On a Not-Quite Insalata Caprese

20170512_200259Buffalo mozzarella is an experience all its own.  It is unlike other cheeses.  It has a raw, creamy texture unmatched by the hard, crumbly, and soft cheeses.  All of this might explain why its so hard to find a good vegan alternative for the real thing.

While many pizza ready mozz shreds and blocks exist, none quite earns a spot worthy enough for the classic Italian tomato salad insalata caprese, which consists of sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella slices, and basil leaves.  Like a margherita pizza, it is adorned with the colors of the Italian flag – red, white, and green.

I’ve tried a number of vegan mozzarellas on a plant-based caprese.  20170512_200617The best I’ve found is Teese.  It’s been a while since I’ve found Teese, so I don’t recall exactly how well it melded with the tomato.  Because of its local scarcity, a while back I decided to try to make caprese without a faux cheese.

Tofu.  It’s one of the most enduring protein rich, meat alternatives around.  It’s also one of the most derided (by the carnivore crowd).  But for a fresh mozzarella substitute, it has two qualities that make it a great option.

The first quality is the often stated fact that tofu will take on the flavor of whatever it is seasoned with. The second quality is that it can be found in pretty much any firmness level.  Mozzarella has similar (though not exact) qualities.

20170512_200624For my tofu caprese, I like to go with a block from The Bridge, which hails from Middletown, Connecticut, USA.  Their tofu is perfect for stir fries, scrambles, jerky, salads, and of course, my caprese.  It’s firm, but crumbles, and slices nicely.  For a more easily (outside of New England) found option, Trader Joe’s has a good sprouted tofu.

The actual salad is pretty straightforward to put together.  Wash, and slice your tomatoes.  Nothing beats a big, red, heirloom tomato, but a beefsteak will work just as well. I prefer my tomatoes to be just barely ripe.  You want to be able to cut into the slices with a knife.20170512_200657

For the tofu, slice it to top a slice of tomato.  I like to maintain a thickness matching the tomato.  This is a salad with equality of ingredients.  Don’t drain the tofu too much.  If you get a firm, or extra firm tofu, there won’t be much liquid anyway.  Keeping the tofu a little moist helps keep the cheese texture.

20170512_200837A traditional caprese salad would have basil leaves, but most people don’t have fresh basil on hand.  I twist it a little more by adding chickpeas, marinated mushrooms,
and an olive medley.  You can’t go wrong with olives, and mushrooms.

Drizzle with olive oil, and generously with balsamic vinegar.  Make sure to cover enough of the tofu so it absorbs the flavors.  Salt a bit, and pepper liberally.  Let it sit to mix the flavors.  I like to make it before I make a main dish.

 

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