Are you like I once was, intimidated by the white, sponge like block called tofu. What to do with it? And, why is it so squishy? Growing up, we were a meat and potato type family. Since college though, I not only opened up my world in the classroom but also the food world by reading more books about nutrition, and dabbling in vegetarian and vegan diets. This was my first introduction to tofu.
Fast forward to 2018, I moved to Myanmar and lived in a small, local village. Instead of chain grocery stores and corner-marts, grocery shopping looked a lot like carrying a basket down the dusty road to the market and buying all my fresh ingredients from local vendors. That meant the meat too. There was no prepackaged, cellophane wrapped drumsticks to purchase, already weighed out. Rather, it was the whole de-feathered chicken in one corner, chicken feet in a basket, and all the rest of the parts out in the open air. As fresh as the meat ever could be, in my two years I never bought it. So when I did do my own cooking, which was a rare event, I went with beans and tofu as my protein.
Now after cooking with it for a few years, I value tofu as an incredibly versatile protein. The spongy-ness comes in handy as it soaks up all the flavors of the saucy goodness one wishes to bath it in. But it took some trial and error to figure out how to make it not only an enjoyable meal, but one I would be proud to share with friends and family. So here are some tips I have picked up!
- Buy Medium Firm or Extra Firm
- This seems obvious; the firmer the tofu, the less mushy it will be when preparing it. I am big on texture with crunchy, crisp, chewable bites preferred.
- Press it, Squeeze it, get that water OUT
- Once you have the firm tofu with a recipe in mind, this is crucial step. Before I get anything else started, I put the brick of tofu on a plate, layer a paper towel or clean towel on top, and then make a balancing act of heavy kitchen ware on top. Lately, I delicately balance a cast iron pan, using the oven to lean it onto, and give it at least 15 minutes to squish out excess water.
- This magical ingredient is a recent discovery to cooking tofu. I was browsing around the inter-webs and found a recipe for Hawaiian pineapple honey tofu. One of the steps was to coat the pressed tofu in cornstarch and then pan-fry. With the glaze added at the end, these firm, crispy shelled tofu bites were AMAZING! And you don’t need much to make the difference. A lot of cornstarch obviously gives you a thick encasing of fried goodness, but even 2 tablespoons mixed around adds a nice touch.
With those tips in mind, here is my latest creation I suggest. Grab your tofu, press it, cube it, and toss it around in 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Get the pan hot on the stove with some veggie oil and give those nuggets a good fry. Don’t panic when they seem pale, keep frying! When you get a desired crisp, add some taco seasoning.
While they were frying, cut up some red cabbage, cilantro, a squeeze of lime, salt, pepper, and garlic into a slaw. Let that sit. Pull out some mayo and siracha, slap into a bowl and give it a mix. Dig into the back of your fridge for some tortillas, heat those bad boys up and then get ready to assemble.
Hot tortilla, a few tofu taco bites, slaw, and siracha-mayo dressing. Boom. You have yourself an easy, delicious meal. Grab a beer and dig in!