One of our most favorite things about summer, in this neighborhood we love so much, is our neighborhood pool. We love to swim, of course, and we love centering our lives around swim team, but more than anything we love how the pool becomes a gathering place for all of us. Fridays in our neighborhood mean dinner at the pool. Come about 5:00 the path through the woods becomes dotted with neighbors dragging coolers or toting bags of food. Sometimes we order pizza. We pool together our food, too, so a veritable moveable feast ends up laid out across the beach chairs. This past Friday, for instance, on one beach lounge chair alone, there were fresh spring rolls, and a fava bean salad, a huge tub of salted edamame pods, a log of goat cheese, a platter of green beans and potatoes, and a jar of pickled okra, one box of wheat crackers, a plate of sliced cheese, and several pints of blueberries. The kids run around, draped with towels, or dripping water, and dart back and forth, shoving samples of food into their mouths. The grownups sit back, drinking wine or beer out of plastic cups. We talk about parenting, marriage, work, life in general; we laugh, we let go of the week, or of the worries in our lives. We celebrate the joys and triumphs, too. And for me, who not only loves to cook but loves to plan and pack a portable feast, Friday night dinners at the pool are truly an experience I live for during the summer months.
We are lucky, too, because we have some neighbors/friends who are vegetarian as well. They are like us--raising their two children as vegetarians. We swap recipe ideas, and commiserate when it's time for the annual pig pickin' at the pool. Last week, as we were spreading out our food for dinner, my friend came up to me with a small tub of something that looked like chicken salad, and a fork.
"You have to try this," she told me, holding out the fork. As it turned out, it was BBQ-flavored mock chicken salad from Whole Foods, made with a soy protein substitute. And it was…amazing. I realized right then and there that mock chicken salad had been missing from my life all these years. I imagined the possibilities: mock chicken salad wraps, or mock chicken salad on wheat bread, with a leaf or two of crispy romaine on top. Or what about mock chicken salad for lunch on the side, with sliced apples and walnuts?
The next day I took the kids, of course, to Whole Foods, in search of this salad, that had been missing from my life all this time. But my visions of summer-long mock chicken salad-centered poolside feasts and picnics took a nose-dive when I saw that Whole Foods was selling it for a whopping $10.99 a pound. I did buy a small tub ($7.99 for a little over 1/2 a pound) of the BBQ kind, but I was determined to try and make some on my own. For a lot less.
I did a little online research and discovered that one of the keys to making a vegetarian version is to freeze a block of tofu until it is nearly frozen, but still soft enough on the inside to cut. Freezing the tofu gives it the consistency needed to work as a "chicken" substitute.
I froze mine for about an hour, while the kids and I hung out at home. After an hour the outside was frozen and the inside, when I cut into the block, was stringy and stiff. Ideally, I think, I would have let the tofu freeze for a tad longer, and the cubes would have kept their shape more when I started mixing in the other ingredients.
Mock Chicken Salad
1 lb block tofu
1-2 cups diced celery
1-2 cups shredded broccoli slaw
1/2 cup sliced kalamata olives
1/2 cup-1 cup diced sweet and/or salty pickles
1 tablespoon pickle juice from the jar
1/2 cup-1 cup mayonnaise
salt to taste
(I know I don't have any measurements for the seasonings--more on that in a minute.)
Freeze the tofu for about an hour, or until the outside is frozen, but you can still cut it into cubes. You could also freeze completely and then thaw until it's the right consistency.
** NOTE: In order to press all the water out of the tofu, once it thaws wrap the block in paper towels and weight it with a heavy object. Let it sit for an hour, or as long as you can.
Dice the tofu into small cubes. Mix in celery, slaw, olives, pickles, and pickle juice. Stir gently until it's all combined. Add the mayonnaise and mix until everything is combined. Here you might want to tweak the proportions of mayonnaise. If you like your mock salad very creamy, then add more.
Next, add the seasonings, curry powder, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper, and hot sauce. I don't have exact measurements for you (where would the fun be in that?). I mainly stood over the bowl as I mixed and sampled until the flavor was right. I started with a tablespoon of the seasoning, for instance, and went from there. Be careful not to add too much poultry seasoning at once, or the salad will be too salty. However, the more seasoning you do add, the more authentic the flavor. Finally, if you want your mock chicken salad to be on the spicy side of things, you might want to add some generous dashes of any type of your favorite hot sauce--I recommend this, since the hot sauce gave the salad a nice vinegary tang.
And the best part? The salad was even better the next day. By the pool, of course.
If you're having trouble viewing the pics to this post, you can find them here, at Flickr.