My favourite meal ever was smoked haddock, roasties, perfectly crisp, and mixed greens. My Grandma would make it whenever I came round; she’d rarely even ask what I wanted for dinner. She just knew. I loved it because I loved the flavours, the homeliness, perhaps even the routine. I loved how Grandma got it perfect every time, it was the food we had at hers, it was a bagsied meal. A guarantee. Followed, of course, by her famous cookies.
It’s been maybe around 7 years since I’ve actually eaten this meal. And in that time, I’ve turned vegan. I haven’t craved meat for my whole ‘veggie life’; but this last year, I’ve really wanted to tuck into a plate of smoked haddock. Because this last year, I lost my Grandma.
The meal I knew was coming, that isn’t anymore.
It’s funny how you only realise afterwards why you love a meal so much, something so seemingly plain and simple. But it’s because it was the bagsied dish, the meal I knew was coming, that isn’t anymore. The height of my relationship with my Grandma; before illnesses and distance formed unwelcome wedges between us and when half the time, I felt more anxious about how close we were, than celebratory of it.
I’ve always had a palette built for meat-eaters; I love garlicky, salty, smoky flavours. Sod’s law I suppose. "Screw you for having your morals," said my taste buds. But recently, I had a small, but also sort of major, revelation. Because of my smoked-food addiction, I discovered smoked tofu. And it tastes just like I remember smoked haddock tasting. Or, at least, Grandma’s smoked haddock.
I cooked it 4 days in a row. And it’s the best meal I’ve eaten in years.
I’d ordinarily call her and tell her, she supported my veggie-turn, and always looked for things for me to eat. She was the first to find a vegan chocolate spread for me; within days of me pronouncing my ‘vegan’ change. This time I found it myself, I felt like I’d achieved her level of persistence. But this time there was no number to call, so I internalised my discovery. I cooked it 4 days in a row. And it’s the best meal I’ve eaten in years.
Because now it represents something else. It brings Grandma back to me; not just through the flavours, but the whole discovery, finding an alternative to a classic favourite, something Grandma always did for me. Always going the extra mile, making sure I didn’t have to miss out.
And true to form, I’m not missing out at all anymore. It’s small, it’s a meal - but imagine accessing memories, moments, even a feeling of love! - from a flavour you thought was going to be forbidden forever. Nothing ever completely goes away I suppose.
And the cookies? I don’t have the recipe, it got lost. We couldn’t find it when we sorted through Grandma’s things. But I’m sure Grandma would forgive me in saying, I’ve found my own delicious recipe. And now I get to experience the same feeling making them for others, like she always did.
Smoked Tofu, Mash and Greens
1 block of 'Tofoo' Smoked Tofu
1 portion of asparagus
1 portion of broccoli
2 or 3 mid-size potatoes (any kind) for mash
1 vegetable stock cube
1 knob of vegan butter
2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper
Oil for frying
Boil potatoes with their skins on in vegetable stock. Stab with a fork to check they're done.
Boil some water, add salt to season, and cook the broccoli and asparagus until done (still slightly firm).
Cut the tofu block into 'steaks' and salt on both sides. Heat oil in a frying pan until hot and sear in the pan.
Meanwhile, drain the stock from the potatoes and add the butter. Leave the skin on and mash well until there are no lumps. Season with salt and pepper.
Drain your greens and plate up!