It being summer, I’ve been nursing a barbecue craving. Although we’re city-bound and can’t actually barbecue anything, I could do the next best thing: tofu glazed with a spicy, sweet, sticky, chile-filled barbecue sauce. On the side, I felt like a non-creamy slaw of shredded cabbage and red peppers.
This cookbook-packing thing is really starting to cramp my style, but fortunately I had previously posted my favorite sauce on a forum, so it didn’t matter that the book it came from is already in storage. Amazingly, I had actually run out of the chipotles the recipe called for before the pantry clearance started. Out of luck, you say? Ha! What did I tell you parenthetically earlier about clearing out the entire chile section of Penzeys on my deliberately infrequent trips to the nearest boutique? I have seven other kinds of whole dried chiles in stock, and we won’t even get into the powders, either individual or blends. I just mixed anchos, guajillos and sun-dried tomatoes instead.
For the slaw, I drew inspiration from a Greek cabbage salad with olives that my mother makes now and then. Wandering a little further up the Mediterranean, I dressed the cabbage and peppers with a vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon juice, tapenade, and herbes de Provence.
With no planning at all, this one dish expanded into a full-blown old-fashioned Saturday night barbecue dinner. We had a little bit of leftover mac & cheese from mid-week and had bought corn at the market this morning, so we had the full complement of sides. To beat the heat and use up our imperial-sized tea collection, I’ve been making daily batches of iced tea, and today’s beverage selection was an entirely appropriate English Breakfast with honey and key lime. The only thing missing was peach cobbler or fruit salad, but I had leftovers from last night’s midnight snack, so who’s complaining?
In the pantry-clearing tally, I’m thrilled that the slaw used up the remainder of my bottle of Meyer lemon olive oil and left just enough tapenade for one batch of pasta with cherry tomatoes later this week, when I’ll need an instant dinner option.
Barbecue Tofu with Provencal Slaw
1 small or 1/2 large green cabbage, thinly sliced
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
3/4 cup lemon-infused olive oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons tapenade or finely diced olives (real ones, not the California canned ones, please)
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence, crushed well in your palm
Salt and pepper to taste
1 12-oz block of firm tofu
Oil for pan-frying
Barbecue sauce (see below)
Mix the cabbage and peppers in a large bowl until the peppers are evenly distributed.
Combine olive oil, lemon juice, tapenade or olives, herbs, salt and pepper in a smaller bowl and taste, correcting acidity, salt, pepper and herbs as needed.
Toss the cabbage and peppers with half the dressing, adding more if required to coat the vegetables well. Let marinate for 1 hour before serving.
Drain the tofu from its liquid, and slice crosswise into 8 slices. Pat each slice thoroughly dry with paper towels. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat, and add the tofu slices, salting lightly. When the tofu is dark golden and crisp on the bottom, flip, salt again, and cook until the other side is equally browned.
Drain the tofu briefly on paper towels, then brush generously on all sides with the barbecue sauce.
Serve 1-2 tofu slices per person, with the slaw on the side.
If you do have a barbecue, or a range hood with decent suction (as I do not), the tofu would be all the better for grilling outdoors or on a grill pan first. I wouldn’t brush it with the sauce before grilling, since the high sugar content would cause all manner of ugly sticking and burning.
Ancho-Guajillo Barbecue Sauce
Makes 1 cup
4 sun-dried tomatoes (the actual dry kind, not sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil)
1 guajillo chile, seeded
1 ancho chile, seeded
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Using scissors, snip the chiles into strips and place in a heat-safe bowl with the tomatoes. Cover with boiling water and let sit until rehydrated and soft, 15-30 minutes.
Drain the tomatoes and chiles, reserving the liquid. With an immersion blender or in a regular blender, blend the tomatoes and chiles with enough soaking liquid to form a thick paste. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.
Sauce will keep, well covered, for several weeks in the refrigerator.
This amount is much more than you’ll need for one block of tofu, but it keeps really well and is great to have around for basting vegetables, tempeh, seitan, or, if your an omnivore, chicken or pork. If you don’t think you’ll use it all, the recipe can be cut in half easily. Conversely, it can be scaled up at will if you’re throwing a block party or familly reunion.
Two relatively mild chiles makes a gently spicy sauce. If you like your sauce spicier, feel free to add more or hotter chiles, or don’t seed them. I gave serious consideration to including one or two of the cascabels I also had in my chile bin, and I’ll probably do that next time.
You could use these basic ratios to go in an Asian direction instead, swapping the ketchup for hoisin sauce, the dried Mexican chiles for some Chinese chile paste with garlic (or, if you’re feeling recklessly self-destructive, a couple of rehydrated Tien Tsin peppers or some wasabi), and the olive oil for peanut or sesame. A little fresh grated ginger would also be nice.
With apologies to whoever the author of the original recipe was, a credit will have to wait until I can dig the cookbook out of storage, which will be at least a year from now.