For a good amount of time in my life I was a strict vegetarian and at time I even went the vegan route. While I have added meat back into my diet (due to some health related issues), I loved the recipes I gathered during my vegetarian/vegan diet time. Eating a vegetarian/vegan diet expanded my taste palette and culinary interests. I enjoyed finding new ways to recreate traditional dishes. Finding ingredient substitutes and exploring new spices was essential in creating recipes that were more than just amazing.
One of the dishes that I still enjoy to this day is spinach and artichoke dip made with tofu. Tofu is an amazing ingredient for some many dishes. Tofu can be used in main dishes, side dishes, dips, sauces, desserts, etc. I am thankful that tofu is becoming more widely used and accepted in the states (though some will still run and hide if you mention tofu, my husband is one of them). Tofu is easy to use, readily available and highly nutritious. Tofu can help lower cholesterol, certain cancers and menopause symptoms. It is a great source of protein, isoflavones, calcium, iron, omega 3, essential amino acids and vitamin E.
Traditional spinach and artichoke dip is loaded with cream, cheese and butter (some dip recipes even call for mayonnaise). While the traditional dip is usually amazing, I wanted to create a spinach and artichoke dip that would be a healthier option. To recreate the dip I needed to start with rethinking the base which is usually a cream base. In a lot of recipes (vegan or dairy sensitive recipes) tofu is used as a dairy replacement. I figured I would try to see if the cream in a traditional spinach and artichoke dip could be replaced with tofu.
Tofu comes in a variety of forms; regular and silken. Regular tofu is more common than silken and it can be found in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores. You will find regular tofu comes in different consistencies, ranging from soft to extra firm. The fat content also varies from lite to full fat (good soybean fat). For this recipe your choice of tofu will depend on how you want the final dip to be in regards to consistency. If you want a smooth dip, than you should select the soft tofu type. On the flip side, if you want a thicker dip, than you should select the firmer tofu type. I prefer a thicker dip so I usually select the lite extra firm type of tofu.
For the cheese portion of the traditional spinach and artichoke dip I decided to ax it completely. The tofu has a nutty, almost cheesy, flavor onto itself so I figured I would make my recipe without any cheese to see what would happen. The final dip was a nice, light dip that does not lay too hard in your stomach, much like a cheese based dip might. Removing the cheese is completely optional. I have included optional cheese ingredients in the recipe if you wish to keep the cheese component of the dip. If you are vegan or have dairy sensitives, but want a cheese flavor, I have added instructions on how to revise the recipe to fit your needs as well.
Some of the other optional ingredients you can add to your dip are olive oil, fresh lemon juice and cayenne pepper. The olive oil will give you a creamier dip texture. If you do not have sensitives to oils and want a creamier dip than olive oil would be the oil of choice to use in this recipe. Fresh lemon juice will give the dip a nice acidity level and can actually help bind the ingredients together making for a nicer dip consistency. The cayenne pepper will give the dip a subtle kick. Some cannot tolerate the heat of the cayenne pepper, even in a small amount, so it is optional and can be left out completely.
The other components of a traditional spinach and artichoke dip are the spinach and artichoke of course. Since spinach and artichoke are healthy ingredients onto themselves so I have left them in the recipe as is. The only thing I changed was the type of spinach used in the dip. Most, if not all, spinach and artichoke dips call for frozen spinach. I find any spinach other than fresh spinach to be somewhat offensive. To me frozen spinach is very watery and smells fishy. Canned spinach is not much better, it too is watery and has a strong metallic taste. For my spinach and artichoke recipe I decided that using fresh baby spinach was the way to go.
Canned artichoke hearts are used in a traditional spinach and artichoke recipe. Some recipes use the marinated artichoke hearts but I prefer the hearts that are canned in water and not oil. Most recipes also state to chop up the whole artichoke heart and use all of it in the dip. I have found that the bottom, palm part, of the artichoke heart has many thick fibers that do not break down easily. These fibers can give your final dip a stringy consistency (almost like hay pieces). I do not like these fibers so I just use the top “leaf” portion of the artichoke heart.
Tofu Spinach and Artichoke Dip
14 ounce regular tofu (soft, medium or firm – depends on how you want the final dip consistency to be)
2 cups fresh baby spinach (rip of stems if there are any)
1 tablespoon minced dried onion (or fresh minced onion)
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder (or fresh minced garlic)
14 ounce can of artichoke hearts (drained – chopped, just using the top “leaf” parts)
1 teaspoon salt (more if you want)
1/3 cup coconut/soy/almond milk (or lowfat cow milk)
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional if you want a creamier dip)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (optional)
A dash of cayenne pepper (optional if you want a dip with a kick)
Optional Dairy Ingredients
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyere cheese
or 1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes or shredded dairy substitute (for vegan cheese alternative)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain the water from the tofu block. Cut the tofu block into 1 inch squares. In a food processor or blender add all of the ingredients. Blend on medium speed until well blended. If you have a blender with a top agitator you can use that to move the ingredients around. If you do not have an agitator you may need to stop the processor or blender a couple times and move the ingredients around with a spoon. Empty the well mixed ingredients into a 1.5 quart casserole dish. Bake, uncovered, in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until somewhat golden. Allow dip to cool slightly and then serve in a dip bowl with baked chips/crackers or in brown bread bowl.