Friday, December 28, 2012

Vegetarians Are Annoying But You Don’t Have To Be


My Killer Tofu Scramble

This post is going to be a cooking post.  My last one was about getting gay married.  The one before that was about getting my book published.  I’m curious to find out which topic (work, love, food) gets the most positive response from you, my eager readers.  I hope your holiday season is choo-chooing along merrily and that you haven’t killed or been killed by your relatives.  I had a lovely three days in Central Jerse with my fam, punctuated by heavy board-game playing with my friends in Central Jerse who make my visits to the suburbs bearable: Billy Reeves,  Christoper Parks and Chris Guild.  I also saw THE HOBBIT, the first third of which reminded me of an awkward Will & Grace episode, and the last two-thirds reminded me of ridiculous drek.  But I digress. . .

Before I get into my recipe, I want to share the menu at Tossini the night Rafael gave me my engagement ring.  My sister, who is shocked by my audacity in using friends’ real names on this blog and asked that I refrain from using hers, pointed out that I promised it in the last post but did not actually include it.  So here goes:

Speaking of great eating, the centerpiece of the Barakiva Xmas dinner this year was a  beautiful crown roast of pork.  My brother did the actual cooking, but I found the recipe, so I figure I can include it in my blog.  It's from Melissa Clark's New York Times column.  Here’s the link to the video and recipe:

And here's a picture of my brother's final product:

It was hella delicious.

A Hearty Vegetarian Breakfast

I'm including a very simple (although rather time-consuming) recipe in today's blog - something that I hope won't intimidate my non-cook friends and still stimulate the ones comfortable in the kitchen.  It's one of my favorite breakfast recipes, a killer tofu scramble.  I’m not someone who especially likes tofu, so when I make something of that ilk, it has to be rather extraordinary.  If you're one of those vegan-types, just cut the cheese at the end and, voila, you're good.

Scrambled Tofu on mini-tortillas

When I was the resident director on DIRTY DANCING in Los Angeles, there was this great diner (don’t ask me for the name – I have no memory of it, much the way I have no memory of most things I did in LA) where I’d have breakfast around the corner from the theater.  They served up a pretty good tofu scramble, so I decided to come up with one myself.  The recipe I’m presenting to you is the result of years of experimenting.


It’s rather labor intensive, but since scrambled tofu keeps for a few days (unlike, for example, scrambled eggs), I recommend making a big batch and eating it intermittently over the course of the week. It’s also delicious served over brown rice or wheat/spelt berries, or with tortillas (use corn tortillas, which are de rigueur in Central Mexico, where Rafael is from.  Flour tortillas are more popular in the North, but Rafael and I look down on them and the people who eat them, because he considers them less authentic and I think flour is the devil’s work).

Like most great recipes (quiches, for example), you can basically make this with anything you have lying around the house, so don’t stress the individual ingredients.  Use capers if you don’t have olives, or feta cheese if you don’t have goat cheese.   The only important part is making sure to add the ingredients that require the longest time to cook first, and proceed accordingly. 

This recipe starts with chopping and onion – this is probably the single most important kitchen skill a cook can have, since so many recipes (savory especially) start like this.  So, I’ve decided to dabble into multi-media and created some very sophisticated video for this post, in which I demonstrate close-up (since that’s the only way I could figure out to shoot this sequence with my iPhone) how to slice, chop and mince an onion.

Tofu Scramble Recipe


A few tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, sliced thin
1 or 2 chiles (Serrano works well if you can handle the heat, but chipotle or something mellower is lovely, too)
1 or 2 containers of tofu (firm or extra firm are used in savory cooking, soft or silky in dessert – again, don’t ask me why – this is just the way of the world)
4-6 oz of mushrooms (those cheap white ones are fine, or baby portabellas work well, too)
3 bell peppers (I like using different colors, but monochromatic works)
A handful of olives (kalamata are my favorites with this, but use whatever you have to give it some brininess )
4-6 oz of spinach
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled (or feta, or any cheese, really)


Bring a very very large skillet or pot or Dutch oven to medium heat.  Remember, we’re going to be making enough for a few portions, so whip out the big guns here.  When it’s hot, pour in the olive oil [MB1].  Don’t be shy with the portion– this is a very healthy dish without a lot of fat, so you can afford an extra splash. 

I slice the onions while the oil is heating, because I’m lazy and hate having to prep.  Once the oil is hot but not smoking, throw the onions in.  If it starts to make a sizzling sound, you’ll know you did it right.  If it doesn’t, you didn't.  Then slice and de-seed the chile [MB2]                          and throw that in with the onion.

While the onions and chile cook, cube the tofu.  The easiest way to do this is to do exactly what I demonstrate in the onion-cutting viedo: cut it into horizontally (maybe two or three parallel cuts per block), then along it’s length, then along it’s width.   It should look something like this:



Once it’s cubed, you have two options.  You can either smush the cubes in your hands, resulting in something that looks like a scramble, or you throw it all in a large bowl and use a potato masher to achieve the same effect.  If you use your hands, you might want to wear gloves because the tofu is really cold.  What’s important is that once you’re done with it, the tofu achieves the same consistency as scrambled eggs.  Throw the tofu in with the onions and chile, stirring it in.


While all of those cook, prep your mushrooms:  cut off the bottom part of the stem, then run a paper towel over their heads.  [MB3]   Once you’re done cleaning them, slice them.

Throw the mushrooms in to the pot, bring the heat to high, then cover for around five minutes, to force the mushrooms to release their water.  They don’t want to do it, but you shouldn’t feel bad about making them.  Then drop the heat back down to medium and remove the lid, so the water cooks out of the dish – like with eggs, you don’t want the tofu scramble to be wet or runny.

While the mushrooms are cooking, cut the bell peppers in half, remove the seeds and tops, and cut them into the strips and then again into squares, so they’re roughly the size of those little square pieces of gums we used to get out of the machines. 

Once the mushroom water has all evaporated, throw the gum-sized pepper squares in with everything else.  Your skillet/pot/Dutch even should be quite full by now, and if you think things are sticking to the bottom, throw some more oil in.  That always helps when things are sticking to the bottom.

Give the scramble a good stir and then throw in the olives, chopped up a bit, obviously sans pits.  Give everything a few more minutes for the flavors to blend, then throw the spinach (baby spinach as is, if it’s all grown up, give it a good chop.  I imagine even frozen spinach could work, but I don’t use frozen vegetables because I’m not a heathen).  When the spinach has wilted a bit (two minutes, let’s say), turn off the heat, and ladle a portion out into a bowl or plate (if you have brown rice or wheat berries, put that in the bowl first), and sprinkle some cheese on top, letting the scramble’s heat melt it.  I prefer to sprinkle the cheese every time I serve it, rather than putting into the mother lode of the dish.

If you didn’t use a chile, some good hot sauce is another nice way to give the dish a kick.   

Stay tuned to find out why a wedding photographer makes more in one day than I do in a month of directing work, why the rebel angels attempted a coup d’etat against God in Heaven.

Until then – happy holidays from Awful Goodness.

Always get your skillet or pan or pot or Dutch hot before adding the oil.  Just trust me here: hot is better, because the point of the oil is to act as a conduit for the heat, and if there's no heat, the oil just gets absorbed and then you'll have to put more oil in the dish and the dish will be well, oily.  To ensure the skillet or pot is sufficiently hot, I like to lick my finger and super-quickly run it over the surface of the skillet.  If it sizzles and I almost burn myself, I know it’s hot enough.  Unless you’re cooking with meat, you don’t want the oil smoking, just glistening in that beautiful way oil does, like a scrying pool or magic mirror.  Yes, I played Dungeons and Dragons as a child.


Most of a chile’s kick comes from its seeds, which carry the oil that gives its heat.  Removing the seeds is a great way to tame the hotter chiles, but when you’re working with the super-hot ones, like serranos, I’d recommend wearing gloves.  As I said in my first post, I have accidentally touched my eyes or nose or other parts after working with them bare, and the searing sensation as the oil penetrates your orifice is anything but pleasant.


Don’t wash mushrooms – they’re already incredibly high in water content.  To clean them, just lightly run a paper towel over their head to remove any dirt.  It’s just dirt, after all.  On average, you eat three pounds of dirt a year, so a little more ain’t gonna kill you.


  1. Dear Barakiva, I'm enjoying reading all of these. Please, more audio and video, as I find that reading your writing makes me miss your speaking voice, your subversive wit, and articulate disdain for silly people.

    So, it's a great comfort to hear your voice and be reminded of your knife skills - even as a director you could slice up the living organism of the text, expose the layers, and prepare it for transformation into something savory, delicious, and pleasing to crowds.

    That last metaphor sort of fell apart at the end there. I meant well.

    1. Well, it appears that all posted anonymously, it's Michael Bird here.

      I typed in the mystery phrases and used my high-security Aramaic password, yet apparently I remain an unwashed cretin before the capricious gods of the Google login.

      So, that was me, before, saying those things.

    2. Michael Bird!
      What a joy to hear your articulate, well-pronounced syllables in the voice-in-my-head that reads your response to me. I admit to facebook-stalking you with some regularity, and hope that our paths cross again in the real world.

      One of my favorite things about this blog is getting back in touch with all the wonderful people I've known. A young me would write something snide here that would imply your exclusion from that group, but I'm kinder in my older years, so I shall refrain.

      Happy New Year and much love to you and yours,