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Chicken-fried tofu makes Southern cooking vegetarian

Associated Press

Traditional Southern cooking doesn't exactly bring to mind a bountiful harvest of vegetarian-friendly foods. Even the names (think chicken-fried steak) sound hostile to fans of animal-free fare.

That's exactly why food writer Ann Jackson put together her snappy little cookbooks that give Southern cooking the animal- and dairy-free treatment: To prove that taste and tradition need not be tossed with the meat and cheese.

Jackson's books, "Heart of the Home" and "Cookin' Southern: Vegetarian Style" are as much fun to read as the food is good to eat and easy to make.

For a meal about as Southern as it gets, try Jackson's tofu chicken-fried steak, which she says goes well with anything from biscuits to butter beans.

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Substituting tofu that has been frozen and thawed (to toughen it to a steak-like consistency) for the beef not only helps this dish shed its animal products, but also dramatically reduces its cholesterol and fat.

Be sure to use extra-firm tofu. To toughen it, place the entire container, unopened, in the freezer overnight. Allow it to thaw slowly in the refrigerator, then drain in mesh strainer and pat dry with paper towels.

Tofu chicken-fried steak

1 pound extra-firm tofu, cut into 3/4-inch slices

1/3 cup water

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon hot sesame oil

1/4 cup tamari (or soy sauce)

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1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons white flour

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

3 tablespoons bread crumbs

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes

Oil for frying (try sesame or peanut)

Press each slice of tofu between paper towels to ensure as much water as possible has been drained. Lay the slices in a glass baking dish. In small bowl, mix water, tamari, both sesame oils and mustard. Pour over tofu, cover and allow to marinate for one hour at room temperature, or longer in the refrigerator.

In wide, shallow bowl, combine flour, sesame seeds, bread crumbs and yeast flakes. Dredge slices of tofu through dry mixture until thoroughly coated. Heat 1 inch of oil. To know when oil is ready, touch end of wooden chopstick or spoon to surface of oil. If oil bubbles, it is hot enough. Fry each slice of tofu until golden brown on both sides. Don't fry more than one or two slices at a time or it will lower the temperature of the oil. Tofu can be drained on paper towels after frying to absorb excess oil. Makes 4 servings.

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