The 3 Steps On How To Make Plant Based Meals Satisfying That I Wish I Knew in 1999 + Smoky Tofu Tacos

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I was tired. Really damned tired.

I had been driving for 20 hours straight and the only stops that I made were to fill my gas tank and to empty my bladder. I didn’t care about enjoying the scenery or stopping for souvenirs. Eating wasn’t even a priority. My only focus was getting there without falling asleep at the wheel.

So I engaged in the usual tactics. I poured water on myself, I slapped my own cheeks and I sang as loud as I could (which I’m sure was horrifying, but I couldn’t tell because I’m tone deaf).

I had to sing to myself because my old 1983 grey Ford Tempo didn’t have any speakers. It’s not even that the speakers didn’t work, it’s that my car literally didn’t have any. A road trip with no music is like death to a 19 year old.

But That’s how in love I was.

So up out of New Mexico I went. Across the tip of Texas, through Oklahoma, up through Missouri, into Illinois, and past Chicago to a little town where my heart was currently residing.

It was the kind of love that hits you hard and fast and before you know it, this person is your entire world. The kind of love that when you’re next to this person the thought, “I can die now and it would be okay” is normal. The kind of love that makes you sick and dizzy and happy and crazy and angry all in the same disgustingly beautiful moment.

It was that first love.

And I drove a straight 26 hours to see her after not seeing her for 3 months.

I stood on her porch and I rang the doorbell. It was 10pm and I was nervous, exhausted, hungry, nauseous, and excited, not knowing where one feeling ended and the others began. I was a walking ball of intense energy that could’ve powered a small country for at least 30 days.

As she opened the door, my stomach felt like it was outside of my body and the moment our eyes locked, the earth became wobbly under my black Converse shoes.

“I feel the earth move under my feet…”
I get it Carole King. I get it.

In that moment my world stopped. A bomb could’ve gone off and I wouldn’t have noticed. I entered her house and walked directly into my bliss.

Little did I know, my world was about to come tumbling down, way down.

Over the next week, a series of unfortunate events would take place:

  • I would find out that one of my girlfriend’s “friends” that she had introduced me to was actually her new girlfriend.
  • I would smoke pot and have a complete freak out session in front of my girlfriend’s aunt.
  • I would attend a family barbecue, trip down the stairs in front of everyone, and break the bottle of beer that I was fetching for her uncle.
  • I would defend my vegetarian diet by telling my girlfriend’s family that vegetarian food can be really tasty when done right, and then cook a vegetarian dinner only for her mom to throw it directly into the garbage.

It was not a good week for me.

I could elaborate on all of the unfortunate events that took place over the course of that week (shit, I could write an entire book about them), but the last bit is really where the heart of today’s fuckery is at, so let’s work this out.

Here’s how it started:

Girlfriend’s mom:
You don’t have any meat on your plate, go get yourself some meat.

Me:
Oh, that’s okay, I actually don’t eat meat. Thanks though.

Girlfriend’s mom:
You don’t eat meat? What’s wrong with you? You’re gonna get sick. How do you get your protein? Does your mom know?

Me:
Yup, I was raised vegetarian, so I’ve never actually eaten meat. I’ve always been healthy, so my body doesn’t seem to need it. Hey that’s a nice tomato plant, do you enjoy gardening? (trying to move the topic away from my diet).

Girlfriend’s mom:
How can you not eat meat? Vegetarian food is so tasteless and boring (ignoring any mention of the said tomato plant).

Me:
Actually, if you do it right, vegetarian food can be really yummy.

Girlfriend’s mom:
Okay then, why don’t you show us meat eaters just how yummy it can be? This Saturday you’re making dinner.

Okay – this was a problem for two reasons:

1. Saying no wasn’t an option because she didn’t ask me to do it, she told that me I was going to do it. Plus, she was a 6 ft. tall sturdy Midwestern woman who already disliked me because I was sleeping with her daughter. Telling her no didn’t seem safe.

2. I was 19, and not only did I hate to cook, but I was crap at it. The thought of planning a dinner for my girlfriend’s Midwestern, meat eating family made me ill. But it was on, and there was nothing that I could do except start planning.

Fast forward to Saturday night.

The table was set and there were 7 people sitting down waiting for me to prove them wrong about all vegetarian food being bland and unappetizing.

As I made a plate for each person, I was nervous as shit. My menu was tofu “wish sticks”, a big green salad, and some heated up bread. Looking back, it wasn’t the best choice of menu.

Once everyone was served, I joined them at the table and we started to eat. I cringed as my girlfriend’s Amazonian mom took the first bite of her “wish stick”. She chewed slowly, swallowed her food, looked directly at me and said:

What the hell am I eating, a car tire?
This has about as much flavor as rubber.

She got up from the table, brought her food to the kitchen, dumped it into the trash bin and ordered pizza.

Everyone at the table picked at their food, trying not to make the situation any more uncomfortable than it already was, but eventually brought their dishes into the kitchen and waited for the delivery driver to arrive. I hadn’t proved any of them wrong about vegetarian food.

My face was flushed, there was a lump in my throat, and tears in my eyes. I wanted to run to my car and insert my head directly into one of the holes where a speaker should have been, but the extent of my embarrassment had me paralyzed to the bone.

I couldn’t move, I couldn’t say anything, all I could do was drink my beer and wait for the seconds to pass so that even the littlest of distance could insert itself between me and that brutal moment.

The next day my girlfriend broke the news to me about her new girlfriend.

Shit had gotten ugly fast.

I don’t know what hurt more, my epic dinner fail or the news that she had been cheating on me for the past 3 months.

Probably the cheating / new girlfriend bit, but the dinner episode was a close second.

I packed my bags and told her goodbye, knowing that I’d never see her again.

I wanted to vomit.

I got in my crappy but surprisingly reliable car and started the long and painfully silent drive back to New Mexico. As soon as I got home, I crawled into my bed and stayed there for the next month and half.

This isn’t a sad story because I believe that things played out exactly how they were meant to, but the thought of that fucking “wish stick” dinner still washes a cold sweat over me every time I think about it.

Today I’m giving you a simple three step process that will help you when deciding on plant based meals to cook.

Let’s just say that I wish I would’ve had this baby back in the day, okay?

1) Choose a hearty plant based foundation to build your meal around.

Starting with a starch or a protein will ensure a full satisfied tummy. Plant based and vegan eaters don’t need to worry about getting enough protein because all plant foods have protein, so getting enough isn’t an issue when you eat a variety of plant based foods. Starches are important because they fill us up and give the body a fiber boost.

The reason to start your planning with a protein or a starch component is all about meal satisfaction and heartiness. And whether you’ve been a healthy plant based eater for decades or you’re brand new to eating this way, we all like hearty and satisfying.

Good sources of plant based proteins include legumes and beans, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and of course foods made from these ingredients. Good forms of starches include brown rice, beans, whole wheat or whole grain pasta, winter squash and potatoes, especially sweet potatoes.

2) Think about texture.

Whether you’re cooking for meat eaters or not, you have to consider texture when planning your meals. Typically, meals that have only one texture get boring really fast, whereas meals that have more than one texture are more satisfying and exciting to eat.

So whatever you decide to cook, think about how you can add different textures to make it more satisfying. Even things that have one texture by design, like creamy soups can get a texture upgrade by adding things like roasted pumpkin seeds and fresh herbs as garnish.

A regular green salad could transform into a hearty meal by adding firm baked tofu, crunchy sunflower seeds, creamy avocado, and some smooth hummus on top. Think about it this way – every single bite should have two or more textures.

3) Up the nutrient density.

Leafy greens and cruciferous veggies are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.

Once you’ve picked a yummy protein or starch and decided on the texture, think about how you can add in some leafy greens or cruciferous veggies.

Leafy greens include things like chard, collard greens and kale. Cruciferous veggies include things like cabbage, broccoli and radishes.

Okay – let’s pretend that I’m back in my ex-girlfriend’s kitchen and I’m deciding on a meal for her meat eating family. (ugh, really Mols? Yes, but I’ll make this fast)

Here’s how I’d plan out that meal now using this three step process:

1. Okay – let’s say that I decided to use black beans as my base. 

I’d then think about all the different ways that I could transform black beans into something that meat eaters would appreciate.

The first thing that comes to mind is burgers. Bingo – black bean burgers. Let’s go with it.

2. Now that I have my hearty base, I’d think about the texture component.

What could I put on the burgers that would give them a satisfying texture with each bite, especially for meat eaters?

I could make some coconut bacon to give it a nice crunch, some cashew cheese to give it a creamy component, and thinly sliced red onion to add something crisp. Perfection.

3. The last thing is to decide how to amp up the nutrient density of my burgers.

I’d start by thinking of different cruciferous and leafy green veggies until something popped out. In this case, the first thing that popped out was spinach.

Sautéed spinach is super yummy on burgers, it would add another layer of texture, and it amps up the nutrient density. Sautéed spinach for the win.

So after going through this process, here’s what I would serve:

Black bean burgers stacked with coconut bacon, cashew cheese, red onions and sautéed spinach.

I’d find some nice whole wheat buns, make a little mayo, and call it a damn day.

I guarantee you that there would be no pizza ordering nonsense with this meal.

So whether you’re planning your meals for the week ahead, a special dinner, or just deciding on lunch, use this formula and pretty soon it’ll become second nature.

Or, you can just follow along with my recipes and leave it to me. I’ve gotten much better since 1999.

Some relationships are clearly doomed for failure. Your relationship with food shouldn’t be one of them.

Unlike romantic relationships that come and go, your relationship with food lasts a lifetime. And the health of that relationship will determine a lot of things in your life.

How you feel, how you look, your mood, your connection with other humans, your health, and even your confidence and self esteem.

Smoky Whole-Food Plant-Based Tofu Tacos

Let's just say that I've gotten really damn good at cooking tofu. And now you know why.
Author: Molly Patrick of Clean Food Dirty Girl

Ingredients

  • Corn tortillas Food For Life organic corn tortillas are my fave
  • Smoky Tofu Mixture recipe below
  • Cabbage Slaw recipe below
  • Tomatoes sliced

For the Smoky Tofu

  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 2 large garlic cloves minced
  • 2 green onions cut off the end and use the whole green onion, chopped
  • 1 box of firm tofu cut into bite-sized squares
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika 8g
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup parsley 18g, chopped

For the Cabbage Slaw

  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon coconut aminos
  • 3 cups cabbage sliced

Instructions

Make the Smoky Tofu

  • Heat a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium heat for about a minute (make sure the skillet isn’t made out of teflon. Teflon is dangerous shit)
  • Add the onion, garlic and green onion and cook for 2 minutes. If the mixture starts to stick, add 1 tablespoon of water.
  • Add the tofu, paprika, and soy sauce, and cook for 15 minutes over medium - low heat. Flip with a spatula regularly so that the tofu doesn’t burn. When you use the spatula, give it enough pressure to get off any bits that have stuck to the pan. If you’re using a nonstick pan, use a plastic spatula. It’s okay if some of the tofu becomes crumbly.
  • Add the parsley a couple of minutes before the end of cooking.
  • If you want to cook the tofu longer, you can. The longer you cook it the firmer it will become.

Make the Cabbage Slaw

  • Cut the avocado in squares, scoop it into a small bowl and mash it with a fork.
  • Add the rice vinegar and coconut aminos and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Place the cabbage in a mixing bowl, add the avocado dressing and massage with your clean hands until the dressing is thoroughly incorporated into the cabbage.

Assemble your tacos

  • Heat the tortillas, add some slaw and tofu to each tortilla, and top with tomatoes.
  • Voila - delicious tacos in a pinch.

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Wishing you a happy week ahead. May it be filled with bouncing back quickly from uncomfortable situations.

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Written by ex-boozer, ex-smoker, Co-founder, and CEO, Molly Patrick. They will help you eat more plants while throwing perfection down the garbage disposal.

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8 Comments

  1. Debra on September 16, 2015 at 8:35 am

    hey Molly! This recipe looks soooooo good! I am doing a juice fast right now and this is like porn for me :-/
    I wanted to tell you that I love your approach. I am so tired of the squeaky clean, I am better than you approach to eating. I don’t want to be associated with vegan anymore because it is soooo judgmental and harsh. To me the whole point is making choices for MYSELF and respecting others. I cant expect others to respect my food choices if I am condemning them for theirs.
    I also appreciate how realistic you are. None of us are perfect and our diets aren’t going to be either. We live in a society that currently has horrible influences regarding food and sometimes we will slip, or even make a conscious choice to say screw it sometimes but such is life. Reading your blogs once a week reminds me that I deserve to eat fabulous food and it is part of the joy in my life. Someone was talking about dieting the other day and I said “oh I hate feeling deprived” and they said “what, you are vegan, you deny yourself all the time”. I told them in all honesty I don’t ever feel deprived. With your recipes and ideas and with the other cookbooks we use like Oh she glows, and Thug Kitchen I think we celebrate food more than we ever did when we ate animal product (my hubby still eats local meat and eggs sometimes but has become and amazing vegan cook thanks to people like you)
    I just wanted to say thanks. I appreciate your candor and honesty and humor. I loved last weeks too about the medical community. SOOOO true. We need to be able to learn how to take responsibility for our own health and not rely on medications! healthy people don’t provide profit though. I love the stories about your past and your life too. you paint the picture so vividly, its fun to read. I would love to see people in your blog pics sometimes. What’s your hair like now 🙂
    keep up the amazing work. I am loving it!

    • Molly Patrick on September 16, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      Hey Debra –
      Thank you for your kind words and congratulations on kicking ass!
      I love your take on food and I agree 100%. My hair is super short. lol.
      I sometimes post pictures with me in them on Facebook and Instagram 🙂
      xo
      Molly

  2. GreenMachine on September 16, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    Holy awkward turtle Batman, that dinner sounds so brutal… I have a feeling that my girlfriend’s family might pressure me into “proving” something to them in regard to plant based eating. They are hunters so to them I’m not even from the same planet. I assure them that I do not eat lettuce and carrots for 3 meals a day and that vegan food can be savory, creamy, greasy, salty, chewy all the things they crave but they aren’t buying it. I will most certainly use your blueprint to attack their mouths with plant based goodness. Also good for you for picking up the pieces and moving forward with your life and seeing that things happned as they were supposed to, that takes a lot of strength and I admire you for it.

    • Molly Patrick on September 16, 2015 at 2:56 pm

      ha! I feel your pain. If you ever make a meal for them keep me posted.
      xo
      Molly

  3. Daayur on October 24, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    Am just a new visitor to your site and i found it interesting such that i have to bookmark it for my wife to learn few things here.

  4. Marie on January 10, 2016 at 8:53 am

    There are human beings on this planet who are that rude?? Wow. I’m sure you are glad to not be tethered to that family for the remainder of your adult life!

    Thanks for all you do…I love your site. I am not liberal, lesbian, or normally fond of potty mouth…yet I feel quite at home here; you are always a pleasure to read

    I am just about to make some of your 7 Layer Nacho Dip for me and the kiddos to nosh on while we take down the Christmas decorations. Happy Sunday!

    • Molly Patrick on January 10, 2016 at 4:59 pm

      Hey Marie –
      You’re right about not being tethered!
      Thanks for swinging by. That 7 layer dip is crazy yum!
      Have a very happy Sunday 🙂
      xo
      Molly

  5. Barb on December 5, 2020 at 9:37 am

    Hey Molly!
    This looks fun!
    Just want to ask that you fill in the blanks on how big a “box of tofu” is. The little MoriNus are 9 to 10 oz. Most national brands are 14 oz. Good local brands are 16 oz. The recipe will be really different depending on the size of your box.
    Thanks for helping us all to eat healthier!

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