In my pre-vegetarian, pre-FODMAP days, I was particularly partial to a good mince bolognese. So much so that I was always willing to be the person to painstakingly crush the mince into little pieces. I couldn’t allow someone else to cook/ruin my beloved mince, the only form of meat I would eat. These days, however, crushing mince is a thing of the past. Because, my friends, this FODMAP friendly bolognese is vegan, and it’s made with tofu.
Before you say ‘don’t tell me tofu is a decent replacement for mince’ – allow me to explain your newest tofu trick. Freezing tofu. Freezing tofu dramatically alters the texture of the tofu when you allow it to drain. No longer is it a solid block, but more of a textural, crumbly form of protein. Somewhat like, I dunno, mince.
This FODMAP friendly bolognese is very easy to make, provided you have remembered to freeze the tofu, and subsequently thaw it. After that, the process of making the mince is as straightforward as it would be with any other mince. Caramelise the fennel, deglaze the pan, add the tofu and tomatoes, and cook. A simple, easy, gluten free, FODMAP friendly and vegan weeknight dinner.
FODMAP FRIENDLY BOLOGNESE: RECIPE NOTES
- Firstly, you need to ensure that the tofu you are freezing is firm tofu. No silken (which is not FODMAP friendly) and no semi firm. The firmest you can find. I haven’t frozen the former varieties, but I can’t imagine it would transform their texture in the same way firm tofu is transformed.
- I love using frozen tofu for the meaty, chewy and springy texture. However, you can also use non-frozen tofu if you are in a rush. As above, ensure it’s firm. Squeeze most of the liquid out and tear into small, mince meat sized pieces before use.
- Fennel was originally used in place of the onion, to replace the texture that onion generally provides, and to provide flavour. Fennel is considered FODMAP friendly in 1/2 cup (or 48g) servings. Because only one fennel bulb was used, this is totally acceptable. However, I’ve subbed carrot in for a more accessible alternative.
- In terms of all the other ingredients, it’s smooth sailing. None of them should be a bother, although make sure you use gluten free Tamari and gluten free pasta, if you need to.
- You can add extra vegetables to this bolognese to bulk it out and make it go further. I would recommend zucchini, pumpkin, extra tomatoes and maybe a bit of spinach if you don’t mind the green flecks.
FREEZING TOFU: A QUICK HOW-TO
I’ve discussed a little bit about making crispy tofu before. My research for writing that article was catalyst to me discovering the method of freezing tofu. Freezing tofu, the internet tells us, rids it of excess moisture and changes it’s structure, so it basically becomes meat like. It is textural, chewy, and perfect for mince. In addition, it is better able to absorb flavours, because of it’s lower water content. A win win.
A lot of websites will tell you to unpack the tofu, blot it, slice and it and then freeze it. Which is obviously an efficient way to do things. However, I find shredding tofu a lot easier when I can simply pull apart a block with my hands, so I freeze mine whole.
I have tested a number of different methods of defrosting the tofu. Firstly, I let it sit in a sieve. Secondly, I put in a saucepan over a low heat, and tipped the moisture out in regular-ish intervals. Thirdly, I boiled it in super salty water, which is supposed to help flavour it and make it crispy. I also refroze some torn up tofu because I ran out of time, so there’s another option.
All of the above worked, but I don’t think I would boil it in salty water again. It seemed to defeat the purpose of freezing it to expel moisture. As for the superior texture, I think I preferred the double freeze, but it’s a lot of faff for the sake of chewy tofu mince.
CHEWY TOFU: THE TIMELINE
- The night before: put the tofu in the freezer. It can be whole or sliced, and it can be drained or not drained.
- The next morning: remove the tofu from the freezer and allow to thaw. You can leave it in a sieve over the sink or put it in the fridge. If you put it in the fridge, you can cook it over a low heat to expel the remaining moisture when you’re ready to use it.
- To cook, simply use as you would regular mince. You can be even more relaxed with it, because tofu can be eaten raw.
A NOTE ON THE FLAVOUR BOOSTERS
I have recently revamped this recipe to make it a little more streamlined. As a result, I’ve been playing around with some flavour boosters for the vegan bolognese, and there are some doozies. I learnt a lot about creating a faux meat flavour within the confines of the FODMAP diet when I made my vegan sausages recently, and I wanted to elevate this recipe with that knowledge.
- Dried sage powder. Honestly, I’d say this is my number 1 suggestion for creating a meaty depth of flavour. It might be that it’s just a flavour we associate with meat, but dried sage powder has a deeply savoury flavour that goes such a long way in creating an authentic tasting bolognese.
- Truffle oil. Just a teaspoon or so of truffle oil adds a really funky meaty taste to this bolognese. 10/10 would recommend.
- Sundried tomatoes. These are an easy umami booster that really just blend into the bolognese once it’s cooked. I always find I have an almost empty jar lurking at the back of my freezer, so it’s a conveniently tasty way to clear out the fridge.
HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES THIS VEGAN BOLOGNESE SERVE?
I felt this question deserved it’s own section – not because I’m trying that classic ‘stretch out the post for as long as possible’ food blogger tactic, but because there are a lot of variables.
- If you’re eating the mince alone, with no pasta or other options, it will serve around 4 people. This depends on how hungry people are, too.
- If you’re eating the mince with pasta, I would say it could serve around 6-8. Again, this depends on appetites, but also on how much mince your guests like on their pasta.
- Sometimes I like to serve this bolognese atop a big bowl of roasted vegetables. For this purpose, it’s more about saucing up the vegetables than it is totally smothering them. You could get around 8 serves of the bolognese this way.
FODMAP Friendly Vegan Bolognese
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2-3 large carrots, finely cubed
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons tamari
- 1 tablespoon miso paste make sure it’s gluten free
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste make sure it’s not flavoured
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar or maple syrup
- 1 - 1 1/2 cups red wine you could probably substitute water, although the sauce won’t be as rich
- Generous freshly cracked pepper
- 2 tins (800g) unflavoured tinned tomatoes
- 500g g Frozen and defrosted tofu depending how ‘meaty’ you like your sauce
- Water, as necessary
Optional flavour boosters
- 1 tablespoon dried sage powder (for a meaty taste)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg powder (less if you grate it freshly)
- 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, drained and finely chopped (for a meaty umami hit)
- 1-2 teaspoons truffle oil (for meaty funk)
- Chilli powder, to taste (I like Aleppo pepper because it has a smokey flavour
- Get your ingredients ready. This can become a fast moving recipe, so it's easier to have everything organised in advance. Chop the carrots and place them in a large bowl. Have the tofu defrosted and torn into little mince meat sized chunks before you begin.
- Add the olive oil to a large heavy bottomed saucepan or pot over a medium heat. Once warmed, add the chopped carrot (you could also use fennel) and cook for about 15 minutes, or until it begins to shrivel and is starting to brown. Add water at any time if it begins to burn.
- While the carrot is cooking, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, Tamari, miso paste, tomato paste and brown sugar. Add any flavour boosters you're using, except the truffle oil (it's added at the end so as not to cook out the flavour).
- Add the balsamic mixture to the pan and stir to combine. It should sizzle up and thicken quite quickly.
- Deglaze the pan with the red wine. Stir to combine everything and then add the torn tofu chunks. Take a bit of time to coat them all in the wine - this is what colours the tofu and makes the bolognese look so realistic.
- Add the tinned tomatoes, and stir thoroughly. Season with generous freshly cracked pepper.
- Adjust the seasonings if necessary, and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes, adding water to thin the sauce out if necessary.
- You can serve as is, or on a bowl of gluten free pasta. To keep it vegan, sprinkle nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan on top. Personally, I like mine with some freshly grated dairy parmesan.
- This bolognese stores really well in the fridge for a couple of days and can be frozen, too.