Preparing tofu

I have a complicated relationship with tofu. On one hand, I have been critical of the “delete meat and add bland tofu” ethos prevalent in plant-based cooking throughout the 1980s and ’90s, and I pushed people to think about using it sparingly as cooks do in East and Southwest Asia. On the other hand, I can get down with properly marinated tofu in stir-fried dishes, soups, and even on sandwiches. The best way to flavor your tofu is by letting it sit in a thin marinade. But before you do this, I suggest pressing the tofu. This procedure extracts excess water, makes the block more uniformly firm, and allows the tofu to absorb the marinade more easily. Just wrap the block of tofu in a clean kitchen towel (or paper towels), place it in a large bowl or a clean kitchen sink, and sit something heavy on top of it (like a 28-ounce can of tomatoes) for 20 minutes, turning the block over after 15 minutes. After that, you can cut the tofu into the desired shape (cubes, slabs, or slices) before marinating.

Make sure your marinade is runny enough to easily permeate the tofu. You can then place the tofu in a container, pour marinade over it, cover, and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. To really deepen the flavor of tofu, simmer it in marinade on the stovetop or bake it in the oven until the tofu absorbs most of the marinade.

gumbo des herbes with red beans and tempeh

yellow bell peppers • filé powder • thyme • sweet hot pepper vinegar

makes 6 to 8 servings

This gumbo is in honor of the late great chef, restaurateur, and activist Leah Chase. Serve it at your Mardi Gras party or whenever you have a surplus of greens that you need to use. One of the keys to nailing this dish is chopping the greens as finely as possible. Processing the greens in a food processor is a shortcut to speed along the process. If you want this recipe to really shine, make it a day before serving to allow the flavors to mingle overnight. I prefer eating this with Carolina Gold rice, but any white or brown rice will work fine.

Ingredients

8 ounces dried small red beans or kidney beans, picked through and soaked in water plus 3 tablespoons salt overnight

1 bay leaf

1 large white onion, cut in half

7 garlic cloves: 3 cut in half, 4 minced

1 dried red chile

2¼ teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, plus more as needed

½ pound collard greens, stemmed, leaves chopped into bite-size pieces

½ pound mustard greens, stemmed, leaves chopped into bite-size pieces

½ pound turnip greens, stemmed, leaves chopped into bite-size pieces

½ pound spinach, stemmed, leaves chopped into bite-size pieces

10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 large yellow bell peppers, cut into ¼-inch dice

½ cup millet flour

2 large yellow onions, cut into ¼-inch dice

2 celery stalks, halved lengthwise and chopped

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 cups vegetable stock , plus more as needed

Sweet Hot Pepper Vinegar

Safflower oil, for frying

2 (8-ounce) packages tempeh, sliced into bite-size pieces

Cooked rice, for serving

2 large scallions, thinly sliced, for serving

Filé powder, for serving

Fresh thyme, for serving

Directions

Drain the beans and put them in a medium saucepan. Add the bay leaf, 2 white onion halves, halved garlic cloves, dried chile, and enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Skim off any foam, decrease the heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, until just tender (the beans should not be mushy), 1 hour to 1½ hours. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook for 10 minutes more. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking water. Discard the bay leaf, onion, garlic, and chile.

While the beans are cooking, bring a large, heavy-bottomed pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the salt and all the greens to the water. Bring back to a boil and cook until the greens are soft, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and let cool. Wipe out the pot.

While the greens are cooling, in the same pot, combine 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the bell peppers. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of the salt and sauté over medium-high heat until the peppers are just tender (be careful not to overcook them), 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the peppers to a bowl and set aside.

In the same pot, heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-low heat. Whisk in the millet flour and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is caramel colored, about 20 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the yellow onions, and the celery and sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and the cayenne and sauté until the garlic is fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

In batches, transfer the cooled greens to a food processor and puree until finely chopped. (Alternatively, transfer the greens to a cutting board and chop them as finely as possible.) Transfer to the pot with the roux and vegetables. Stir in the stock, the beans, and 1 cup of the reserved bean cooking liquid. Bring to a boil; the mixture will be quite thick. Decrease the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally to prevent the gumbo from sticking to the pot, until meltingly tender, about 45 minutes, adding more stock or reserved bean liquid as needed to loosen the gumbo and make it easier to stir. Remove from the heat and let the gumbo cool, then cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

Before serving, warm the gumbo over medium heat, stirring to ensure it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Aggressively season with sweet hot pepper vinegar to brighten up the gumbo and give it some kick.

While the gumbo is reheating, line a baking sheet with paper towels. Fill a heavy-bottomed pan with about 1 inch of safflower oil and heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the tempeh and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. With a spider, transfer the tempeh to the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Repeat to cook the remaining tempeh.

To serve, ladle the gumbo into bowls and top each with a heaping ½ cup of rice. Garnish with the sautéed bell peppers, tempeh, scallions, a pinch of filé powder, some thyme, and more sweet hot pepper vinegar.