In defense of tofu


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Poor tofu. Although articles lauding its versatility abound, it seems to get a bum rap. Many people — including vegetarians, who you’d figure would be on tofu’s side — dismiss tofu as this odd rubbery-textured thing that isn’t very good, even though the same people who claim it’s not good also acknowledge how well tofu absorbs the flavor of its fellow ingredients, making for some very tasty dishes.

To be fair, when you get the No. 24 at your local Chinese food joint, the tofu pieces do seem rather large and unwieldy. Chances are that if you’re on the fence about tofu or have already decided it’s gross, you’re not exactly going to be won over by a takeout joint — especially if it’s not exactly the best Chinese restaurant you’ve ever frequented.


A study in tofu

All tofu is not created equal, so to better tofu’s odds of winning you over and being seen as more than just this rubbery ingredient that makes you pinch up your face, be sure to buy the right kind for the particular dish you want to prepare.

For example, if you want to substitute dairy with it in some dip or a decadent creamy soup — which means you still enjoy the soup without all the extra calories from the heavy cream — buy some silken tofu. It purees easy, and you can even scramble it like fluffy eggs and have it with some toast.

200422575-001Firm tofu is the stuff you want to get when you want to try your hand at making that No. 24 special at home, since it’s easy to season and pan-fry. This tofu absorbs marinades very well, and you can chop, slice and dice it, fry it or grill it. Firm tofu is crispy on the outside but has a soft, creamy interior. Don’t chop it up in those large cubes you get from the takeout place either. Cut narrow strips so you can still enjoy the flavors it absorbs without getting all worked up about how rubbery you think it is.

Last, but not least, is extra firm tofu, which really is the one you want to use when you are substituting meat in your dishes. Extra firm tofu can be grilled or fried. You can chop it up and fry it, or even treat it as a slab of steak that you coat in crushed peanuts or some breadcrumbs and grill up as a main dish. You can also freeze it and then crumble it over pasta to replace that ground beef that is full of fat and makes you think about all those horse meat articles. This is the tofu you want to try your hand at some Thai coconut curry, pan-crisped tofu, tofu steaks or even tofu tempura.

But the point of tofu, one might argue, is that it’s easy. So here is a recipe that will give you protein and greens in a dish that is filling and healthy and quick to prepare.


Lazy ‘stir-fry’

137128297No wok? No problem. Get your pan. Don’t fret about the vegetables you have or don’t have. The beauty of lazy stir fry — also fondly called “everything but the kitchen sink” stir-fry or “use the veggies that are about to go bad” stir-fry — is that you can throw pretty much anything green in there.

Wash and separate your baby bok choy. Have some kale? Chop it up. Preparing this dish for a fussy eater who claims to hate kale? Chop up that kale as finely as you can and claim it is spinach. This is your kitchen. Don’t have a can of whole baby corn? You can use some frozen corn — just pan-fry it with the garlic first. Throw some broccoli florets in there. Add some carrots for color, some snow peas because they are awesome and don’t forget the onions. Don’t fret about the oil. Yeah, sesame oil is ideal, but if you’re in a hurry and vegetable oil is all you have, it will do. And of course, the pièce de résistance: firm or extra firm tofu, sliced into narrow strips.

Fire up your broiler. Place your sliced tofu on a foil-lined cookie sheet coated with cooking spray. Broil the tofu for about 15 minutes or until it is golden brown. Why the broiler? Because if you’re one of the people who disdainfully dismisses tofu’s soft and crumbly texture as “rubbery,” then you’re more likely to enjoy it if it is as extra firm as it can be. When you broil tofu, you pull out the excess moisture and toughen it up.

While the tofu is broiling, finely mince three to nine cloves of garlic, depending on how fond you are of garlic. Drizzle some oil in your pan, place it on high heat and add the garlic straight away, stirring it so it doesn’t burn. If you are using frozen corn, throw that in there once the garlic has softened. Add the baby boy choy and sauté it. As it begins to wilt, add your chopped kale or “spinach” (wink), broccoli, carrots, snow peas, onions and baby corn. Keep stirring. When you can stab a fork easily through a carrot, whole baby corn or broccoli floret, you’re done. Sprinkle a bit of salt to taste. Instead of adding salt, splash in some soy sauce, if you have some on hand. Turn off that fire.

When your broiled tofu is ready, throw it in your veggie medley and stir. Serve over some white rice or enjoy on its own. Tastes like chicken, right?