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Tofu on the menu at Chipotle? It's happening

May 17, 2013|By Jenn Harris
  • Chipotle, the fast-casual chain that normally conjures images of burritos the size of small infants, is introducing a tofu dish.
Chipotle, the fast-casual chain that normally conjures images of burritos… (David Zalubowski, Associated…)

For the first time in 20 years, the Mexican fast casual chain Chipotle is adding a new protein to the menu, and it's tofu. Surprised?

The tofu dish is called "sofritas," and it hits Southern California Chipotle menus June 3. The name comes from sofrito, the Spanish word for the combination of aromatic ingredients that have been cut into small pieces, such as onion, garlic and peppers. 

Chef Nate Appleman, formerly at Pulino, who signed on as Culinary Manager at Chipotle in 2010, developed the new dish.

"We wanted to do something that was vegetarian or vegan but could still capture meat eaters," said Appleman. "It's so flavorful, if you served it to a panel of people you'd never know it [was tofu]." 

A couple years back, Appleman toyed with the idea of adding a tofu chorizo to the menu. Around the same time, he was preparing a chili recipe for the Chipotle annual Cultivate food, music, and ideas festival. He put the tofu and chili flavors together and the idea for the "sofritas" was born.

Appleman was a fan of the new product, but recognized the difficulty in introducing a new item to people who often order the same thing every time they visit the restaurant.

"Challenges always present themselves with a company as big as this one and surprise is a huge one," said Appleman. "This is a restaurant that so many people are familiar with and if we went so far out of the box and came out with a completely new flavor profile, it probably wouldn't be accepted." 

So Appleman used existing flavors and ingredients for the sofritas with the restaurant's namesake chipotle peppers, onions, garlic and "all those things that make you think of chili."

The tofu, which comes from Hodo Soy, a non-GMO producer in Oakland, is quickly fried, then ground up and braised in the sofrita sauce.

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