Sunday, January 15, 2006

tofu is not the enemy

My mom called me tonight to report that she and my dad had eaten taco salad for dinner. Her mental health is typically in top notch condition, so I was a bit confused about why she might have felt the need to call and report her menu to me. There was pregnancy in her tone, however, as if there was more to tell but her excitement had prevented her from delivering it all in one bundle. As it turned out, she had crumbled up some veggie burgers in lieu of ground beef and passed the whole shebang off onto my dad without saying a word. She happily reported that my dad had devoured the meal without complaint.

"...And last night we had tofu in a stir-fry."

Of course it makes me happy that my parents are considering meatless alternatives in their meals, but tofu can be tricky.

"Was it kind of squishy and weird?"

It was. I really think that tofu should come with instructions, because I'm sure my parents ate their stir-fry, weird tofu and all, knowing full well that it wasn't that good but thinking that maybe this was how tofu is supposed to be. We've all been there, but these are avoidable tragedies.

In keeping with my New Year's resolution, I've decided to list a few tofu recipes. I tend to prefer tofu to its cousin, tempeh, and prepared properly it can be one of my favorite things to eat. [my comments appear in brackets.]

(this recipe courtesy of The Angelica Home Kitchen by Leslie McEachern)

YIELD: 4 Servings
COOKING TIME: 40 to 50 minutes

This is the version used for our famous Tofu Sandwich with Roasted Vegetables and Basil-Walnut Pesto (see page 163). We love the combination of lemon and rosemary. The balsamic vinegar lends a pleasant sweetness to this marinade, which has an amazingly rich flavor and very low fat.

To prepare the tofu for baking, we press it for 20 minutes to firm it up by extracting excess water [this is always a good idea when working with tofu]. Normally, you would buy it in the store firm and cook it as is [hogwash]. But if you like it even firmer and chewier, try taking the extra step of pressing it between two plates with a quart container of liquid on top [or whatever's handy] to weigh it down, discarding the water that's squeezed out. For sandwiches, we omit the pressing and the tofu remains softer [yuck].

Serving suggestions: Cut baked tofu into cubes and toss into a salad [I can't even begin to tell you how good this is] or serve with noodles in Dashi broth (see page 129), garnished with sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

[We usually do two blocks of tofu at a time as goes very quickly; also, we've found that it's good to half the marinade again, so that we end up using 1.5 times the amount of marinade listed below per block of tofu. Trust me.]

1 pound firm tofu, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 1/2 inch slices
3 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
Pinch of freshly ground white pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
* Slice the tofu into thirds horizontally.
* Stack the slices and cut them crosswise to make 12 triangles.
*Place the tofu in a single layer baking dish.
* In a bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients for the marinade.
* Pour the marinade over the tofu
* Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the tofu is nicely browned and the marinade has been absorbed."

It is to my great shame that it took me nearly ten years of vegetarianism to realize that one could bread and fry tofu in the same manner that one breads and fries chicken with comparable yumminess. In my defense, I've never fried a chicken, so I suppose it makes sense that I would be ignorant on the matter. At about the same time that I had been wondering about this, I bought a wok and a cookbook in my favorite Chicago Chinatown shop - a cookware store that doubles as a hardware store. The cookbook is called Tofu! Tofu! Tofu! Chinese Style and was put together by the Wei Chuan cooking school. What follows is the secret to restaurant-style tofu, and as the only recipe I use in the whole cookbook, it was well worth the $5.95 I paid for it:

"Deep-fried Tofu

1/2 lb. (225g) tofu
4 T. cornstarch or flour
oil for deep-frying

1 Pat tofu dry, cut into 12 pieces then evenly coat with cornstarch [or flour].
2 Heat oil, add tofu and deep-fry over high heat 4 minutes [or] until both sides are golden brown [this usually takes longer than 4 minutes]. Remove."

I cut this recipe short, as it includes some dipping sauce recipes that I've never tried and which don't sound that good to me. I think this recipe is best for preparing tofu to be used in other recipes, such as my mom's stir-fry, or a curry, or whatever. The trick is to add the tofu last when making such a dish, otherwise it has a tendency to become kind of soggy and gross. I've found this one out the hard way.

Finally, I give you the tofu spanish omelette. Two caveats: one) there are many other things that can be done with tofu, this is just to get you started. two) this is not an omelette. anyone looking for a real honest to God no shit vegan omelette should travel to Follow Your Heart in Canoga Park, Los Angeles, California. This is more of a scramble, and it comes to us courtesy of
Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson:

"Spanish Tofu 'Omelet'

In this vegan version of a Spanish omelet, tofu stands in for the eggs, while the tangy tomato salsa adds flavor and saves chopping time [the premise, I suppose, is that you don't want to have to work very hard for your breakfast]. I prefer the salsa on top of the 'omelet' rather than use it as a filling [which would be damn near impossible].

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, mined
One sixteen-ounce package firm tofu, drained and crumbled
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup fresh tomato Salsa (page 174) or your favorite salsa [or whatever your hungover ass reaches for]

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, cover, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tofu, turmeric, and salt and pepper to taste, stirring to blend the seasonings into the tofu. Cook until heated through and all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes.

2. Divide the tofu mixture among 4 individual plates, top each with a spoonful of the salsa, and serve hot [step two is very complicated].

Serves 4"

My wife reminded me of a great tofu lasagna recipe, so let this serve as a teaser. These ought to get you started, and then when you're feeling more adventurous you can try to tackle the lasagna. When I feel more awake, I'll transcribe it.


We bought a microwave today. We haven't had one for years, but more and more our fears seemed unfounded and Art Bell-ish. It seems like a significant shift in the running of our kitchen, so I guess that's why I felt moved to share it. My mom had taco salad for dinner tonight. Did I mention I'm tired? Anyway, this one's for my parents.


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