This year, my little sister Eva celebrated her 10-year anniversary of going vegan. (She’s only 23. You do the math.) For the first few years, my mom had a rough time trying to come up with things we could all eat together, but over time we all got the hang of it and dinnertime was mostly peaceful (food-wise, at any rate).
Holidays, of course, present a whole new predicament for a mixed-diet family. There are standard dishes every family makes. Ham. Stuffing. My great-grandmother’s butter-drenched sweet potatoes. Eva couldn’t exactly chow down on salad and still have a happy holiday.
So we started a new tradition: tofu turkey. When Thanksgiving and Christmas comes along these days, along with boiling cranberries and mixing pie crust, we drain tofu and stir up sesame-oil glaze.
And you know what? This tofu turkey, with its crispy brown skin and decadent mushroom gravy, is delicious. As an omnivore myself, it’s one of the dishes I look forward to every year. You should make this for the holidays, especially if you’ll have a non-meat-eater at the table. But that detail doesn’t really matter, because everybody’s going to want a slice.
A Word About Tofu
Tofu is made from soybeans. We all know this. But did you know that the protein in soybeans is considered nutritionally equivalent to that of meat and eggs? Unlike other vegetables, soybeans are a source of complete protein. This means that they contain most of the essential amino acids — that is, the amino acids our bodies need but can’t produce on their own.
But what about the talk of soy causing cancer? It was once thought that because soy contains estrogen-like compounds and an excess of estrogen can raise the risk of certain cancers, soy itself could raise one’s cancer risk. Further research has failed to support this theory. What’s more, high-fiber foods like soy may also lower the risk of certain cancers, like prostate and colorectal cancer. The research is still ongoing and “everything in moderation” is always a good rule to live by, but the bottom line is there’s no reason to avoid soy for your health.
Before I begin, credit where credit is due: we first found this recipe a long time ago in The Arcata Eye, which credited it to Matthew Schmidt of Tofu Shop in Arcata, California. The full, at-a-glance recipe is at the bottom of this post.
To begin, you’ll need five pounds (meaning five packages) of tofu. The recipe calls for a medium texture, but to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. Here’s why: the relative softness or hardness of tofu depends on its water content. You’re going to be squeezing most of the water out, so whatever you start with doesn’t really matter. That said, don’t buy silken tofu. It’s a different beast altogether.
Mash it up nice and good. I like to use a potato masher, but you can use your hands if you’re feeling playful.
Grab a colander. This part is actually pretty important — the shape of your colander determines the shape of your turkey. Try to get one that’s about 11 inches in diameter and perfectly round.
Stick it in a big bowl and line it with moistened cheesecloth (also very important, the cheesecloth), then pour in your mashed-up tofu. (As you can see in the picture, I combined these steps and just mashed the tofu in the cheesecloth. That’s because I’m a rebel.) Here comes the fun part: put a plate or pie pan on top of the now flattened tofu, then pile on whatever stuff you have lying around. The idea is to put as much weight as possible on top of the tofu so that as much water as possible gets squeezed out. So whatever you’ve got: cans of beans, small appliances, books written by people you once admired but have now gravely disappointed you…anything.
Make sure it’s all balanced, then leave it there for at least an hour. If you leave it for more time than that, no worries.
Next, mix together herbs for the stuffing seasoning and set them aside. Cut up your vegetables and your bread. A warning about bread: it is very easy to go about your day thinking you’re so noble for making a vegan holiday dish and then forget that the bread you bought isn’t vegan. Check the ingredients. Lots of bread contains whey. If you can’t find a standard wheat bread without animal products, sourdough is always a good bet.
Sauté the veggies for a few minutes, then sprinkle the stuffing seasoning over them. Pour in a mixture of soy sauce and salt, then cover it and cook the veggies a little longer. Next, add the bread cubes — if the mixture looks a little dry after you’ve added them, go ahead and add a bit of water. Cover it back up to steam a bit more.
Here’s the part I didn’t photograph: take off your Dawkins books to reveal your now-squozen tofu, and hollow it out so it’s a little dome with walls about an inch thick. Fill the dome with your cooked stuffing, then cover it back up with the tofu you took out.
Cover it with an oiled baking sheet, then quickly flip the whole thing over so the tofu is flat-side down. Remove the colander and cheesecloth, and voila! You have what’s starting to look like a tofu turkey!
Before you pop it in the oven, glaze it with a mixture of sesame oil and soy sauce.
Cover it with foil and put it in the oven to bake for an hour.
While it bakes, make the gravy. Oh, this gravy. This luscious, luscious gravy. The recipe I’m giving you makes a full eight cups of the stuff, so you can definitely halve it, but you can also definitely put it on everything you eat for a week. I vote the second thing.
Sauté the onions and mushrooms in a big stock pot. Measure out all of your water, then add a little bit of it to your flour to form a thin paste. Pour the rest of the water into the pot with the veggies, and bring it all to a boil. After about five minutes, add your flour mixture, then cook it all for another 15 minutes or until your gravy is thick enough to make you want to eat it all right there.
Is that the timer going off? Open up your oven and take out the tofu. Remove the foil, baste with the sesame oil mixture one more time, and pop it back in the oven for another hour. I know, it’s a long time. It’s worth it.
The final product! Without the foil, the tofu gains this beautiful brown crust. It’s pretty and delicious. Here’s a blurry close up:
At this point, you can serve it on the ugly pan or pry it off (be careful, it tears easily and it’s probably cemented to the thing at this point if your pans are like mine) and put it on a pretty platter. Your choice. Serve it alongside the gravy, or pour the whole dang thing over it and serve it that way.
And enjoy! I know you will.
Hamer Family Tofu Turkey
Prep time: 1 hour, as far ahead of time as needed
Cook time: 2 hours
5 lbs tofu, medium in texture, not very soft or very hard
Herbed Bread Stuffing
(makes 5 cups)
1 cup onions, diced
1 cup mushrooms (about ¼ lb), diced
1 cup celery, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp sesame oil
Stuffing seasoning (recipe follows)
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup soy sauce
4 cups whole wheat bread cut into ½-inch cubes (if vegans are eating, make sure it’s vegan bread!)
½ cups parsley, chopped
1 ½ tsp sage
¾ tsp each marjoram, thyme, and savory or rosemary
¼ tsp celery seed
Dash of black pepper
½ cup sesame oil
¼ cup natural soy sauce
(Makes 8 cups)
2 onions, diced
6 cups mushrooms (1 lb) sliced
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 cup whole-wheat flour
5–5 ½ cups water
½ cup soy sauce (2 tbsp per cup water)
To prepare tofu:
Mash it well.
Line a colander (about 11″ in diameter) with a single layer of moistened cheesecloth. Transfer tofu to colander.
Press tofu flat and fold edges of cheesecloth over tofu. Place a cake tin or other flat object of a similar size over the surface of the tofu and weigh it down with a heavy object (about 5 lbs) to press out liquid for at least one hour.
To prepare stuffing seasoning:
Mix ingredients well.
To prepare stuffing:
Heat oil and sauté vegetables. Sprinkle seasonings over vegetables.
Dissolve salt in soy sauce and add to pot. Stir, cover, and continue to cook until vegetables are done, about five minutes. Add bread cubes and parsley, and mix well. If bread cubes are very dry, add ¼ to ½ cups water, stir, and cover to steam a little longer.
Hollow out tofu to within one inch of colander. Pack in stuffing and cover with remaining tofu. Pat down so surface is flat and firm. Oil a baking sheet and flip filled tofu onto sheet so the flat surface faces down. Remove cheesecloth.
Mix basting liquid and brush tofu with half of it, then cover tofu with foil. Bake at 400°F for one hour.
Remove foil, baste again, and return to oven uncovered until “skin” becomes golden brown, about one hour more, basting halfway through.
To prepare gravy:
In a large pot, heat oil and sauté onions and mushrooms.
In a small bowl, whisk flour with enough of the measured water to form a thin paste.
Add remaining water and soy sauce to vegetables in pot.
Start with 5 cups water and add another ½ cup toward end of cooking only if gravy is too thick.
Bring to a boil, and cook until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.
Add flour mixture, stir well, and cook uncovered until desired consistency is reached, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.