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“Almost Vegan” Citrus Bars

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A few months back, Dave and I took a trip to our local Asian supermarket to get some ingredients for dinner. We ended up picking up delicious pre-made frozen scallion pancakes (one of my favorites) as an appetizer and veggies for what Dave would probably consider to be his signature Thai red curry. It’s delicious every time he makes it, without fail.

While shopping for produce, I spotted something curious: soon tofu. Labeled as “extra silken” or “extra soft” tofu and packaged in a tube-shaped plastic sheath, neither of us had ever seen it before in conventional or other Asian supermarkets. The tofu’s custard-like consistency and general lack of flavor (aside from a faint nuttiness) inspired me to try my hand, once again, at making a vegan dessert that didn’t suck—lest anyone forget the chia pudding and avocado chocolate pudding fails that I’ve mentioned before and still haunt me to this day. (Fail and yuck.)

At that point, lemon bars had been on my mind for a while, so I made vegan lemon bars using soon tofu my challenge. I processed the tofu with cane sugar, coconut cream, citrus zests and juices, cornstarch, and a few other ingredients to form a very smooth filling. The mixture as it cooked resembled a thick, lemon curd-type filling. Success! It needed more sugar than I would have liked to include, though, in order to mask the nuttiness of the tofu and make it taste like a dessert. Otherwise, so far, so good.

When I started to make the crust as the filling cooked, I found that the only cookies I had on-hand were Simply Made Keebler Butter Cookies. As the name implied, they were made with butter and, therefore, not vegan.

Well, damn.

Not wanting to go back to the grocery store that day, I pressed on with making and chilling the crust. Once cooled, I added the filling and put it back in the fridge to chill several hours until well-set. Dave and I ate the bars for dessert that night and they still tasted great!

There’s good news for anyone hoping to recreate these as a totally vegan, dairy-free dessert: Unlike traditional lemon bars, the filling isn’t loaded with eggs and butter. It would be easy to substitute a vegan cookie in the crust and get similar results.

“Almost Vegan” Citrus Bars

Makes 9, 3″ square bars

Ingredients

For Crust:

11 butter cookies (such as Simply Made Keebler Butter Cookies)
1/2 cup unsweetened dried coconut
1 tablespoon cane sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
Zest of 1/2 mandarin
Zest of 1/2 lime
1/4 teaspoon salt

For Filling:

1 package soon (extra silken) tofu
1/2 cup sweetened coconut cream + 2 tablespoons coconut oil from the can
Zest of 1/2 mandarin
Zest of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup citrus juice (the juice from the cut-up lime and mandarin, topped off with additional lime juice if there isn’t enough in the two fruits to get 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Method

To make the crust:

In a food processor, pulse cookies until mostly broken apart. Add coconut, sugar, and other ingredients. Pulse until mixture resembles wet sand.

Press crust into a 9×9 square glass or metal baking dish that has been greased with a very thin coating of coconut oil. Freeze or refrigerate until very cold and the coconut oil re-hardens.

To make the filling:

Combine coconut cream, tofu, and remaining ingredients except 1/2 tablespoon citrus zest in a food processor. Process mixture until very smooth.

Transfer mixture to a pan and cook on low until cornstarch thickens. Remove from heat and let cool.

When cooled, stir in remaining 1/2 tablespoon zest. Pour on top of chilled crust, cover the surface with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for several hours to set.

To serve:

Cut into 9 squares with a sharp knife. Eat plain or for more presentation top with dairy-free whipped topping, a sprinkling of cookie crumbs, and a sprinkling of lime or mandarin zest or toasted coconut.

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