Discover more from Family Friend by Lukas Volger
Hawaiian Pizza Reimagined as Tofu
A 20 minute meal that's testament to the magic of concentrated sweetness in a savory application
Quick reminder: If you’d like to be the first to receive it, there are just a few weeks left to preorder the updated new edition of my first cookbook, Veggie Burgers Every Which Way via Bookshop, Amazon, or any of your favorite independent shops.
The mention of Hawaiian pizza takes me right back to Round Table Pizza in Boise, Idaho, and my family’s occasional pizza night when we’d pick up dinner from there. Our order was usually the same: one large pizza for the four of us, half Hawaiian for us kids, half “combination” for the adults, and those vile chunks of green pepper from the combo side had better not cross the divide or my brother and I would not be pleased.
We didn’t know at the time that pineapple on pizza was a matter of controversy, but we did know, perhaps without being able to articulate it exactly, that mixing up the sweet with the savory was good. In that instance, it’s was the juicy bursts of sweetness that provide a delightful contrast to the other salty and rich stuff. But as I’ve gotten older and cooked more, I’ve learned that you can push this principle further than you might realize.
I was reminded of it recently when I made the Charlie Bird farro salad (that’s a gifted link!), in which the grains are cooked in apple cider. The fruit juice concentrates in flavor as the grains absorb it, and the liquid is also very well salted; you’d never think to call the finished grains “sweet,” but you’re amazed that they’re so incredibly flavorful. I like to make that salad using pineapple juice instead of cider (because those little cans of juice are easy to keep on hand) and the result is pretty much the same. Throw in the other additions — peppery arugula, crunchy pistachios, nuggets of Parmesan — and it’s probably one of the best grain salads in existence.
Where this reflection led me is to the tofu dish below. I had in mind Hawaiian pizza, but in a tofu format — tender tofu and sweet chunks of fruit, in a cooked and well-seasoned tomato-spiked sauce, with a little heat in the form of a hot chili at the end (I like this better than a generous shake of crushed red pepper flakes).
There are more traditional types of stir-fried pineapple and tofu dishes in Cambodian, Chinese-American, and probably other cuisines, but I think what sets apart my recipe is that the pineapple juice — just the liquid that comes in the can — cooks down with tomato paste to form a velvety sauce that coats everything. It doesn’t necessarily have the tropical brightness of pure pineapple juice; instead it transforms into something else that’s salty, a little savory, and umami-rich.
Of course there’s no Canadian bacon in here, but the flavors are remarkably Hawaiian Pizza-esqe, and it’s just a perk that it all comes together so quickly.
Pineapple Tomato (“Hawaiian Pizza”) Tofu
A 20-ounce can of pineapple chunks typically contains about 2 cups of fruit and ½ cup juice. If you want to use fresh pineapple instead, you’ll need to add ½ cup pineapple juice.
If using water-packed tofu, you may want to drain it by wrapping it in a clean towel and weighing it down between a cutting board and a heavy skillet for 10 to 15 minutes. I buy Hodo Foods firm tofu whenever I see it, and it only needs to be blotted dry.
Yield 4 servings | Prep & cook time 20 minutes
2 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 block tofu, blotted dry and cubed
One 20-ounce can pineapple chunks in juice
2 teaspoons honey
¼ medium red onion, sliced into thick wedges or strips
Freshly cooked rice
1 small serrano or other fresh chili, thinly sliced
1. Set a 10-inch skillet over medium heat, and when hot swirl in the oil. Add the tomato paste and garlic, cooking until the paste darkens a shade, about 2 minutes. Add the tofu and spread it out in an even layer, and sprinkle liberally with salt. Cook without disturbing it so as to encourage it to develop some sear marks, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip, sprinkle the opposite sides with salt, and repeat.
2. Add the contents of the canned pineapple (including the juices) as well as the honey. Stir to combine, raise the heat so that the liquid is actively simmering, and cook until the juices reduce and thicken, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the red onion, then remove from the heat (I like the texture of raw onion here; if you wish to have it cooked, add it about halfway through cooking down the liquid). Taste, adding additional salt as needed. Serve hot over rice, garnished with the chili.