Tofu Multiple Choice

It’s too embarrassing to admit how many times I’ve picked up a block of extra firm tofu at The Trader Joe’s Sunday Shop, only to have it end up, four weeks later, in the garbage can of good intentions. Nonetheless, this past weekend, I tossed one into the cart, avoiding eye contact with my husband who would no doubt be happy to point out my current 0-and-5 bean curd record. Why does it go to waste every time? Why do I have such a hard time figuring out what to do with it? Well, in addition to the big huge minus of the kids not fully embracing tofu (“It’s like a wet flavorless marshmallow,” Phoebe once said), I’m just not confident cooking and experimenting with it, and I don’t feel like I have an archive of inspiring recipes. Once, I confessed all this insecurity to a blogger whose posts led me to believe she had an advanced degree in Tofu, and begged her to be my Tofu Tutor. I think I scared her off, because I never heard from her again.

But this past Monday, I wasn’t messing around. In order for Tofu Family Dinner to happen, clearly I had to get out of my own way. So I made a plan. First, on facebook I asked you guys for suggestions. Wowowowow! Why don’t I do this more? Three hours and over 70 ideas later, I whittled the choices down to five, with the finalists mostly being chosen for simplicity, pantry overlap (no way was I  hitting the store the day after our weekly shop), and how golden and shiny the tofu looked. (I did not want anything remotely resembling a marshmallow.) Next, I sent this email to Andy.

       From: Jenny Rosenstrach [mailto:jenny@dinneralovestory.com]
       Sent: Monday, May 06, 2013 2:10 PM
       To: W, Andy
       Subject: Tofu Multiple Choice

        Which one do you want for dinner:

               a) Maple-Miso Tofu
…..  …….b) Mongolian Stir-fry 
               c) Brown Rice Sushi Bowl with Tofu and Avocado 
               d) Soy glazed Tofu and Carrots
…………..e) Ma Po Tofu

        I’m not holding my breath that girls will eat. we have leftover chicken for them.

Can you tell I’m procrastinating my real work in a major way? I hyperlinked the recipes for him and everything. This was his response:

       From: Andy [mailto:andy@dinneralovestory.com]
       Sent: Monday, May 06, 2013 2:10 PM
       To: R, Jenny
       Subject: Tofu Multiple Choice

       B! But without that much garlic.

So that’s what you’re looking at below. Did the girls like it? No, but they each tried a bite before digging into their auxiliary proteins (leftover chicken sandwiches). For Andy and me, though, it was one of those dinners that ended up pre-empting all other conversation at the table. (“We need to make this again.” and “Damn!” and “So healthy!” and “How can you guys not like this?”) Thanks to all my facebook friends who shared their recipes, particularly Libby, Andrea, Mary, and Miller for providing the finalists above — and big thanks to Jessica who has officially introduced a keeper to the DALS rotation.

Mongolian Stir-fry
Adapted from The Jey of Cooking

I pretty much followed the recipe to the letter, but, per Andy’s request, limited the garlic, used less sugar, and added some vinegar and fresh squeezed lime to cut the salty-sweetness. FYI: To press tofu, place your tofu block on a plate, cover with a few paper towels, then place a heavy pan on top for at least 30 minutes.

1 block extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons sesame oil (or olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 scallion chopped (for garnish)
fresh lime juice

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cornstarch to the tofu in a small bowl and toss to coat.
Add the tofu to the skillet and cook until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes.

While the tofu is cooking, combine the ginger, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, 1/2 cup water and brown sugar. Mix well.
When tofu has browned, add the sauce, stir, then bring to a simmer before reducing heat to low. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, until sauce has thickened and reduced.

Serve with brown rice, soba noodles, or green beans, and garnish with green onion and a squeeze of lime.

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62 Comments

Andrea

I love tofu and that I have something in the fridge at all times that I can fall back on. (I occasionally make Mark Bittman’s really basic fried rice and use in that, by the way.)

I am struggling, however, with what I will refer to as “Soy Confusion”. I’ve heard some random people say that soy isn’t good for you (that makes no sense, considering what I thought the health benefits are of tofu and edamame) but I hear it enough that I kind of want someone to weigh in.

Um, might that someone be you?

Reply
Jenny

Andrea: I suffer from the same confusion. If there are readers out there who might be able to provide some resources, please feel free to share.

Reply
Andrea

^^^ I should add that no one better get between me and my Tofutti Cuties.

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Libby

I have everything to make this, tonight. And I’m gonna. :)
Thanks for the shout-out! So happy I made it into the finalists.

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Michelle

I have two picky eaters but one of them actually (surprisingly!) likes tofu. I told her it is similar to scrambled eggs, so she gave it a try. Victory! Tofu makes for an easy and quick dinner but I too, worry about the conflicting information regarding soy. I have read that tofu is fine but anything with the ingredient “isolated soy protein” could be bad for you. Thanks for posting this recipe, it looks yummy.

Reply
Lisa

This looks amazing! Have you tried Ottolenghi’s Brussels Sprouts and Tofu recipe from his cookbook “Plenty.” It’s got maple syrup and sesame oil… It’s truly divine.

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Sara

Great options! I’m a little tofu-phobic myself, though I have one good recipe in rotation. Meant to post it on your facebook, but was at work… Anyway, I make a Thai peanut bowl. Something I adapted from Deborah Madison. Rice (or quinoa), topped with steamed cabbage (or broccoli), cubed and sauteed tofu until crispy, drizzled with Thai peanut sauce.

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whitney

From what I gather on the interwebs, it seems most of the controversy over soy stems from the fact that soybeans are typically GMO. However, if you buy your tofu at TJs (where there are no GMOs) or you seek out organic tofu, I’m under the impression that tofu can remain in the “health food” column on your grocery list. Which is a good thing, because it’s super cheap and my 4 & 5 year old love it.

Here’s another good one from my blog, ya know…in case you decide to challenge yourself again: http://www.flourandchild.blogspot.com/2012/02/lunch-226-sesame-kale-and-cabbage-slaw.html

Thanks for the above recipe…i have everything so we may be having this on friday!

Reply
whitney

OH! also, TJs is now carrying Rice Bran oil and it is the PERFECT oil to get your tofu all nice and golden crispy…it’s like 1 billion degrees before it smokes!

Throw that in your cart on your next sunday shop and you’ll have guaranteed bean curd bliss that the little people may like too! Perfect for tofu reubens!!

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Emilie

The debate on tofu can be summarized with the basic real food vs fake food, real fermented tofu, edaname, small batch soy sauce, are all good for you. “Fake” foods– processed soy milk, veggie links, etc. . . are not. There is lots of conversation around the estrogen in soy but in some ways it is much like gluten– if you stick to the “real” foods you are getting a reasonable quantity that your body knows how to process. When you use soy as a filler or replacement that is another story.

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Maria Tadic

I think it’s great your trying new things with your family. I also think its great they’re open to trying it. I happen to love tofu. It’s taken awhile for me to “love” it, but now I really do. I think it takes multiple times of eating and preparing it different ways. I find that roasting it in the oven (after being marinated) is really good. Kinda takes the sponginess away. It’s really great!

Reply
Beth Nesbit

Great post! When I’ve tried to cook tofu I never did the “pressed” step and it was always too watery and didn’t brown well. I will definitely try this recipe and the pressed step!

Reply
lydia

In addition to GMOs and over processing of many soy-based foods, there is also the question of whether the phytoestrogens in soy are safe: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3074428/

In my house we still eat tofu, soy sauce, miso, and edamame but limit soy hot dogs, soy-based energy bars, and other processed soy foods.

Reply
Ashley

Perfect timing! I have a block of tofu in the fridge that has been pushed back and forth for at least a week. Time to do something about it.

Reply
Kaitlyn

I definitely buy tofu every time I go to the store and use it about 50% of the time. Haha. I love it myself but the man goes for real meat every time the option is posed. If I want tofu for dinner I have to keep it secret until I call “dinners ready”.

I usually just marinate it in a soy sauce marinade and then stir fry it. I would love to try baking with it or using it in some other way!

Reply
Chika

I hope I don’t come off like a tofu snob, but after living in Japan and then tasting many different brands of tofu sold here in the U.S., I think it’s worth mentioning that the quality and flavor of tofu varies greatly from brand to brand. In my opinion, many are just not very good (and with some brands I have to agree with Phoebe about her “wet flavorless marshmallow” assessment). Not all tofu is created equally, and I would recommend, if you get a chance, to try the House Foods brand next time (they have an organic, non GMO line)– my entire family (which includes a 9-yr old, 6-yr old, and an extremely particular 3-yr old) prefers it over other commonly found brands, including TJ’s.

And of course, if you ever have the chance to go to Japan with your kiddos (if you haven’t been already), please have them try some tofu over there… I will bet money that they will change their minds about tofu then ;-)

Here’s an easy recipe for baked tofu that I make regularly to have around for snacking/rice bowls/noodle bowls/etc:

http://www.wholeliving.com/216611/baked-tofu

(I cut the baking time to 10 min each side, 20 min total)

Reply
Chika

(Forgot to mention in my previous comment that I have absolutely no connection to House Foods whatsoever, in case anyone suspects that I may work for the company, etc!)

Reply
Zelda

@Jenny: Have you checked out this website

http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/

Andrea Nguyen has written a whole book on tofu, including how to make your own using soya beans, and lovely recipes for all different types of tofu.
I think the reason tofu often disappoints is because it confuses our senses. It looks like cheese, yet has none of the salty tang; and the firm, vacuum packed tofu that is most widely available has the chewiness of meat, with none of the satisfying meaty taste. It underwhelms, and you are absolutely right to dress it up with flavourful ingredients. Yes, it’s a protein, but treat it like a carb, and pair with small amounts of meat and veg, aromatics, fermented black beans, chili, sesame oil, etc, etc. I grew up eating tofu, and I enjoy it even when it is cooked very simply. My favourite method is to steam cubes of fresh, semi-firm tofu with julienned ginger for 5-10 mins. Top with a scatter of sliced scallions, sesame oil, and a trickle of soy sauce. It has that deliciously subtle, beany mustiness, yet it tastes clean and fresh, and looks so beautiful.

Reply
Carolyn

I’m totally going to make this. Thanks for the tidbit on how to press the tofu!

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Rachel

I made this recipe last night and it was delicious! A keeper in my house for sure. How did you know I had a block of tofu expiring this week??

Reply
Rebecca

Try the Soy-Glazed Tofu and Carrots – it’s one of an unfortunately small number of meals that my 18-month old twins will reliably eat, and my husband and I love it too.

Reply
A Life From Scratch

I’m sort of with you here. I WANT to want to put the tofu in my cart but I just can’t. seem. to. do. it. And if I’m not excited about it….there is no way my meat and potatoes husband would get on board.

Reply
Heather

Love Mongolian, loathe tofu. Gross, gross, gross. No matter how you prepare it, it’s always an unpleasant surprise on my palate. Mongolian anything, but not tofu.

Reply
Robin

Doesn’t the grill make everything taste better? Tofu is no exception! When you’re firing up the grill for burgers or whatever, go dig out that block of tofu that’s been languishing in the back of the frig. Slice it into slabs and marinate until the grill is ready. Throw it on the fire until you have grill marks and some crispiness. There. Don’t you feel better? You’ve saved your tofu from the garbage can AND now you have yummy, crispy tofu to cube up and throw on salads or use in a stir fry.

Reply
carrie

You can also roast at 400 degrees for approximately 20-25 minutes, stirring once during cooking. Serve plain or over salad, pasta, or rice. Delicious warm or cold!

Reply
Dan

I find that using a tofu press allows for better absorption and texture, also it speeds up the prep time. I use the EZ TOFU PRESS, I can get the water out of my extra firm tofu in 15 minutes…then just marinate and your cooking!

Reply
Erika

Just a shout out for one of the other “finalists”. I didn’t have any fresh ginger in the house, so I made the Maple-Miso tofu. Hot diggety! My hubby says it tastes like ribs, and I have to agree. Tasty vegan spicy ribs :)
Umami is magic!
Mongolian tofu will be cued up for next week.

Reply
Sarah

I already have everything but the scallions, I am super excited to try this!!

Reply
Robin

Have to say I didn’t see my 7 year old’s reaction to this dinner tonight. I steamed some shu mai to pre-empt a revolt so imagine my shock when I heard these words. “Wow, Mom! You made all this? It’s amazing!” My husband and I enjoyed it too so it’s a keeper. I did use TJ’s rice bran oil like one commenter recommended. Thanks again for this blog!

Reply
Elena

Yum. All ingredients on hand and it worked great. It is a gluten free recipe (w g free tamari instead of soy sauce) and since our house is gfree (my kids have celiac) that is an extra bonus. We did it with brown rice and steamed kale. I may try it next with chicken or sliced beef. Thanks!

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Carlinne @Cook with 2 Chicks

I love Phoebe’s description of tofu, it’s exactly right. I want to like tofu but am always disappointed with the results. This recipe, and all of the commenters suggestions, have inspired me. Thanks, Jenny! By the way, I continue to LOVE your writing. It never disappoints:)

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Deborah

Sounds like a great recipe and I’ll definitely try it. My husband and I eat tofu frequently and the best tip I’ve received – as mentioned above – is to press it. This makes a huge difference. Also, I was NEVER able to get tofu brown and crispy, but not tough, until I pressed it and then browned it in slabs in a grill pan – worked great.

A very good book to try is ‘This Can’t be Tofu’ by Deborah Madison. Be sure to read the anecdote in the front.

Reply
Amanda

Thank you for acknowledging that some things go in the trash over and over again.

We’ll have to try this. I brought my husband over to the dark side with quinoa mainly because I was sick to death of frantically making sandwiches or salads to bring to work.

This could mix up the dinner monotony nicely.

Reply
Jessica

I agree, tofu often disappoints me, so I cook with it rarely despite being veggie. I will agree with Chika though – I lived in Japan for 2 years & the range & quality of tofu there is so much better.
However, I made this for dinner tonight with enough left for lunch tomorrow and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even my OH said “for tofu, that’s quite edible!” which is a massive achievement. So thank you for persevering with something you didn’t quite like & for inspiring me to do the same.

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Hongkongphooey

Thanks for more tofu options. Made the soy glazed tofu with carrots and it’s a keeper!

Reply
CB1

Made this with turkey (would have tried tofu but wasn’t organized enough to do shopping properly) and it was stunning! Chucked in some stir fired asparagus and spring onions as well – this is going on the keepers list :) Thanks so much for posting.

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Leslie

Made this for dinner tonight — it’s delicious! As my 17-year-old son asked, “What wouldn’t be good in this sauce?!”

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Jessica

Wow! That looks very tasty. We are vegetarian and have cooked tofu many ways with varying degrees of success. It can definitely be tricky. Way to keep at it!

Reply
SS

Sounds delicious! I also buy tofu with grand plans, but One of my easiest recommendations is to cut very small cubes after draining and toast in skillet with small amount hot oil till crispy and browned. This can then be added all week to whatever else in going on in the kitchen. Tossed into salads, into macaroni and cheese, roasted veggies, or black beans, corn and chopped tomatoes for easy taco filling. This has saved me many times from my same previous habit or “buy and dump”, Enjoy!!

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Laura

My kids love tofu. Thank you so much for the new ideas!!!

I read your newsletter, do I win the Franny’s cookbook?

Reply
Steph

Like you I devour tofu in a thai restaurant, only to throw away a package of tofu I buy at TJs with the best of intentions…..this is definitely a call to arms! If you can figure out how to make tofu that looks so good, I will follow your recipe and let you be my “tofu tutor”…. thanks
I read your newsletter, do I win the Franny’s cookbook?

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Margaret

Same problem in our house! Thanks for the new ideas.

I read your newsletter, do I win the Franny’s cookbook?

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Liz

I don’t always have time to extract the water from the tofu, but when I do, this recipe is great.

Thai basil is another good garnish for this.

#newslettergiveaway

Reply
Sara

I’ve been eyeing this recipe for a while and finally made it last night. It’s delicious, but the idea of tossing the tofu with cornstarch is life changing for me. Well, the part of life that touches tofu. OK, it’s tofu-changing. Thank you!

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Rosie

Made this last night for meatless Monday. Good stuff with everyone liking it so will definitely be prepared again. Thank you.

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Annie

This was a good recipe, and the kids enjoyed it! Thanks! If I made it again, I might reduce the sugar even further, to a 1/4 C, double the ginger, and restore the garlic to 3 cloves. The rice vinegar you added is a must! Can’t imagine how sweet it would taste without it.

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Gwen

I made this recipe a while back and blogged about it here: http://gwensfishfood.com/mongolian-tofu-2/. I reduced the sugar to 1/4, and I think it probably could’ve gone even less for my tastes. I also added some sriracha which gave it all a really lovely kick! I dream about this sauce still! Thanks for the recipe!

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Mark Nessel

Made this last night, mostly as written. I added seared and steamed fresh broccoli in at the end during the simmer and reduce phase. Very nice, my kids liked it also.
In my 30 years experience cooking tofu one of the consistent things I’ve found is that every tofu recipe I’ve ever read dramatically underestimates the amount of time it takes to brown tofu. This one was no different. I’ve wondered for years if there’s some conspiracy amongst vegetarian cookbook writers around the notion that if we knew how long it really takes to get a nice sear and crust on tofu nobody would bother, and we’d go back to meat.
Having said that, the sauce was excellent. Next time I’m going to cut way back on the brown sugar and try Thai sweet soy sauce in it’s place.

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Jen

Jenny, you weren’t kidding. This recipe is no joke! The best tofu dish I’ve ever made. EVER. The first time I tried it, the husband & kids raved. When I decided to ditch my stand-by tofu recipe and make this again a week later, I added diced red bell pepper, celery & peanuts and it was even more amazing. Thanks for some much needed inspiration!

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Cathy

If I have tofu that I am not using in a timely manner, I put it in the freezer. Once it thaws the texture is a little spongey, but I have a friend that prefers the tofu prepared this way. Then I usually press it, marinate it with a little soy sauce and garlic powder and then bake it.

Reply
Monica

One of my favorite ways to cook tofu gives it a lot of flavor, but does require some pre-planning because the long marination is important. I mix up a marinade of the juice of 1 lemon, 2 T olive oil, 2 T balsamic vinegar, 2 T Bragg’s liquid aminos (or sub soy sauce), 1-2 cloves garlic microplaned, and the key ingredient is 2 T Better than Bouillon vegetable base mixed in either 1/2 cup wine or 1/2 cup water. I cut the block of tofu into slices (thick for grilling, thinner for baking) and press the liquid out with some paper towels or a kitchen towel using my hands. Then I marinate it for at least 12 and preferable about 24 hours. The concentrated bouillon gives the tofu a lot of flavor and it works really well for grilled tofu. The other nice thing about this recipe is it does not use asian flavors, so it makes it easier to pair the tofu with other dishes that don’t have asian flavors.

Reply