Tofu fans, stand up. Now, sit back down, because I hope this recipe will reach the rest of you. Tofu seems to be the food that Americans just can't quite wrap their arms around. We understand a pot of beans. But tofu? There's something baffling about it.
Just think of it as a pot of beans, already cooked. Does that help?
Chances are that if you didn't grow up eating tofu, you don't cook with it. Or perhaps you encountered a weird tofu dish along the way and crossed it off your list.
I hope I can show you a way to make tofu friendlier. It's an inexpensive, high-protein food that has a tiny carbon footprint. Learning to make a tofu dish that you like will nourish you on the cheap, and you might surprise yourself.
Call this dish "Global Peasant Food." Instead of seasoning the tofu with Asian flavors, I went Mediterranean. Instead of deep-frying it or soaking it in a marinade, we are tossing it with a bunch of vegetables and herbs and roasting it. Along with fragrant fennel bulb, carrots and red onion, the tofu roasts, browning up a bit and absorbing flavors.
Lemon zest, whole garlic cloves, rosemary and grape tomatoes combine with the olive oil and permeate the whole dish. By the time everything is done, the tomatoes will be ready to burst, and you can mash a few of them with the garlic cloves and toss the mixture for a rustic sauce of sorts.
If you haven't worked with fennel bulb before, I hope you'll give it a try. It kind of resembles celery, except the bottom is a curvy white bulb and the stalks are slim and green. Every bit of it is edible, so look for fennel with nice fresh leaves on the top, so you can use them to season the recipe. There is usually more fennel leaf than you need for a single dish, so save the rest to toss in salads or garnish other foods.
This makes a big panful of roast, and the leftovers are a fantastic filling for a sandwich; simply stuff it in a baguette and spread with Dijon mustard. Top a salad with the cooled mixture and add fennel greens. It's even good tossed with cooked pasta or on a pizza.
When tofu becomes more familiar, you may have a new friend in the kitchen.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of "Big Vegan," "The Whole Grain Promise" and "Great Bowls of Food." Find her at robinasbell.com.