By Tobye S. Stein
Today, a lot of people are complaining about The Pandemic 15. It’s reminiscent of The Freshman 15 people my age encountered 50 years ago. The 15 refers to the amount of weight so many people have put on during the pandemic or first year living in a college dorm. At our house, I’ve maintained; although I’m not really at an ideal weight, it’s stable. My husband Neal has gone the other way and lost nearly 15 pounds. So how have we escaped the dreaded weight gain? Well, I’ve made a conscious effort to include more vegetarian meals.
Just a couple months ago, following the run on toilet paper, toweling, canned goods, pasta, beans, flour and yeast, Americans were told that there would be a severe meat shortage. Grocery stores and Costco got smarter after the first raid of their shelves and started limiting how much meat, chicken, and pork a customer could buy at one time. I decided that we needed an alternative in case there was no meat or chicken to buy. That meant more veggies, Beyond Burgers and yes, tofu.
So here we are almost 32 years later, Mr. Meat and Potatoes and broccoli and corn in butter sauce, and Ms. Former Vegetarian with assorted food allergies and a preference for vegetables not dripping in fake butter sauce. It’s been an interesting run. We eat red meat maybe once each week and use a lot of chicken breasts, ground turkey and fish, usually salmon. Now, we’re also eating tofu.
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a culinary treat for the health conscious. Nutritionally, it is low in calories (94 calories in ½ cup), while packed with protein (10 grams in ½ cup). Tofu, which usually comes in solid white blocks of varying softness, can be silken, soft, firm, or extra firm. It has a subtle flavor, so it can be used in savory or sweet dishes. It is often seasoned or marinated to suit the dish and its flavors, and due to its spongy texture it absorbs flavors well.
My early experiences with tofu weren’t horrible, but they weren’t a big success either. So, where does one go for tofu advice? The Internet? No. In my case, I went to our 14-year-old neighbor Arya and her mom. I’ve picked up a couple of recipes from them during the pandemic. The most recent was Thai Chicken Curry. It’s an old Weight Watchers recipe that Arya posted pictures of after she made it for her family, and I requested the recipe. In talking with Arya and her mom after my first attempt at this dish, I gained some helpful advice, as well as the recommendation to use tofu instead of chicken. Arya’s family is quite fit, and I was curious about why she was using a Weight Watchers recipe, but if something is good, why not?
Here is the original Weight Watchers recipe:
Thai Chicken Curry
Serves 4-6 people
Ingredients: (The small amount of pasta and chicken are in keeping with Weight Watchers recipes of days gone by. Eight ounces of pasta and 16 ounces of chicken will make a more satisfying meal.)
Cooking spray, 5 sprays in a heavy saucepan
Red curry paste, Thai variety 2-1/2 Tbsp
Light unsweetened coconut milk, 8 ounces
Chicken broth, 4 cups
Uncooked thin rice vermicelli noodles, 3 ounces, broken
Frozen mixed Asian-style vegetables, 8 ounces
Baby bok choy, 2 cups chopped
1 skinless, boneless chicken breast, 8 ounces
Fresh lime juice, 1-1/2 Tbsp
Cilantro, 1/2 cup chopped
Spray the saucepan. Heat the pan, then add the curry paste. Cook for one or two minutes while stirring.
Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil.
Add the broth and bring to a boil, then add the noodles. Cook covered for two minutes.
Add the frozen vegetables, Reduce heat to medium low and cook for two minutes.
Add the book choy, chicken and lime juice and simmer uncovered for two to three minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and season to taste.
We liked the recipe well enough to try again, but this time, I made changes.
Tobye’s Thai Curry Anti-Pandemic Tofu Soup
Serves 4-6 people.
Since everything cooks for only a couple of minutes at a time, assemble everything you need before you start. Seriously, chop the bok choy, open the can of coconut milk, get the frozen veggies out of the freezer, measure the broth, and so on. It will make your life easier.
I used a 4-1/2 quart Dutch oven. I sprayed it but didn’t count the sprays.
I used the remainder of the jar of curry paste that I had, after our neighbor said she uses the entire jar. I tasted the paste before I used it the first time. I don’t think it’s terribly spicy, but if you’re concerned, I’d use half a jar of paste as 2-1/2 tablespoons didn’t provide much flavor.
This time, I used the entire can of coconut milk (10-12 ounces). I used 4 cups of broth but I had to add broth to the leftovers last time and will again next time, so feel free to add up to 6 cups of broth.
I used the rest of the 8-ounce package of vermicelli noodles, but next time, I’ll try a different type of rice noodle. You can use any type of thin noodle that you like, but you will want to break it into smaller pieces as well.
I used a 12-ounce package of mixed vegetables rather than Asian-style vegetables, as I’m not crazy about water chestnuts. I used two stalks of baby bok choy; it’s about two cups when chopped. If I didn’t have the bok choy, I would have used some fresh spinach I had on hand. If you like kale, use that. You could also use Chinese broccoli if you can find it. Basically, you want a fresh green vegetable.
In place of the chicken, I used a 16-ounce package of firm tofu. Drain the tofu in a colander, Cut it into small pieces when drained and season it. I used a little salt, some pepper and garlic. I also added some smoked paprika. This is where season to taste comes in. If you can’t have salt, use salt substitute or a variety of any spices that you like. Tofu doesn’t have much taste, so seasoning it before you add it is a good idea.
Add the lime juice, I used half a lime, and I skipped the cilantro. I don’t hate it, but I’m not crazy about it either.
Continue cooking until everything is hot. I added more garlic powder and pepper, as well as a little chipotle seasoning. You could add cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes if you want a little kick to the dish without making it very spicy.
One thing I’ve learned over the years about levels of spiciness is that if there’s a little spice at the end, I tend to eat less. I don’t know if this works for everyone, but it does for me. Also, I do like to feel my tongue at the end of a meal so only add only as much as you like.
Farewell, pandemic 15!
Tobye S. Stein retired as Chief Human Resources Officer from a California-based financial services organization. She once landed a job by replying to the age old question, “Why should I hire you instead of the other two candidates” by simply stating “I’m funnier than most people.” It worked.