I love hosting dinner parties, dahling! I love rich conversations over a satisfying meal. My friends aren’t all vegan but I’ve found they’re usually up to exploring the delicious myriad of vegan dishes I serve.
They are usually curious about veganism. In turn, I would share why I am vegan and how important it is to treat all human and non-human animals fairly. The conversation naturally centers a lot around food although I am careful to state that being vegan is more than a diet; that it is an ethical stance for animal rights; a way to live compassionately.
Of course, no matter what I say the food always speak for itself. I make familiar dishes with a spin using ingredients that are not too foreign, even while introducing new ingredients and a fresh take on traditional meals. The idea is to show that vegan food really is quite familiar and not at all odd. It’s more of a curious walk through a new park, than a leap over the Grand Canyon.
One of my go-to dinner party favorites is my Jamaican Jerk Tofu Steak. It is essentially my point of view on a plate – vegan food with a Jamaican flair.
This is a meaty dish that is not animal-based. Curious sentence, right? True, when we think of meat we usually think of animal flesh derivative. However, the etymology of “meat”, from the Old English mete, really referred to anything “solid” to be eaten to differentiate it from something liquid that would be drunk. Think the solid of a coconut – coconut meat – as opposed to the liquid of said coconut – coconut water.
Indeed, vegans do eat meat; just not from animal flesh.
My steak is made from tofu. What on earth is tofu? Tofu is essentially soybean curd. It is soy milk with a coagulant added to make solid mass. Mature, white soy beans are boiled, curdled and pressed. The coagulant traditionally used is nigari, the dried liquid (mostly magnesium chloride) that remains after common table salt has been removed from seawater, although other coagulants can be used.
It should be noted that tofu is very rich in calcium, manganese, copper, selenium and protein. It is also a good source of Omega-3 fats.
The different types of tofu – silken, firm, extra-firm – simply refer to the level of liquid in and the firmness of the finished tofu. Extra-firm has the least liquid and is most suitable in meat applications. Silken is great blended in sauces, dressings and smoothies.
We will use extra-firm tofu to make our Jamaican Jerk Steak. Tofu is very bland. There, I said it! The good news is tofu absorbs flavors exceptionally well. Think of it as a blank canvas on which you create your masterpiece. Tofu, seasoned very generously, can be turned into a myriad, highly-creative, delicious dishes.
In order to maximize on the amount of flavor you add to tofu, you really do need to press out most of the liquid first. There is a limit to the flavor any food will absorb. That is, there is only room for so much. To create room for additional flavor, you can press or squeeze out excess liquid or – my method of choice – soak, then drain the tofu. Tofu is usually sold as a solid block in packets filled with water. Pressing the tofu also significantly enhances its flavor. This is done by wrapping tofu in clean paper towels and placing on a plate. You then top the tofu with another plate and add a heavy skillet or canned goods. Press until most of the liquid is squeezed out. This may take 15-20 minutes. Alternately, you may use a commercially produced tofu press to eliminate the use of paper towels.
I prefer soaking my tofu in hot, heavily salted water. Doing this firms up the outer surface of the tofu, making draining easier and resulting in a lovely “skin” texture once the tofu is fried. This also infuses some much needed flavor into the tofu even before it is cooked.
In order to get the familiar dark, earthy color of a grilled steal, we darken the tofu with tamari sauce. Tamari sauce is commonly used to flavor tofu. It is used to marinate tofu for both flavor and color. Tamari is very similar to soy sauce. If you don’t have tamari, please feel free to use soy sauce instead. While soy sauce is common is Chinese cuisine, tamari sauce is primarily Japanese and is traditionally a byproduct of making miso paste. Tamari sauce tends to be more balanced, less salty and has a deeper, richer flavor profile. The main difference, however, is wheat. Soy sauce typically includes wheat but tamari usually does not. So, if you tend to eat gluten-free, tamari is your guy. It is also often used when making seitan, a wheat-based meat.
I’ve found that in most cases what we associate with the taste of animal-based meat, isn’t actually the meat itself. What comes to mind is often the spices and seasonings used. Because of this, it is relatively easy to achieve the familiar tastes we had from animal-based dishes when we veganize them. We associate crab meat with old bay seasoning, chicken with sage and marjoram. When we think of jerk steak, what comes to mind really is the spicy flavors of Jamaican jerk paste, infused with pepper, a hint of lemon and woodsy crushed pimento seeds. In fact, we will season the tofu heavily with our Jamaican paste to achieve the familiar tastes. The paste will also sear well adding a crusty skin to the tofu.
Finally, to achieve a deeper, earthy taste and richer color, we brown/sear the tofu. This is done by adding the tofu to the hot grill pan and allowing it to brown well before turning. The final product looks and tastes very much like traditional jerk meat with the added benefit of not harming any animals.