“No food divides a room quite like tofu,” says Twin Cities chef and Saint Paul College Culinary Instructor Jason Ross. “Some people eat tofu solely as a meat substitute, some say they tried it and don’t like it, some won’t even give it a try, and some, like me, think of tofu as a unique ingredient with its own attributes and flavors,” he says.
Which love/hate/indifference camp do you fall in when it comes to tofu? Whether you use it frequently, are curious to try it and work more plant-based protein into your diet, or didn’t like it but might consider trying it again, you’ll want to keep reading. Ross covers the two most popular types of tofu, and shares ideas to get you started (which appeared in Real Food), using the two tofu products in different ways—a recipe for Curry Fried Tofu Stir-Fry, which gives extra-firm tofu a chewy texture, and he shows how to use soft silken tofu to make a flavorful creamy dressing that challenges the idea that tofu is bland and hard to work with. “Trust me, you will soon realize how amazing and versatile tofu can be,” says Ross.
What is Tofu?
Tofu is made from soybeans that are ground into a liquid, or “milk,” and then mixed with a coagulant so it can be formed into curds and pressed into blocks. Just-made tofu can taste grassy and almost herby like green vegetables such as string beans or parsley. However, most tofu has been tamed and this flavor muted for a less intense vegetal flavor and more consistent product. This makes it more easily used for all types of applications, from stir-fry to stew, from raw to grilled.
The most common tofu products available can be used in countless recipes.
BLOCK: Use when a curd-like, crumbly or even meaty texture is important or when you want to keep a square shape. It comes in soft (the most fragile) and extra firm (tighter and more compact). It is in plastic containers, stored in water. To use, discard the water and drain the tofu. Store unused tofu in fresh water. A versatile star-of-the show in stir-fries, stews and when grilled.
SILKEN: This more delicate tofu also comes in soft to firm. It has no curd, but does have a fine texture, high moisture content and is sold in airtight, shelf stable containers, with no extra water added. To use, simply remove from packaging. Use silken when a velvety texture is important and shapes need not be cut perfectly. (Silken tofu is hard to handle without breaking, so be gentle.) It does well floating in soups and stews where it can hold its shape while still keeping a fine texture without curds. Store any unused product in fresh water, covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week. It is best used within 3 days of opening.
Curry Fried Tofu Stir-Fry
Makes 4 Servings
This includes a pre-frying step to add chewy texture and golden-brown color to the tofu. A touch of curry lightly spices the tofu and a cornstarch slurry builds a sauce.
For the Fried Tofu
1 pound extra-firm tofu
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon curry powder
2 cups vegetable or canola oil
For the Sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon corn starch
- For the Fried Tofu: Drain the tofu and cut into 1-inch cubes. In a small bowl use whisk to combine the dry ingredients: cornstarch, flour, salt and curry powder. Place cubed tofu in this mix and toss to coat.
- Heat oil in a wok or medium skillet on medium-high. Check the oil temperature using a thermometer and fry the tofu in 350°F oil for 3 to 5 minutes until crispy and browned. Fry in batches if pan is not large enough to accommodate all the tofu in one batch. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the tofu to a plate lined with paper towels until ready to stir-fry. Allow oil to cool and strain to use for other frying; use 2 tablespoons of this oil for stir-frying the recipe.
- For the sauce, simply mix ingredients together using a spoon and set aside until ready to stir-fry.
- To make the stir-fry, cut bok choy stems into 1-inch bite-sized slices and leaves into larger 2- to 3-inch pieces. Rinse separately under water in a colander and shake off excess moisture, storing stalks and greens separately.
- Heat reserved 2 tablespoons oil in wok or skillet on high heat. Add onions, garlic and peppers, and toss with oil using a long spoon. Cook for 30 to 60 seconds. Add bok choy stems and cook for another 1 minute. Finish with bok choy leaves and toss with stir-fry to wilt the leaves.
- Before adding the sauce, stir the sauce to mix starch from the bottom into the liquid. Pour sauce into center of wok, stirring, while it boils for 1 to 2 minutes. Finish the stir-fry with a cornstarch slurry sauce. The cornstarch in the sauce will lightly thicken the sauce and add a glossy shine (see Cook’s Note).
- Add tofu and toss to coat and rewarm. Serve immediately with bowls of rice.
Cook’s Note: Cornstarch mixed with liquid, usually just water, is called a slurry, and used to thicken sauces. It is one of the easier thickeners to make and use—just 1 part cornstarch to 2 parts cold water. Make sure to stir before using. The starch sinks to the bottom and separates almost immediately. The slurry has to come to a boil in your recipe to thicken, but only for 1 to 2 minutes. Make sure to keep stirring as you bring it to a boil to avoid lumps.
Creamy Tofu Dressing or Dip
Makes about 6 to 8 Servings (2 Cups)
Use soft silken tofu to make a creamy dressing that packs in flavor—and challenge the idea that tofu is bland and hard to work with. Serve it with a hearty green salad, such as a kale mix or spinach, or as a dip for raw vegetables.
Place ½ (of a 16-ounce) block soft silken tofu, 1 tablespoon miso paste (optional), 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar, 1 clove garlic, ½ tablespoon Dijon mustard, dash of favorite hot sauce like Sriracha or Tabasco, 1 teaspoon salt and few grinds black pepper in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Use a rubber spatula to scrape sides and make sure all garlic is fully pureed. Add 1½ cups vegetable or canola oil and blend until fully incorporated. Pour dressing into bowl and stir in ¼ cup sliced green onion and 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds. Store in sealed container for up to 1 week in the fridge.
Nutrition Information (per serving)
• Creamy Tofu Dressing or Dip: Calories 443; Fat 48g (Sat. 8g); Chol 0mg; Sodium 380mg; Carb 2g; Fiber 0g; Added Sugars 0g; Protein 3g
• Curry Fried Tofu Stir-Fry: Calories 308; Fat 24g (Sat. 4g); Chol 0mg; Sodium 879mg; Carb 14g; Fiber 4g; Added Sugars 0g; Protein 15g