Thursday, January 19, 2012
Old School or New School? Eggy’s Eggless Egg Salad
To prepare for this month’s Culinary Smackdown: Battle Tofu, I knew I had to stand toe to toe with my tofu past. After an invigorating cleanse digging into the memory vault and writing about it, I thought I was ready to bring a freshly robed bean curd dish from its corner of the Smackdown ring, hosted this month by Anonymous Boxer. Or was I?
As much as I’d love to figure out how to replicate my favorite hot and sour soup, from the now-retired folks of the Szechwan Wok in Silverton (good for them, sad for me), that direction seemed too obvious – and their soup’s perfect balance too out-of-reach for me to pursue.
Then I thought of the vegan “eggless egg salad” I’ve heard nothing but raves about from Fresh Table at Findlay Market. It always looks sassy and enticing in their prepared foods case, although it’s not one of their dishes I’ve tasted yet, and I don’t have a photo of it. Here, however, are some other sprightly Fresh Table offerings.
After a little research, I confirmed Fresh Table’s eggless egg salad is made with tofu, but Chef Meredith Twombly wasn’t giving up her recipe. I was stymied at the prospect of trying to replicate a dish I’ve never tasted. But then my mind veered in another direction, to my very favorite, very old school egg salad recipe.
It’s from the 1975 edition of Joy of Cooking, a recipe that got edited out when Cincinnatian Ethan Becker – son of Marion Rombauer Becker and the grandson of Irma Rombauer, Joy’s prior authors – updated this go-to cookbook for its 1997 edition. I don’t think Asparagus and Egg Salad is nearly as far afield for a contemporary audience as squirrel recipes, for instance. But perhaps Ethan thought it was too much of a throwback to a ladies’ luncheon dish to warrant including when he wanted to make room for a whole new chapter on beans and tofu.
Aside from the inclusion of asparagus, which I love in any form, what I like best about this Joy egg salad is the dressing, made not with mayo (traditional or vegan) but with sour cream punched up with capers, grated onion, vinegar or caper juice, and a pinch of curry powder. I sometimes use this dressing for potato salad, and it makes a good dip for crudités as well.
The texture of tofu is not that different from that of hard-boiled eggs, and my theory was that the curry powder would impart a yellowish color to the dish. Some curry powders would, but I chose to use a sweet curry brought from India by a friend, which wasn’t quite so yellow, along with smoked paprika from Colonel De’s of Findlay Market (who will be opening additional outlets at the upcoming Jungle Jim’s at Eastgate and the Findlay-esque Friendly Market in Northern Kentucky!).
So how did my tofu variation on an egg salad theme fare? I was a woman on a mission to extract as much water as I could from my block of firm tofu, fearing it would dilute the dressing and rob it of its zing. So I spent darn near a whole evening pressing my paper-towel-wrapped tofu. Good thing I’d just stocked up on paper towel, because I kept rewrapping the tofu, and it just kept giving off more liquid.
I sampled a bit of pressed tofu and dressing before I went to bed that night and was disappointed. So I tried two alternatives. I marinated half my tofu cubes overnight in the dressing and the rest in a bit of sherry vinegar and olive oil, which I planned to top with dressing when I finally assembled the dish. When I got home from work last night, the dressing-marinated bean curd was astonishingly dry, having soaked up almost all the dressing, yet without gaining as much pungency as I would have liked. When I tried topping the cubes marinated in vinegar with the dressing, the balance still seemed a bit off. So I just mixed my two marination experiments together, globbed on more dressing, plunked them on a bed of spinach, and added the asparagus, sliced olives, and more capers.
Not half bad, if I say so myself. Here’s the 1975 Joy of Cooking Asparagus and Egg Salad recipe as photographed from my well-worn copy of the book.
If anyone's interested in a typed out version that includes my tofu tweaks, let me know and I'll come back and update this post. Right now, I’m scrambling to make Boxer’s deadline for Smackdown submissions. Head on over to her place to check out the other entries, and stay tuned for her announcement of this month’s winner, who will earn bragging rights and the right to select the theme or key ingredient of next month’s Smackdown and become next month’s host and judge for this friendly round-robin cooking/blogging competition.
P.S. If you really want to amp up this eggless egg salad, serve it with slices of toasted baguette slathered in truffle butter, like I did. Ladies who lunch, eat your hearts out!
Peace out, eggy