When I decided to reduce my meat consumption a few years ago (after an epic barbeque weekend in Kansas City), I knew I didn’t want to rely on fake meat products and carbs. I’d tried giving up the carne a few times before and the overabundance of pasta that I turned to made me feel gross. Recently, I was on a fake BLT binge, when the fake bacon came out of the microwave it had MELTED to the plate. So I’m over that, too.
Despite trying to stick to veggies and fish, I have been known to make a weekly stir fry featuring tofu. It’s taken awhile to perfect my technique, but last night’s dinner success prompted me to share my tofu-cooking prowess with y’all. I firmly believe the majority of people who say they don’t like tofu just haven’t eaten it prepared correctly. Here are a few tips, and a recipe, so you can enjoy the best meat substitute on the market (that doesn’t melt your flatware).
1. Pick the right tofu for the job – The first time you buy tofu, you might be confused. It most commonly comes in soft or silken, medium firm, firm and extra firm. I usually use extra firm sprouted (which has more calories, but also more protein) for stir frying. Silken tofu works for sauces and medium firm is great in soups or scrambles (it kind of tastes like egg). I almost never use firm.
2. Give it some flavor – Tofu is notoriously tasteless. Our college salad bar always offered it as a topping and while I like the texture, I can see why anyone encountering it there might swear off the stuff forever. Tofu shines when it can soak in flavors. Marinade it for grilling or infuse the oil you fry it in with ginger, garlic or other aromatic flavors to give it a base of flavor.
3. Press it. Press it real good. – Tofu is stored in water so if you just pull it out of its container and start cooking, you could be adding a ton of water that will dilute your dinner. Even worse, if the tofu is saturated with water, it has no place to soak up the flavors I told you to add. After you drain your tofu, place it on a cutting board or plate, put a towel and another plate over it and put something heavy, like a bowl or can of soup on top of it. Leave it for a few minutes while you chop veggies or something. When I’m running late I just wrap the tofu in a clean towel and squeeze it gently (which works best with extra firm – the other stuff will fall apart). Not perfect, but it helps.
4. Chop it into little pieces – The smaller the piece, the more of the tofu will have flavor. I try to get mine into about 1/2 inch squares for stir fries. If you’re grilling a piece, try slicing it thinner. You just want the marinades to have to do as little traveling as possible to reach the center.
Now that you have the basics for making tasty tofu, try my version.
Spicy Tofu Stir-fry
-1T+2t Sesame oil (you can use canola or grapefruit oil instead)
-1/2 package of extra firm tofu, drained and chopped into small squares
-1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
-1 cup broccoli florets
-2T sambal olek, Sriracha or other thick, spicy sauce
-1T soy sauce
-2t rice vinegar
-juice from 1/2 lime
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 in. ginger, minced
-1/3 package of soba noodles (you can use wheat spaghetti)
-sesame seeds (optional)
Put on the water for the soba noodles. Heat your pan and add about 1T of the sesame oil. Add the garlic and ginger and sautee until golden. Add the tofu squares and fry them until they’re just turning brown.
Meanwhile, combine the hot sauce, soy sauce, lime juice, vinegar and the remaining sesame oil in a small bowl. Use more or less of any ingredient according to taste. I like mine spicy.
By now, the water should be boiling. Add your soba noodles and cook according to directions. As the tofu begins to brown, add the red peppers. Once they start softening, add the broccoli.
Drain the soba noodles and add them to your stir fry. Add the spicy sauce at the same time.
The noodles will begin to dry out a little. Turn off the heat when they start to brown, but before they get crispy.
Serve in a bowl sprinkled with sesame seeds.