Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pressure Cooker Tofu: No.

In retrospect the end result of my pressure cooker tofu experiment seems so obvious: the pressure cooker forces moisture into your food, and adding moisture to firm tofu gives it a silken, rubbery texture. I prefer my tofu sautéed until firm and flavorful, and I normally sprinkle a little bit of water to reduce the amount of oil needed for the tofu absorb the flavor of its sauce. In the pressure cooker you need more than a sprinkle of water to keep your pan from drying out, and all of the garlic and mustard I was attempting to impart on the tofu was lost in the mix.

The recipe I was trying is actually quite simple: lightly pan fry 12 ounces of tofu in a mixture of sesame oil, 1 - 2 T. dijon mustard, a splash of red wine and a splash of Worchestershire sauce (available for vegans). The tofu is acrid until you add baked beans, either vegetarian or "pork & beans." I like to let some of the sauce drain out before I add the beans. The pungent tofu mixes perfectly with sweet baked beans for a well-balanced dish. I add a package of steamed sliced baby zucchini to the finished product and top it with crunchy French fried onions.

Speaking of zucchini, that was another pressure cooker failure. The pressure cooker enhances the natural flavor or your vegetables, and zucchini is usually naturally slightly bitter (even baby zucchini). This bitterness is toned down by conventional steaming/boiling, but the pressure cooker really brings it out. I am definitely going to try summer squash or pan squash in the pressure cooker--these squash are sweeter than zucchini and I really think the cooker will bring the sweetness out.

Along with that retained flavor comes retained nutrients, but fortunately I know a shortcut to rid of the bitterness without losing all of the nutrients to stovetop boiling. According to this article in the NY Times:

Steaming and boiling caused a 22 percent to 34 percent loss of vitamin C. Microwaved and pressure-cooked vegetables retained 90 percent of their vitamin C.

I'm so glad I found that quote just in time to confess that I almost always microwave my vegetables in a bowl with a little bit of water and a paper towel on top for about 3 - 4 minutes for 16 ounces of vegetables. I recently discovered that breakfast potatoes can be made in record time by throwing a few baby potatoes into the microwave for a few minutes, then slicing them up and adding them to sauteed onions. The best texture is achieved by microwaving whole and not adding any water so it comes out like a slightly underdone baked potato. Add microwaved zuccini, 2 eggs and some thyme for a complete breakfast for 2 that is not loaded with cholesterol.

Speaking of adding a little fat to your veggies, the article also notes that avocado and full-fat dressings are the key to absorbing fat soluble nutrients when you eat your veggies. Not all fats are created equal: I'm a good fan of grapeseed oil, which has a profile similar to olive oil but has a more neutral flavor that is easier to blend with whatever spices you choose. I also believe a touch of umami, or a savory seasoning, is also key to loving your veggies without overloading on sodium or fat. My favorite source of umami is Worchestershire sauce, which is relatively low in sodium, MSG-free, and available in organic and vegan versions.

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