Ah, September: a head-whirling month of contraries. I turn a year older on the fourteenth, but that also means that my happy-go-lucky childhood spirals one more year toward the past. I return to my last year of high school as a senior with an optimistic outlook of the future, but I also return to deadlines, a sense of constant rushing, lack of sleep, and college applications. The first winter squashes and brussels sprouts pop up at the farmers market, but the succulent heirloom tomatoes and sweet corn fade away.
Good or bad, the commencement of school also marks bagged lunches. To streamline the nightly lunch-making process, freeing valuable homework minutes already sparse in my extracurricually loaded schedule, I cook up a storm every Sunday in preparation for the following week. Usually, I make one spread/dip such as hummus, a protein of some sort such as a tofu burger to stuff into Ezekiel tortillas, a huge pot of whole grains for salads, and a vegetable side dish also to bulk up salads.
This week’s prospective lunch box: Spread—sundried tomato-basil hummus from Vegan on the Go-Go. (Probably my new favorite hummus recipe, and that’s sure saying something!) Protein—herby balsamic tofu with cherry tomatoes and shallots (recipe follows). Whole Grain—barley. Vegetable Dish—balsamic roasted beets (recipe follows).
With every imaginable herb growing in terra cotta pots just outside my aunt’s kitchen door in Florence, Italy, I tingled with excitement at the prospect of a tangy marinade featuring basil, thyme, rosemary, sage…oh MAN, do I love me some herbs! Inspired by traditional Italian flavors, I paired the herbs with balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and tomatoes then added a modern vegan twist and poured it all over tofu. Take that, Italians! After continuing life in the states for 2 1/2 months, I finally found a perfect chance to recreate my winning tofu creation for the start of school lunches.
Herby Balsamic Tofu with Cherry Tomatoes and Shallots (Gluten Free, Nut Free)
- 1 lb firm tofu, pressed
- 2 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 large shallot or 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Slice the tofu lengthwise into 8 thin strips, then slice each of those lengthwise again to make 16 thin slabs of tofu. (You want the tofu thin so there’s a lot of surface area which means more tofu soaking up the yummy marinade!) Combine all ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag, squeeze all the air out of it, and squish the bag to coat the tofu in the marinade. Refrigerate and let the flavors permeate the tofu for at least an hour, flipping halfway through.
Heat a grill, stove-top grill pan, griddle, or boring old saute pan over medium-high heat. Lay the tofu in a single layer and spoon the tomatoes and shallots around the slabs, reserving the excess marinade in the bag. Cook for 5-8 minutes.
After the tofu has browned on the first side, flip it over and pour the remainder of the marinade on top (if grilling, use a basting brush so your tofu doesn’t go up in flames). Cook until browned on the second side, about 5-7 more minutes. Transfer to a plate, spoon the tomatoes and shallots over the top and serve.
Continuing my lunch recipes, beets! Raw beets and I simply don’t agree (shredded? Nah. Juiced? Bleck.), but I love a good roasted beet. Take caution when you cut them, however…they stain up your cutting board pretty nice, not to mention your fingers.
Balsamic Roasted Beets (Gluten Free, Soy Free, Nut Free)
- About 8 medium-large beets, trimmed and scrubbed well
- 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Line a baking tray with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
Chop the beets into quarters, sixths, eighths, or twelfths depending on the original beet’s size and how fast you want them to cook (smaller chop=faster roasting time), then toss them with the vinegar and oil on the baking tray, spreading them in an even layer once coated.
Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of your beets, until tender.
I’d fathom a guess that any herb, rosemary in particular, would complement these beets quite nicely. Toss in the herbs along with the vinegar and oil before roasting.
Local Ingredients: Beets from the Plahnt Farm.
Wish me luck for the hectic first full week of school!
Comment Provoking Questions: Do you bring your own lunch to work/school or buy one? Do you make it in the morning or at night? How old were you when your parents stopped packing your lunches for you?
Until next time, Ali.