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Do you know about Meatless Mondays?  I am not sure where this idea originated, or who gets the credit for it, but it’s something I’ve been trying to do for a few years now.  It’s about as basic as it sounds: on Monday, you make meals without any meat, and you can take it farther to say without any animal protein.  This doesn’t make you a vegetarian, or a hippie, but it does make you think more about what you’re eating and how to be creative with vegetables, grains and other products you might not often try.

About five years ago, I realized that we were eating too many processed foods, not enough grains and way too much meat.  We slowly started to make some changes to our grocery shopping choices and our meal planning.  Both R and I grew up in meat-and-potatoes homes, so it was just plain weird at first to think about not having meat as the main event at dinnertime.  Because of where we live now, we are lucky to have access to farmers’ market bounty and great grocery (Central Market changed my life) and natural food stores.  After I started browsing recipes from Ellie Krieger, Eating Well magazine and other sources, I learned that Meatless Mondays were not so hard to plan after all.

It’s not necessary to make complicated meals; I think most people like spaghetti, or quesadillas, or veggie-based soups like potato-leek or minestrone.  (Just leave the meatballs out of the spaghetti, and the chicken out of your quesadillas.)  I like a big green salad as a meal sometimes, or beans and rice, or a mixed-vegetable stir fry.  But, I also think it is fun to experiment with some dishes I might not normally prepare: we make falafel sometimes, or Thai-style curries, or Moroccan tagines.  R once made split pea patties with mango salsa, now a favorite recipe for us both.

One ingredient we both like, but both struggle to cook, is tofu.  It just falls apart on me!  This time last year, I vowed to find at least two ways to cook tofu that we both like and can pull off without frustration.  One recipe is for tofu bahn mi, which involves a very basic marinate-and-grill preparation.  The other recipe, one of my favorites for Meatless Mondays and beyond, is Szechuan Tofu and Green Beans.  We got the recipe initially from Eating Well and have adapted it to suit our tastes.  You can substitute just about any vegetable for the green beans (or add to them); we’ve had success with broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, carrots and snow peas.  Even if you don’t cook or eat tofu often, give this recipe a try: you just might surprise yourself.  And think about trying Meatless Mondays, too.

Szechuan green beans w/ tofu

Szechuan Tofu with Green Beans

  • 1/2 c. water, divided
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1 T. tomato paste
  • 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper, or to taste
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch (plus more to coat tofu for cooking)
  • 7 oz. extra-firm tofu, drained
  • 2 T. canola oil, divided
  • 4 c. green beans, trimmed and cut in half
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T. minced fresh ginger

Whisk 1/4 c. water, soy sauce, tomato paste, vinegar, brown sugar, red pepper and 1 tsp. cornstarch in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Cut tofu into 1/2-inch cubes and pat dry; roll each piece in cornstarch to coat and shake excess cornstarch off.  Heat 1 T. oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add tofu in a single layer (work in batches if you need to) and let cook undisturbed for 2 mins.  Gently turn and continue to cook for 3-5 mins. until each piece is brown and starting to crisp.  Transfer to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium; add remaining 1 T. oil to the pan.  Add green beans, garlic and ginger; cook, stirring constantly, for 1 min.  Add the remaining 1/4 c. water; cover and cook until the beans are crisp-tender, about 4-5 mins.  Stir the reserved soy sauce mixture and add to beans.  Cook, stirring until thickened, for about 2 mins.  Add tofu and cook until everything is heated through.  Serve with rice, if desired.

Serve with rice.  Makes 3 servings.

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