Kungfu Tofu magnet from Janelloshea on Etsy
My mom is fond of telling me that she didn’t like tofu the first time she tried it…but when pressed she admits that it was in “the seventies” and that it “probably tastes different now”. I am willing to bet that 2010 tofu tastes a lot different from 1975 tofu, and by that I mean it tastes good. 2010 tofu comes in all tastes and textures and provides limitless opportunities for healthy (and vegetarian!) snacks, meals, and even desserts.
Put simply, tofu is made by coagulating the milk of soy beans, and then pressing the curds into soft white blocks. The resulting bean curd is a relatively tasteless, odorless product that can be talked into whatever you want to flavor it with. You can find tofu in the produce section of the grocery store, usually in silken, soft, firm, and extra firm textures. Firmer tofu is dense and can be cubed and stir fried, grilled, scrambled, pickled, smoked, baked, barbecued or served in soups. Soft or silken tofu works best in recipes where it will be blended. Tofu is very low in calories and fat, but has a good amount of protein and iron, making it very nutritious.
As you can probably guess, tofu has been around for a really long time…too long to know its exact origins, but it’s safe to say it’s been a staple in the diet of many Asian cultures for at least 2,000 years. We tend to think of it as emerging in the US on the same magic carpet ride as patchouli incense and lava lamps, but actually…San Francisco was home to the first US tofu manufacturer in 1878, though it wasn’t until 1958 that Shoan Yamauchi, owner of Matsuda Hinode Tofu Co., created the first packaging that allowed it to be sold in grocery stores in its individual bath of water. The rest is bean curd history.
I admit I never tried tofu before I became a vegetarian in 2001, but now I use it all the time in stir fries and curries. Tofu is much easier to work with than you might think. If you haven’t cooked with it before a great way to start is with a simple stir fry. You want to marinate it in advance the same way you would any other protein.
Simple Marinated Skillet Tofu
- Bring home a container of extra firm tofu from your friendly neighborhood grocery store and stick it in the fridge until you’re ready to marinate it.
- When you’re ready to marinate, remove the plastic on top of the tofu container (I usually run a knife between the edge of the container and the block of tofu inside) and drain the water inside over the sink. The water is keeping your tofu fresh.
- Wrap the block of tofu in a few layers of paper towels and gently press all around to remove as much water as possible from inside the tofu. If you have time you may want to place the wrapped block on a plate and place another plate on top for 30 minutes to press out more water.
- Once it’s relatively dry, slice that tofu up in whatever size pieces you want. I like to slice it into cubes…think the size of grapes.
- Marinate your tofu pieces the same way you would anything else – but be gentle with them! They can crumble if you’re not careful. I like to use whatever bottled marinades catch my fancy, provided they don’t have meat in them or high fructose corn syrup as a main ingredient. I wish I could tell you I make my own marinades but that would be lying…and some of you would know.
- Get a skillet nice and hot and drizzle some olive oil in there.
- Gently use a spatula to place your tofu in the skillet. If you want to get a sear on the tofu try to make the layer nice and even. I like my tofu a little on the soft side. Restaurants tend to serve tofu fried within an inch on its life, giving it a tough hide, and after a few years of that I never want it “fried” again.
- Once it’s cooked to your liking it’s done. Simple as that.
Finished marinated skillet tofu is delicious with sautéed or steamed veggies and rice or couscous. I made some tonight with a honey teriyaki marinade (thank you Ken’s) and accompanied the result with a shortcut steam-in-the-bag bag of carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower mix. Delicious for supper…and for lunch tomorrow!
And just to set the record straight, I don’t advocate using tofu in place of things it clearly isn’t. I stupidly trusted a recipe once that said you could use blended, seasoned tofu in place of eggs and milk in a quiche…and it was an unfortunate lesson. A lesson that went right into the trash.
I should also note that this is one tiny percent of the information available about tofu and the many ways it can be eaten. A very Western percent. Visit the Soy Info Center online for much more info, or visit a local Asian market for a mind-boggling array of tofu products!