Few ingredients strike fear into the hearts of home cooks (and even a few otherwise bold pros) than tofu. Why is it so scary? Well, texture is probably the first challenge followed by the fact that it’s the epitome of a blank slate. There it sits, a block of white, flavorless uninspired protein.
…that’s precisely what makes cooking with tofu so easy!
OK, so tofu. If you’ve never cooked with it, or you have with less-than-yummy results, here are a few tips that will help you conquer your fear and create amazing and satisfying meatless meals. You may even find yourself inspired ….
(ok, baby steps)
First, texture matters and, believe it or not, tofu comes in varying stages of firmness:
- Silken tofu is the softest with a texture has little structure, breaks down pretty easily and makes a great base for vegan “creams”, sauces and even desserts (and to prove that the stuff isn’t just for your hippie Birkenstock-wearing neighbor, even Rachel Ray whipped up this decadent-looking chocolate silken tofu pudding).
- Firm, extra firm and super-firm tofu are more well suited to cooking things like chili, vegan scrambled “eggs”, and other recipes where you need the tofu to hold its form. As you get more familiar with tofu, you’ll notice that it’s packaged a couple of different ways–either water packed or vacuumed sealed. The bulk of my tofu cooking involved stir fry, so I my tofu staple is super firm vacuum packed (this is my favorite). It’s higher in protein than other tofu products and has very little water so it browns and can actually get crispy…which is kind of miraculous. If you can’t find a super firm tofu, go ahead and purchase the most firm tofu you can find, remove it from its package and press the water out by placing the tofu block on a wood cutting board placed in a large glass dish. place a sheet of wax paper on the tofu and top with a heavy pan or another cutting board and a couple of large cans of beans or other canned food. Place in the fridge and allow to sit for at least a couple of hours (tossing out the water as it is extracted from the tofu). The goal is to get as much of the moisture as possible out of the tofu before you cook with it.
Ok, so on to this:
Looks yummy, right?!
This is where tofu’s indifference comes in handy. Because it starts out with a, let’s call it ‘neutral’ flavor, it readily and happily absorbs any flavors you add to it. So, you see, tofu is actually your best friend in the kitchen. Cooperative, flexible, clean and eager to please. You just have to know how to treat it.
If you’re new to tofu, perhaps the best place to start is by looking at your favorite globally-inspired recipes. There are many traditional Asian, Indian, and even Latin American dishes where the meat ingredients can easily be swapped out for tofu. Chicken Tikka Masala? Classic Chicken Tacos? Hello friendly, flexible, healthy tofu.
I’m pretty sure General Tso wouldn’t miss the chicken in his signature dish
It’s no secret that eating more plant-based meals is a great way to get on the path to healthier eating and living. Whether you’re a pro at incorporating vegetarian meals into your weekly menu or you are thinking about dipping your toes into celebrating Meatless Monday, tofu is a pathway to great satisfying, flavorful and healthy meals…you may even surprise yourself by your new appreciation for the potential of a blank slate.
Meatless Monday: General Tso’s Tofu
servings: 2 | time: about 50 minutes including time to marinade the tofu
1 10-ounce package super firm organic tofu, cubed (this is my favorite)
2 scallions, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 TBSP. grapeseed oil
1/4 cup raw peanuts
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1 large head of broccoli, lightly steamed
sesame seeds (for garnish)
For the Marinade:
3 TBSP. water or vegetable broth
2 tsp. tamari
1/2 tsp. sriracha (or to taste, up to 1 tsp.)
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 large egg white
2 tsp. corn starch
For the Sauce:
2 TBSP. tamari
6 TBSP. water or vegetable broth
2 TBSP. mirin
2 tsp. rice vinegar
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste…be careful not to overdo it!)
1/4 tsp. ground ginger powder
1 TBSP. plus 2 tsp. corn starch
Make the marinade:
1. Place the water (or veggie broth), tamari, sriracha, sesame oil, egg white, and corn starch in a large bowl. Whisk until the cornstarch dissolves. Add the cubed tofu and allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes (if marinading longer, place in the refrigerator)
Make the sauce:
1. Place the tamari, water (or veggie broth), rice wine, rice vinegar, red pepper flakes, ground ginger, agave, and corn starch in a bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside
Make General Tso’s Tofu:
1. Heat the grapeseed oil in a wok or large nonstick pan (non-stick is preferable to help achieve a crispy coating on the tofu)
2. Carefully add the tofu, a couple of cubes at a time, making sure each is lying flat
3. Cook the tofu over medium high heat for 4-5 minutes or until it becomes golden and gets crispy around the edges. This part is tedious but worth it: carefully turn each cube to the other side (easiest if you use chopsticks for this). Allow to cook for an additional 4-5 minutes until the second side becomes crispy
4. Add half of the chopped green onion and all of the garlic. Saute for 2-3 minutes
5. Whisk the sauce and add to the tofu. Quickly stirfry for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens and starts to glaze the tofu. Add the peanuts and toss to combine
Scoop prepared brown rice into 2 large bowls. Top with steamed broccoli and tofu. Sprinkle with a few sesame seeds and the remaining chopped green onion