General Tso’s tofu is one of my favorite dishes served in North American Chinese restaurants. Often I see it made with deep-fried tofu chunks, broccoli and a sugary sweet sauce. Because I have a complicated relationship with sugar, I make my own sauce. My new version below is oil-free and low in salt. I made a few replacements, and the result is festive! It’s still sweet, but the sugar substitutes are much easier on the body’s blood sugar levels. It’s my new take on General Tso’s tofu. I call it Holiday Tsofu.
Comfort food and General Tso’s tofu
It’s Nov. 5, Friday morning of Election 2020 week. As I sit here, looking down at my late breakfast – or early lunch, depending on your view – I note that I’ve slipped into a bit of anxious thinking about the election 2020 that only a big bowl of comfort food can soothe. I’m about to dig into my comfort leftovers, my new holiday dish. I coined it, “Holiday Tsofu.”
How Holiday Tsofu emerged from General Tso’s Tofu
I’ve been cooking and baking this week to ward off the waves of nervous fidgeting that fluctuate with bursts of dance. One moment in the news I’m seeing the promising and growing lead of a voice of reason, the next I see zany claims of a desperado. It was my AVF partner Susanne that suggested some comfort food with a tasty sauce.
When my friend Susanne told me that her elderly mother in Denmark was following the US election closely, it gave me new pause – pause to realize either we are that important globally, or this has been the Best. Soap Opera. Ever.
As Jimmy Kimmel asks, can’t we catch a break and have just one boring day?
To be honest, I did not think I would invest this much time and thought into the election. And I’ll be the first to admit that spending this much time trolling the news feed is not so healthy. Yet no one will deny, in years and decades to come, that this was a most remarkable time in US history.
So caring about good nutrition is part of, not just my therapy, my maintenance.
I love it when something creative blossoms out of stressful weeks. Let me tell you about how the Holiday Tsofu came about.
While chatting with Susanne, gossiping about the election (yes, confessions help, too) I started wondering what to cook for dinner. She sent me a link to her favorite General Tso’s tofu recipe. I took it into the kitchen.
In his recipe post, Andrew Olson of the One Ingredient Chef points out the dubious history of how the name of the dish came about. Personally, I’m solely interested in its comfort value. I was not daunted, either, by the fact that this recipe is a far cry from one ingredient.
Ingredients are easy to interchange. I’ll tell you what I did. I opened the fridge and started pulling candidates out.
The pre-cut cauliflower florets and block of tofu in the refrigerator would go well together. A half of a large red bell pepper would offer a dash of color. The scallion on the counter would work nicely in place of green onions.
In the beginning of my post above I mention blood sugar levels. I want to address how important it is for all of us to be aware of how much sugar and salt we ingest, no matter what our age. Unless you are a strict plant-based whole foods eater, chances are you consume a lot of sugar and sodium unwittingly.
Because so many prepared foods are loaded with salt and sugar, we can avoid some of these pitfalls simply by creating our recipes from scratch and making substitutions.
I always at least halve the salt called for in a recipe, or leave it out altogether.
Many people, for example, think it’s a lot easier to buy bottled General Tso dressing. Bottled dressings often have high fructose syrup or some other refined sugar (and not necessarily vegan) as well as high quantities of salt. You have better control of all that, quickly and conveniently with staples in your own cupboard.
Holiday Tsofu (General Tso's tofu with cauliflower)
Holiday Tsofu is my variation on General Tso's tofu, using cauliflower and red peppers, It's a tasty and festive dish for the holidays that you can serve as an appetizer or main dish with your favorite rice.
Course: Main Course
Keyword: Tofu, Vegan
Author: Michaela Kennedy
2Tbsprice flour or other gluten-free flour
⅛tbspblack pepper or pepper mix
¼tbspchili powder or cayenne (optional)
1smallred bell pepper or ½ large
1 smallor ½ large shallot (or your choice of onion)
¼cuplow-salt soy sauce(60ml)
¼cuprice vinegar (in case your seasoned vinegar has sugar in it, cut back on your sweetener to balance it out)(60ml)
2Tbspmaple or date syrup
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish (I like to grind them)
Chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish (optional)
Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C). I’m going out this weekend to buy an air fryer, which would be great with this recipe.
Drain and press out excess water from the tofu. Then break it up into bite-sized pieces.
Mix up the dry coating ingredients in a shallow bowl, Roll the tofu chunks in the coating and place in a baking pan lined with parchment paper.* Bake for a half hour, or until the chunks are golden brown.
When the tofu is done, prepare the vegetables. Sauté the cauliflower in a pan with a little bit of water. Add the chopped onion and chopped red pepper. Add the sauce and mix it all up, and sauté for 2-3 more minutes. Then mix in the tofu chunks until everything is well blended.
Top with toasted sesame seeds and serve with your favorite rice - I prefer white jasmine or basmati, as my body does not digest brown rice well.
Susanne told me this General Tso's tofu works great in her air fryer, and I’m excited to try it out for myself. But baking is fine. I’ve tried an oil spray or drizzling a tiny bit, but I’ll tell you, I feel so much better when I skip the oil completely.
A smoothie diet has become my go-to remedy when I have not been eating well or want to do an effective detox. If one thing this Covid-19 lockdown has shown me, is how I rely on my daily smoothie to steer me towards wholesome food choices the rest of the day. I don't know about you, but when I got laid off back in March 2020 due to the pandemic, I started baking. I baked, I ate, and I did not make my daily smoothie that I used to take to work every morning. Combine that with some sofa lounging and there I was five weeks later and 10 lbs. heavier. Now I'm not a fan of using the d-word, but if a smoothie diet – or even simply drinking a smoothie as a meal replacement – can melt away the excess weight, I'm all for it.
Sharing the smoothie diet plan
So now it's summer, I'm back to work, and I've let go of the excess weight, thanks to the smoothie diet plan. I've also changed the way I drink smoothies, so I can receive optimum goodness without the sugar spike. Why, you may ask, would anyone have a sugar spike in a smoothie that you don't add sugar to?
If you let your blender do all the work that your mouth would normally do to break down food, it stands to reason that you are flooding your body with calories it can't assimilate all at the same time. This revelation does not mean that a smoothie diet is bad. Dr. Michael Gregor explains how smoothies work in the body in the video below:
Here are a few of the main points that Dr. Gregor makes in the video:
Juices are the only reason that you have a higher blood sugar spike, so we don't want to drink fruit juice, right? We're on whole foods so you know if you just drink juice you throw away all the fiber.
“But smoothies, right, you blend it all together so you have a whole food, right? But the reason they have a higher sugar spike in your bloodstream drinking a smoothie than just actually eating all the fruit, like in a bowl, is not because of the the liquid versus solid. It's the speed of consumption. If you have a big bowl of fruit and you had a green smoothie like well the kale and all that, right? How long it would take you – like awhile – to chew it to get through that
But a smoothie, you pop a straw in, I mean you can suck it down like 60 seconds. That's the only difference. So you just sip your smoothie. Like, how long would it take me to eat the fruit I just made, 20 minutes? Okay well I will sip this smoothie over the next 20 minutes and that's what you do, and then the same blood sugar. You actually absorb more nutrition because you can never chew that good and you're blending up all the stuff, breaking all those cell walls, getting all that wonderful nutrition into your body.
Judging by all the fiber products on the market, we know that fiber is important in our diets. Dr. Gregor explains that when we simply drink juice, we miss out on the polyphenol phytonutrients, the most important components of plant foods. By most estimates, up to 80 percent of these polyphenols are actually attached to the fiber. So, when we juice a carrot or other vegetable or fruit, we throw away the pulp. We away all those polyphenol phytonutrients that are attached to the fiber.
Dr Gregor goes on to say:
If they're attached to the fiber, what good are they to us? Ah, they're good bacteria. When that fiber gets down to our gut, our gut bacteria in our colon eat the fiber and release the polyphenols that get absorbed into our system, circulates through our body, gets up to our brain, helps our eyesight, all those sorts of other things.
And so, you're missing out on all that nutrition that's attached to the fiber when you throw it away. Now if you juice your carrot and then take the pulp, put it back in the juice fine make carrot cake, something, just don't throw it away.
Smoothie diet basics
Knowing how important whole foods are, I hardly ever drink juice anymore. I do love smoothies, nevertheless, so I throw my favorite plant-based goodies into the blender. Many smoothie recipes suggest adding some juice or nut milk. But following the advice above i don't want to overwhelm my smoothie diet with unnecessary ingredients, so I always choose water as the liquid base. This is my personal choice. I'd rather eat nuts than drink them with out the fiber goodness.
Here is my basic outline for smoothies:
2-3 helpings of greens – a scoop of your favorite greens powder and greens other than leafy may be included, such as cucumbers and celery.
1-2 helpings of fruit – I usually add berries and one more, like mango, banana or dates
water – add a cup, more or less to your own liking, or water + ice.
herbs – a thumbnail of ginger, a tsp. of cinnamon, a pinch of fennel seeds, or try different favorites for flavor.
flaxseeds – a staple for vegans, throwing it in the smoothie diet is an easy way to get your daily tablespoon of flaxseed nutrition.
Join us in the smoothie diet challenge!
Are you looking for a quick solution to start feeling better and dropping excess weight? If you're looking for a complete life transformation over the next three weeks, then you’re in the right place! Whether you need to lose the last 5-10 lbs or you want to get rid of 40lbs or more, this will work for you. This diet is extremely flexible so even though this program is 21 days you can continue using it for as along as you want to lose as much weight as you want!
Fermented foods are strong allies in our goals to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Fermented foods – and I’m not talking the alcoholic drink type – are bursting with probiotics that help feed a healthy digestive tract. Yet the probiotics that flourish in the fermentation process are delicate, and have a long road to travel from the barrel to our stomachs. We want to protect that journey as much as we can, so these living bacteria may live on in our guts.
Just walk away from the fermented drinks
Quick-witted companies these days are producing ‘probiotic-rich’ fermented drinks, non-dairy yogurts, and other single-serve, on-the-run so-called healthy boosts (more like profit boosts). The advertising for kombucha, nut yogurts and other fermented treats are attractive. Hate to break it to you, but all the sugar added to these convenient treats nullify the benefits that come from fermented foods and fermented drinks.
If you still want to buy these products, at least check the ingredients and watch for refined sugar. Sugar in a refined form is simply not helpful for good body maintenance (and it may not even be vegan).
Want a quick probiotic drink? Put a tablespoon of unfiltered apple cider vinegar into water, a smoothie, or other beverage. Well, okay, it may not be exactly probiotic. But ACV does contain good bacteria that can contribute to gut health. Do this one to three times a day and you’ll feel the benefits. Don't overdo it, though, in case your body is sensitive.
My introduction to the health benefits of fermented foods
When I lived in Japan, my friends delighted in teaching me how to cook Japanese style. They all had their own particular family ways to make miso soup, and I practiced diligently. The number one common and crucial factor I remembered from all of those lessons is:
never boil the miso.
You do not want to kill all the good bacteria, my friends would say. At that time, an aha moment about fermented foods came to me that, I believe, many of us here in the West have overlooked. We’ve been boiling, frying and roasting the probiotics out of our foods.
Growing up at my house and at every house I ate, vegetables were boiled to mush. If they were still crisp, back they went onto the stove. Sauerkraut came out of cans – already an assault on healthy microbes – and then thrown into a pot with a chopped up apple to cut the bitter edge of the fermented cabbage. If any bacteria survived the can, they were doomed to be boiled alive.
The ignorance I grew up with in regards to a healthy diet was breathtaking.
I learned a valuable lesson about preserving the integrity of food from my Japanese cooking buddies. I ate a lot of kimchi, Korean spicy pickled cabbage, while there, too. After returning to the States, I reintroduced sauerkraut – pretty much kimchi without the hot pepper – to my diet in a healthier, more robust way: no more boiling.
I can laugh nowadays about the food beliefs I was raised with. Boiled was the only cabbage recipe in the house. The closest I got to raw was the coleslaw from KFC, which was loaded with sugar. I still remember the first time I ate a cold salad of shredded raw cabbage with a dressing. Fermentation moves this delicious, versatile vegetable from a healthy food to a super-nutrient boost.
Buy or make your own fermented foods
Personally, I can't be bothered taking probiotics in pill form. I want to know I'm eating live goodness. If you buy fermented foods like sauerkraut, the brands found in the produce refrigerated section will be fresher and filled with many more gut-pleasing microbes than in jars or cans. Making your own is easy, and here is a simple recipe for you.
Dave and Steve from The Happy Pear demonstrate a quick and easy basic recipe for any fermented vegetable of your choice. The lactic acid process explained in the video is a recipe with simply salt and water – no animals involved.
In The Happy Pear’s video, the pickled veggies start at 02:22
Photo source:Fermented vegetable jar by Kim Daniels on Unsplash
Cooking has strong cultural and traditional ties. Recipes are passed down from generation to generation. Secret oral instructions privately circle a home kitchen. Some home cooks inherit boxes of hand-written recipes on index cards. Others employ arguments and cook-offs between sisters, brothers, mothers and cousins at family gatherings. And yet others never set foot inside a kitchen until they live on their own as an adult.
Whatever experience you may bring to the table, as it were, start from what you know. Here on AVF, we used to detail recipes with exact measurements. But the more we cook, the more fun we have using the eye method, as well as the dash method. I explain these two methods on cooking without a recipe below.
The eye method
About 10 years ago when I was still eating fish, my brother would ask me for a Hawaiian poke recipe. Nowadays I prefer vegan plant-based poke, and you will see a series starting here on that soon. At any rate, I drove my brother crazy because I never gave him the exact measurements, nor a proper recipe with ingredients, let alone measurements (I've always been that kind of, throw whatever you've got into the bowl kind of cook).
Every time he asked me exactly how much of an ingredient to add, my response was always, “Just eye it; you'll get the hang of it.”
Well sure, there's a little more to it than that. For those who have been using the eye method for many years, they don't give it a second thought. Cooking and baking are like muscle memory, to the trained eye.
The metric and imperial systems are always a consideration (and a royal pain in the butt) when making recipes. Using both systems often makes recipes look overwhelming – and, of course, the risk of making a mistake doubles.
When you ‘eye it’ you use the volume system.”Pour a good amount could be anywhere from a quarter of a cup to a few cups, depending on how large your recipe is and what the ingredient is specifically. Don’t worry too much, though. This is how you learn to adjust your recipes through tasting rather than measuring – how you learn to have a good eye.
Our friends over at Taste of Home have some good tips on how to wing it when you don’t have your measuring cups:
The dash method
Another way to share a recipe is just to list the ingredients of a dish. That’s how chefs exchange secrets. They are not bothered to give measurements, as they know the foundations of how to cook – well, okay, not a surprise, it is their job after all.
When you ask one of these pros to give measurements, they may simply say, use a dash of this and a dash of that. Bartenders can be notorious for using the dash method, as you can see here:
The birds living at the New England Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary in Rhode Island are the inspiration for naming of this salad. The cockatoos love healthy snacks, and when I shared this one with Kongo Bird, he dove into it. So, I thought it would be a cute play on words, for the two beans of cubed baked tofu and chickpeas, or garbanzos. You can find the recipe for the baked tofu at the end of this post under “sources”.
Eat chickpeas not chicks
When I was a carnivore, I used to eat a lot of chicken salad. I made it different ways – curried with raisins, or with walnuts and cranberries – it always had a creamy base to it. Now that I am vegan I started to explore different kinds of creamy salads. Salads I can spoon into a pocket, definitely a comfort food for me.
The two beans in the salad are baked cubed tofu and chickpeas. Try smashing a few of them so it holds together better. A handful of grape tomatoes and a stalk of celery provide a nice contrast in color and texture. Some leftover parsley needed to be used, so I chopped that up and threw it in, too.
I remember visiting a friend down in South Carolina awhile ago and going to the neighbors for dinner. The neighbor had a big bowl of potato salad with some interesting ingredients in it, like peas. Sue said, “Yeah, I put about anything I have in it.”
Then I added a spoonful of the vegan pesto from Trader Joe's and a spoonful of Vegenaise. If I ever have more time I may try making a homemade mayonnaise recipe I found on YouTube. The base is navy beans and vegetable oil. The only thing I don't like about Vegenaise is the canola oil. It doesn't stop me from buying it though, because it tastes so good. Besides, I'm getting less and less comfortable using cashews, so any other alternative ingredients work for me. See why in “sources” at the end of this post.
Here below is VeganLovlie's video how to bake vegan mayonnaise. It looks delicious with the white beans.
Make your own mayo that rocks the house!
I found that chopped up celery gives a nice crunch. It replaces onion, without the aftertaste of onions. As I write this, it is late spring with chives and scallions, green onions, in season. These have a lighter taste than regular onions, so you may enjoy mixing them in as well.
A few raisins add sweetness. Yum!
My blogging partner reminded me that celery is not welcome in her home. She said “I would replace your celery with radishes.”
Okay, radishes, celery, I don't judge. What would your optional crunchy veg be?
I also decided to splurge and add two twists of the black pepper mill and a sprinkle of pink salt.
As you can see from the image, I chose to use a pita pocket. Lately I've been on a flat bread, or unleavened bread Kik because I know they do not have eggs or dairy added to them. Perhaps even subconsciously I am thinking about the yeast, I don't know.
Whatever your choice of bread or grain, let us know! I didn't have any greens, but I may have added some arugula or spring salad leaves. Come to think of it, this salad has chopped up kale in it, too.
As my friend Sue from South Carolina says, “Throw whatever you've got into it.”
Chickpeas – either from a tin or soaked and cooked. Not raw or soaked only.
Italian herb-baked tofu, cubed
Celery and/or radish
Kale, chopped or your choice of leafy greens
Parsley or your choice of herbs like chives, basil.
Anything else you want to throw in, like chopped up walnuts, raisins or cranberries