© Wai Chung Tang | Dreamstime.com
Picture the stereotypical American dad. Wearing a spotless expanse of white apron, he stands by a smoking grill, an asbestos mitt on one hand, a large pair of tongs (or a cold beer) in the other. A porterhouse steak sizzles above the hot coals.
This is my dad, for sure. However, not all fathers are voracious carnivores. Neither my husband, nor several other dads I know. One is even allergic to pork, a condition that fills me with deep sympathy every time I ponder his predicament, living here in Memphis, the barbecue capital of the world.
Vegetarian dads, or dads who are trying to eat less meat, might find themselves at a loss when grilling season revs up. Dads who love their chops probably don’t need any advice about grilling a steak. Nor does anyone else in the family, because — assuming the stereotype has a grain of truth — even on Father’s Day, Dad’s got it covered. So for families that want to cook out without the meat, what can fill the need for seared protein during the high grilling season?
One word: tofu. Wait! Before you crumple this magazine up and use it to kindle your next cooking fire, hear me out. Tofu is more than just a meat substitute. It has wonderful flavors and textures of its own. It also takes a marinade like a pro. Treated properly, it can have a crispy exterior crisscrossed by handsome grill marks, and a tender, flavorful center. Pop it into a warm pita with some cucumber slices or a tangle of sprouts and scallions, and you have a respectable but healthy (shh!) picnic treat. And Dad can still stand proudly by the Weber with his tongs.
In a recent tofu tasting, I followed the guidance of the Serious Eats Food Lab and hewed to a few basic principles. It’s imperative to use firm tofu, staying clear of the silken variety. Cut the tofu into slabs, not cubes. Dry it thoroughly by placing the slabs between layers of clean paper or kitchen towels and pressing firmly but gently. Use a thick marinade that’ll stick to the tofu, but not too much. Cook on a clean, preheated, well-oiled grill. Don’t cook over the hottest coals — gentle, steady heat will produce a better crust, so pile the glowing coals on one side, move the tofu to the other side, and cover the grill. Finally, add more marinade at the end to freshen up the flavors.
Tofu in Pita Pockets
Adapted from DK Kids’ Fun & Healthy Cookbook and seriouseats.comServes 4
- 1 block of firm or extra-firm tofu, not silken, cut into 1/3” slabs and dried between towels
- vegetable oil for the grill
Too-easy Marinade (try other sauces or marinades, too)
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons prepared yellow mustard
- up to 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce or other hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- black pepper to taste
- Pita pockets, opened and lightly toasted on the grill or in a toaster
- Shredded lettuce
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Sliced cucumbers
- Scallions, cleaned, with white and light green parts cut into long strips
- Mayonnaise or ranch dressing, if desired
While tofu dries between towels, mix marinade ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer for about 10 minutes, until thick and dark. Place tofu slabs in a shallow baking dish and spoon or brush about half of the marinade over all the pieces, covering but not swamping each piece. Set aside for at least 15 minutes, or refrigerate overnight.