The first time I tasted tofu, I was a freshman at my first attempt at college, right out of high school. Tofu wasn’t something people ate in the small rural town where I grew up. Rather, it was a word you only heard used in a derogatory way toward the type of people they might also call “yuppies” or “tree-huggers.”
I figured these yuppie tree-huggers must be my people. I’d always felt like an outsider in my little town. I liked art and I was a vegetarian. They liked hunting and scrapple. (If you do not know what scrapple is, don’t google it with a full stomach.) I liked music from the Sixties. They liked country. I wanted to wear floor length skirts I sewed myself. They wore bandanas as shirts. No. Really.
So I went to an extremely liberal school in order to be one with my people. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that while I agreed with a lot of the political opinion on campus, I just didn’t have it in me to be that
annoying passionate. I didn’t see how yelling at people was going to get them to change. Yes, I think factory farming is horrible. No, I don’t think it’s up to me to decide whether or not someone else eats it. I’ve always thought informing was a better form of persuasion than bullying. But I did learn one or two things about myself, one of them being my taste for tofu. I liked it every way I tried it. Raw style on the salad bar, crispy and fried, or included in stir-frys, I liked it.
TIP: If you would like to eat tofu “raw style” it is recommended that you do not actually eat it without cooking if it is packed in water. As a protein rich food, tofu is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. I mean, yes, I’ve eaten many a raw cube during cooking and never suffered an adverse effect, but the recommendation is to boil it for at least 15 min and if you want it cold, soak it in ice water or put it in the fridge.
RECIPE (pictured above): cubed raw style tofu, sliced avocado, fresh cilantro, tomatoes, scallions, chopped fresh serrano pepper (hot!), lime juice, soy sauce, a drizzle of peanut oil and peanuts (chili peanuts if you prefer, as I do)
In case you’ve never had tofu, I will describe it. It’s relatively flavorless. The flavor is subtle. Generally the flavor of tofu is whatever you use to dress or marinate it. Lemon, lime, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, cumin, cayenne, or curry are my personal favorites. It lends itself to Asian flavors. The texture is a lot like fresh mozzerella when boiled. Roasting or sauteing produce different textures. A golden tinge on the edges is definitely appealing.
TIP: Before marinating and roasting, it is a good idea to drain the water from the tofu if it is water packed. Some people soak up the water using paper towels, but I try not to use those unless it’s really necessary. (Too wasteful!) I put the block of tofu in a pasta strainer that has a flat bottom and I rest a pot of water (for the weight) on top of it for 10-15 minutes.
RECIPE: After straining excess water, cut tofu into approximately 1 inch cubes. In a bowl large enough for tossing the tofu, combine soy sauce, lemon juice, grated fresh ginger, cayenne pepper, cumin, and peanut oil. I can’t emphasize enough how delicious peanut oil is, especially for Asian flavored dishes. Toss the tofu in the marinade and let sit for 15 minutes or longer. I never seem to plan ahead enough for longer and the tofu soaks up liquids easily, so a long marinating session isn’t really necessary. Arrange cubes on a roasting pan with space in between each cube (for optimum golden crispiness). Roast for 20-30 minutes. Remove from oven and flip each cube. Depending how patient I’m feeling, I’ll either flip each cube using tongs or use a spatula and hope for the best. Roast for 20 more minutes until golden.
Even my carnivorous boyfriend has told me, unsolicited, that he likes when I roast tofu. I think a lot of people have misconceptions about it having never tried it. It isn’t meat. It doesn’t taste like meat and you should not expect it to. But you can use it the way you would use meat in a lot of dishes. It’s a great source of protein, inexpensive, and easy to prepare.