Some might call it strange, but I call it Memphis veggie fusion. It's where Memphis's BBQ culture collides with vegetarian cuisine. The result of this phenomenon is served up in restaurants, bars, and BBQ joints around the city. You can find Chef Gary slingin' some stellar vegetarian soul food at De Javu down on Florida St., or grab a raw BBQ veggie burger from Balewa at Sean's Deli on Union Ave. Even vegetarians can walk into Central BBQ and order a BBQ sandwich...a portobello mushroom BBQ sandwich, that is.
The Big Bang of Memphis veggie fusion had to be in the mid 90's at a little place near the University of Memphis called R.P. Trax. My good buddy Chris Hawkins, who is now helping to expand the vegetarian options at 3 Angels Diner, created R.P. Trax's original vegetarian menu about 15 years ago. You can sit down and order BBQ tofu quesadillas with smoked gouda, or a BBQ tofu sandwich with sweet potato fries, or Tofu Wings with blue cheese, or a BBQ tofu burrito. For brunch, they even have a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, and you guessed it, BBQ tofu. I think you can see the pattern here.
My all-time favorite is a Memphis original, the BBQ tofu nachos. Let me tell you something, boys and girls, you may not be ready for this. House-made chips with some sort of "cool ranch" seasoning, vegetarian black bean chili, lettuce, tomato, pickled peppers, melted cheddar, deep-fried BBQ tofu, and sour cream all piled onto a metal plate the size of your head. Two people could share this mammoth plate and walk away completely satisfied.
I made a version of Chris' BBQ tofu nachos at home so all of you outside of the Memphis city limits could get a taste of our fair city.
BBQ Tofu Nachos + Chipotle Pintos & Guacamole
3 handfuls of corn tortilla chips
2 cups Chipotle Pinto Beans*
2 cups pan-fried BBQ tofu**
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded lettuce
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes (dressed with a bit of vinegar, salt, sugar)
2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1/2 cup No-Fuss Guacamole
cilantro leaves, sliced jalapeno peppers, and lime wedges for garnish.
Grab a large plate and start pilling on the ingredients; start with the chips and end with the garnish. Next, grab something to drink and a corral a friend. You'll need both to help you finsh off a giant plate of Memphis.
*Chipotle Pinto Beans (takes two hours)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white onion (diced)
1 tablespoon dried chipotle chili powder (less if you don't like it too spicy)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
2 cups pinto beans (soaked overnight)
3 medium tomatoes (peeled and chopped)
2 cups water
salt to taste
In a pot, sauté onion in olive oil over medium-high heat until onion is translucent and just starting to brown. Add the spices and cook another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, beans, and water to the pot and bring this to a boil. Simmer for two hours or until beans are creamy and tender. Salt to taste.
**Pan-fried BBQ Tofu
(This is good on sandwiches, in quesadillas, or on its own.)
1 block extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups BBQ sauce
Cut tofu into 1/2 inch cubes and blot excess water with a kitchen towel. Heat a large frying pan over high heat and add oil. Once the oil starts to shimmer, brown the tofu on all sides in the pan. (This should only take a few minutes.) Remove tofu and drain off any extra oil. Toss cubes in warm BBQ sauce. Keep the tofu warm on the stovetop until you're ready to assemble the nachos.