You Scream, I Scream, we all Scream…Tofurkey!

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

This is not a vegetarian blog, but I try to write about the things I encounter in daily life, and well, it’s Thanksgiving.  For most of us, that means gathering around a roasted turkey (which yes, does smell utterly delicious), piling orange potatoes on our plates, and generally appreciating the circumstances in which we exist.  Though I may bristle a bit at its origin, I am a fan of Thanksgiving.  It’s a time to lay cynicism down and appreciate the people I love.  I can dig that.

But there is no turkey in my holiday repast.  I’m a vegetarian.  Don’t think it’s not hard – I smell rotisserie, and yes, yes, I miss things like slow cooked turkey and chicken caesar salads and even the occasional taco.  I made this choice though, and I’m stickin’ with it.  I’m happy to.

So this year’s Thanksgiving posed a problem; I can’t eat turkey.  I despise cranberry sauce, loathe yams, and am genuinely frightened at what people try to pass off as green bean casserole these days.  So far, all that was left was the mysterious spinach my grandmother brought, and the dessert plate friends placed waaay too close to my chair.  The former could make me gag and the latter would only result in summer swimsuit nightmares.

In search of protein, I bought a Tofurkey roast, which came in a box – a concept that scared me a little.  Hmmm, unknown soy meat lookalike carefully packed much like a bar of soap?  Sure.  Right.

My mother the Thanksgiving hostess would have naught to do with it.  She sneered at my fake meat box like Britney Spears would to a recording studio denuded of Autotune.  Mom was polite, but I could tell she regarded my Tofurkey as a kind of holiday abomination, an apostate to the Giving of Thanks creed.  Surely no small child would trace his or her hand with crayon on paper and then name it a tofurkey.  That’s not natural.

Photo credit: Brandon Vogel, Gwen Feldman, Fake Turkey

Photo credit: Brandon Vogel, Gwen Feldman, Fake Turkey

Still, what’s a veggie to do?

Don’t get me wrong; I was nervous.  I packed a shopping bag full of extra firm tofu and nutritional yeast (please stop gagging, it’s distracting) for a quick ‘fu fry in the case that things got disgusting.  I didn’t want to be hungry at Thanksgiving dinner.

I arrived at my parents’ abode early to cook my Tofurkey.  The fake meat frightened others, I think.  Mom told me its preparation was in my hands.

It took a few attempts to secure the strange looking oblong mass from its plastic encasing.  The Tofurkey loaf was part football, part luncheon mystery meat, and part spaceship.  Or it seemed that way.

Loosely following instructions, I prepared a marinade consisting of olive oil, soy sauce, pepper, dried garlic and salt.  Using half, I basted the loaf in its casserole dish and shoved the sucker in the oven at 350 degrees.  An hour and a half later, I painted the rest of the mixture over the cooking fake turkey and stuffed it back in the oven.

A few minutes later, the last of our Thanksgiving party arrived, and I was thrilled to find there was another vegetarian among them.  Not only was he happy to try my Tofurkey, he was willing to carve it.  That means a lot when you’re clumsy and not allowed near knives, like me.  You can check out the carving of my fake bird meat loaf above.

So was it a dead ringer for our feathered turktastic friends?  Absolutely not.  The texture was a little like you’d expect from a chicken sandwich at McDonalds, or from a cafeteria meat.  The processed nature of the non-beast was evident.  But the flavor was not disappointing.  I think the loaf would have been okay on its own (though I love tofu and paneer – bland things that could perhaps be indicative of my tastes), but the marinade I’d whipped up went a long way in flavoring the mass.  I ate most of my serving and enjoyed it.  The other vegetarian at the table was left rubbing his tummy in appreciation.

The texture gave the faux-nature of the Tofurkey away, but it wasn’t unpleasant.  I was able to easily cut it with a knife, and the “meat” had a fake “skin” to it, which tasted like the real thing, with the exception of the little bumps (of which I am not a fan, anyway).  The marinade miraculously sunk in most of the way, flavoring the stuff pretty well.

The Tofurkey loaf came hollowed out, a portion filled with vegan “stuffing.”  I’ve not touched stuffing since 1987, when it inspired me to vomit profusely in front of my mother’s Mah Jong group, and I wasn’t about to try swallowing the animal friendly version this time around.  It’s a texture thing.  The other veggie at the table scarfed it down though, and proffered two thumbs up.  He also ate the vegan mushroom gravy that accompanied the Tofurkey, and declared it satisfying.  To me, sauces are used to disguise evil.  I don’t go for them.  So I practiced restraint when the “fravy” was passed my way.  I was told that it was delicious, though.  Sorry, guys.

I’ll be honest – Tofurkey is not a turkey clone.  But then again, I don’t think that any of us who eschew meat are expecting that.  Anything too close would be…too weird?  But when you regard it as a protein replacement/supplement, especially in the setting of a large, communal dinner, it more than fits the empty turkey place.  Follow the directions and I think you’ll be satisfied.  I was.

Non-veggies might even enjoy Tofurkey on its own merits – you never know.  I would have liked it six months ago when I used to eat chicken sandwiches.  Still, even if you hate the stuff, if you’re about to entertain vegetarian guests, Tofurkey may just be a great way to fill their bellies.

Is it perfect?  Nope.  I’m certainly going to try products by the brand’s competitor, Quorn.  But so far, Tofurkey seems to get the holiday job done.


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