Tempeh fish tacos

When we talk about proteins, it’s not surprising if what immediately comes to mind is meat and seafood. Or dairy. Or eggs. In other words, animal proteins.

But here’s what else is protein: legumes, like beans, peas, peanuts, and lentils; other nuts; and soy. Yes, plant proteins. And they can create just as hearty a meal as any steak or pork chop. And can be just as rich as cream or custard.

If you’re looking for meat mimics, the trifecta is tofu, tempeh, and seitan. Most people are familiar with the soybean product tofu, but tempeh and seitan are still unusual food products in the typical U.S. household. They’ve been growing increasingly popular, however, as more folks than just vegetarians or vegans turn to plant proteins to round out their diet. And while all three are Asian in origin, you can go way beyond Asian flavors to create a great dish.

Tempeh is a traditional fermented soy product that was originally developed around the 19th century in Indonesia. The culturing can be complicated, which makes it difficult for home cooks to make from scratch.  But it’s easy to find in markets like Whole Foods.

This dense spongy product that can be cut into pieces and brined or marinated before pan frying. It can be crumbled into pieces for chili, stir frys, soups, and stews. It can be grated and substituted for ground beef. You can feature it in tacos, using a blackening seasoning that is pressed into tempeh slices, which are then seared. Add a chipotle sauce made with Vegenaise, an eggless mayo, as well as salsa, guacamole, and shredded cabbage.

Seitan is a very different product—made of wheat gluten. It’s believed to have first appeared during the 6th century in China as a noodle ingredient, but has long been popular throughout China, Japan, and other East and Southeast Asian countries. The term itself was coined in the ‘60s in Japan.

Seitan is for the person who is a meat eater—who likes steak. In the U.S. it’s usually sold in blocks, strips, and cubes by brands like Upton and WestSoy. In its natural form, it’s a perfect blank canvas for flavors, so it’s not uncommon to find a number of packaged flavor variations—even bacon. It’s also pretty easy to make. Home cooks can create loaves of it using vital wheat flour, nutritional yeast flakes, and other ingredients. Like tempeh, it can be refrigerated or frozen to keep longer. Use it to make sausages and lunchmeat or add it to sauces. You can even cook it like a roast.

Because it so readily absorbs flavors, you can take the flavors in a typical meaty dish, like meatballs or even a pastrami sandwich, and transfer them to seitan.

Now tofu is not a stranger to most of us, but let’s go beyond stir frying and other traditional savory applications you’re used to. How about dessert? My friend chef Marguerite Grifka sometimes use tofu to make desserts.

“I make a cheesecake using tofu as well as mousse,” she said. “It’s a good substitute for eggs.”

Grifka pointed out that the tofu used in dessert applications—as well as sauces, smoothies, chowders, and mock sour cream—is silken tofu. Unlike regular tofu, which can be grainy and crumbly, silken tofu has a smooth, creamy texture. Like regular tofu, you can find it in soft, firm, and extra firm. She uses firm or extra firm silken tofu for her Salted Caramel Chocolate Mousse with Tofu.

One of the challenges of making a sweet tofu dish is the tofu aftertaste. Grifka discovered that adding salted caramel to the chocolate cut the aftertaste, resulting in a rich, satisfying sweet and creamy dessert.

The recipe takes all of about 10 minutes to make. First you create the caramel by melting sugar and adding coconut milk. Then you add chocolate chips and whisk until they melt. That cools and in a blender you combine that mixture with the tofu, salt, and vanilla. Then you just have to decide whether you’re serving it in small dishes, spooning it out of a large bowl, or perhaps piping it out from a pastry bag. Chill and then you can top it with berries or shaved chocolate—or a tofu cream topping that can serve as whipped cream.

Here’s the recipe:

Salted Caramel Chocolate Mousse with Tofu
From Marguerite Grifka

1, 12-ounce package silken organic firm tofu (Mori-Nu brand or other in shelf stable/aseptic package)
4 ounces 60% shaved semi-sweet chocolate (or substitute ¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips)
2 tablespoons organic sugar
½ cup organic coconut milk
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt (or substitute with kosher salt)
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract

Have all ingredients measured ready to go before you start, this comes together quickly.

To create the caramel, sprinkle sugar on the bottom of sauce pan. Heat over medium heat. Have the coconut milk close by. Sugar will melt and then quickly turn light brown (caramelize). As soon as you see it turn a light caramel color remove from heat and add coconut milk. It will sputter so be careful.

Return to heat, simmer, and whisk until caramel is dissolved.

Add chocolate chips and whisk until melted, remove from heat.

Put tofu block in blender or chop into a few pieces to fit in food processor. Add the coconut/chocolate mixture, salt, and vanilla. Blend until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides as needed.

Pour into serving dishes or into a bowl to chill. You can place in a pastry bag and pipe through a star tip if you want to be extra fancy.

Chill 1 hour or more.

Top with dairy-free whipped cream or tofu topping (see recipe below), berries, shaved chocolate, chopped toasted almonds or hazelnuts.

Tofu Cream Topping

1, 12-ounce package silken organic extra firm tofu (Mori-Nu brand or other in shelf stable/aseptic package)
¼ cup real maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt

Blend until combined. Chill until cold.

Are you cooking non-animal proteins for clients? Share a tip with us for how you use it.

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Caron Golden

About 

Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

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