Tofu Sweet Potato Pancakes

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Tofu at breakfast? What was that the question again? Wow, yes, that sounds interesting, maybe next time, or are you kidding me. Yes, that used to be me too. I get it, many of us still view tofu as that dish you try out of politeness or its that once in a blue moon occasion. No dispute, there are a lot of unappealing tofu dishes out there. I see tofu more as  a creative journey with health benefits, an adult chemistry experiment if you will, rather than a substance to swallow.

I got this recipe from my mother. Who got it from her mother. Who won it in a heated game of Crazy Eights from a Chinese widow who immigrated to the USA shortly before 1945. Actually no, though it would be a cool story. I did get the recipe from my mother. Originally it was a sort of tofu hash. This was the late 90s and my mother, who is always ahead of the curve, was experimenting with firm tofu. The turmeric colored the tofu yellow. To the un-expecting, my father, it appeared you were eating a chunky scrambled eggs. I believe he ate it once, maybe?

Okay, in case you are still skeptical, we will tart it up with sunny side up eggs and greens. And if you are still not sold, feel free to add as much of your favorite breakfast meat, e.g., turkey sausages. After all, you are eating tofu.

You need one large or two medium sized sweet potatoes, a packet of cooking tofu (firm), an egg (or three), and curry and turmeric for a bit of zip.

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Drain the tofu and place it in a medium sized mixing bowl. Break up the tofu with a fork and then add the curry and the turmeric. I use two teaspoons of each. If you are eating with the tofu adversed, dial it up or back accordingly. Add the egg and mix.

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Peel and shred the sweet potatoes. If you do not own a food processor, cut the sweet potatoes into thin long strips. Add the sweet potatoes to the tofu mixture and mix.

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Turn on your skillet. Let it heat up for at least one minute before you add one Tablespoon of cooking oil. I usually wait for three minutes as I like my skillet hot, yet not smoking. Take a small handful or approximately 1/2 of a cup’s worth of the mixture and gently place it in the frying pan. Flatten it with a spatula so the pancake is not too thick and makes as much contact with the pan as possible. I fit three in my skillet. I set the skillet on high heat for at least three minutes and then reduce the heat to medium for two to three minutes more. Adjust the heat according to attain desired doneness: golden brown, extra crispy, or blackened.

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After about six minutes you will need to flip them. I recommend a firm spatula and a swift motion. There is a chance the pancakes will break apart.  Try adding a bit more egg next time as a binding agent. If all cooking oil has been absorbed, I usually add a 1/2 teaspoon on the flip. Fry the pancakes on medium heat for another five or six minutes.

Remove pancakes from the skillet and repeat the process. The ingredients should yield six pancakes. I place the pancakes into a bowl and cover to keep the heat in. Of course you can put the bowl in the own on warm heat if you have a lot of pancakes to fry.

While I am frying the pancakes, I usually stir fry a green vegetable too, e.g., bok choy, bell peppers. Today, I went with blanched asparagus. Snap off the ends and place them in boiling water for two to three minutes. To review numerous asparagus prep options, paddle on over to Jamie Oliver’s and check  how to prepare asparagus.

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What about the eggs?  Okay, the asparagus is cooling and the pancakes are nearly done. I usually go with sunny side up and crispy. This allows me to let the yokes drain into the pancakes. Paddle over to Smitten Kitchen and check out Deb Perelman’s take on the crispy egg. If you have the time, forty minutes, try The Best Scrambled Eggs by Mark Bittman. While I rarely get forty minutes for anything, they look great, plus he learned from James Beard. How cool is that?

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Assembly and presentation: I usually overlap two pancakes slightly, add the asparagus/greens, place the eggs on top of everything and tuck the turkey sausages in under the eggs.

Tofu sweet potato pancakes
Makes about six pancakes 

2 medium size sweet potatoes (12 ounces)
1 packet of cooking tofu (12 ounces)
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 egg
cooking oil for frying

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Tofu, invention, moving on, and rebounding

I frequented this small place in Beijing, which served inventive dishes. Their egg white wrapped tofu and walnut prawns both supplied visual texture and firm mouth feel. They served other dishes too; yet, one day the two dish were gone. They explained it “we don’t make those anymore.” I sampled the menu, yet found nothing particularly as inventive. So, I stopped going.

Restaurants can do okay on average food for a while, if they compensate with a terrific staff. Toss in a great wine list and, yes people will come back. They may be between chefs? Maybe the chef’s is amidst a personal crisis. Or maybe its owner is off starting her/his new restaurant? The point, people notice when something is off or does not work right. They will go with the flow, eat there, or continue to pay/work, as long as something else offsets it, convenience, staff, or price.

When something starts to slip, inventive dishes, an attention to detail, or great attitudes, people move on both physically and mentally. Physical movement rebounds are less challenging. Staff can coached to step up. New customers can be wooed with inventive recipes. Positive attitudes when facing challenges go a long way and build confidence. When people mentally move on, their mentality changes. Gone is the inventive spirit. Little gets celebrated. Challenges go unsolved or worse unaddressed. You hear, “we do it this way” all to often. When this mentality becomes part of your culture, rebounding is more challenging. So, why not just channel your energy to create a vibrant and dynamic culture that manages transitions well in order to sustain itself in the first place?

Image by dgray_xplane @ creative commons

Change – Slow Boats – Willingness

Loose-leaf tea, Mandarin collars, century old eggs, congee, and tofu help me balance normality in my life. Yet, twenty years ago, I didn’t like them. I actively avoided them. And I certainly didn’t waste any time reflecting or writing about them. Life works to compliment our existence, but only when we are ready.


Images by A Girl With Tealynac, & Kake Pugh @ Creative Commons

Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, I saw not many of the articles above. Yes, there were Chinese restaurants, but tofu on the menu, I don’t recall. Leaves slipped from the teapot occasionally, but I would fish them out with my spoon. And Mandarin collars in the land of button downs, blue blazers, and prep ties, pleeease!

Proximity alone is not enough. I moved to Beijing two decades ago. Yet, with apologies to Dr. Seuss, I refused to eat century old eggs. If tea was served, I produced my own bag. When tofu was offered, I politely declined. I was confident in my new surroundings, just not crazy. Or so I thought.

Appreciation is key. Congee, alone is pretty boring. Cook it slow enough, add the right amount of water, set an egg in the right way, add some picked ginger, peanuts, scallions, add a dash of soy or chilli sauce, and voila, you’re in business. Yet, pleasures, likes, and vices all come from somewhere. It starts with a story here, a recommendation there, or an introduction from a friend of a friend. Rarely do we find them just waiting around for us. Appreciation plus willingness equals change, especially when the process is repeated over time.

Passion is crucial. It plays a starring role and is referenced continually. Someone shows us a way. We  talk, we learn, and we connect. To you, it’s a game of straining tea with your teeth and politely spitting. To others it’s the process. How leaves open, float and sink. What the flavor is like between pots. Or possibly it is not the tea at all, but rather the social dynamic of the undertaking. Passion with a dose of imagination brings creativity.

Risk, failure, and resilience feature prominently too. Not all century old eggs taste the same. You can’t buy a Mandarin Collar jacket off the rack. Well, not at Brooks Brothers. If you want something to work, it’s going to take energy. Visit a tailor, order a mystery dish, live on the edge and try some loose-leaf tea. Will you get it right the first time, probably not? For me, it’s always that third fitting at the tailor when you hit it big.  Yes, we possess a finite amount of energy, but what else are you going to do, with it?

I get it. Teas is for drinking, not grazing. Rice is great when fried, not as soup. And tofu’s lack of texture creeps people out. Remember it is not about you. It is about seeing greatness in small things. These small things restore normality in an ever-changing world, even if only for a short time. Change happens with or without you. So, why not enjoy the ride?