I got a comment from a reader through my contact form last week:
Subject: Seitan, Tempah, & Tofu
All I can say is “ick”. I’m good with all grains, vegetables, etc. But how do I acquire a taste for these? All vegans I know use them and I just can’t stand the taste! Tofutti yes but not tofu in its natural state. Help! Example: I use lentils for taco “meat”.
Pad Thai. An example of pan-fried tofu. Tasty!
Most of us aren’t born into veganism, so there’s a learning curve for most of us. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up eating any of those.
Over the next week, I’d like to do some introduction to those foods for my readers, and some ways that I really like them. Today is tofu day!
If you want to know even more about tofu, head over to the Wikipedia article for more info!
How on Earth can someone named The Picky Vegan like tofu?
When I was in college, my mom started experimenting with tofu. Once when I was home on break, she made chili. Beef chili, which at the time, I generally enjoyed. Except she threw big chunks of tofu into it. I was totally grossed out, and I swore I’d never eat tofu again. My only other early experience with tofu had been the chunks floating in hot and sour soup at various Asian restaurants, which I would simply pick around (I was picky long before I became vegan!), because it just looked gross.
It took me years before I was willing to try it again, but I find now that I enjoy it. I’ll walk you through what it is and some of the ways I enjoy it.
So what is tofu?
Tofu is a processed food. It’s made by soaking, boiling, blending and straining soybeans into soy milk, and then adding a coagulant, like gypsum or epsom salts, and then pressing the curds that form into a block and discarding the extraneous liquid. The amount of liquid left determines the softness or firmness of the tofu.
If you go to the grocery store, you’ll typically find tofu in two different places: in the refrigerator case, where it’s typically in a plastic container that houses a block of tofu and some liquid, or on the grocery shelf, where it’s in a tetra pack. Both are perfectly fine to use, and they come in anything from soft to firm or extra firm, and everything in between. I find that the refrigerated variety has a much less bean-y flavor, so that’s what I almost always use.
Bonus: what’s silken tofu?
It’s made very similarly to the tofu described above, but usually salt water is used as the coagulant, and much less water is pressed out. As above, you’ll find it both in the aseptic packs and the refrigerator packs. Silken tofu is best for things like sauces, dressings, puddings and as an egg replacer in baked goods.
Extra bonus: seen any blocks of tofu floating around in a ton of water at your local natural foods store or Asian grocery? That’s fresh tofu. It’s usually of a firm consistency, and usually has a very delicate taste.
So why does it taste so gross?
By itself, tofu doesn’t taste like much of anything, except perhaps a slight bean flavor. I don’t think it’s the taste that gets people so much when they first try it, but rather the texture. That’s what grossed me out so much about the aforementioned chili.
How should I try tofu if I’ve never had it or been grossed out by it before?
The first kind of tofu that I tried that I liked was Sesame Tofu- fried pieces of tofu smothered in a sweet and spicy sesame sauce. Back in the day, I preferred to freeze the tofu first, then defrost and drain before using- this changes the texture significantly, and makes it more “meat like.”
This “tofuffalo” is basically made the same way-
fried and smothered in sauce.
Aside from the sesame tofu, you can use the same method to fry the tofu and use whatever kind of sauce (or dip) you like. You could also season the flour/cornstarch you use to coat it to add a little flavor as well.
Another option when you’re first starting out is to use it in a crumbled form. As my reader noted, she often uses lentils as “taco meat.” You can crumble up tofu and use it in the same way- spiced and sautéed in a little oil anywhere that you might use ground meat- like in chili, spaghetti sauce, sloppy joes, and of course, tacos. Personally, I’d say if you’re already using lentils that way there’s no need to switch to tofu, as lentils are a whole food, but if you’re just looking for a way to get used to tofu, it’s not a bad way.
How about some other ways for the more adventurous?
If you’re not going to smother the tofu in a flavorful sauce, it’s important to add flavor via a marinade, or your tofu just won’t taste like much of anything. My favorite way right now is to marinate, bake, then broil for a couple of minutes, like in this masala baked tofu from Appetite for Reduction.
One thing you’ll need in order to make tofu like this is a way to press the water our of it. Some people put it on a plate wrapped with paper towels and with heavy items on top- like a cast iron pan or a cutting board with a few cans on top- but I’ve found that to be a great way to break a perfectly good plate. Others swear by it. Fortunately, there’s another option- the Tofu Xpress. I have two. They’re also handy for making tofu, it you want to try your hand at doing it from scratch.
Marinated and grilled presents another delicious option! Just press the liquid out, marinade in your favorite marinade, and grill on a grill pan or outdoor grill. Make sure you lightly oil or spray whatever you’re grilling with and your surface is really hot before putting the tofu on, or it will stick something awful.
This was marinated in jerk seasoning, first.
How about those sauces and dressings with silken tofu?
If you’ve never had tofu or you’re not a big fan, don’t go with these first. I know others will say otherwise, but I think they tend to be too strongly flavored with soybean, and they’re a turn off for many. Including me in the beginning, but I tend not to taste it anymore. If you’re adventurous enough to venture down this path, do yourself a favor and stay away from the shelf-stable tetra pack tofu, and go with the water-packed variety. It’s got much less of a strong flavor.
I don’t really do dressings with tofu- I prefer Veganaise or soaked, blended cashews for a creamy base, but I find tofu works well in creamy pasta type sauces. Aside from the above Fettucini Alfredo, this Macro Mac & Cheese also uses silken tofu in its sauce.
Recipe from Blissful Bites.
You don’t need to be nearly as adventurous to enjoy this one- I don’t think you’d even know this omelette from Vegan Brunch is even made from tofu.
I was someone who was scared of tofu for the first several years that I was vegetarian. Now I eat it at least once a week- and not usually in one of those fried forms, which should be considered a treat. Believe me, if I can do it, you can do it too!