No matter how many times I prepare my own meals-even if I’ve slaved over them all afternoon-they still just don’t cut it for me as a “home-cooked meal” if I’ve made and stressed over the meal myself. With no other city-bound friends who cook, and my parents about 45 minutes away, genuine home-cooked meals are rare birds these days, even as I long for them infinitely more since moving to this take-out, eat-out-crazed city. Luckily, my roommate Jackie’s family (my surrogate Manhattan island family) live just uptown, and her mother, Sylvia, is an excellent cook. One of my favorite meals of Sylvia’s to eat around their kitchen table and over some gossip is sauteed tofu with turmeric. This simple, but flavorful preparation is such a refreshing departure from Asian-inspired tofu dishes, while also incredibly comforting-which is saying something, since my comfort food usually trends more towards mac n’ cheese. I enlisted Sylvia’s help in learning to make it myself-and by the way, what is turmeric anyways? Turns out, it’s some pretty handy stuff.
Sold in stores as a ground spice, turmeric is a tropical plant with an underground stem that much resembles ginger-in both flavor and appearance. While most turmeric fans might only know it as a common ingredient in curry, I discovered it’s also long been recognized for its wide range of medicinal uses-dating back 5,000 years when it was first harvested in its native Southern India and Indonesia. As it happens, curcurmin, the major component of this little-known spice is somewhat of a panacea; its uses include a powerful anti-inflammatory, relief for arthritis as a powerful antioxidant, a possible cure for Cystic Fibrosis genetic defects, and it’s thought to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. There’s also speculation that the prevalence of turmeric in India’s cuisine is directly related to the low incidence of dementia in its elderly population. But despite all of turmeric’s more significant uses, this is probably the most unexpected fun fact: it’s the reason your yellow mustard on your hotdog is, well, yellow.
1 14 oz. brick of "light, firm" tofu, rinsed and dried
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4-1/3 cups fresh grated Parmesan
1 1/2 tsp fresh minced parsley
For Turmeric and Cauliflower Mash with Shrimp and Tomatoes
2-3 cups chopped cauliflower florets
1/8 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 clove shallots, minced
12 peeled shrimp
1 1/2 cups canned stewed tomatoes
To Make Tofu:
1. Coat the bottom of a wok (if you don't have one, a saute pan will do just fine) in about 1/4 in. olive oil over medium-high heat. Slice the dried tofu into 8 pieces.
2. Once the oil in the pan is hot (it should sizzle as you lower tofu into it), lay out all eight pieces flat, coating the topside with a little bit of oil as well. Let cook for 1-2 minutes, and then shake about half of the turmeric over the top-side, until well-colored and flip tofu onto other side, and sprinkle on the other half. Continue flipping tofu onto both sides until browned and "well-oranged" from the turmeric, about 5-7 minutes a side to get a crispier texture.
3. Sprinkle parsley over the top, grating the fresh Parmesan over it at the end. And if you're a bit of a salt fiend, a pinch of salt as well.
To Make Mash:
1. Cook the cauliflower in boiling, salted water for approximately 10 minutes, or until softened (but not too mushy). I highly recommend a food processor for this dish, but if you are without one-do not despair! I used a potato masher instead.
2. Drain the cauliflower and either load into a food processor, or put back into the pot, along with the butter, stock, a few shakes of salt, shallots, and turmeric (which you can add more of to taste). The food processor method will create more of a puree, but use a potato masher to create a coarser mash, until combined and an orangey-brown from the turmeric. Add more salt and turmeric to taste.
3. Coat a pan in olive oil over medium heat, and scoop out cauliflower mash into the pan. If you've pureed the mixture in a food processor, you can make a more refined pancake-but with the coarser mash, let it brown in the pan, flipping frequently, about 10 minutes or until crispy.
To Make Shrimp:
1. Coat a pan in olive oil over medium heat and sautee garlic for a minute before adding all of the shrimp. Let the shrimp cook until pink and browned on either side, about 6-7 minutes a side. In the last 2-3 minutes, add the stewed tomatoes and turn the heat down a bit.
2. Let the whole mixture simmer together until the tomatoes are heated. Serve over the mash, adding extra salt or turmeric to taste.