A Tasty Vegetarian Dish

Cleanliness in food preparation is always important but when working with puree that is doubly so since there are so many more food surfaces to provide a welcome host to germs.   Disposable food preparation gloves are readily available and should be used whenever direct hand contact is required, as in deboning chicken for example.  Otherwise, just follow normal hygiene practices:  clean apron, short, scrubbed fingernails and extra clean hands.

Good nutrition and calorie control are important for anyone, but it is critical for anyone with medical problems or physical limitations.  For starters, there is no room for empty calories for anyone confined to a wheelchair or with limited capacity for exercise.  Extra body fat on inert and/or poorly muscled bodies just imposes an extra burden on the heart, impedes movement even further and places additional pressure on caregivers.   If any digestive issues are present, e.g. constipation, frequent vomiting, poor appetite, then ensuring that all the nutrients and adequate fiber and fluid are in the diet is extra important.  J

Joe and I work faithfully – and some might even say “slavishly and excessively” at fulfilling these two goals.   But our real passion, and ultimately what keeps us going, is our desire to produce tasty and wholesome food for our daughter in a way that she can enjoy and can swallow without choking.

What we can taste with our taste buds alone is important, but like mono vs.  stereo music, it is one-dimensional.  What really gives food its richness and depth – its savor – is smell and mouthfeel.  If you have ever had a severe cold and lost your sense of smell or if you have ever been placed on a liquid diet, then you know what I mean.

But how do you provide mouth feel to someone who has no functional control of her tongue?  That is the situation we found ourselves in with our daughter.  Fortunately, a renegade occupational therapist was able to provide us with an answer.  As I have described elsewhere, we purchased a ‘non-doctor vibrator’ from a ‘Love Shop’, along with a ‘therapeutic mouthpiece’ (or so it was described to us).     The ‘mouthpiece’ was a slender, tapered tube that attached to the vibrator.  With it we were able to gently stimulate Alexis’ mouth and tongue and she soon began to move this formerly sloppy and inert organ around in her mouth, experimenting with different positions.  The ability to move the food bolus around in the mouth is critical for lubricating it with saliva, a digestive enzyme, and with mucous to make the food slippery enough to slide down the throat safely.  Positioning the food bolus for safe and effective swallowing is also the job of the tongue.

I have three children and with all of them I made my own baby food so in one sense I had a head start on this puree process.  However, like her older brother and sister, Alexis reached the point where she wanted more than straight nutrition and more than the dainty, small quantities I had been in the habit of preparing for baby food.   Also, I reached a point where I did not want this food preparation to be so labor intensive since I am not by nature either a martyr or a saint!  I started looking around for some acceptable commercial assists.

Another strong motivation that keeps me going is to cook enough at any one time to serve for more than one meal. The following recipe provides a meal for my husband and myself as well as several lunchtime dishes for Alexis.

Chinese Style Tofu and Vegetables

1 package firm tofu

2 tbsp. black bean sauce

1 tbsp. Hoisin sauce

1 tsp. rice vinegar

½ to 1 tsp. bottled chilis ground in oil or other hot sauce like Siracha

3 cloves garlic

1 large white onion

2 medium to large coloured peppers

2 stalks celery cut on bias

1 medium head of bok choy

Vegetable oil as needed

To prepare:

  1.  Cut tofu into ¾ inch squares and place in bowl with next four ingredients.  Marinate in fridge for 1 hour or longer, stirring occasionally to distribute seasonings.
  2.  Wash vegetables and prepare as follows, placing them in separate bowls –
  3.  Finely dice garlic
  4.  Slice onion into ¼ inch (½ centimetre) rounds; stack and cross slice in 3 or as desired
  5.  Turn peppers upright and slice in half.  Core, slice in ¼ inch lengths, and then cut these slices in half vertically
  6. Cut celery diagonally in ¼ inch slices
  7. Before washing Bok choy, cut off about two inches from bottom; separate and wash the separate stalks, shake well and place in cloth towel.  Otherwise you will have a big sloppy mess!  Once the water has been soaked up, cut the stalks in half inch slices on the bias.

To cook:

Heat oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit (about 125 to 130 degrees Celsius)

  1. Heat wok with small amount of oil over medium heat and place a second large, empty pan beside it on a cold stove burner.
  2. Sauté garlic briefly (30 seconds) until it releases its flavor.  Then quickly add tofu and marinade to this pan.  Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes until marinade reduces and tofu starts to brown.  Do not cook longer as skin of tofu pieces will harden and turn rubbery.
  3. Empty contents of pan into the other cold pan.  Then add ¼ cup water and celery to the first pan.  Stir for 30 seconds until pan bottom is clean, the celery is partly cooked and there is still a little liquid in the pan.  Then add the contents to the second pan with a slotted spoon.
  4. Add onion to remaining water in first pan with one teaspoon oil and stir fry  over medium high heat until partially cooked (about two minutes) and then add to second pan.  Place pan in oven.
  5. Repeat this process with the peppers but also add 2 tbsp. soy sauce.  Add to second pan and return to oven.  Now dump  Bok Choy stems into first pan with a tablespoon of water and stir rapidly until they soften (1 to 2 minutes).  Move to second pan.  Turn heat high and add is tbsp water and the Book Choy Leaves.  Stir fry vigorously to prevent burning just until tender crisp.  So not leave them longer as they will just start releasing water.  Do 1/2 of leaves at a time moving first batch to second pan before proceeding.
  6.  Stir contacts in second pan to distribute and at that point they are ready to serve.
  7. Meanwhile you will have cooked two cups of raw rice with about three cups of water over low heat (once it comes to a boil) in a tightly covered pot for about 20 minutes.  I like to season it with a soup cube instead of plain salt.  My preference is mushroom but if that is not acceptable you could use vegetable or chicken.  If I use the recommended proportions of rice to water ( 2 to 1) it always ends up sloppy so I use less water but you will have to work out exact amounts yourself.
  • Hopefully, someone will have set the table and put the water and soy sauce on so you will be all ready to sit down to your one dish meal!  After the meal grind the remainder in the food processor along with a complementary amount of rice and additional soya sauce for seasoning plus water as necessary to create the right texture – not sticky and not soupy!  Divide into portions for lunches and store in freezer.