Protein All Colors of the Rainbow
... As Long As the Rainbow is Brown ... or White
by Susu, MaceVindaloo, Sparticus
Menu: Tofu Cutlets | Blotting Firm Tofu | Marinade for Tofu | Juggling Geese | Tofu Mystery Chili | Wife Soup | Wife Dumplings | Soothing Soup | Tofu Onion Dip | Laap Dance Tofu Salad | Tofucumbers | Chocolate Orange Tofu Pudding and/or Pie and/or Cake Filling / Icing
As far as eating goes, that meant shelf-stable foods. Shepherd Book pointed out that a man could live on processed foods forever as long as one had spices. He bought his passage with fresh tomatoes, strawberries, and all manner of garden-fresh produce. Fresh food was such a rarity that even the very wealthy Dr. Simon Tam thanked the priest for sharing the fresh, ripe vegetables, and a mercenary thug the likes of Jayne Cobb greedily partook in the salad.
But as soon as the fresh produce was gone, they were back to what Captain Malcolm Reynolds flatly stated was, "Protein, all colors of the rainbow." He might have amended it with, "As long as that color is brown or white." The food of 500 years into the future might be more colorful, but in our time, "pure protein" is normally reddish, if its freshly killed; white if we're talking about basic soy or dairy proteins; and brown if its marinated or cooked. Of these, the white protein is most like "rations," as it can be hermetically sealed, dried, and colored. On this world, that may mean tofu.
Though Mal told his first mate Zoë that they could get a cook when he first bought the ship, they never did. They got a doctor instead, which frankly, they needed a lot more considering how dangerously they lived. Then again, perhaps Shepherd Book became their cook; he defined himself as a priest of a "narrower path," meaning no marriage, no sex, and likely a more Buddhist approach to Christianity. We bet he became the cook, as a way to enlighten those aboard "Serenity," since they were not exactly otherwise god-fearing. Thus, his rather Buddhist approach to recipes (or so we at the Hut surmise!).
Of course, he learned and appreciated the efforts of other crew members too, as they all had to make do with what they had stored aboard the ship. They shared meals and ate like every family of the past, present, or future wished they could eat together, and with much gratitude. Shiny!
Tofu needn't be a blank-tasting and synthetic-looking food. It's quite mutable, meaning it will take on whatever flavor is in its proximity, and the color, too. To make the food more appetizing and "food-like," Shepherd Book explained to the others that in addition to the aforementioned spices, they needed to consider color and texture. He'd cut down the protein to make it more like a portion of meat, and he'd flavor it and cook it like real food. It was such a fascinating process that resident mercenary crewthug, Jayne Cobb who was always hungry would volunteer for KP when it was Book's turn, just so he could snitch extra pieces of tofu cutlet "to check that it's okay for the others." It was really that good and these cooking methods worked every time the crew of the "Serenity" had never eaten better than when this holy man was preaching from the kitchen!
Can be served at any temperature, and can be cut down further to serve or use in other recipes. Serve with a ketchupy or barbecue sauce, if you wish.
NOTE: The tofu must be blotted, or it will be too wet to cook, and it won't take in the marinade flavoring.
Add about ½-inch / 1½-cm vegetable oil into a skillet and heat till a breadcrumb dropped in fizzes and browns and "dances" in the oil quickly. Carefully lay in a few tofu pieces at a time you don't want the oil to get cold. It has to be hot so that the breadcrumbs don't absorb too much oil. When the first side is browned, carefully turn the tofu over to brown the other side. When done, drain on a rack placed over a tray or plate, or on paper towels.
Serve hot or at room temperature. It can be sliced down further to serve or use in other recipes, if you wish. Serve with a thick, ketchupy or barbecuey type sauce, if desired.
Blotting Firm Tofu
Like Shepherd Book, tofu is NOT like other proteins, and must be treated according to its unique properties and limitations. One of the limitations is that tofu is normally stored in water, and though it can last over 2 months when hermetically sealed, it does require refrigeration. So when you reach for it, it's cold and waterlogged ... hard to cook with! So, like for any mission, you prepare. The night before you will cook it, blot the tofu first to remove the excess water from within it, so it can suck up marinade better ... like a sponge, as in that time Book went to see Inara when she was bathing ...
Your tofu is now ready to be cut down further, or breaded and fried, or sliced up for stirfry, marinated, etc. Most of the time, you will want to make sure there is some liquid for the tofu to soak up, like a marinade, or a sauce, or gravy, or even in a soup or stew (it'll thicken the liquid slightly, too). Unlike meat, it doesn't need to be cooked through, so put it in near the end of the recipe for those types of things.
Marinade for Tofu
As "Firefly" takes place during a time when the two major superpowers remaining on earth are China and the US, and it's assumed that all cultures have kind of rolled up into one, Asian influences are not uncommon in foods of all levels in this universe. It seems marinades tended to have soy sauce in them anyway, even now. (Note that when they dine, every person has a wild west style campfire tin cup ... and a pair of chopsticks!)
This can be stored refrigerated in a clean, lidded jar.
Pilot Wash once described a planet where the pasttime was to juggle geese goslings to be precise. When in a rural environment, there may simply not be enough to do and if you have an excess of geese, it might seem like a cool thing to do at the time ... maybe? In contrast, Wash came from a world so polluted that he'd enrolled in piloting school just to see if there really were stars up in the sky. Entertainment in his district ran more toward making something from something else, a sort of magic like juggling a dish of "geese" out of tofu! It's a neat trick, much like juggling goslings, only tastier and much less weird! Okay, it does much taste like goose at all, but it IS good with a nice chewiness and great flavor. And wrapped up like a classic peking duck, your dinner guests may not actually know the difference! Voilà!
Whether you are using the dry tofu fillets or your prepared tofu, slice the tofu crosswise into stick-like slabs, about ¼ to ½ inch thick (¾ to 1½ cm), and set aside.
In a shallow bowl, mix together the plum sauce and 5-spice powder and set aside.
Heat the oil for deep frying to about 340°F / 170°C. Fry the tofu carefully in small batches there is still a lot of water in the tofu and it will bubble out violently when it hits the hot oil. So don't put in too much at once! Fry for a minute or so till the tofu is golden brown. Drain briefly, then toss immediately in the sauce mixture. Repeat the process till all the tofu is cooked and coated. If desired, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
Tofu Mystery Chili
"Serenity" also stocks canned goods, and they are rationed out carefully. There was the time when Simon's sister, River, tore the labels off a case of cans. Because of her native genius and telepathy talents, the Alliance government literally and metaphorically cut into her brain, breaking her mind (though not her spirit) in order to mold her into something not-human ... too bad the series was cancelled before we found out what they were making her into! No one realized it at the time, but she was attacking the "Blue Sun" logo on the labels, the symbol of the corporation which IS the government, 500 years hence. (She also slashed at the logo on Jayne's shirt with a big kitchen knife ...)
Assuring her that no harm had been done that time, Shepherd Book made a "mystery meal" with the contents of the label-less cans, adding tofu protein at the end (though he could have also used TVP). It was so good that it became a regular part of the crew's diet, and no one enjoyed it more than River, to whom it represented redemption out of what she knew to be evil ...
Drain the TVP and put the protein nuggets into the chili, stirring it in. Cook for another 10 minutes. Serves 6 as a full meal.
No one could really figure out why amazon warrior Zoë ended up being married to Wash, the pilot and resident chicken ... but no one doubts they "do good" together. When she's very happy with him, she deigns to cook for him, and will create what Wash calls "wife soup," a sort of chowder filled with some medium-storable vegetables like potatoes or carrots things they can pick up and keep for up to a month, maybe. Being a career soldier before her side lost the war, she's very practical and minimalist in her cooking. But it's good enough that the others hover around and wait for the married couple to "need to be in their bunk" before homing in on the delicious leftovers.
VARIATION: You can use TVP with this recipe instead of or in addition to the tofu. If you do use TVP, it can be added to the recipe with the beans, rather than at the end.
Mal had inadvertently gotten married at the end of a particular mission Mal had been pronounced a hero to a rural community for saving them from some marauding thugs. They couldn't afford to pay his whole fee, so they gave him a woman ... and a few fresh vegetables! Try as he might, his new wife would not recognize her freedom when he told her he didn't want a wife, especially not one as chattal! She insisted on doing all manner of wifely things, including cooking ... and in particular, she made him bao a Chinese steamed dumpling filled with goodies. The crew no matter what they thought of her fought over his leftovers, because they were very good! Mixed with crumbled protein, these vegetable-filled dumplings were extra special. This recipe can be boiled for soup, or fried. What looks like not much filling really does go a long way a good thing since those you serve it to will be clamoring to marry you ... (Too bad this good cook turned out to be a player ... but River managed to extract the recipe for these dumplings from "Mrs. Reynolds's" brain, and she used them in her Soothing Soup.)
Dab the insided edges of the wonton wrappers with water. Using a teaspoon, put a scant amount of filling in the middle of each wonton wrapper and wrap up. Pinch the water-dabbed ends together to seal the filling in tightly.
These can be boiled in water or stock, and added to soup; or fried in oil, to be eaten as an appetizer or snack. The fried ones are good in soup, too.
Dr. Simon Tam had given up everything to save his younger sister, River. To accomplish this, he had her kidnapped from the "school" she attended, which meant he faced life as a fugitive, even while he tried desperately to heal his sister of the abuses the Alliance government had inflicted on her brain. He tried all manner of medicines to calm her and help her overcome her nightmares and symptoms, but her body had been bioengineered to break down the drugs. So even if he found something that worked, it was only a matter of time before he was back to square one ... But members of the crew introduced him to a more homeopathic remedy which they assured him would work more permanently: hot soup. He was dubious, but this soup recipe described by Inara and created by Book to use what was available on board, including protein-based soymilk rather than actual dairy milk was easy to assemble and River could make it for herself, which gave her a sense of control over her situation. The rituals of slicing, frying, boiling, and making the dumplings all seemed to calm her and even make her happy. She beamed with a sense of belonging when she shared the soup with others on the crew, who found it as soothing as she apparently did. Simon, over time, learned to be grateful for any little progress, and every bit of friendship proffered by people he was surprised to be with, at all.
Boil some water and immerse the mustard greens in it till the greens are lightly cooked and bright green. Place in a colander and rinse with cold water. If you wish, cut them down to about 1-inch / 2½-cm pieces. Lay out four bowls and place a quarter of the greens, celery, and dumplings in each one. Distribute the fried shallots and oil over each bowl. Heat together the soymilk, water and salt to simmering, then pour over the things in the four bowls. Serves 4.
Tofu Onion Dip
When the crew of "Serenity" does have some fresh produce for their meals, they don't completely eschew protein, for it's the basis of a dip normally made with sour cream. But dairy products can be harder to get and to keep than fresh vegetables, and besides, having eaten so much protein every day, they kind of like it. Of course, this dip can be used with crackers and chips and any manner of shelf-stable crunchies: chips, pretzels, crisps, etc.
Laap Dance Tofu Salad
Inara, being a Companion (a high-class courtesan, protected by the Guild and the law), had many rituals to be performed before "bonding" with her customers, including a welcoming tea ceremony. After the paid-for acts were consummated, she would provide refreshments like drinks or this piquant salad based on a Thai dish called "laap," made of crumbled tofu dressed with a light, spicy sauce and fresh, delicate herbs. This would be scooped or spooned into a trimmed, fresh cabbage leaf to eat. It was refreshing and would revive the client so he or she could get dressed and return back to their lives, envigorated a sort of "laap dance" before they left, if you will ... It was an expensive dish because of the fresh cabbage and fragrant herbs, and if there was any left, Inara would bring it home to the crew of "Serenity" only a part of the reason everyone waited outside her shuttle eagerly when she docked.
While the skillet is still hot, place the crumbled tofu into it with fish sauce and lime juice, and cook till the tofu stops exuding water. Taste and add additional lime juice and fish sauce, to taste. Add the ground rice and mix together thoroughly. Tranfer to a large mixing bowl and allow to cool, then toss in the chilis, scallions, cilantro, mint.
Quarter and core the cabbage and remove the leaves like petals. Eat with the laap. Serves about 10, depending on if its eaten as a side dish, appetizer, or main course.
Jayne Cobb could accurately be described as a brute and a mercenary, but it was a somewhat misleading set of labels. Under it all, Jayne was fiercely loyal and protective, and worried for those he loved, and despite his rough exterior, his real nature often shone through: It was revealed that he sent much of the money he made on the "jobs" home to his mother to care for his family, and he wore an orange hat with earflaps and pompom that dear momma had made for him, with pride. He shared a case of fresh apples with the crew, bought with his share of some heist money, a gesture Zoë characterized as "chilling," though she happily and gratefully partook in the gift. But he won't admit to any softness, not even to how worried he was for Kaylee's welfare after she'd been shot. No one knew, but he quietly and secretly crouched at the infirmary window for hours to watch over the surgery ... who knows what he might have done to Dr. Tam if she hadn't recovered!
When Shepherd Book told him how to make these cucumber and sesame seed wrapped protein cubes, he stabbed through each of them with a toothpick and made a point to be vicious about it! The otherwise beautiful appetizers had broken toothpicks jabbed through them at crazy angles and they looked quite ... dangerous ... Didn't stop anyone from eating them though ... which upset Jayne a lot, since he had hoped for a lot of leftovers for himself. (So he's not a complete softie!)
Chocolate Orange Tofu Pudding and/or Pie and/or Cake Filling / Icing
For Simon's surprise birthday party, ship's mechanic Kaylee made him a birthday cake. They only had protein at that point in their flying around, but she had a deep crush on the doctor, so tried to make the protein as chocolaty as she could for his non-carb cake. It's not hard, actually. Just follow this recipe, which can be used as a pudding in custard cups, as a pie in a graham-cracker crust, or as a filling and icing to any cakes. How versatile, and really very good!
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