Out of the package, tofu is a rather unsavory-looking white blob with a blubbery texture. And frankly, by itself, tofu’s got very little goin’ on in the way of flavor. Tofu is, for most, not a thing to savor straight-up, out-of-the-box. Tofu is no natural beauty; but, oh it’s one beautiful diamond in the rough. Tofu’s very lack of flavor definition is what gives it such limitless potential. It’s is an ingredient that can travel virtually any culinary path, becoming a savory pop of protein in main dishes, or a stand-in for milk and eggs in a variety of deserts. Tofu can be blended into a cheese-like nacho sauce, a silky chocolate pudding, and holds its own as a stand-in for eggs in a scramble. Yes, it’s still great in a stirfry, and it does make a great vegetarian burger, but it’s high time to let tofu out of the box. Let get creative, and see what this humble block of soy protein can do!
My first foray into the world of tofu cookery involved a tofu burger recipe I gleaned from the Moosewood Cookbook by Molly Katzen. The recipe evolved over my time with it, eventually landing as a menu item in the early days of my own little restaurant, Imagine Coffee House & Catering. This burger recipe calls for 14-ingredients, and takes a bit of time to execute, but yields a vegetarian burger far superior to any frozen patty. If you aren’t familiar with tofu cookery, it can seem a little intimidating. But, be not afraid, brave home chef; tofu is as forgiving as it is healthy. I’m an experienced chef, unafraid of multiple steps and varied techniques, but I assure you, tofu gives you lots of wiggle-room for learning. A relatively low-cost ingredient, even wild bouts of experimentation with tofu are not prohibitively expensive. Its modest price alone is worth adding it to your meal-making repertoire, from appetizer to entree, clear through to sweet dessert.
Before venturing out into the soya wilds, let’s define what tofu is. Also known as bean curd, tofu is made by curdling heated soy milk, then cooling it and pressing the curds, then discarding the whey (preferably into your garden, as your veggie starts will love the extra nutrients!). Purists will make tofu at home, from scratch. It’s really not a difficult process and yields a product unlike any you’ll likely find floating in a plastic container at your local grocery. You can go so far as to make your own soymilk from soybeans, then coagulate, cook and press your tofu curds. Or, you can start a batch with unflavored purchased soymilk. Here’s a link to a delicious recipe, for the more adventurous tofu experimenters:
Tofu is believed to have originated in Asia about 200 years ago. Chinese legend ascribes its invention to Prince Liu An of the Han Dynasty. Mongolian history attributes the invention of tofu to the Mongolians, who are said to have applied cheese-making techniques to soymilk. Other theories claim it was a completely accidental creation, resulting from the addition of impure sea salt to soymilk, causing it to unexpectedly curdle. Whatever it’s true origin, tofu is ubiquitous in Asian cooking, absorbing all the strength of traditional flavorings such as fermented soy sauce, ginger, hot pepper, and garlic. A stirfry is a delicious way to enjoy tofu and a wonderful way to acquaint yourself with cooking it. If you’ve only experienced tofu in your take-out boxes, then you are about to be pleasantly surprised at how easily you can create delicious Asian meal at home, tailored exactly to your tastes.
Photo credit: Vita Marija Murenaite @runningvita
Feeling tofu-inspired? Get yourself some tofu, or make a big batch from scratch. Then, keep your eyes out here for other great tofu recipes, many of which will be featured in our monthly “Veegends,” aka Imagine Vegan Weekends. I’ve nearly perfected a carob tofu pudding, am inches away from the most delicious vegan nacho sauce the world has ever tasted, and have created a tofu frittata recipe that’ll make you forget you forgot to pick up eggs. I can hardly wait for you to try them all!
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And for your further tofu reading pleasure…