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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 62.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Concocting an Italian tofu stew (recipe)
When making do makes magic

Credit:Marcelle Richards

Sometimes I look in my fridge and I don't close the door until I've determined what to make with the hodgepodge of ingredients I have (left over after I've picked the things I like to eat first after a shopping trip). We've all been there.

I dub these my clean-out-the-fridge challenges. It's on these nights that I want to pick up the phone and dial for carryout (it's especially dangerous living across the street from Lao Laan Xang and just a few doors away from the Weary Traveler), and sometimes I do. But on the nights that I don't, I try to banish the lingering images of pad Thai with the sense of accomplishment I feel at finding a way to jumble together the often incongruous contents of my fridge.

I think about how I can group the remnants thematically. Sometimes it's a process of elimination - that herbed basil-y tofu would make a lousy stir-fry, but would do nicely in something with an Italian inflection. On a recent night, that basil-y tofu was the only protein source in my fridge, so I stuck with Italian.

In the veggie drawer, a forgotten handful of creminis begged to be spared from the same slimy demise so many mushrooms in my fridge had met before, and a few tender zucchini triggered a little voice in my head that I should eat more vegetables. In the pantry, a few cans of tomatoes reminded me that in a worst-case scenario, I could hide any mishaps in a sauce, and a tub of nutritional yeast made a good argument for its all-purpose handiness. (If you haven't had nutritional yeast, it's rich in vitamin B and adds an almost cheesy flavor to dishes - you can find it in the bulk section, or borrow it from a vegan neighbor.)

And I decided that I didn't want to do many dishes, so I pulled out my biggest pot and decided everything would just have to fit inside. The result has become one of our favorite meals to eat during a busy week.

Eat pad Thai if you must, but if you're up for it, you can make this dinner for the cost of a takeout order and in about as much time as you'd spend waiting for delivery. I challenge you to roll up your sleeves, seize those renegade mushrooms in your fridge and let them meet their tomato-y fate!

One-Pot Vegan Tofu Stew
Serves 8-10

  • 2 pounds tofu, drained (I use Bountiful Bean herb tofu)
  • 2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 zucchinis, sliced into half-moons
  • 12 ounces cremini mushrooms
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (reduce or omit to decrease spiciness)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • 1 tablespoon basil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt to taste

Drain tofu and cube into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and cook onions until softened, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook 7-8 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano, thyme, basil and salt and cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Stir in zucchini and tofu, and cook an additional 3-4 minutes. Add more oil to prevent sticking, if necessary. Add tomatoes and nutritional yeast; bring to a slow boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes over medium-low heat until zucchini and mushrooms are tender, stirring occasionally.

Marcelle Richards is on the web at

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