The recipe for “Baked Tofu Steaks and Mushroom Gravy,” from Veggie Belly, appealed to me with its minimalism: just tofu and garlic?! Just a simple marinade?! Wow. And what’s more, the recipe asks me to make a silky mushroom gravy, to top it off. I can’t recall ever baking tofu for this long (75 minutes), but this patient method does what it should -- firm and brown tofu triangles. How great I felt to insert garlic slices in the tofu slits. Too easy.

Mushroom gravy should be nothing less than luxurious, and that’s exactly what this one is. I used criminis and the wonderful fresh thyme and sage. I did use “3 splashes” of a 2008 Argentinian Malbec. The wine evaporated after bubbling for 4 minutes. I did add 3 tsp. kosher salt and 3/4 tsp. black pepper to the gravy. I used vegetable-bouillon broth.

I doubled the amounts for the baked tofu recipe, because I wanted four servings. Nervous about not having a “nonstick baking dish,” I placed my marinated tofu triangles on a baking dish covered with a silpat pad (the best French invention since the crêpe, in my opinion). This way, I didn’t need to deal with the heartbreak associated with tofu triangles stuck to the tray and then torn to ugly bits. My final tofu cooked firm; the marinade and gravy were salty. Dave absolutely loved that gravy.

Next, I made the “Israeli Couscous with Roasted Butternut Squash and Preserved Lemon,” from the September 1999 issue of Gourmet magazine. Lately, I can’t ignore Israeli couscous: its simplicity, its mouthfeel, its kid-friendliness. This dish showcased a perfect combination of textures. Roasted butternut squash is sweet and silken, tossed with the couscous that’s been glossed with olive oil. A cinnamon stick and a generous amount of parsley contribute their flavors; pine nuts and golden raisins are always tasty pellets. I added 2 tsp. kosher salt at the final mix.

Now, let’s talk about the preserved lemon. Talk about a secret ingredient! Ever since my first taste of a preserved lemon, in some North African dish, I’m sure, I’ve been hooked. I’ve been mesmerized. The tartness and intense lemony flavor is unforgettable. The lemons are preserved whole -- flesh, pith, and zest -- by being packed in salt and their own juice for a month. The result is small, round, yellow lemons that are soft and entirely edible. The jar you buy will keep in the refrigerator for a very long time. If and when you see a jar, definitely buy it. You can figure out what to do with it later. But you’ll have that jar and you’ll never regret it.

PRICES
Extra-Firm Tofu (30 oz.) = $3.12
Crimini Mushrooms (12 oz.) = $2.47
Butternut Squash (1 1/2 lbs.) = $1.35
Onions (2) = .98¢
Israeli Couscous (.86 lb.) = $1.62

RECIPES: baked tofu “steaks” are substantial, covered with gravy; Israeli couscous and squash sing a medley of perfect flavors
PREP TIMES:
tofu and gravy can be enjoyed within 2 hours of prep and cooking; couscous can be assembled quickly, then will forgivingly wait for you to eat it
TASTES: salty firm tofu, shot with garlic slices and covered with a salty mushroom gravy; squash and couscous are sleeked with sweet tanginess and warm cinnamon

Next time, I will cook “Thai-Style Chicken Legs,” as inspired by smittenkitchen.com, along with simple “Roasted Green Beans with Sesame Seeds,” from The Eating Well Diabetes Cookbook, by Joyce Hendley. See my meal when you come back to my site on Saturday, January 15.