A dish by any other name

There are many reasons I’m not a food blogger, but a lack of desire to cook is not one of them. It’s not even that I’m a horrible cook or an uninspired one – it’s just that whatever I cook always springs up out of nowhere, usually doesn’t remember anything that I could put a name to apart from my recently-adopted “vegetable mess”, and I certainly never have any idea what went into it.

To be honest, lately I have fallen into a bit of a rut of mushrooms-spinach-sweet potato-tomatoes-pepper-something spicy-coconut milk-tahini. Not all at once, but pretty much everything I ate revolved around those. This is partly because of living in shared houses with small and busy kitchens, partly because of cooking with Ben who isn’t quite as experimental or forgiving with his tastes and textures as I tend to be. Realising, though, that neither of those situations were about to change, it is time to start getting creative again in the kitchen.

Ordering a free trial box from Kelly’s Vegies, taking an evening off training due to visiting a new training studio and various niggles and injuries, and a few special offers gave me the impetus I needed to put a little more soul into my cooking last night.

I feel bad for the tofu in my house. It only ever gets stirred into curries, or marinated and grilled – it barely even ever gets stir-fried or scrambled! And yet in the past I have used tofu to make quiche, cheesecake, lasagnes, and even praline truffles. I have ogled various omelette recipes over the years, like Susan’s on FatFree Vegan Kitchen and Isa’s on Post Punk Kitchen – and lately fluffy yet hearty recipes have been consistently catching my eye like Angela’s Jumbo Chickpea Pancake or Erin’s Panisse, starting to stir something in my mind, but it was when I saw Kirsty’s Spanish Tortilla recipe that I finally decided it was time to stop ogling and time to start eating. I have a whole fridge and cupboards overflowing with interesting ingredients and none of them are going to get used if I’m cooking the same things all the time!

Plus, it’s not been good for a healthy, happy, balanced diet – as I get bored with my food, I rely on junk and treats to add interest and excitement to my meals.

Anyway, long story short, I picked up a couple of packs of silken tofu on offer (2 for £3), and started to toy with various ideas that could start to expand Ben’s tofu horizons. Now, it was past 9pm and the kitchen was being shared, so I couldn’t go for anything too extravagant. It still needs to cook in one dish or so, and it needs to be eaten in one bowl on one’s lap. I considered quiche… but I couldn’t be bothered to make a crust and I didn’t really feel like I could justify eating a dense, buttery shortcrust. I thought about an omelette, but it failed to excite me. I thought about the condiments that needed using up; leftover cheesy roasted pepper pasta filling; sundried tomato paste; olive paste; red pepper relish… So we have something eggy, and we have Mediterranean flavours kicking about… What could bring all these together?

My eye fell on a tray of zucchinis, which I normally ignore as I never do anything interesting with them, but this time I smelled grilled veggies. I tasted the sweetness of the zucchini against the tangy sundried tomato. I had an idea.Zucchini omelette bake closeup

Of course, I still had no idea what I was going to cook, but I knew what was going into it. And I knew I was blending tofu. And using black salt and turmeric to make it eggy. And grilling zucchini. And layering it with a spread of sundried tomato purée, or roasted red pepper relish… or both.

It has now been cooked, plated up, served, and eaten, and I’m still not sure what you’d call it. I’m not sure I can (or should) provide a recipe. But I am writing about it because I thought it might be a good example to those of you who think you don’t know how to cook, or what to cook, or how to decide what to cook – it doesn’t matter. Just cook. Put your favourite ingredients together, and if the worst comes to the worst you’ll have a tasty mess (and if you’re cooking for someone else and they’re not happy with it, they can cook their own damn dinner next time).

Turns out, even though I still have no idea what it was, it was exactly what I wanted, and turned out better than I’d hoped. The zucchini was sweet and tender yet not mushy, with a sunny grilled flavour. The tofu was eggy in taste, appearance, texture, and consistency. The sundried tomato paste and roasted red pepper relish stood out – I had feared they would be diluted and wasted – but somehow brought everything together.

Zucchini omelette bakeThings I would do differently had I had more time/been bothered? Well I’d have presented it better for one – I’d have saved more zucchini, and made sure it was of an even size and shape, to layer the top fully, and maybe decorated with some sundried tomato halves. I’d have patted the zucchini dry after grilling to soak up some of its moisture, as this ended up pretty sloppy. If I’d been cooking for myself, I’d have put some mushrooms in there – the dried wild mushroom mix my mum gave me. I’d have maybe used a shallower dish to allow more of the moisture to dissipate.

It feels dumb to provide a recipe for something that wasn’t really anything, and that isn’t perfect, but in case any of you want to give this a shot:

Ingredients  (2 large servings or 3-4 reasonable-sized servings):

  • good olive oil, for grilling
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 carton silken tofu
  • 1 generous teaspoon black salt, or to taste
  • pinch ground turmeric
  • 2 generous tablespoons condiments of choice (I used 1 spoonful of sundried tomato paste, 1 spoonful roasted red pepper relish)
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C and heat olive oil in grill pan on a high heat
  2. Slice zucchini into thin strips (I cut my zucchini into thirds widthways, then sliced lengthways), grill in batches
  3. Layer the zucchini in an oiled baking dish, and keep it in the oven as you finish grilling the rest – this will help soften it
  4. Leave the zucchini in the oven, while you prepare the tofu mixture: add tofu, black salt, and turmeric to a food processor and blend until smooth
  5. Remove zucchini from the oven, remove from dish and lay on paper towels, pat dish dry if reusing, then layer the bottom of the dish with zucchini slices
  6. Spread a thin layer of sundried tomato paste or other condiment over the zucchini, then cover the lot with a generous amount of tofu mixture
  7. Add another layer of zucchini, condiments, and tofu mixture – and so on until all used up
  8. Return to oven for 15-20 minutes until tofu has set, then serve and enjoy

Zucchini omelette bake

I also chucked some sweet potato cubes in on a baking tray for Ben, and I had mine with some chickpeas. I could tell it wasn’t right up Ben’s alley, although he did concede it was tasty, but for what it’s worth I really enjoyed it! I just wish I had sliced my zucchini a little more evenly, and bothered to drain it – but for an improvised home-at-9pm-want-to-be-eating-before-10pm dinner (with shopping to put away, a shower to have, a kitchen to tidy, etc), I’m pretty pleased with myself.

As for the nutritional content – you’re getting a whole lot of vitamin C and fibre from the zucchini, along with some iron and calcium and vitamin A and a few grams of protein, then some protein and some calcium from the tofu, monounsaturated fat from your olive oil, and a contribution to a whole host of health benefits from turmeric. The lot for, oh, probably no more than 250-300kcal per serving, if you share this between two of you? So there’s definitely room in there to play around with some crunchy pumpkin seeds on top, or maybe even go wild with some cashew cream, and serve it with a crunchy and colourful side salad or maybe some garlic sautéed mushrooms…

As for what to call it? For now I think I’m calling it a “Zucchini (or Courgette) Omelette Bake” – but I’m open to suggestions!

Please share any other last-ditch-effort recipes that have turned out better than you expected in the comments below, or show some love for the unnamed dinners (let me know I’m not the only one…)!