While I believe everyone in the world should see the light and go Vegan, I have a list of certain celebrity chefs that I especially wish would turn their talents to cruelty-free cooking. Heading that list is Rachael Ray. I have to admit I have a special place in my heart for Rachael. It’s because of her that I learned to cook at all. I mean, I knew how to make some dishes from watching my mother cook but I had no clue about cooking techniques, chopping, spices, the “why” of cooking, or how to create recipes.
As I’ve mentioned in “My Vegan Journey,” before I found Veganism I hurt my back and was laid up on the couch in pain. It was a particularly bad time: I’d lost family members, lost Poochie to cancer, couldn’t go to work and I was in tremendous pain. I’d lay on the couch, depressed, watching television. I had just started Weight Watchers (again) and maybe because I couldn’t eat what I wanted, I started watching food shows on TV. And I found Rachael Ray.
I loved her! Her manic personality, her sarcasm, her corny jokes, her humble “I’m not a chef, I’m just a cook” attitude (granted, this was the old Rachael; she’s not as manic or as humble anymore). She dropped food, she talked with her hands, she burned the bread, she made up words and she had fun cooking! In her, I saw my own personality when not bombarded with troubles. Watching her on “30 Minute Meals” perked me up, made me laugh and most importantly, made me want to cook. I bought her cookbooks and when I was able to stand up, went into the kitchen and attempted to make her recipes – but with a Weight Watchers spin. When I went vegetarian and then Vegan, I continued to make Rachael’s recipes but Veganized. That wasn’t hard since out of all the non-veg cooking shows I’ve seen up to now, no one prepares dishes with as many vegetables as Rachael does.
But as I was sorting out my new Vegan identity, I avoided non-veg cooking shows especially Rachael’s. It upset me to see her cooking animal products. It angered me to hear her proclaim to be an “animal lover” when she really just meant dogs and cats. It frustrated me to no end when she would make vegetarian dishes and then put chicken stock in them! I felt as if she had personally disappointed me by not evolving along with me and that I had lost someone I truly admired. Over time though, as I became more secure in my Vegan identity, I was able to put Rachael in her rightful place: she is one of my favorite celebrity chefs who taught me how to cook (yes, I can recite all her tips, catch-phrases and neologisms, much to the annoyance of others) and helped me get through a really painful time in my life. For that, I’ll always be grateful.
And while Rachael may never make that connection between her dog and her food, she still creates recipes that I love to Veganize. This is one of those recipes. The other day Rachael made a pan-roasted chicken dish that she covered with banana peppers. I love the mildly spicy taste of banana peppers and thought “Hey, I could do that with tofu.” Not having the schmaltz from the chicken meant creating a sauce with some other ingredients but that just made the Vegan makeover more fun (and made my arteries happier). The result is my Tofu in Spicy Pepper Sauce – a quick and easy dish of crispy tofu covered in a spicy sauce, topped with banana peppers and parsley. It’s gluten-free, zingy and delish!
Rachael does make a lot of vegetarian and some Vegan dishes on her show. Today for the first time, she talked about tofu AND tempeh! Maybe there’s hope…in the meantime, there’s my version of her recipes. And if I do say so myself, they are YUM-O!
Tofu in Spicy Pepper Sauce
1 block of extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. agave nectar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs. canola oil
3 Tbs. banana or mild pepper rings, chopped
3 Tbs. pepper juice (from the jar)
¼ cup low-sodium vegetable broth
2 Tbs. Vegan butter
Parsley, chopped for garnish
Cut the tofu into 8 slices. I do this by cutting the block of tofu in half width-wise. Then I slice each half into 4 thin rectangular slices.
In a bowl, combine the mustard, agave nectar, red pepper flakes, oil, salt and pepper. Mix well. Cover both sides of each of the tofu slices with the marinade and let sit for at least 30 minutes.
Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Cook the tofu slices until browned and crispy, about 4 minutes on each side. You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your skillet.
Remove the tofu from the skillet and set aside on a warm plate. Lower the heat to medium low and add the banana peppers to the skillet. Add the pepper juice from the jar along with the vegetable broth (add less broth if you want less sauce, more if you want more sauce). Melt the butter into the sauce.
Pour the pepper sauce over the tofu slices. Garnish with parsley and serve.
It’s not the Tangy Cherry Chicken recipe that she has online though, it’s different. I’m going to look at the book when I get home, cause now it’s bugging me!
You’re right about the recipes begging to be veganized. A little veggie broth and some seitan or tofu or tempeh… it’s really not even all that hard!
I did the same thing. I got rid of most of my old cookbooks while building my vegan cookbook collection. I even got rid of a lot of my Rachael’s but then I realized I was getting rid of recipes begging to be veganized!!
So now I end up reading more non-veg recipes than veg ones. Just so I can make them cruelty-free. I’ll look up that recipe you mentioned. Thanks 🙂
That looks delicious!
I used to love Rachael, but I don’t watch her shows at all anymore. I don’t really watch cooking shows at all, it’s too upsetting. When I first went vegan I gave away most of my “regular” cookbooks, including most of hers, but I kept the 365 Recipes one. There’s a recipe in there for Tangy Cherry Chicken (I think that’s what it’s called) that I now make with seitan. You should make it with tofu and let us know how it is! 🙂
Hi Asha, glad I could give you some ideas. Hope you like it 🙂
Thank you for the kind words and the warm wishes!
That’s wonderful that your stepson has made the connection. You must feel great that you influenced him! I’ve been able to do that for some people but I probably won’t get to Rachael 🙂
This dish looks GREAT Rhea, I can’t wait to try it! I just read your inspirational story! Kudos to you for triumphing over such a hard time in your life! I wish you nothing but peace and happiness from here on out!:0)
Well here’s something to cheer you up-maybe Rachel Ray hasn’t made the vegan connection, but my stepson has! He told me I was influential for him making that decision…yea! (Never lose hope, as there is always someone out there you will have a positive impact on!!!:0) I will definitely make this tofu dish for our next family dinner as a celebration! Thanks for creating and posting it!!! Cheers! Giselle
Rhea, Perfect timing for your recipe post. I have a block of tofu sitting in the fridge & I did not know what to do until I saw your recipe. Will definitely try this out. You also triggered some thoughts on various ingredients for the sauce. Thanks much.