Fourth of July Feast: Tofu Chili Dogs and Watermelon “Feta” Salad
It’s no secret that skateboarding is aggressively counterculture and increasingly global. We all start skateboarding for our own reasons, but in the thousands of people I’ve talked to and interviews I’ve read over the last seventeen years, the common trend is that skateboarding speaks to those who go against the grain, seek the esoteric, or, for lack of a more positive quantifier, just don’t fit in.
The recent corporate stranglehold on skateboarding has somewhat blurred the line between the average consumer and the average skateboarder: by purporting to celebrate its unique and highly individual nature, energy drink conglomerates, among others, have reined skateboarding into the mainstream and tried to equate the feeling of landing your first kickflip with the sound of cracking open a 24 ounce can of carbonated, perilously-caffeinated piss. But, seeing as how the boards of directors trying to figure out how to best funnel energy drinks down our throats are also making it possible for some of the most incredible skateboarding wizards to make a decent living, this merging into the mainstream has its benefits.
For the Fourth of July I wanted to focus on skateboarding’s critical eye toward modern Americana. Our outsider perspective has given us the opportunity to be relentlessly cruel (in very artistic ways) toward our homeland. For the record, I’m not saying this is right or wrong, justified or unjustified, funny or offensive. To use one of my most hated platitudes, “it is what it is.”
I recently bought the most awesome book: Agents Provocateurs: 100 Subversive Skateboard Graphics, by Seb Carayol. It is exactly what the title describes—100 deliciously offensive skateboarding graphics (complemented by descriptions, backstories and interviews) from skateboarding’s yesteryear all the way up to the present day. I have kept this book at my desk (hidden, of course) and taken it out when I catch a few minutes here and there to read some of the fascinating stories behind the iconic graphics our parents refused to buy us back in the day. If you have a chance, I highly recommend picking up a copy.
Agents Provocateurs covers all aspects of skateboarding’s offensive folklore, including drugs, sex, religion and racism. However, one of the areas the book touches on is skateboarding’s critique of American culture. In particular, Carayol picks three graphics from 1990 – 2005 to showcase this critique.
First graphic is Jason Lee’s Blind deck, “American Icons,” which was later re-imagined by Cliché in 2011. Carayol notes that this harkens back to when Blind was “a laboratory for the politically incorrect years of skateboard graphics to come.” Carayol, Agents Provocateurs, p.92. As you can see, the gun, bible, smokes and T.V. paint a somewhat flawed picture of the American dream. (And the Cliché re-issue, updated with a tablet and smartphone don’t paint a pretty picture either.)
The next American flag-themed deck Carayol shoes is Kris Markovich’s Prime deck, “Fat Americans.” Designed as part of Sean Cliver’s strong condemnation of American consumerism (both of goods and of food), the deck is not subtle. It depicts two obese humans, one on top of the other, painted as two American flags. While artist Sean Cliver cites to Terry Gilliam’s film, Brazil, as inspiration, he also complains of Americans taking both the whole metaphorical and literal cake. Carayol, p. 97.
The last deck Carayol presents is another Markovich model during his Blind years entitled “Supersize,” which depicts again two obese characters, a mother and child, adorned in red white and blue, staring down two comically oversized vehicles. As artist Marc McKee describes it, this deck (issued in 2005) was a critique not just of the American diet, but of the state of American over-consumption gripping the U.S. markets in 2005. Carayol, p. 98.
I’m sure in the history of skateboarding there are hundreds of other decks I could post here, but given that I had Agents Provocateurs sitting right here on my shelf, these were the most accessible (and many thanks to Carayol for providing a thorough history of each and an all-around amazing book). It’s no surprise that skateboarders have found their way to critiquing Americana folklore; whether apt or not, the criticism stems from skateboarding’s need to remain severable from the rest of the activities we deem unworthy, too structured, too greedy, etc. Right or wrong – who’s to say? But certainly entertaining and an interesting part of skateboarding history.
All that said, with July 4th just around the corner, I wanted to put together a sick vegan meal that celebrates the mainstream cuisine we love to grill while keeping it cruelty free. Before I was vegan, I used to love grilling hotdogs on the Fourth of July. Truthfully, I was never crazy about hotdogs any other day of the year, but on July 4th, it felt almost like my civic duty to throw a few franks on the grill and chow down. Given that I no longer eat meat, I was left with few options on this day of grill-master appreciation. While there’s nothing wrong with grilling some of the prepackaged veggie dogs, the point of this blog is to start making things on my own and keeping track of exactly what goes into them. For that reason, I started looking up how to make my own tofu dogs from scratch. Now I can’t take all the credit for this recipe – I got the seasoning from Connoisseurus Veg, which is an awesome vegan blog to visit, if you haven’t. Then I decided to take it a little further and top those pups which some hearty black bean chili.
Just as the post at Connoisseurus Veg will tell you, if you’re looking for something that perfectly mimics a hotdog, this is not it. The smoky flavor is utterly delicious and gets close to copying the flavor of a perfectly grilled frank, but it’s not going to taste like a hodgepodge of mystery meat stuffed into intestinal casing. My wife and I found it to be extremely delicious, especially when topped with the chili, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.
But wait, there’s a bonus here: a “feta” watermelon salad. When I lived in New York, one of the restaurants on the lower east side (Eastwood) had an incredible feta watermelon salad that my wife and I couldn’t get enough of (it was especially satiating after a good morning sesh). In an effort to copy that delicious salad, I’ve searched the interwebs for a good way to make vegan feta cheese and tossed it in with some watermelon, olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and mint. The result is exquisite and pairs well as a refreshing side to a hot-off-the-grill tofu chili dog. I was skeptical at first as to whether tofu could replicate feta, but my skepticism was quickly put to rest. Combined with the watermelon, mint and olive oil, the tofu provides the perfect “cheesy,” crumbly complement to the salad.
My mouth is watering. Let’s cook.
TOFU CHILI DOG INGREDIENTS:
For the tofu dog:
- 14 – 16 oz. extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp liquid smoke
- 1 garlic clove, minced (the stuff in a jar is fine)
- 1 tsp paprika
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- hotdog buns (we used Udi’s gluten free buns)
For the black bean chili
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3-4 cloves of garlic (the stuff in a jar is fine)
- 1 15.5 oz can of black beans, drained
- 1 tbsp paprika
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp thyme
- ½ – 1 cup diced tomatoes (we used canned, but feel free to go fresh)
TOFU CHILI DOG DIRECTIONS:
- First, drain and press that tofu. If you don’t have a press, just lay down 3-4 paper towels on a cutting board, place the tofu on top, then throw on 3-4 more paper towels, another hard surface, and something heavy. Let the tofu press for 20-30 minutes until most of the water has been squeezed out. Once it’s pressed cut it up into the desired number of hotdogs. A solid block of tofu will produce 3-4 massive hot dogs or 6 medium hotdogs. Just go with whatever size will fit in the bun. If you want to just cut them into pillars, they’ll taste just the same, but it’s pretty fun to actually whittle them into the shape of hotodgs.
- Time to make the marinade. In a large bowl, mix up the soy sauce, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, liquid smoke, paprika, garlic, pepper and olive oil until it’s all one mixture then throw the tofu and the marinade into a container or plastic bag and gently shake it up (don’t break those pups!) until the tofu is covered. Let it sit for an hour or two (or longer) so that the tofu can soak up the marinade.
- While that’s soaking, let’s get started on the chili. Heat up the olive oil in a saucepan and throw in the chopped onions. Cook for 3-4 minutes on medium heat until the onions brown just a little and the delicious aroma fills the room. Once those are cooked, throw in the black beans, garlic, paprika, cayenne, oregano, thyme and tomatoes and stir it all together. Let that continue to cook on medium heat until it starts to bubble and simmer a little. Monitor it while it cooks for about 10 minutes and thickens. That’s it. Easiest chili in the world.
- Once those pups have soaked in the marinade for a while, take them out and lay them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cook them at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, turning them over halfway through. Once they come out, they should be darkened and smelling like your favorite childhood grilling memories.
- If you’re skilled on the grill, feel free to fire those dogs up on the grill and cook however you know best (I know better than to tell the grill master how to do his/her thing). If not, heat up a little bit of olive oil in a skillet and throw the dogs on. Cook them at medium heat for a few minutes on each side until they develop a delicately crisp outside.
- Throw those bad boys into a bun, pile on some chili, crack open a cold one and toast to Lady Liberty.
INGREDIENTS FOR WATERMELON “FETA” SALAD
- 10 oz tofu, drained and pressed
- 1 tbsp oregano
- ¼ cup lemon juice (for feta)
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup water
- 5-6 cups watermelon chunks (can be cut into cubes or with melon baller)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 tbsp lemon juice (for salad)
- ½ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
- salt and pepper (to taste)
DIRECTIONS FOR WATERMELON “FETA” SALAD
- There’s tofu, so you guessed it: drain and press it. If you forgot how, see step one of the tofu dogs above. Once it’s pressed, cut it into tiny cubes. There’s no perfect size, it’s all personal preference.
- In a mixing bowl, mix the oregano, ¼ cup lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and water and then toss in the tofu. Like the tofu dogs, let that marinate for a couple of hours so that the tofu soaks in all the flavors. Once that’s marinated, toss it in with the watermelon chunks.
- In a separate bowl, mix the olive oil, 3 tbsp lemon juice, mint leaves and a dash of salt and pepper until it’s all one mixture, then toss in the watermelon and feta. Mix it all up until it’s even then serve chilled alongside the tofu chili dogs.
Happy shredding (and happy Fourth of July),