For an omnivore who’s eighty percent carnivore and twenty percent herbivore, cooking meatless dishes doesn’t really come naturally. It’s like re-learning every cooking trick I’ve come across (and like to think I’ve perfected) over the years. You just can’t treat vegetables like meat. You have to understand the essence of vegetables, find and love their uniqueness, and really appreciate them to feel inspired enough to get creative with them. In short, you can’t treat veggies like the token healthy component of a meal to (psychologically) offset the (supposed) unhealthiness of meat. You have to treat veggies like stars just as we often treat prime cuts of meat.
This re-learning is a roller coaster ride. Sometimes, I see ingredients and my brain automatically assemble them into a dish and my hands just have to recreate what my brain has already executed. Other times, I stand there looking at the ingredients and I’m like staring into empty space. And when I snap out of what I can only describe as some kind of hypnotic state, I panic — especially when there’s very little time to cook and my head just can’t get anything straight.
It has happened. Not too often but often enough to decide to formulate a strategy. Those times when I run out of bright ideas about what to cook, I go back to the basics. And that doesn’t always mean cooking something I’ve made a hundred times before. Sometimes, it means combining two or three different things I’ve prepared before and turn them into something new and different.
So, this tofu and spinach with teriyaki sauce dish was something I cooked for Sam on one of those occasions when I found myself staring into empty space. Basic fried tofu. Basic blanched spinach. Basic teriyaki sauce.
Mix together the soy sauce, sake, mirin and ginger. Pour into a wok and heat until reduced by half.
Add the fried tofu and spinach to the sauce. Toss and cook just until everything is heated through.
Transfer everything to a plate. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
Done. Delicious. Yeah, right, my story’s longer than my recipe.