October is the shoulder season — the High Holidays are over and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. This is when you want easy snacks, quick lunches and no-fuss appetizers for unexpected guests. You want them to be delicious and filling, but you also want them come together quickly without too much effort. It would be nice if they were healthy and economical, too.

That’s a mighty tall order, but there is one ingredient that checks all the boxes: tofu! Before you dismiss it out of hand, allow me to share with you the poetry of tofu. First of all, it’s a blank slate. Like that other white meat, it takes its cue from whatever you cook it with. Lemon and basil, tamari and tahini, lime and curry — whatever you choose will create a signature flavor note. Then there’s nutrition. Made from soy beans, tofu is high in protein and has no carbs. And at $2 a pound, it’s a steal.

So, as John Lennon (might have) said, give tofu a chance. I have successfully road-tested this dip on preschoolers, octogenarians and carnivores. The Master Tofu Dip is based on one formula: something sour, something salty and something sticky. If you include one of each, your dip is guaranteed to taste good. So, for example, something sour can be lemon juice or wine vinegar, something salty may be tamari sauce or minced capers or just plain salt, and something sticky could be tahini or vegan mayonnaise. Optional is something spicy, such as jalapeño peppers or chili paste.

Whenever possible, I simplify amounts and use ingredients that are pantry staples. Unless there is a reason not to, I usually specify 1 pound (meaning one package) of tofu instead of an in-between portion like 8 ounces, because I would rather have an extra serving of prepared dip in the fridge, ready-to-eat, vs. inconvenient leftovers that may spoil before I can decide how to use them.

Finally, an authentic ethnic flavor profile requires specific ingredients, so this is a good opportunity to build your pantry. Tamari sauce, chili paste, rice vinegar, tahini — some of these may not be in your cupboard right now, but with their long shelf life (basically forever) and versatility, you can add instant flavor to salad dressings, marinades, dips and much more.

Master Tofu Dip

1 pound firm tofu

1 small sweet onion or red onion, chopped

Wine or apple cider vinegar, several

tablespoons up to ¼-cup to taste

Salt to taste (sprinkle in your palm to

control the amount before adding)

Tahini (sesame) paste, several tablespoons

up to ¼-cup to taste, or vegan

mayonnaise

1-2 tablespoons mustard (brown or Dijon)

½-1 tablespoon dried oregano and/or

basil (sprinkle in your palm and crush

to release essential oils)

Cracked black pepper to taste

Optional: 1 clove crushed garlic,

2 tablespoons chopped scallions

Drain tofu, gently squeeze out excess moisture and pat dry.

Mash tofu gently in a wide bowl with a potato masher or fork to uniform large-curd cottage-cheese consistency. Add remainder of ingredients and mix well. Taste and reseason.

Chill for several hours or overnight, if possible, to blend flavors.

Before serving, sprinkle with chopped scallions, if using. Serve with crackers, lightly toasted pita wedges, whole grain toast, crudités or salty chips. Good with pickles, olives or hot peppers on the side. JN

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