"Make me that tofu schnitzel again."
It is always said by Mom, whenever anyone mentions tofu. It doesn't matter what is being said about tofu; the word itself conjures a very specific image for Mom.
"I really liked that tofu schnitzel."
I first made tofu schnitzel back in the heady days of my vegetarianism, back when I was a devoted reader of Vegetarian Times. It must have been a holiday when I first made it, because when Mom talks about tofu schnitzel she talks about how she ate all of the leftovers long after "you went back to Chicago." So I must have been home for a holiday and searching for a vegetarian addition to the celebratory meal. I made it, we ate it, Mom savored the leftovers. Then, tofu schnitzel promptly became a thing of the past. A legend that was oft spoke-of, but never again executed. I must have thrown away the issue that contained the recipe. In 1997 I did live in an apartment so small it didn't have any drawers in the "kitchen," so it's entirely possible that I considered that Vegetarian Times to be unnecessary and too bulky to store. If I had realized Mom was so smitten with the tofu schnitzel, I would have found some space.
But now it's 2009. Having been unable to fulfill Mom's tofu schnitzel dreams in the intervening years, I was thrilled one afternoon to discover Google Books. Because there it was, in all its glory: the tofu schnitzel recipe, right there in the pages of the October 1997 issue of Vegetarian Times. I called Mom and told her what I had found. I was proud and she was excited. That's a lot of emotion tied to one really easy dish.
Today was the first really nice day of late winter/early spring. The first day Mom, Sister, Nephews and I didn't need coats as we walked the dogs and rode bikes -- some with training wheels, some without -- on the path behind my house. I told Mom that after our walk was over I would be serving tofu schnitzel for lunch. Her long schnitzel-less nightmare was over.
It's a very simple recipe. Mom loves it because it contains caraway seeds. Quite a few caraway seeds. "I am a Polish girl," she reminds me. "I like caraway seeds." Today I served it with a quick pan gravy, though Mom was very quick to tell me that she is happy to eat it plain, as is. Sister thinks it would be good stop a plate of buttery noodles, whereas I'd like to enjoy it next to a generous serving of rich mashed potatoes.
In retrospect, I certainly should have known how to make this without the recipe. And I ended up changing the recipe so much that it only vaguely resembles the one published in Vegetarian Times. So there was little reason for us to go without for 12 years. But I didn't want to mess it up, because I didn't want to dash Mom's fond tofu schnitzel memories.
She can sleep well tonight.
Very loosely adapted from Vegetarian Times
2 14-oz. packages extra-firm tofu
1 c. flour
2 t. freshly-ground caraway seeds
1 t. kosher salt
2 1/2 c. panko
2 t. whole caraway seeds
1/4 c. vegetable oil (such as safflower), plus more if frying in batches
Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Drain the tofu and cut into 1/2-in thick slices. Place the tofu slices on the paper towels, then cover with several more layers of paper towels followed by a second baking sheet. Put something heavy, like a Dutch oven or a few cans of tomatoes, on top of the second baking sheet to press the excess moisture out of the tofu. Allow to sit for about 20 minutes, replacing the top layers of paper towels with dry ones about half-way through.
In a shallow dish, combine the flour, ground caraway seeds and kosher salt. Mix to combine. Place the eggs in a small bowl and beat with a fork or whisk. Combine the panko and whole caraway seeds and spread over a baking sheet lined with a piece of wax paper.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Dip a piece of tofu in the egg, then in the flour, turning to coat. Dip into the egg a second time, then into the panko. Press the panko into both sides of the tofu and set aside. Repeat with the remaining pieces of tofu.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, fry the tofu for about 3 minutes per side, or until it's golden brown and lovely. Remove to a wire rack set over a baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Keep the tofu warm in the oven as you fry the rest of the tofu.
Makes 16 pieces of tofu, which can serve anywhere from 4 to 8 people depending if you serve it on its own or with noodles or mashed potatoes. If you have any leftovers, you can send them to my mom.