Monday, July 08, 2019

This old dog still learns

If we’re smart, we value learning for our entire lives. Scientific research has show that learning new things—facts, skills, whatever—is one of the most important things we can do to keep our brains resilient, young, even. Tonight I tried something entirely new to me: I cooked a dish with tofu in it. Even at my age, it turns out, I can learn something new.

In recent months I’ve been trying new dishes without meat as part of a having a more heart-healthy diet. Many of the dishes I made were more or less traditional recipes that normally have meat, but made with the substitute instead. Other were completely meatless, such as the pasta with puttanesca sauce that I first made back in May.

I found that particular recipe in the sale flyer from a supermarket chain. At the same general time, they had one for what they called “tofu with spiced black beans”, and it sounded interesting enough to try.

As with the puttanesca sauce, the recipe called for chilli to be added, but didn’t put any in. It had a lot of cumin and about half as much paprika, but I put in less of both than the recipe called for. Even so, the spice taste was strong.

The rest of the ingredients were a tin of tomatoes, a tin of black beans, and firm tofu. I’d never cooked with tofu before, but I thought it might be a good one to try.

The thing is, I’ve never been a fan of tofu. At best, I thought it was bland and tasteless, and it reminded me of fried eggwhite. But my own journey here has moved from trying to use meat substitutes to ditching them too, making full vegetarian, even vegan, meals. This is less expensive than using meat substitutes, but the main reason I’m trying this different approach is that if I’m trying to avoid meat, it seemed to me that I should try more purely vegetarian dishes.

And that’s where the tofu comes into the story. Tofu is a common ingredient in many vegetarian and vegan dishes—but I had no idea how to use it.

The recipe said to slice it, fry it, and that place it on the sauce. So, I sliced the tofu, then cut those slices into rough thirds so they’d be bite sized. I put the oil in the pan, and put the tofu in. Then I realised something: If I hadn’t ever cooked with it, how would I know when it was ready?

I remembered seeing TV chefs talking about browning it, so that’s what I set out to do. Then I became concerned I might over-cook it. I took it out when it seemed to be getting a little too firm. Then I put it into the sauce so it could pick up some of the flavour—because, as I said, I’ve always thought tofu was bland.

And, it worked: The tofu was perfect, and not overcooked, and it did pick up some of the flavour. For my taste the sauce was a little too heavy in cumin, but Nigel liked it well enough.

So, my first attempt at cooking with tofu was a success, overall. I never even thought about cooking with it until relatively recently, and it was good to know that’s it’s easy enough to do. Now that I've learned how to cook with tofu, I can continue with other recipes.

Yes, this was a simple thing, unimportant in a lot of ways. But after all these years I tried something entirely new to me, and that’s a good because it’s good to learn new things, especially including things that we never knew we could do, not matter how simple they may be.

Today was a good day.


rogerogreen said...

If you're an old dog, I'm afeared what that makes ME!

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...