Being in a creative field I’m often asked ”where do you get your inspiration from?” It’s a simple question, but one that’s not always so easy to answer. I have my usual response that’s pretty straight forward, but really I believe that most of the time inspiration is built up from moments and little fragments of life, overlapping and layering until, wham! An idea strikes. It may seem like it just came to you but, really it was there all along waiting for all the dots to connect and the outcome to present itself. The few occasions that I do seem to be searching for that one perfect idea, always seem to prove a lost cause, at least for me anyway. Give it time, it will come, is how I operate.
When it comes to creating meals in the kitchen, my inspiration works in somewhat the same way, but with a unique twist. Often I’ll find a single carrot or that last bit of quinoa at the back of the cupboard, anything that needs to be used up, and a meal idea starts to form. Maybe I’ll pull out a cookbook or two, maybe I remember something my mom or grandma used to cook, or something I once ate in a restaurant. Sometimes I just wing it and see what I end up with.
So this past week when I flipped to a recipe for roasted red pepper and walnut pesto in Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook, I already had a different idea starting to form based on what I had in the fridge. A half empty jar of roasted red peppers from a few nights before, tofu, almonds, and a big bunch of cilantro I had just purchased. I’m so use to using what I have on hand, that I didn’t want to head back out into the rain for another grocery run, so those ingredients would have to do.
Soon I had almonds in the food processor grinding down into a course meal to coat the tofu in. Then the last bit of roasted peppers went into the processor along with the cilantro, garlic, a bit of olive oil, and a pinch of salt. The result was not pesto, but a really lovely salsa-esque sauce. I cooked up some black rice, made some of my favorite garlicky mixed greens and served the tofu with the red pepper sauce drizzled over the top. Even though it was way off from the original recipe, it was still a really amazing outcome. One I don’t think would have happened without that little seed of inspiration, that all started with The Food Matters Project. It’s really fascinating seeing what others get from looking at the same basic recipe idea and how they interpret it. So… what inspires you?
Almond Crusted Tofu with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce / serves 2
Recipe inspired by The Food Matters Cookbook
I used a jar of roasted red peppers in water, but you can also use fresh red bell peppers and roast them yourself. I served the tofu over black rice with a side of my favorite garlicky greens.
for the sauce
6 oz. jar roasted red peppers in water, drained
2 garlic cloves
big handful fresh cilantro, about a 1/4 cup packed
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of sea salt
for the tofu
6-8 oz. extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
1/2 cup raw almonds
couple pinches sea salt
couple pinches ground black pepper
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
For the sauce, place all the ingredients in a small food processor and blend until smooth, set aside.
Place the almonds in a food processor and blend until they become a coarse almond meal. Dump out into a shallow bowl and stir in the salt and black pepper.
Cut the the tofu in half lengthwise and widthwise, then diagonally (see images). Place a tofu triangle in the almond mixture and coat on all sides, repeat with each slice. Heat a skillet (I used cast iron) over medium-high heat. Pour in enough oil just to coat the bottom of the pan. Once the oil is hot, carefully place the tofu slices into the pan. Cook for 2 minutes or until golden brown without moving, then flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Plate the tofu slices and pour the roasted red pepper sauce over the top, serve immediately.