Lately I’ve been experimenting with classic recipes and attempting to veganize them. I always think back to a favourite dish that my mom used to make, and then I figure out how to substitute the animal-based ingredients for vegan ones. Sometimes this process can be tricky, as I want to make sure the vegan dish ranks close to (if not higher than) its traditional counterpart. This vegan caprese salad started as one of those risky experiments.
I thought about my mother’s famous caprese salad skewers that she’d always prepare for parties. The plump, juicy tomatoes, blended perfectly with fresh, aromatic basil, rich balsamic glaze, and the dense, but subtle overlay of light cheese. The bocconcini (I surprisingly spelled this right on first try – go me) that I’m familiar with is a semi-firm mozzarella cheese that has a bland, somewhat salty taste. I remember thinking that it acts as a kind of filler for the dish itself, rather than an overlying flavour as a whole.
To my surprise, veganizing this simple classic was easy. First of all, can we think of anything else that acts a dense, somewhat bland filler, taking on any flavour you add to it? The shining star of this recipe is my all-time favourite: raw, firm tofu. Now for those of you thinking, “can tofu really replace cheese?” I’d like to tell you that the answer is yes, yes it can.
Tofu is extremely versatile: you can bread it, bake it, fry it, scramble it – even eat it raw! Tofu has virtually no taste or flavour on its own, which is why it makes a great protein base to any recipe, and works exceptionally well as a bocconcini substitute. In comparison to cheese, about 1/2 cup of tofu contains 10.1 grams of protein with just 94 calories, whereas a 4 oz serving of cheese packs a whopping 320 calories and only 6.2 grams of protein. Let’s not forget about the excess fat which comes from dairy cheese as well. Tofu proves to be a much leaner choice, and even though it has a bad rep due to its soy-base, I believe that it’s still a healthier option since it’s significantly lower in fat and unlike meat and dairy, it is 100% cholesterol-free.
For the caprese salad, I opted for firm tofu and pressed it to get all of the excess water out. Then I marinated it in lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and salt in order to get that light, salty flavour that you get from bocconcini. The trick is to let the tofu dry out in the fridge for as long as possible, and allow it to soak up the juices for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t have the time and aren’t picky, you can just set it aside to marinade while you prepare the rest of the salad. In my opinion, the flavour from the salad’s balsamic glaze is so intense that you won’t even be able to tell the difference!
Vegan Caprese SaladPrint This
1 package firm tofu, sliced
3 vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced
16-18 fresh basil leaves
balsamic glaze, to taste
2-3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. lemon juice
salt + pepper, to taste
- Press the tofu on both sides to remove excess water. Slice tofu into about 8 slices lengthwise, and cut widthwise in half. You should have about 16-18 slices.
- Place tofu on serving dish big enough to lay all slices flat. Drizzle lemon juice and apple cider vinegar on top of tofu sprinkle salt both sides. Set aside for 15-30 minutes to dry out in refrigerator.
- Slice tomato into slices similar to tofu. De-stem and wash basil leaves; set aside.
- To assemble: start with 1 basil leaf, then add a slice of tofu, followed by a slice of tomato. Follow this order until the salad fills each plate.
- Drizzle each individual salad with 1 tbsp. olive oil, salt + pepper, and balsamic glaze.