Meat substitutes


Tofu burger with Asian flavours

These light, nutritious and colourful tofu burgers are far removed from the mundane, ready-made supermarket variety in terms of taste and texture.

Serve them either in a bun with sliced onions, tomatoes, lettuce, alfalfa sprouts and a little chutney or ketchup or, alternatively, accompanied by brown rice and stir-fried green leafy vegetables. They also taste great with a deep-flavoured mushroom sauce, along a side helping of potatoes, grilled tomatoes and sautéed spinach. For a variation of flavour, add a pinch of curry powder to the tofu mixture.

If you don’t eat eggs, you may substitute the egg – which only acts as a binder in this recipe – with a tablespoon or two of cornflour (cornstarch), though to be honest I have not tried this myself.

Panko – which are available in Japanese grocers – can be replaced with ordinary dried breadcrumbs if you can’t find them. Remember to go easy on salt because it’s already added to soy sauce and panko, and you don’t want your burgers to become too salty. Makes 6 to 8 burgers/ Serves 3 – 4.

1 lb/ 450g firm plain tofu
5 tablespoons corn or groundnut (peanut) oil
3 spring onions, trimmed and very finely chopped
4 large shiitake mushrooms, stalks removed and finely diced
3 oz/ 75g carrot, trimmed, peeled and finely diced
2 tablespoons celery, trimmed, peeled and finely chopped
1 or 2 green chillies, finely chopped
4 tablespoons fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium egg, beaten
Around 8 to 10 tablespoons panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

1.    Place the tofu between several layers of kitchen paper, and weigh it down with a heavy kitchen utensil or a bag of sugar. Leave for about an hour to drain off excess water so that you get the dry texture that’s necessary for this recipe to work.
2.    In a large bowl, crumble and mash the tofu with your fingers until it resembles fine soy mince.
3.    Heat a large frying pan (or a small wok) on high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, and stir-fry the spring onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery and chillies for about 3 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through. Let them cool a little.
4.    Tip the vegetables into the crumbled tofu. Add the coriander, soy sauce, and a little salt and pepper. Mix well.
5.    Add the egg and about 5 tablespoons of the panko, or enough to make a mixture that can be formed into patties. Mix well, and adjust the seasoning.
6.    Shape the tofu and vegetable mixture into 8 round burger-shaped patties.
7.    Spread the remaining panko in a thin layer onto a large plate. Roll the burgers in the panko so as to cover them lightly on all sides, including the edge. (If you are not cooking the burgers immediately, you can refrigerate them for up to 3 to 4 hours).
8.    A few minutes before you are ready to eat, heat a large, non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in the pan and, when hot, put in the burgers 2 or 3 at a time. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until they are well browned.
9.    Drain on kitchen paper. Serve immediately.

veggie-oden

This is a vegetarian version of the classic Japanese stew that’s normally made from meat, seafood, vegetables and tofu. It is ubiquitous in Japan during winter months and sold everywhere from street stalls to smart shops, where there might be a pot bubbling away behind the counter. I’m surprised it’s not better known in the West – or, at least, it is virtually unknown in the UK.

Don’t be intimidated by the ingredients, as the stew itself is simple to cook. Admittedly, it is time-consuming and involves several components, so a leisurely weekend would be the best time to prepare it. To cut down on the cooking time, you can use prepared mustard paste (available in little tins or tubes in Japanese shops); and, instead of making your own dashi, use mildly flavoured vegetable stock or instant vegetarian dashi powder (though the latter is not easy to find – you’ll have to make sure it doesn’t contain bonito fish flakes).

A very simple version of dashi can be made from soaking dried shiitake and kombu, and using the strained soaking water as stock. However, if you make Japanese food – or even only miso soup – regularly, it is a good idea to make your own dashi in large quantities and freeze it in ice cube trays for future use. Which is why I am giving a recipe here.

Konnyaku is speckled grey, gelatinous root of the ‘devils tongue’ plant. It is believed to be extremely low in calories, and regularly used by the Japanese for detoxing. Numerous health benefits are associated with it.

All the specialist ingredients can be bought from Japanese shops, but if you can’t find them, substitute vegetables such as baby turnips, baby pak choi, sweet potatoes, Japanese kabocha squash, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, etc. Stick to oriental roots, starches, greens or mushrooms as much as you can (rather than using, say, bell peppers, courgettes, etc). Indeed, aburage, fu, and konnyaku are used more for texture than flavour. You can make a simplified version of this dish using only two or three ingredients, and it will still taste good.

Oden is a unique combination of hearty and filling, yet light at the same time. It can be eaten on its own, or with plain white rice and pale pink Japanese ginger pickle. It should always be eaten with hot mustard, which is essential for this dish (it just won’t taste the same without it).

Here in the UK, the weather continues to be absolutely freezing – with snowfall and sub-zero temperatures all around – so the combination of ginger and mustard would certainly help clear the sinuses! Serves 4.

For the mustard condiment:
4 tablespoons Japanese (or English) mustard powder
Approx 12 tablespoons cold water

For the vegetarian dashi:
Approx 10-inch piece kombu (kelp) seaweed
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
4 pints/ 2 litres cold water
1 oz/ 25g tororo-kombu seaweed (or use nori if you can’t find it)
4 tablespoons sake (rice wine)
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine)
½ teaspoon sugar
5 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce

For the stew:
6 sheets aburage (flat sheets of fried tofu), or fu (small pieces of dried gluten)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 oz/ 250g firm tofu, drained on kitchen paper and cut into triangles
3 pints/ 1.5 litres vegetarian dashi (as above)
4 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
4 tablespoons mirin
½ teaspoon sugar
2-inch piece kombu
2 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced chunkily
8oz/ 200g daikon radish, peeled and sliced chunkily
8oz/ 200g konnyaku, cut into triangles (similar to the tofu)
6 oz/ 150g fresh or prepared lotus root, sliced horizontally
4 large hardboiled eggs, shelled and left whole
Salt

1.    Prepare the mustard condiment first. Combine the mustard powder with water, making sure that the consistency is thinner than you would like (as it will gradually thicken). Set aside.
2.    Next make the dashi. Clean the kombu with dry kitchen paper to remove any grit, but do not wash otherwise it will lose its flavour. Snip into large pieces with scissors.
3.    Steep the kombu and dried mushrooms in a saucepan of water, and set aside for 3 or 4 hours.
4.    Gently heat the saucepan until the liquid reaches just below the boiling point. Remove the kombu and discard.
5.    Add tororo-kombu to the pan, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
6.    Add the remaining dashi ingredients. Again bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for a further 2 minutes.
7.    Drain through a sieve, and discard the seaweed and mushrooms. Set the dashi aside. It should have a pure, clean taste.
8.    Now make the stew. If using the aburage sheets, steep them briefly in boiling water to remove excess liquid. Rinse in cold water, squeeze between the palm of your hands, drain, and cut into 1-inch squares.
9.    Heat the oil in a small wok, and fry the tofu triangles until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
10.    Heat the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, sugar and kombu in a large saucepan, and bring to the boil. Add potatoes and carrots, and bring to the boil again. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes until almost tender.
11.    Add the daikon radish, konnyaku, and lotus root, and simmer for another 10 minutes.
12.    Add tofu, aburage (or around 16 pieces of fu), hardboiled eggs and salt, and simmer for 5 minutes. Check each vegetable for doneness, and adjust the seasoning.
13.    Remove the piece of kombu and discard. Carefully lift out each egg, cut it in half, and place the halved eggs back into the stew.
14.    Ladle the oden into individual bowls, and serve with small quantities of hot mustard.

sausage-mushroom-casserole-too

This richly-flavoured, hearty casserole is quintessentially British. It makes a filling meal on a frosty or foggy night. Serves 6.

2 tablespoons sunflower or rapeseed oil
12 vegetarian sausages, such as Lincolnshire or Cumberland style
4 medium onions, peeled and sliced
2 celery sticks, peeled and sliced
1 medium carrot, trimmed, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons plain white flour
2 tablespoons tomato puree
330ml bottle Guinness, or another dark ale or beer
300 ml/ 11 fl oz vegetable or lightly-flavoured mushroom stock
10 oz/ 250g chestnut mushrooms, halved
1 level tablespoon Marmite
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1.    Heat the oil in a heavy casserole over medium heat. Fry the veggie sausages evenly on all sides until brown. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Alternatively, you can grill the sausages while you are getting on with the rest of the dish.
2.    In the same oil, fry the onions, celery and carrots. Cook for around 7 minutes until the vegetables are soft but not browned.
3.    Add the flour and tomato puree, and cook for a minute.
4.    Pour in the Guinness, bring to the boil, and cook for 2 minutes until the liquid is reduced slightly.
5.    Add the stock, and bring back to the boil. Add the cooked sausages, mushrooms, Marmite, thyme and seasoning.
6.    Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are cooked and the sauce has thickened.
7.    Garnish with parsley, and serve with mashed potatoes and steamed winter vegetables, such as savoy cabbage, swedes, brussels sprouts, kale or broccoli.