Comfort Food is Love – Barbecue Tofu with Chipotle Butternut Mac

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Last week, work took me to Omaha, Nebraska for a few days.  I can’t say too much about Omaha as most of my time was spent on a plane or in a meeting, but I did get to enjoy a fantastic dinner at Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s vegan restaurant, Modern Love. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take a lot of photographs of my food as I was having dinner with a work colleague.

One of the dishes I had was the Mac and Shews – a to-die-for combination of vegan mac and cheese, pecan crusted tofu, barbecue cauliflower, and kale.  The mac was slightly sweet and reminded me of butternut squash.  The tofu was cooked perfectly, and the combination of barbecue, pecans, and mac and cheese was the definition of comfort food.

So this Valentines’ Day, I decided to share some Modern Love with Steve.  With Isa’s inspiration, I made a barbecue roasted tofu with a chipotle butternut squash mac and cheese.  The tofu was chewy and smoky, and it paired perfectly with a creamy, slightly sweet butternut mac and cheese.  I should mention that the butternut squash flavor is not overwhelming.  This is truly a vegan mac and cheese and not a typical of creamy butternut squash pasta.

On the side we had miso braised kale with polenta croutons that was pure umami (recipe to come!).  While this recipe does include a lot of steps, it isn’t difficult, and a lot of the work can be done in advance.  I hope you think of this dish the next time you have a craving for vegan comfort in a bowl.

Roasted Barbecue Tofu with Chipotle Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
Makes 3-4 servings

For the Barbecue Tofu:
1 14ounce package of extra firm tofu
3 cups vegan BBQ sauce, divided
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 dashes of liquid smoke
a dash of vegan Worcestershire sauce

For the Chipotle Butternut Squash Mac:
3/4 lb large shell pasta
1 small butternut squash, cut in half length wise with seeds removed
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup of raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 2 hours
3-4 cloves of garlic, pressed
3 tbs nutritional yeast
1 tbs olive oil
2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
pinch of cumin
a dash of liquid smoke

To prepare the tofu, cut the block into 6 small triangles.  Wrap tofu in paper towels and a dish towel and drain by placing several heavy objects on the tofu for at least an hour.  While the tofu is draining, mix 2 cups of barbecue sauce and the remaining tofu ingredients in a shallow bowl as a marinade.  Once drained, dry fry the tofu on both sides.  Place the tofu in the marinade dish and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

While the tofu is marinating, roast butternut squash cut side down in a glass pan in a 425 degree for approximately 45 minutes.  You want the squash to be incredibly tender and slightly browned on the bottom.  Once fully roasted, remove from oven and set aside to cool until the squash can be handled.

Reduce oven temperature to 400, place marinated tofu in a glass baking dish and pour remaining marinade on top.  Roast in the oven for approximately 45 minutes, turning the tofu halfway and adding more barbecue sauce if the tofu becomes too dry.

As the tofu is roasting, finish the mac and cheese.  Cook shell pasta per the box’s instructions.  As the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Saute onions in oil for approximately five minutes until translucent, then add pressed garlic and cook for one minute.  Turn off heat, and add onions, garlic, and oil into a food processor or blender.

Scrape butternut squash flesh from the skin. Add butternut squash, soaked cashews, nutritional yeast, salt, chipotle powder, and cumin to the food processor with the cooked onions and garlic.  Process into a smooth paste, scraping down the bowl as needed.  While the food processor is running, add water, a 1/2 cup at a time, to the mixture until the mixture is a silky smooth consistency.  You want a thick, creamy cheese sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.  Stir in the liquid smoke and taste again.  

Combine the sauce with the cooked pasta. Remove tofu from the oven once it is roasted and has browned bits of barbecue sauce.  Toss with remaining cup of barbecue sauce if desired.  Serve tofu and mac together as the flavors complement each other perfectly.

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