|Red Thai Tofu and Green Beans with Thai Basil|
One of the most repeated assumptions made of vegetarians and vegans today is that their diet consists primarily of a slimy and flavorless bean slab called tofu (aside from the occasional twig and clump of dirt!). I can't recall how many times my tofu intake has been questioned, usually accompanied by distorted faces and protesting grunts. For a long time, I sided with the average carnivore and detested the white beany block. I'd only ever tasted poorly (if at all) cooked tofu, and it certainly lived up to it's stereotype: mushy, bland and utterly unappetizing. I could never appreciate the praise and preference given to tofu by vegetarians. Well, that all changed shortly after I started reading vegan food blogs and trying some of the recipes calling for that soft wet slab. Through them and my own experience, I've learned many key steps and secrets to turning the initially unappetizing bean curd into a pleasantly palatable protein! Here are several things I've learned about tofu:
-Stick with firm or extra firm tofu packaged in water (usually found in the produce section of your grocery store) for "meatier" dishes. Silken tofu will not hold up to being fried, grilled or baked and the texture of aseptic-packed tofu (such as Mori-Nu brand) will never measure up to the aforementioned.
-Pressing tofu releases much of the absorbed water and helps it firm up. Wrap tofu in several layers of paper towels or tea towels and place between two plates. Top off your sculpture with something heavy, like canned beans or a couple of your thicker cookbooks. Wait at least 30 minutes and gasp in wonder how much water has been squeezed out.
-Tofu still too mushy for you? Freeze it! Remove the tofu from its packaging, cut into desired shape (rectangular slabs, triangles, cubed, etc.) and layer between paper towels on a shallow plate. Allow the tofu to fully freeze before handling it any further. When ready to use, let the tofu thaw completely and you'll be surprised how much of the water seeps out. This type of tofu works great in marinades and results in a firmer, chewier finale.
-Marinades are your friend! Let your tofu spend the night with some liquids and herbs and you'll be surprised how happy it is in the morning! Try olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic and fresh or dried basil for Italian tofu. Crave Asian flavors? Combine peanut oil, soy sauce or tamari, agave nectar, fresh minced ginger and garlic together for a salty and sweet Teriyaki-style of tofu.
-I think tofu should be crispy, like most things I eat, but I can never deliberately deep fry things in my home. Pan frying works just as well as deep frying without any of the mess or post-consumption bloating. Take your biggest non-stick saute pan, spray with a little bit of cooking oil and get to work! Use tongs or a flat spatula for easy flipping, and to insure each side of the tofu gets crispy.
-Still can't get behind the meaty slabs? Scramble it! I consume most of my tofu in this fashion solely because it is so forgiving and works with whatever your have on hand. Modeled after scrambled eggs, tofu scramble is much more versatile, flavorful, and no animals are harmed by it's consumption! Try my recipe for Green and Gold Scramble, or check out Vegan Brunch for several pages of scramble variations.
I guarantee that following these steps will result in a flavorful vegetable-based protein. So banish your reservations and prove your presumptions wrong. Stop shoving your tofu to the wayside and make it the star of your next meal!