tips and tricks
ODE TO TOFU
Soybean curd’s versatility adds subtle flavor to dishes.
WRITTEN BY ERIN MEYERING
RECIPE PHOTO BY ASA GILMORE
Of all foods beginning with the letter T — tiramisu, T-bone, turnips, turkey — tofu may not be at the top of your culinary repertoire.
Made from curdled soybeans, tofu is on a great deal of health-conscious menus, is found in many Asian cuisines, and can be used as a high-protein meat substitute. But for people who tend to avoid this little t-word, may we assure you, tofu isn’t just for vegetarians and vegans.
“Tofu and meat can be good friends,” says Andrea Nguyen, author of Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook It at Home.
Meat and tofu combined actually can create the perfect umami flavor with a variance in texture. You can make (and buy) tofu in different consistencies such as silken, soft, firm, and extra firm. The softer the tofu, the more it invites in flavor from the outside because its protein is spread out and porous.
“I tell people tofu takes on the flavors from its preparation and toppings,” says Greg Butler, owner of Buenos Grill in Reno.
He serves several varieties of tofu on his menu, including a spice-rubbed, pan-seared tofu. He also suggests breaking up silken or soft tofu to scramble with vegetables as an egg substitute or pairing.
Enjoy tofu as a replacement for or complement to ricotta cheese in a lasagna; sliced into chunks and served raw in pho; smoked or grilled for a barbecue; or even spiced, breaded, and baked as you would a chicken.
Store-bought tofu is tasty, but homemade tofu is even better. The process isn’t necessarily complicated, but it is time consuming.
“It’s important for people to know how to judge good tofu,” Nguyen says.
It should have a nuance and texture about it, like all other quality artisanal food. Find out how to make tofu at home by purchasing Nguyen’s book, which is available at Sundance Books and Music in Reno and on Amazon.com. There also are several DIY tofu kits available online.
Erin Meyering is a vegetarian and a big fan of tofu. Her favorite way to prepare it at home is to bake it with red pepper flakes and serve it atop a cold Israeli couscous salad with avocado, green bell pepper, garbanzo beans, and lime juice.
Fried Coconut Tofu Tacos
(courtesy of Greg Butler, owner Buenos Grill in Reno. Makes 8 tacos)
1 pound firm tofu
½ cup tempura flour
½ cup water
½ quart Panko breadcrumbs
1 cup sweet coconut, shredded
½ cup plain rice flour
1 package corn or flour tortillas
Orange chili sauce (for topping)
Desired taco toppings (try avocado, cabbage or lettuce, fresh cilantro, or any other seasonal vegetables)
For orange chili sauce:
1 8-ounce jar orange marmalade
Cracked red pepper flakes, to taste
In bowl, whisk together orange chili sauce ingredients. Slowly add water and combine until thinned to desired consistency.
To prepare tofu and construct tacos:
Slice tofu into 1-by-4-inch pieces.
In large mixing bowl, combine breadcrumbs and shredded coconut. In smaller mixing bowl, add tempura flour and water. Mix thoroughly with wire whisk. Place rice flour on large plate.
Place each tofu piece in rice flour and coat all sides. Dip tofu into tempura batter and coat evenly. Roll tofu in breadcrumb/coconut mixture.
Fry in deep fryer or covered pan with high-heat oil on medium temperature.
Fill tortilla with tofu pieces and desired taco toppings. Top with orange chili sauce and enjoy!