It's that time of year again to start talking Tofu Turkey. I know it's a little early but before you know it, you will be faced with just how plant-based you've become in a flesh-eating world. Speaking of which, how totally weird is it that the President "pardons" a turkey? Like, the turkey committed the crime of ...being a turkey, and needs the freaking President of the Free World to unshackle its feathered chains of shame. I guess this act of twisted redemption somehow confuses the rest of us enough to unshackle us from the unconscious chains of shame we have about killing and eating oh, 45 million of the guilty little bastards on just one day.
And that pardoned turkey? That lucky little guy who gets to run around free? He has no friends left. If the President would also be nice enough to give him some stimulus money, he could take a cab around from home to home, witnessing the carnage of his tribe. Oy.
Don't me wrong. I love to eat turkey. I just don't anymore. Some combination of yoga, brown rice, and reading lifted me above meat eating. It wasn't virtuous... or driven by ethics or empathy. I just felt no attraction anymore. And it's stayed that way for about 20 years. Sure, at holiday dinners where turkey is served, I may sneak a piece of crackly skin, but that's it. More like a potato chip than anything else.
What really turns my crank these days is a big, busty, crispy TOFU TURKEY. Packed to the gills with an amazing stuffing. Drenched in mushroom gravy. And surrounded by many beautiful, healthy side dishes. If you've never made one, THIS IS THE YEAR. Not only will your Tofu Turkey wow the family, it will make you feel light and happy and truly grateful. Added Bonus: the Tofu Turkey "pardons" yet another sinful turkey and steps much lighter on the planet... in fact it doesn't step at all... because Tofu turkeys have no feet!!!!!
Omigod. I kill myself.
So here's the recipe. And don't be afraid to do a practice turkey between now and Thanksgiving... or make Thanksgiving your practice for Christmas...
Tofu Turkey with Mushroom GravyEquipment:
Handheld blender or food processor
A medium-sized colander
A baking sheet
A pastry brush
A large measuring cup
Knife, wooden spoons, and the other usual stuff
5 lbs extra firm tofu
Toasted sesame oil
Celery (a few stalks)
Seitan (if you like it)
Unyeasted, whole wheat sourdough bread, in cubes
Poultry seasoning (as much as you want)
Brown rice vinegar (optional)
For the “Turkey”: THE NIGHT BEFORE: Whiz the 5 lbs. of tofu in a really big bowl with a handheld blender. If you don’t have one, it’s a great time to go get one. They are cheap ($30?) and soooooooo useful. I also refer to the handheld blender as “food dildo”. If you don’t have one, and aren’t going to get one, you can puree the tofu in a food processor, in batches, until it’s all smooth and creamy. There may be a few lumps, but nothing big. As you are blending, add about 2 tablespoons of shoyu to the tofu to give it a little extra taste. The more daring may add some herbs…
You now have a 5 lb blob of tofu. Congratulations! Take a colander (medium-sized or smallish are best–the bigger the colander, the flatter the “turkey” will be) and line it with a double layer of cheese cloth, with about six inches extra on each side. Place the colander on a big plate or baking sheet. Spoon your tofu blob into the cheesecloth-lined colander until it molds completely to the colander. A little tofu “milk” will start coming through the colander. That’s good. That’s why you’re doing this, to press all excess liquid out of the tofu, making it a sturdier turkey. Fold the extra cheese cloth over the top of the tofu and place a plate and a weight on top of that. Let sit overnight in the fridge.
The next day: Take the turkey out of the fridge. Pour off any extra tofu liquid that seeped out overnight from the baking sheet or whatever you had the colander sitting on. Remove the weight, the plate and pull back the extra cheese cloth to reveal the bottom of the “dome” that will be your turkey. Now here’s the tricky part: You must now dig into the upside-down dome, with your hand, creating a space in the middle that you will put the stuffing into. Try to dig so that you leave about 1/2 to 1 inch of tofu between you and the colander–in other words, so the dome maintains a decent thickness all round. If you find that you dig too far, you can repair it with tofu, but do your best to dig a nice ditch in the tofu, leaving the walls of the dome thick enough to protect the stuffing. Does that make sense?
Now you have a pile of tofu and an upside-down dome of tofu. Your parents must be very proud!
Preheat your oven to 350 F and start working on the stuffing!
In a skillet, heat the oil, and saute the onions and a pinch of salt for about five minutes. Add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt. Add celery, seitan, poultry seasoning and bread. Sprinkle with shoyu to taste. You know what you like in a stuffing. Do whatever you want to achieve that. Make way more than you need because extra stuffing is one of life’s great benefits. When the stuffing makes you all happy and say “ooooo”, then place it in the dome of tofu, packing it down well. Take the rest of your dug-out tofu (leaving aside about 1/2 cup) and place it on top of the stuffing (and on top of the dome edges), making a bottom for the dome. Pack it down well.
Tricky part number two: Now, take a baking sheet and place it over the colander. Make sure it covers it completely. Hold them together tightly. In a graceful and quick maneuver, flip the whole colander upside-down, so that your dome now sits on the baking sheet. Remove the colander. Remove the cheesecloth, and voila! That’s your un-cooked “turkey”. If there are any cracks in the turkey, do your best to repair them with your leftover tofu. If they are really bad, just chalk it up to experience–you’ll do much better next year (or try again at Christmas!) and this will still taste great.
Make a mixture of 2 parts sesame oil to 1 part shoyu and, using a pastry brush, baste the turkey with it. Be generous with the basting. Cover the turkey with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover, baste again and cook for 15 more minutes, uncovered. Baste one more time and cook for 15 minutes more. Let sit for 1 hour before cutting, while you make your gravy!!
GRAVY:Dice a bunch of onions and mushrooms. Saute onions first, with a pinch of salt, until translucent and yummy, then add mushrooms, another pinch of salt, and saute until softened and wilty.
Apparently, I just made up that word: Wilty. I know that because my computer has put a red line beneath it. Oh well.
Anyway, pour some water in a large measuring cup and add water to this saute, equalling the amount of gravy you want. You have the measuring cup so that you know how much liquid you’re using–you will need to know this for when you add the kuzu later. So make a mental note of it.
Then add shoyu, carefully, to taste (you might want to start with 1 teaspoon per cup of liquid, and add from there if desired). I haven’t given strict measurements here because a) I’m lazy and b) you are the arbiter of your gravy’s strength and saltiness. You can also add mirin (about 1/3 the amount of shoyu you put in) and a dash of brown rice vinegar, if you like. I find that the combo of the shoyu, mirin and just a touch of brown rice vinegar makes for a nice meaty flavor in the gravy.
Let it all come to a boil and then simmer for at least ten minutes.
Now, measure out the equivalent of 1 level tablespoon of kuzu per cup of gravy liquid. If it’s not perfect, don’t worry–if the gravy ends up being not thick enough, you can add more kuzu, and if it’s too thick, you can add more water and shoyu. I think gravy should be a pleasurable, sort of intuitive dish, so don’t get too hung up on it.
WHAT YOU DO NEED TO GET HUNG UP ON, though, is that kuzu needs to be diluted in cold water and be lump-free before being added to the gravy. If you add chunks of undiluted kuzu, they will become unbreakable lumps in the gravy. So when your kuzu is nice and diluted (you can break it up with your fingers in the cold water–I recommend that), add it slowly to the gravy as you stir it vigorously. The gravy will become glossy and thicken. Let it come to a boil, then reduce flame to a simmer. If the gravy is not thick enough for you, add more kuzu. If it’s too thick, add more liquid. Once you’ve gotten the thickness right, let it simmer for about ten minutes before serving on slices of tofu turkey.
Voila! So now that you've pardoned a turkey, you ARE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!!!