Grilled Tofu with Red Wine-Mushroom Sauce & Roasted Mashed Potatoes

IMG_3644If you’re like me, you tend to associate the changing of seasons more with a change in the weather than a change in the calendar. Springtime — with its pendulum-like oscillations between warm and chilly, gradually getting warmer and warmer with each swing — has us so used to never knowing what to expect that we’re usually reticent to declare summer has officially arrived, fearing another “cold snap” just around the corner.

In our house, late spring is like a game of chicken with the weather — we try to wait until the absolute last moment to install the air conditioners in the windows and consequently close up the apartment for the better part of the season. The cats hate it because it cuts down on the number of available windowsills from which to gawk at birds and squirrels, and we hate it because it inevitably means schlepping heavy air conditioners up three flights from the basement and then installing them. Alas, during a four-day stretch of muggy, unseasonably warm temperatures we gave in to the siren song and put in the air conditioners. (And, yes, on the very next day, the weather turned quite pleasant again so there was no need to turn them on!)

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It was on one of those pre-air conditioning days — when the temperature in our sunny, south-facing kitchen was nearing 85 degrees — that I stood sweating, staring at the recipe I’d picked out for dinner, lamenting the thought of making the kitchen get even hotter by turning on the stove. Not only did this recipe want me to turn on the stove, it wanted me to turn on the oven, too! Perish the thought! I’d melt for sure!

Finally, when I noted one step involved using a grill rack on yet another stove burner, I made a decision: We’re eating out tonight! Nope! I decided to totally re-work the method for preparing the recipe, and tweaked a few other things as well. By the time dinner was ready and on the table, I’d managed to not turn on the stove (or oven) even once. In other words, we didn’t eat out, we cooked out!

Today’s recipe is a chance for vegetarians or even part-time vegetarians (like us) to stop taking the heat and get out of the kitchen. Instead, we’ll get out to the summertime grill — doing things that might astonish some carnivores (such as sautéing over the grill). And, if you’re a newcomer to the vegetarian scene, it’ll be a chance to try some new tastes while re-imagining some familiar ones.

Let’s Talk Ingredients

IMG_3662Tofu — Tofu is one of those ingredients that’s likely to get a broad spectrum of reactions when mentioned in mixed company. It’s known for being bland and unappealing with its otherworldly texture and unusual packaging, leaving most people to wonder, “what is that stuff, anyway?” Essentially, it’s soybeans which are boiled and ground to make soy milk and are then coagulated into curds (similar to the process of making cheese). Tofu is available in many different varieties and brands. For this recipe, you’ll need to buy extra-firm tofu so that it can be grilled and maintain a meaty texture.

IMG_3649Red Miso — This was a new ingredient for us. Though it’s very affordable and widely available in supermarkets in our area, I’ve never purchased nor have I knowingly eaten miso. I simply never had a recipe call for it before. But I now know why it’s so widely used in Asian cuisine: it’s very flavorful. Red Miso is a fermented soybean paste that is allowed to age for a year or more. Its flavor is at once salty and beefy — similar to beef bouillon or soy sauce — which is why it’s an essential part of the sauce in this recipe. If you can’t find it in your grocery store or you don’t want to buy a special ingredient, you can substitute an equal amount of soy sauce or vegetable bouillon in its place (though it won’t taste quite the same).

Fresh Thyme — Thyme is one of my most favorite herbs; I can usually find a way to put it in just about any recipe. For this recipe, in particular, fresh thyme adds beauty as a garnish but also an extra punch of flavor when roasted IMG_3666along with the potatoes. Though it’s extremely easy to grow in a container outside or in a sunny windowsill, you can buy sprigs of it from your farmer’s market or the produce section of your grocery store. It keeps well in the refrigerator, but — if you know you won’t be using it within a couple of days — just wash it, dry it with paper towels, then place it in a clean paper bag and put it in a dark, dry place. After about a week, the thyme will be completely dried and ready to add to the thyme in your spice drawer (see this post for more information on drying your own herbs). In case you were wondering, you could substitute dried thyme for fresh (albeit with a slightly different but still delicious taste) by using half the amount called for.

The Outdoor Kitchen

Had I not seen Steven Raichlen do it on PBS, it would’ve never occurred to me to place a skillet or baking pan atop the grill. Given the heat in the kitchen and my desire to do all the cooking outside, I was willing to give it a shot. It worked remarkably well, but it definitely affected the cooking time and meant doing a little improvising.

Since a grill doesn’t transfer heat as directly and efficiently as a pot sitting directly atop an open flame or an electric burner, you will need maximum heat from your grill to sauté the vegetables and reduce the sauce. We have a very small gas grill (a Weber Q-100) which certainly has its limitations. I found that the skillet wasn’t getting hot enough if I kept the lid open the entire cooking time. Just by lowering the lid, however, the temperature was able to build up enough inside to sauté the mushrooms and reduce the sauce. In case you were wondering, the skillet handle did prevent the lid from completely closing, but this did not cause any trouble.

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By the way, you will need to use either a cast-iron or a heavy stainless steel skillet to cook over the grill. The larger the skillet you use, the less cooking time your sauce will require since the bigger surface area will aid in reducing the liquids. A non-stick skillet is not suitable for this style of cooking and you will likely ruin the finish on it (not to mention release toxic chemicals into your food). Also, if your skillet is not ovenproof, you’ll need to wrap the handle of it in thick layer of aluminum foil to protect it. Fortunately, our ovenproof, stainless steel Calphalon skillet worked great (and the bottom did not get too messy or discolored).

If you’ve never roasted potatoes on the grill, you’re in for a treat. Cooking the potatoes in a foil pouch reminded me of the Hobo Packs we made last fall at our cabin in the woods. The foil pouch seals in the flavor while the heat from the grill caramelizes the potatoes and garlic ever-so-slightly. If you’re using a charcoal grill, you may want to alternate the pouch between the direct grilling side and the indirect grilling side depending on how close the coals are to the grill surface.

I prefer to use wooden utensils — indoors or outdoors — since they won’t damage cooking surfaces, they won’t melt, and their handles don’t get too hot. If you don’t have wooden utensils, do make sure that yours are heat-resistant.

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Finally, cooking outside can be a lot of fun, but you’ll go nuts going back and forth from your kitchen to your grill site if you don’t set up an area near your grill where you can have all of your ingredients laid out and pre-measured (just like they do on TV). Trust me, it’s definitely a time and sanity saver.

Grilled Tofu with Red-Wine Mushroom Sauce & Roasted Mashed Potatoes
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 4

    Roasted Mashed Potatoes:
    2 pounds small potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
    6 garlic cloves
    3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
    1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    1/4 cup low fat sour cream
    1 tablespoon unsalted butter
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    Grilled Tofu:
    16 ounces extra-firm tofu
    1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    additional springs of fresh thyme for garnish (optional)

    Red Wine-Mushroom Sauce:
    1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
    8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
    6 ounces oyster mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
    4 ounces portobello mushrooms (about 1 large cap)
    1 1/2 cups dry red wine
    1 cup water, divided
    1 tablespoon red miso
    1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    Prepare your grill (if using charcoal, prepare by placing the coals to one side for indirect grilling of the tofu).

    For the grilled mashed potatoes, toss potatoes and garlic with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, the chopped thyme, and the olive oil. Cut an 18×12-inch sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil (if using regular foil, use two sheets for double thickness); spray lightly with cooking spray. Add the potato mixture to the center of the foil. Gather the edges of the foil to form a pouch; crimp the edges tightly to seal. Pierce the foil in several places with a knife or fork. Place the pouch on the prepared grill and turn heat to medium-low (place directly over the coals if using charcoal; see notes above); cook for 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

    Meanwhile, cut the tofu lengthwise into four slices. Place the slices in a single layer on several layers of paper towels; cover slices with additional layers of paper towels. Place a weight on top of the paper towels (not too heavy) and allow tofu to drain for 20-30 minutes.

    When potatoes have cooked, remove pouch from the grill; keep it closed to keep potatoes warm. Place a large cast-iron or stainless steel skillet (do not use non-stick cookware, see notes above) on the grill over high heat (for charcoal grill place skillet directly over coals); preheat skillet until the edges are very hot to the touch. Add oil to the preheated skillet; heat until oil is shimmering. Add the shallots; sauté for 1-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until shallots have begun to soften. Add the mushrooms; sauté 6-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until moisture evaporates (you may need to put the lid on your grill to allow the heat to build). Remove mushroom mixture from the skillet; set aside. While off the the grill, add the wine to the skillet then return to grill; bring to a boil and cook until reduced to 3/4 cup (you may need to put the lid on the grill).

    Combine 1 tablespoon water and miso in a small bowl; stir with a fork or whisk. To the reduced wine, add the miso mixture, the remaining water, the mushroom mixture, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid is reduced to about 1 cup (6-10 minutes). When sauce has reduced, remove from heat, but tent with foil to keep warm.

    While sauce is reducing, open the potato pouch and pour the roasted potatoes into a large bowl. Using a potato masher, mash the sour cream, butter, remaining salt, and pepper into the potatoes until desired consistency is reached. Cover bowl with foil to keep warm.

    Sprinkle both sides of the drained tofu with chopped fresh thyme and black pepper. Lightly spray each side with cooking spray. Lower the heat to low (if using charcoal, grill tofu on the side opposite the coals). Using an oil-soaked cloth or brush, apply a small amount of oil to the grill surface. Place tofu slices onto the grill; cook 3 minutes on each side, or until sufficient grill marks appear.

    To serve, divide the potatoes evenly between four plates, placing a grilled tofu slice atop the potatoes; top with red-wine mushroom sauce, garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.

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This is a gourmet vegetarian recipe perfect for the muggiest of late spring/early summer days. Though it seems like a lot of steps, the payoff is a full dinner you can savor while you laud yourself for your efforts. Plus, you’ll maybe want to try cooking outdoors more often once you taste how the flavors mingle between the mushroomy sauce, the heady fresh thyme, and the garlicky mashed potatoes — all dancing colors across the willing canvas of the grilled tofu.

It’s refreshing to know that we can keep our Vegetarian Wednesday tradition going even on the grill! Now, with lots more summer ahead, I’m excited about what interesting vegetarian recipes may be on the horizon as more and more vegetables come into season.

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~ by Jason on June 20, 2011.

2 Responses to “Grilled Tofu with Red Wine-Mushroom Sauce & Roasted Mashed Potatoes”

  1. I love tofu! I will have to see if I can try this…and the miso section of this post–makes me want to run out and get some for this occasion!

    • After tasting what just a tiny bit of miso can do to dress up a wine sauce, I’m really annoyed that I never tried it before! I’m considering using a little bit of miso mixed with water in place of vegetable broth from now on. It adds so much more taste than vegetable broth (at least more than the store-bought kind). Do let me know if you try it out. 🙂

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