I Eat Plants: Cooking with Tofu

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A few weeks ago, Seasonal Chef Maria Reina messaged me about an idea for columns on tofu!  I hope that you read her post and her recipe for a tofu pasta sauce from yesterday.  As she said, it was a vegetarian recipe though not vegan, but I’m sure that subbing non-dairy milk (soy, almond, etc) and nutritional yeast or a vegan parmesan would be fine if you’re inclined to go the vegan way.

The first time I had tofu, I was in college and had come home for a weekend.  My mother had been going through a phase with tofu, and was just throwing it into random foods- that weekend, she had thrown chunks into chili.  It was gross.  I would not touch tofu for a quite a while after that- even after I had gone vegetarian.

It was fried tofu that won me back (specifically, the sesame tofu at Whole Foods), and I learned to make that.  Sesame tofu was one of my favorite things to serve to my friends, to introduce them to the wonders of tofu.  Since then, I’ve learned a few things along the way.  I’ve written more about tofu over on my blog before, but I’ll summarize here.

First, fried is not the only way to make tofu taste good.  Fried is not terribly good for you, making it a sometimes food.  I want to be able to eat tofu more than just a sparing sometimes!

Tofu Pad Thai

 

But when it is fried, it is delicious.

Second, the texture is key.

 

Sometimes people have a hard time with the soft feel.  I sure did!  Tofu comes in a few forms, usually soft, medium (rarely see this one) and firm/extra firm/super firm. These are the tofus that you typically use when you’re eating it as a “meat substitute,” and you’ll typically want the firm/extra firm/super firm varieties- this is what I’m talking about today.  There is also silken tofu, which is more useful in sauces and smoothies.  Both of these also come packaged one of three ways.  Some places (like Apple Farm, in White Plains) sell the firm variety in bulk.  You’ll find it in a big tub of water.  This type of tofu is typically the freshest.  Then there is the type of tofu you usually see in the store, sometimes in the produce section, and sometimes with other “mock meats.” That is the sealed water packed packages of tofu, like the one I like to buy at Trader Joe’s.  Both this and the bulk tofu have to be refrigerated.  Lastly, there is the tetra-packed shelf stable tofu.  You’ll find this in most grocery stores, but it will usually be with the Asian foods on the shelf, rather than the refrigerated section (though you’ll occasionally find it there, too).   It does not need to be refrigerated before it is opened.

I find the really fresh bulk variety (or if you make it yourself) tends to have a very delicate taste.  I wouldn’t want to put a whole lot of sauce or seasoning on this, and prefer to enjoy as is.  The water-packed tub type is the most versatile.  You can tell it’s tofu if you eat it straight from the package, but it’s a mild taste.  The shelf-stable type tends to taste well… the bean-y-ist.  I don’t really care for it, and avoid it.  But if that’s all you have, it’s okay if you dress it up with plenty of sauce.  Others may have a different opinion, of course.

I almost always use extra firm (organic, non-GMO) tofu, and my favorite place to buy it is at Trader Joe’s- $1.69 for a 19oz block in a water-packed tub.

Once you have your block of tofu, there are two techniques you can use to change the texture.

The easiest is to simply throw the whole thing in the freezer overnight, defrost, open it up and wring out the tofu like a sponge (well, a little more gently).  This gives it a dramatically different texture that is much chewier and almost a little meaty.  This is best for things that you might fry and smother with a tasty sauce.

The second way is to press the tofu to get as much water out of it as possible.  This can be a little tricky.  These days I typically use something called the TofuXpress, which presses out the water without making  huge mess.  Before I had one of these, I typically wrapped the block in paper towels, put it between two plates, and put a couple of heavy cans on top.  This way is serviceable, but have a lot of paper towels nearby, because it will make a mess.

The next place you have a chance to change the texture is when you cook it.  Frying it one way, which will give it a crunchy texture if done right.  It makes a nice difference when you bite into it and it has a little resistance.  Of course, frying makes foods special treats.  If you’re looking for a more every day way to prepare tofu with a nice bite, I like to bake it for 20-30 minutes (flip once half way through), and then broiling it for about another 3 minutes.  It gets that nice chewy texture.  I’d like to think that if you tried it this way, seasoned well, and didn’t know what it was- your first thought wouldn’t be tofu.

The recipe I’m sharing today is for Jerk Tofu, using extra firm tofu and pressing it.  By adding a marinade for a few hours, it soaks up all the delicious jerk flavors.  It’s baked and broiled, just the way I like it!

You have so many options when it comes to tofu!  I hope that if you try this recipe, you might want to make tofu part of your regular meal rotation!

Jerk Tofu

Jerk Tofu.  You’ll love it!

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About Author

I Eat Plants columnist Jodie Deignan went vegetarian in 2004 and fully committed to veganism in 2007. By day she’s a psychiatric nurse practitioner and by night she spends a lot of time cooking delicious vegan food for herself and her friends. She’s a bit of a picky eater, with a special distaste for mushrooms, seaweed, raw tomatoes, and eggplant, though she’s discovered along the way she’s a little more open-minded than she once thought. She blogs at The Picky Vegan.

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