Technically speaking, this is the first autumn in ten whole years that I haven’t been starting a fresh semester of full or part-time graduate school.
Even so, the fall can’t help but evoke back-to-school season and everything that implies: new beginnings, renewed energy, organization. And into the category of organization we can definitely group meal prep, which is a useful tool for professionals, students, and parents alike.
I’ve enjoyed having a little break from an exhaustive meal prep routine since my internship ended, but it will continue to be an important part of my life this year, even if I’m doing it with more flexibility than I was during my clinical rotations last fall. I’m always on the hunt for components, and especially plant proteins, that can be used in lunch boxes in various ways, and these pumpkin seed crusted tofu fingers are a new favorite option.
I’ve had nut-crusted tofu in restaurants before (Candle Cafe and Candle 79 here in NYC have some wonderful versions with almonds, pumpkin seeds, and pecans), and it always sounded very fancy and upscale. It took making this recipe for me to realize that there’s not much to coating tofu in a nutrient-dense crust of ground nuts or seeds, and once baked, the finished pieces have an irresistibly crispy exterior.
Part of the trick to making tofu like this is starting with an extra firm variety, which ensures that the “fingers” hold their shape and density. I used my go-to extra firm tofu from Nasoya. It’s the brand I’ve been using at home for years now; with a little pressing, it’s always perfect for stir fries, baking, and tofu scramble. And now, for these fingers, too.
The process is simpler than it sounds: just dip pressed tofu slices into plant milk, coat them in a combination of ground seeds, bread crumbs, and nutritional yeast, then bake till crispy. They’re savory and satisfying, and they can be enjoyed as the protein “main” in any lunchbox—or as a topping for salads or bowls.
As great as the tofu fingers are, for me, part of the joy of this particular recipe was coming up with some special dipping sauces to enhance their flavor. I made two: a cashew date mustard, which is absolutely delicious (and will most definitely be a new go-to in sandwiches and wraps), and a beet ketchup. I’d seen a recipe for the latter on Saveur some time ago and had made a mental note that it would not only be a fun thing to try, but also a great option for nutrition clients of mine who chose not to eat nightshades.
I’m so glad to have tried it myself. It’s a little more effort than I usually give to condiments these days, but well worth it for the sweet, rich flavor. And, if you’re cooking for little ones, it presents a good opportunity to sneak some beets—which are rich in health-promoting phytonutrients—into their diets.
The tofu fingers will hold their texture nicely in a packed lunch, paired with whatever you like. I experimented at home with a vegan lunchbox of salad and sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes (still in season and glorious), the tofu fingers and sauces, and some cookies for dessert. (My internship taught me that packing sweet treats for afternoon cravings is often a very wise idea.)
You could also layer the fingers in a sandwich, serve them in/on a grain bowl, or chop up the last few and throw them into a salad. I made mine grown-up size, but if you’re making them for little ones, you could of course make them half as wide.
Head on over to the Nasoya website to get the recipe for the fingers and the two tasty sauces! I’m wishing all of you the richness and promise of a new “school year” as we move through fall 🙂