- 2 ribs of celery
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 19oz can of red kidney beans
- 1.5 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 container (1 lb 3 oz) soft or silken tofu
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 tsp fresh nutmeg
- 2 cups grated fresh high quality parmesan cheese
- 1 cup grated mozzarella
Begin by slicing the eggplants horizontally into 1/2 inch disks. Salt these lightly and leave them in a colander for half an hour or so to drain off some of the bitterness. I figured that Mike would be bitter enough when he found out that I was serving him tofu.
Now you might ask yourself what ‘large cloves of garlic’ means. These are large cloves. If your cloves are a bit on the smaller side, opt for 5-6.
Finely chop the onions and celery, and mince the garlic. In a large skillet or pan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat and sautee the trio until the onions are soft and translucent, stirring often so that the garlic does not burn.
Add the tomato paste and let it all cook together for a minute or two to remove the ‘raw’ tomato taste. Rinse and drain the can of kidney beans and pour them in as well. Add the oregano and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and then cover it up and let this cook for 5-10 minutes to soften up those beans. Please don’t forget to check on them after 5 minutes or so to give them a stir and make sure that they don’t burn onto the bottom of the pan.
While the beans cook down, it’s a great time to start on your tofu bechamel sauce. Drain any excess water off of your tofu and then scoop the contents into a fairly large bowl. Crack in both eggs and pour in the milk.
Give it a good whisk for a minute or two until it’s about as smooth as you can make it (don’t expect perfection or you’ll be disappointed), before grating in about 1/4 tsp of fresh nutmeg and seasoning the bechamel with salt and pepper. If you don’t have fresh nutmeg, that’s a-ok, you’ll just need more. Opt for about 1/2 tsp of dried ground nutmeg instead.
And now a brief diversion back to the beans, because we want to finish them and let them cool a bit before we build the dish. Give them a rough mash and then remove the pan from the heat. When you’re mashing them, you don’t want it too smooth (like a refried bean) but you also don’t want them to look like chili. Go for somewhere in between so there are still a few large chunks and you can tell that it’s made from beans, but it’s mashed enough that you could spread it if need be.
Back to the faux-chamel! The creamy tofu sauce really relies on parmesan to give it the body and flavor that it desires, so please use a nice, high quality, flavorful parmesan cheese. I will freely admit that I’m no stranger to the dried stuff in a can, in fact it’s what I grew up on and sometimes I crave it on a hearty meaty spaghetti sauce. But this is not the time or place for The Can. Please leave it in the back of the fridge until this recipe is complete.
Add in the 2 cups of grated parmesan cheese.
Rinse the eggplant under cold water to remove some of the salt and then pat it dry. Eggplant is nothing if not absorbent.
Now for the fun part! In an 8×12 casserole dish spread a layer of eggplant slices and then dollop the bean mixture on top, smoothing it into as close to an even layer as you can get.
There will be areas which are lower or somewhat caved in, and focus your next layer of eggplant on these ones so that your casserole it’s roughly even-ish. Don’t worry, the faux-chamel will disguise most of your casserole’s deformities.
Spread the tofu-parm mixture over top and gently smooth it out. I like to give it an extra grinding of pepper on top, but maybe that’s just me.
Cover the casserole with tinfoil and bake it for 45 minutes, or until it is looking somewhat set on top but may still be a bit jiggly in the center. Sprinkle on Smother the top of it with the hitherto untouched cup of shredded mozzarella cheese and pop it back in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until the top is nicely golden brown and the cheese looks gooey and delicious.
Tent the casserole with foil (or cover it with a clean tea towel) and let it rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting into it. Just like lasagna, if you get greedy and cut in too fast then you end up with mou-soupa.
I served Mike the MouSUCKAH with a side of frisee salad in a sundried tomato vinaigrette. Isn’t it purty?
Well, about as aesthetic as moussaka can be. Would you eat it? Does it look like the real McCoy? Let’s ask Mike.
(Apologies in advance for the poor photographs, it was a blustery night and we were curled up in the dimly lit basement.)
Here we see Mike, in his natural habitat. The laptop is open in front of him. The ice tinkles lightly in the glass of ‘water’ to his left. He’s hungry and looking forward to a hearty vegetarian casserole.
He takes a bite…and then another…and another, and another. He shows no signs of slowing down. Members of the Tribunal cock their heads quizzically, wondering if this might be it?
“Hey Mike….the moussaka….it’s made of tofu.”
(look at the head spin. I love it)
“Yes, but you LIKED it, right? Didn’t you? You said that you liked it, and even if it IS tofu, does it really matter if it tastes good and-”
“I SAID FINE, IT’S GOOD. NOW STOP TAKING MY GODDAMNED PICTURE. And…and I KNEW it was tofu ALL ALONG!!!!”
OOH! The Tofu Tribunal is just GIDDY with glee!!! Mike said he liked it, he liked TOFU and it was in a CASSEROLE and he LIKED IT!! WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!
But the buck doesn’t stop here. This is a good enough initiation, but the soy salvation was still hidden and smothered in cheese. My next step is to let the tofu make a bolder move – let it step just slightly out of the wings and let its voice be heard…..such are the goals of the Tofu Tribunal…..
And now a little glimpse into my next post! I did promise you that I would take a sabbatical from the seafood posts, and beyond the cheesecake and moussaka there is some red meat coming your way. Why? Because when I was in the grocery store the other day I saw THIS:
I would make a rather bawdy joke about craving the meat if my mother didn’t read this blog.
Aw, c’mon now! Don’t tell me that you wouldn’t have bagged it too……