I’m not sure how I feel about this whole once-a-week update thing. It just doesn’t jibe with my obsessive personality. It’s so…restrained. Then again, there are parts of my personality that are restrained and parts that aren’t. When Lara came over for dinner last night (along with her wonderful dog and a gorgeous homemade Greek salad), we talked about how our emotional responses in relationships are like echoes: if someone gets upset, we get upset, but if they stay calm we respond in kind.
Cooking is a little bit like this sometimes. Ingredients respond very differently to different treatment and circumstances. Take, for instance, the apricot.
I should say that while some people read summer off of sunshine, or the sudden influx of school-aged children into weekday activities, or the gray gloom that blankets the valleys of Los Angeles each morning, I don’t really feel like it’s summertime until I realize that my kitchen fruit basket has been colonized by stone fruit. Right now I’ve got apricots, nectarines, and cherries, and I used to have plums but they only lasted about five minutes. Pity the banana who thinks he’s going to make it into my breakfast yogurt at a time like this. (Yes, bananas are male. Obviously.)
Fresh apricot slices made it into the weirdest pasta ever — photos and recipe forthcoming — on Monday night, and dried apricots made it into last night’s stuffed yams. Tofu-stuffed yams are something I developed a taste for at Katie’s house, and she credits the Mother’s Market kitchen with inspiring her to make this dish at home (they call it the “Ploughman’s Share,” and combine the tofu with grilled veggies). And of course, because I can’t leave well enough alone, I had to jettison the veggies and mix my tofu with preserved lemons, dried apricots, sautéed red onions, and garlic. Don’t worry, though, Mom: I promise I ate plenty of salad.
Yams Stuffed with Tofu, Apricots, and Summertime
Ingredients (per serving):
-3 large yams
-1 block extra-firm tofu, with excess liquid pressed out, sliced into cubes
-1/2 large red onion, diced
-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
-3 tbs olive oil
-juice of one lemon
-1 tbs agave syrup or honey
-salt and pepper
-1 tsp chopped preserved lemon
-1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
-1 tsp chopped fresh herbs (I used rosemary, but thyme or parsley would also work)
-optional: 2 oz. grated semi-firm cheese, like toscano or gruyère
First things first: set your oven to 450°F, scrub and dry the yams, pierce them multiple times all over with a fork, and get ’em in the oven. It will take them about 45-55 minutes to bake, and you’ll need that time to prep the stuffing.
Now press your tofu: put it between two hard surfaces and set something slightly weighty, like a book, on top. Let it drain for as long as you can stand it, which for me is about 20 minutes. Slice the block into small cubes, put them in a bowl, and add the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil, chopped garlic, agave syrup, salt, and pepper. Mix gently until coated, and let it all marinate.
While the tofu marinates, put a large, deep pan over medium heat and let your last tablespoon of oil heat in it. When it’s good and hot, toss the onions in and fry until slightly browned, about 10-15 minutes. Make sure to stir often. Now add the tofu, along with all the marinade, and sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring gently and frequently. You want to heat it through, but you’re not ready to get it crispy yet. When it’s hot, add the apricots and preserved lemon. You can skip the preserved lemon and add lemon zest and a few extra pinches of salt if you want — it will still be delish. Add your herbs now, too, and stir a bit less frequently, giving the tofu a chance to get brown in the pan for a minute or two, and then turn it (it’s not an exact science, just flip it all over as best you can) so the other side can brown up as well. Turn off the heat and mentally prepare for the assembly process.
Your yams should be about done by now, so pull them out of the oven and let them cool a little bit, turning the oven down to about 200°F. Have you grated your cheese yet? If not, do it, or have your cheese and grater at the ready. When the yams have had a few minutes to cool down, carefully slice them lengthwise, still keeping the bottom skin and ends intact. You can mush them up, a la baked potatoes, or you can leave them like little grimacing mouths. Up to you. At this point, I like to just pile the tofu stuffing in them, sprinkle the cheese, and give them a few minutes in the warm oven so the cheese can melt. This is why I use a cast-iron pan: the handle gets super hot, but it makes the return to the oven really simple.
Serve these babies with a salad and a summer evening. Barking dogs running around like maniacs is also season-appropriate, as is a light summer frock and a glass of white wine. You can skip those last two if you’re my father, but actually, nothing improves a summer evening repast like imagining a your dad sipping chardonnay in a dress.