If you want to cut directly to the recipe for Vegan Baked Tofu Wrap with Sweet Sesame Dressing, then scroll to the bottom of the page. If you want to read the story of why I made this dressing in the first place, then here you go:
It’s important to have trust when dining out. It’s important to be able to go out to a restaurant and have the staff understand what the word “vegan” means, and be able to answer basic questions about the menu and its components. And if a particular staff member does not know, they need to be able to ask. It’s simple, right?
My veganism is important to me, so please don’t just guess, and please don’t confirm that something is vegan unless you are absolutely sure.
That being said, it’s also up to the vegan customer to trust their instincts in the moment, and if they don’t follow those instincts, they need to be able to move past an incident, instead of beating themselves up for loving something that they find out later was not vegan.
Ordering vegan in a non vegan restaurant is always stressful to me, and Ben always criticizes how I do it. I’ve gotten a bit better over the years, but sometimes it’s difficult to read the room. Do I just ask if the item is vegan assuming the server can unpack that term? Do I state that I’m vegan, and see what the server suggests? Do I ask specific questions about the menus, such as “Do your potato croquettes have milk or egg in them?”, and not mention the word vegan at all?
Taco Bell is supposed to know what “fresco style” means considering they came up with it, but using the word “fresco” only produces the desired results 50% of the time. I’ve since started asking what the word “fresco” means before ordering just to make sure that at least the person taking the order understands. And that’s their own term! How can I expect every server or cook everywhere to know what exactly “vegan” means. It seems like it would be common, but trust me it’s not.
So how do we get the guarantee?
I listen to a number of food podcasts, most of which are not exclusively vegan. On one particular episode of KCRW’s Good Food, a chef was talking about the problem with people who do not have particular food allergies stating that they do in order to make sure that they don’t get served something that they don’t want. He said that there a number of people who just don’t like certain foods, say mushroom or onions, who tell their server that they are allergic to those items so that they don’t show up on their plate. As innovative as this may sound, the chef said that this is a big hassle because of the protocols that the word “allergy” prompts in a restaurant.
A friend of mine is a manager at a local restaurant, and I asked him about his phenomenon. He said that it’s insane (although understandable) what must be done if a guest says that they have an allergy to a specific food. First, the server is not even allowed to enter the order into their computer system. They have to physically hand a hand-written ticket to the head chef. That chef then gets the managers attention, and they both have to sign off on the ticket, noting the specific allergy, before the order can be entered into the computer. And depending on what the allergy is, they might have to use specific sanitation protocols, or even different equipment and prep areas to make sure that nothing is contaminated. So if someone just doesn’t like tomatoes, and instead of just saying “I don’t like tomatoes.” they say that they are allergic to tomatoes, then the protocol must begin.
And I’ve seen something similar first hand. I was at an amusement park last year, and I asked if their kettle corn contained any dairy. The youth who was taking orders asked me to hold on a moment, already signaling a type of protocol, as he grabbed the manager of the popcorn stand. The manager proceeded to ask me a series of questions about my dairy aversion, telling me in the end that the kettles had been used earlier that week to make caramel corn, which did in fact contain dairy. They took things very seriously, and that fact that he had to mention foods cooked in the pots days before showed me how seriously they took food allergies even though I didn’t even use the “A” word.
Knowing the hassle for the restaurant, and not wanting to cry wolf when I don’t have to, I avoid the histrionics; trying to be as nice and courteous to the server as we navigate the menu. I don’t want to be a burden or a problem, but I do want to make sure that I do not get served any animal products.
As a vegan, do I have the right to use the “A” word in order to protect myself from possibly being served animal products? How serious is it?
The other night, Ben and I decided to go out for a bit of a date night to a local curry restaurant. We had been a few times before, but it had been a while. I had even been a few times since going vegan, and had ordered a number of menu items that I was told were vegan.
Their menu is simple. You choose a curry base, a heat level, a variety of vegetables to go into the curry, and a selection of fried meats, tofu, or even potato croquettes to go on top. We both loved this restaurant because not only is their curry delicious, but because Ben and I could both order what we wanted, and both be satisfied.
Since going vegan, I have ordered their basic curry with mixed vegetables, and I have topped it with fried tofu, and potato croquettes. It’s always been solid.
So, as I started to order on our most recent visit, I wanted to double check that the items I wanted to order were in fact vegan. I asked about the curry, to make sure it wasn’t made with any chicken stock or dairy, and the server assured me that it wasn’t. Then I asked about the fried tofu and potato croquettes. I was told this time that everything fried uses egg to adhere the breading. Cool. I can’t change the past, but that really sucks. Why had I been told before that they were vegan? She did offer steamed tofu instead, and I took her up on her offer. All was well.
I was super hungry and wanted to get an appetizer or something to start with. Ben had ordered non-vegan potstickers, and I wanted something for myself. At this point I felt that I could trust her knowledge of the menu and of veganism, and she said the only vegan appetizer option on the menu was the tofu salad. She assured me that the sesame dressing was vegan, and so of course I ordered it.
The salad arrived and I poured the dressing all over the humble square bowl of iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and cubed tofu. I gave it a taste, and I was immediately in love. The flavor was complex; savory and sweet and creamy with a pleasantly strong sesame flavor. It seemed like it was a mayo-based dressing, which caused me to pause, but the server assured me that it was vegan, so I kicked that doubt out of my head. I was in love, and I made Ben give it a taste. He too fell in love, too.
When the server returned with our main course, I asked her if they made the dressing in house, or if they bought it. She said that they bought it. She also said that it came in a bottle with red and white on it, and that a customer had said that he had seen it at a local Korean market. I should have asked to see the bottle, but I trusted that it would easily come up in an image search.
I started Googling as soon we left the restaurant to see if I could find out exactly what the dressing was. An image search showed a few pictures of bottles that were for sesame dressings that had red and white on their labels. The one that seemed like it matched the servers bottle description, with a dressing inside that most resembled what I just ate, was Kewpie brand.
A search for “Kewpie sesame dressing vegan” didn’t bring up any results, and a look at the ingredients confirmed that it was “mayo” based, and did contain egg. I looked at a the ingredients in a few other similar dressings, and they all contained egg as well.
I was pretty positive the dressing I had just consumed wasn’t vegan, but It was too late. I had eaten egg! DUN DUN DUN!
How big of a deal was it that I just devoured two ramekins of an egg-based dressing (Yeah, I asked for a second.)? Should I be mad at the restaurant, or mad at myself for not trusting my instincts in that moment when I felt that there was no way that a dressing, unless specifically made and marketed as “vegan” could have that texture.
Should I have said I that I had an allergy?
But do you want to know what the worst part of all of this whole situation was? That dressing was best damn dressing I have had in a long time! It was everything!
So, what did I do?
I got over the fact that I had consumed eggs. I forgave the server. I Googled a copycat recipe.
Easily enough, the dressing could be made with vegan mayo, sugar, sesame seeds, soy sauce, and a bit of sesame oil. However, being that I’ve been on sort of a health kick lately, I decided to try and make the recipe a little bit healthier by subbing in silken tofu for the mayo, and using dates instead of sugar.
The dressing was a success, and now Ben and I are both enjoying this dressing once again knowing fully that it is 100% vegan, and full of flavor and protein. In order to make this salad into a meal, I decided to wrap it up and add more tofu.
This wrap recipe is easily tailored to your needs. It’s amazing with vegan chicken or crispy tofu. I used baked tofu for this recipe so that I wouldn’t have to cook anything.
Do you. And if you feel like the dressing just isn’t sinful enough, swap the mayo back in (vegan, of course) and go to town. You won’t be disappointed.
Sesame Baked Tofu Wrap
- 2 squares of lavash bread or large tortillas
- 1 head of green leaf lettuce, washed, dried, and roughly chopped
- 1 carrot, grated
- 1 batch of Sweet Sesame Dressing (recipe below)
- 1 block of sriracha baked tofu, thinly sliced
- ½ avocado
- Toss the dressing with your lettuce and grated carrots. Divide your lettuce between the two lavash breads. Top with sliced tofu and avocado. Roll-up, cut in half, and serve immediately.
Sweet Sesame Dressing
This is an oil free, gluten free, and refined sugar free version of my newest favorite dressing. Don’t be fooled by how free it is. This dressing packs a ton of flavor, and none of the guild. In fact, adding this protein rich dressing to your salads or wraps will make them even healthier than they were before you added it.
- 6 ounces firm silken tofu (1/2 block of Mori Nu)
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or soy sauce
- 2 pitted Medjool dates, soaked if they are a bit dry
- 1 tablespoon tahini
- salt and pepper to taste
- Add everything to a blender, and blend until creamy. Taste for salt, and season to taste.