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  • Emily Neilson

When In Doubt, Sub It Out!

Without question, now is a wonderful time to be a vegan! Ten years ago when I was in the wee stages of dabbling with the vegan lifestyle, the landscape was fairly limited to one kind of tofu, maaaaaaaybe tempeh, and Daiya cheese (not my favorite). Now, even at a regular grocery store, the vegan offerings have grown explosively, exponentially, astronomically. All the big adverbs that emphasize the drama of big-time, big-scale change.


It's not just almond milk or soy milk on the shelves anymore – there's oat (of creamy, plain, or light variety), there's hemp, there's cashew. There's vegan feta blocks and vegan parmesan rinds – and they're both really good!


Even NYTimes Cooking features a vegan recipe about once a week on their platform (quick personal promotion, should Sam Sifton read this: hire BTV for vegan recipe consultation).


If you're a fellow foodie, there are always times when you run into a recipe that sounds really good – but it's not vegan. What to do? Keep perusing? Cave in? Cry?


No, just figure out a substitute and write your own recipe. Trust me: it ends up better and healthier in the end!


For instance, the original NYT recipe was named "One-Pan Shrimp and Pearl Couscous with Harissa," but for BTV last night, it became:


"One-Pan, One-Pot Crispy Harissa Tofu with Pearl Couscous" – Vegan

Serves 4; Approx. 35-45 minutes.


– 1 block extra firm tofu, pressed; I cut ours into crescent shapes to mimic shrimp

– Kosher salt/pepper

– 2 tbsp of harissa paste (harissa is spicy hot! Moderate to your spice-level)

– 1 tbsp olive oil

– 1 tbsp Earth Balance butter

– 2 1/2 cups of vegetable broth

– 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

– 1 cup pearl couscous

– 4 cloves of garlic, minced

– 1 tsp coriander

– 1 tsp cumin

– Approx. 1/2 cup of white wine

– 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved cross-wise (we only had a half-pint, so that's what we used!)

– 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast

– half of a lemon, squeezed

– chopped parsley for garnish


  1. In a medium bowl, gently fold together 1 tbsp of the harissa paste with your crescent tofu pieces. It's okay if they are irregular; they may even crumble. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Heat up a large saute pan with neutral oil (canola); and fry tofu. Try not to touch tofu for at least 5-7 minutes. You want it to be crispy, and that takes time. If you fiddle with it too early, the tofu will stick to the pan (and not develop a crispy, crusty exterior!). When one side is appropriately crispy, flip to other side. When done, remove from heat until couscous is ready. You can do this before the couscous, or multi-task, but if you multi-task and cook it simultaneously: you better have your focus dialed in!

  2. In a dutch oven, heat olive oil and vegan butter over medium heat. Throw in your onion and about 1/2 tsp of salt (about a minute after your onion goes in. It's pores are opening up; that's when you throw in the salt). Stir it around on occasion – you want it to be translucent (and not burnt). 3-4 minutes.

  3. Add couscous, garlic, and spices into the dutch oven. Keep it moving around. You want the couscous to toast – it will eventually be nutty and light brown (good!). When you've achieved the toast, add in wine and stir until it evaporates. Scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Next: add in 1 tbsp of harissa (if you want it spicier, by all means). Add broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer, cook for 10 minutes.

  4. Add in tomatoes, nutritional yeast. Turn heat to low and cook for a few minutes, until the tomatoes start to soften a bit. Squeeze in the lemon. Taste for salt/pepper. Gently fold in your tofu. Serve in bowls with crusty bread and a garnish of parsley.

  5. Celebrate your vegan brilliance. And, you might even have enough left to enjoy the next day for leftovers!





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