Spongy balls of deep-fried tofu drenched in laksa soup, fried squares of silken tofu in Thai curry, melt-in-your mouth tofu in spicy kimchi soup… I was introduced to tofu at Asian restaurants in Sydney. Here in Berlin, the types of tofu are different. Being vegan is very trendy here, and there’s a world of tofu flavours to suit European tastes: olive tofu, pesto tofu, smoked tofu. One of my colleagues slices it onto her sandwiches instead of cheese.
It’s the smoked tofu I want to introduce to you. As one friend put it, when you eat smoked tofu, you can almost imagine you’re eating bacon. This makes it the perfect foil to the cruciferous vegetables that, along with root vegetables, are the only thing that grow in Northern Germany in winter. The nickname “krauts” for Germans may be terribly dated, but it does say something about their very special relationship to cabbages.
At an event for school students I was shocked to overhear several excited teenagers spreading the word that we would be having red cabbage for lunch. At a Christmas party I was even more surprised to realise that my colleagues were not being ironic when they said they were looking forward to the brussel sprouts.
One friend even asked us what our favourite type of cabbage was! The question might make more sense after a quick German lesson on cabbage varieties: Kohl = cabbage, Weißkohl = white cabbage, Rotkohl = red cabbage, Wirsingkohl = savoy cabbage, Rosenkohl = brussel sprouts, Blumenkohl = cauliflower, Chinakohl = wombok. Maybe that’s enough kinds of cabbage for now.
Suffice to say, there is a lot of cabbage on the menu in Germany in winter. And to be honest, eating cabbage makes you want to eat sausages. But we don’t want to started on Wurst or we’ll soon have an even longer list of German food vocabulary! Instead, if you’re a trendy Berlin vegan hipster, you just might want to try your cabbage with smoked tofu, like in this recipe for spaghetti with kale and smoked tofu.
- I used spaghetti, but any long pasta would be good. Since the sauce is chunky, it’s nice to have long noodles that cling to the bits of tofu and kale.
- I used a smoked tofu called Black Forest, which I originally bought because it had won an award. I tastes good enough to deserve a prize, so I’ve stuck to it. It’s got lots of herbs and spices in it, and since one of them is carroway seeds, I’ve used those in the sauce. If you want to use one of the mediterranean-inspired tofu flavours, you could use fennel seeds instead.
- The celeriac isn’t compulsory — if you have some you can put in a few slices, but I wouldn’t buy one for the recipe.
- This recipe is gluten free if you use gluten free pasta. Check the ingredients on the tamari and tofu to be safe.
- 200g smoked tofu
- 150g kale
- an onion
- a carrot
- a few slices of celeriac (if using, dice about the same amount as the carrot)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablesponn tamari (or other soy sauce)
- 1/2 teaspoon carroway seeds
- 1 tablespoon red lentils
- 1 cup hot water
- 200g spaghetti
- olive oil
- Heat a pan with a little olive oil (1-2 tablespoons). Add the carroway seeds followed by the onion cut in thin strips.
- When the onion is translucent, add the red lentils, diced carrot and celeriac (if using). Add a pinch of salt.
- After a couple of minutes add the tomato paste, balsamic, tamari and pepper. Add the kale and hot water (about 1 cup, no need to cover the kale, but you want about a centimeter of liquid in the pan). Cover and bring to a simmer.
- Put on the pasta, cook as you normally would, then drain.
- Continue to simmer the sauce until the kale is quite soft. It will turn bright green, then dark green, then ugly green. When the colour is less pretty, the texture will be softer and that’s how you want it.
At this stage you can taste the cooking liquid and adjust the seasoning.
- When the kale is ready add the sliced tofu and the drained pasta to the pan. Stir gently to combine.