“Are you sure this isn’t meat?” I said as I picked up a chunk of pasta with Bolognese sauce dripping down the side.
My mom exclaimed, she had disguised soy crumble as meat, by searing it with a variety of smoky seasonings, only something a talented vegetarian could pull off.
I gingerly put the fork into my mouth, and slowly bit down, anticipating the worst, but I was met with a pleasant surprise. I couldn’t tell if what I was eating was meat or soy, the consistency was too similar to differentiate.
My mom is a vegetarian idol in my eyes. Although she is a traditional Italian and most Italian cuisine is made using meat, she has always incorporated vegetarianism into her cooking ever since she watched an episode in college of horror docu-series “Faces of Death”, which focused on slaughterhouses, and decided to swear off meat.
While my mom went through both of her pregnancies as a vegetarian, she never imposed her lifestyle on my brother or me as kids, allowing us to make our own decisions about our diet.
When I expressed my interest in wanting to become a vegetarian in eighth grade, after watching the documentary “Cowspiracy” about factory farming and meat over consumption, she was overjoyed. My mom made sure I was set with the necessary supplements needed for my journey. Overnight, my vanity became a sea of multicolored vitamin bottles, all boasting different labels. Many vegetarians take vitamins such as B-12, or iron — common vitamins in meat — because a deficiency in either can cause anemia.
Even though my vegetarian “tool belt” was filled with vitamin supplements and passion against factory farming, I was still only 13 when I started eating vegetarian. I ate school lunches, but the vegetarian ones like vegetable soup, or a side salad, weren’t filling or appetizing. As a result, I wanted to learn how to cook my own vegetarian meals so I could eat a satisfying meal at school.
I watched my mom craft vegetarian meals for eight years, now it was time to try it for myself.
The extra-firm tofu made an unpleasant sound as it flopped onto the cutting board. It sat there like a tiny beige sponge and smelled like nothing— totally unappetizing.
I read the cooking instructions from the back of the tofu package, analyzing the little graphic that depicted a hand pressing firmly down onto the tofu, draining excess water out. I gave each side a firm press with a paper towel. Water poured out, leaving my hands soaked. I chopped the brick in half, wrinkled my nose, and anticipated how gross this meal would be, wishing that my mom was preparing it instead.
I realized how terrible my meal looked. The tofu was soggy and leaked all over the other ingredients, leaving me with a tofu and vegetable soup — closely resembling something I would see my friend feed her pet rabbit — instead of the fried tofu and vegetables I was preparing.
While sitting at the table I looked at my meal in disappointment, and thought, this is why people make fun of vegetarians.
My mom noticed the poorly made meal in front of me.
“I’m about to make myself dinner, would you like me to make you a plate?” she asked.
She started fixing up one of my favorite vegetarian meals, a fresh salad topped with the remainder of my sad, mushy block of tofu, which she magically perfected by frying it golden brown.
The more time I spent watching my mom prepare countless meals like vegetarian lasagna, baked ziti, and caprese salads, I became more confident in the kitchen. By the time I reached high school, I grew more creative in my cooking.
During the holidays, in my high school’s animal rights club, we participated in a competitive potluck. In junior year, I entered my buffalo-style tofu “wings.” After the vote, my tofu wings were declared the winner.
Without my mom’s consistent patience, guidance, and support, I never would have been able to make a piece of tofu into something that closely resembled a boneless buffalo wing. Now at 20, my tofu is expertly crafted, and tofu “wings” are my specialty, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, bursting with flavor.
Now, when people ask about my signature tofu wings, I can tell them I made it myself, and pass on the recipe in hopes it will inspire their own vegetarian journey.
Learning how to creatively transform vegetarian dishes has helped me not only turn tofu into my favorite food but confidently embrace my lifestyle.
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