Mexican cuisine, says Eddie Garza, doesn’t have to be all about cheese, meat and lard. In his 2016 cookbook, “¡Salud!,” he points to pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica’s “big focus on fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains.” As his grandmother told him, “Before the Spanish came to Mexico, food was provided by the sun and earth.”
The son of Mexican immigrants who grew up in a border town at the southern tip of Texas, Garza now works for the Humane Society of the United States, where he helps reform food systems in Latinx communities and trains cooks in the joys of plant-based recipes. I first started cooking from Garza’s book because his adaptations of traditional dishes are rooted in a deep understanding of Mexican cooking instilled by his abuelita. And the results have never disappointed me.
They’re not all pre-Hispanic, either. My latest obsession is his Tofu Steak Veracruzana, seared cutlets smothered in a classic Veracruz-style salsa that includes bell peppers, tomato, olives, capers and white wine. Those capers and olives, he writes, represent some of the European ingredients that came to characterize the coastal state’s cooking, along with tropical fruit and, of course, seafood.
Tofu, famous for its mildness, works well with the salsa’s tart, salty, slightly spicy punch. But Garza adds flavor wherever he can, so before you sear it and sauce it, you treat the tofu to a lime-heavy marinade. There’s nothing fishy about that.
Tofu Steak Veracruzana
Adapted from “¡Salud! Vegan Mexican Cookbook” by Eddie Garza. Rockridge Press, 2016.
1 (14-ounce) package water-packed extra-firm tofu, drained
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped, divided
¼ cup homemade or low-sodium store-bought vegetable broth
¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium red onion (10 ounces), thinly sliced
1 medium red bell pepper (8 ounces), stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1 jalapeño chile pepper, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
½ cup pitted green olives, chopped
¼ cup capers (from one 3.5-ounce jar), drained, rinsed and chopped
3 large plum tomatoes (12 ounces to 1 pound total), seeded and thinly sliced
½ cup white wine
1 tablespoon vegan butter, such as Miyoko’s or Earth Balance
Wrap the tofu in paper towels or a clean dish towel and microwave on high for 1 minute. Unwrap, re-wrap with fresh towels, and repeat. (This gets rid of excess liquid and is faster than pressing the tofu.) Unwrap, let cool, and cut into four planks.
Combine the tofu, half the garlic, the stock, lime juice, oregano, salt and pepper in a large bowl or zip-top bag. Cover or seal and marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour, turning occasionally. (If desired, you can marinate the tofu in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.) Drain the tofu and reserve the marinade for another use.
In a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the drained tofu and sear it without disturbing until well browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Turn each piece over, and sear on the other side until browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Add the onion, bell pepper and jalapeño to the skillet and cook, stirring, until they start to soften, about 4 minutes. Stir in the olives, capers and the remaining garlic and cook, stirring, until all the vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and wine. Reduce the heat to medium, return the tofu to the skillet, and cook until the sauce reduces slightly and the tofu is heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in the butter, then taste and season with additional salt and pepper if desired. To serve, either leave the tofu planks whole or slice them on the bias, and spoon over the sauce and vegetables. Serve hot.
Yield: 4 servings
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