Giving Tofu the New Look It Deserves –

Giving Tofu the New Look It Deserves

Evan Sung for The New York Times

July 7, 2014

It’s not likely that tofu will become anyone’s favorite food; this we know. Those who grew up in households where it was well prepared may relish it, but for the rest of us it’s a bit of a requisite, something we think we “should” eat in place of chicken or eggs whenever we can stomach it.

However. With meat substitutes and even alternative animal protein like bugs surging in popularity — or at least media attention — it’s time to re-evaluate and finally embrace the original plant-based mock meat. (There are others, of course: seitan, or wheat gluten, which in the current anti-gluten climate is difficult to talk about, and tempeh, a fermented soy and grain product that I don’t cook with much. That could change.)

I like tofu. I cook it a couple of times a week, which is more often than I cook chicken. It’s as natural a product as mozzarella, arguably simpler (you don’t need a cow, for one thing) and similarly produced: In both cases, you take milk and you add something that will clump it up. Period. In one case the milk is dairy, and in the other it’s soy.

The differences between the two are obvious, and we could argue about whether good fresh mozzarella offers a better eating experience than good fresh tofu (neither has much flavor without some condiments), but what’s inarguable is that tofu is our most versatile form of nonanimal concentrated protein, as well as the least processed and the most traditional. Andrea Nguyen, in her valuable “Asian Tofu,”[1] says tofu has been made for about 2,000 years and has been popular since the 10th century.


Scrambled tofu with tomatoes.

Evan Sung for The New York Times

There are, of course, hyperprocessed or preflavored forms of tofu, or both, that range from Tofu Pups to pressed tofu (usually flavored with five-spice powder or something like it, and incredibly easy to cook well), to fermented tofu, which is both ancient and delicious, if somewhat stinkily off-putting to some.

I’m not talking about any of that. And I’m not talking about making your own tofu, although that’s easy enough. I’m talking buying bricks of plain old tofu, the kind you cut into cubes or, if you’re fancy, diamonds; the kind that we dutifully stir-fried with broccoli and soy sauce back in the ’70s. I’m talking about using tofu in ways that really play up its strengths and make it if not the best choice for a dish then a substitute that doesn’t feel like a compromise but simply another way of doing things.

All of the recipes here make a point, none better than Tofu “Chorizo.” It starts with taking tofu and crumbling it finely, as if it were ground or coarsely chopped. You can do that in 20 seconds, with no utensil other than your hands. Then you then cook it until the water is driven out, as you would ground beef or chicken, to get a result that’s very similar to ground meat. What you wind up with are little crispy bits of fat and protein that have some chew and the flavor of whatever you cooked with them.

I don’t want this to be a competition — I eat meat — but put this stuff in tacos and no one will know the difference. You’ll have saved money and cooked a product with a lighter carbon footprint, no animal welfare issues and fewer health threats than any meat. That kind of proselytizing aside, try the dish and see whether you think it’s any good.


Evan Sung for The New York Times

I love silken tofu in soups and soupy stir-fries because it puffs and firms up a bit, becoming quite juicy and, if the other ingredients are right, quite delicious. But silken tofu has other properties very akin to cream. The Chocolate Tofu Pudding[2] I ran in these pages five years ago is among the most popular and surprising recipes I’ve ever developed. A more recent development, Chocolate Avocado Mousse, is in my latest book, “The VB6 Cookbook[3]” and, I think, equally successful.

But the best use for silken tofu is what you might call vegannaise, an egg-free mayo that takes five minutes. (I know, the recipe says 10, but that doesn’t allow for multitasking.) It’s a recipe that never fails and can be varied, say, by adding basil, in all the ways you’d vary real mayonnaise. (Eggs are nicely mimicked, too, when you scramble firm tofu with vegetables or grains. I wouldn’t say no one could tell the difference, but I will say this kind of scramble is easy and satisfying.)

A good meat substitute should at least occasionally offer some real chew, and one of the common complaints about tofu is that to make it chewy you have to process it somehow. (Of course, chicken breasts aren’t very pleasant in their raw state either.) Hence, we have the pressed tofu mentioned above, the new preflavored and even precooked products like grilled tofu or the long explanations and techniques for pressing and weighting tofu.

None of that is necessary. If you bake tofu, you can dry it out and firm it up as much as you like. I’ve developed a tofu jerky recipe that’s nearly as tough as beef jerky. When it becomes firm, you can turn it into a fine escabeche or sauce it in 100 different ways. I offer Manchurian-style here, but you can do this with Provençal, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Sichuan or many other seasonings; stir-fry it like chicken.

This is not a dish that’s trying to fool people — it’s tofu, all right — but it is intended to persuade them, and you, that in an era when many cooks are looking to cut back on meat, this is an ingredient worth taking seriously. Finally.

Recipes: Tofu Escabeche[4] | Scrambled Tofu With Tomatoes, Scallions and Soy Sauce[5] | Tofu Mayonnaise[6] | Tofu ‘Chorizo’[7]

More recipes are at NYT Cooking[8], which is under development as the recipe resource of The New York Times. If you don’t yet have access, sign up for the wait list, at[9].

Spicy Stir-Fried Eggplant, Tofu and Water Spinach (Ong Choy) –

Spicy Stir-Fried Eggplant, Tofu and Water Spinach (Ong Choy)

I had never cooked ong choy, also known as water spinach, until experimenting with this stir-fry. The hollow stems require a little more time to cook than the leaves so they are added first to the wok. I found that the leaves can be a bit stringy, but chopping them resolves that issue.

1 long Asian eggplant, about 3/4 pound

1 12-ounce bunch water spinach (ong choy) (substitute regular spinach if water spinach is unavailable; stem and wash leaves, and chop coarsely)

1 14-ounce box firm tofu, drained and cut in 3/4 inch x 2-inch dominoes

2 tablespoons soy sauce (more if desired)

1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry

1/4 cup vegetable stock or water

1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1/4 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons peanut, canola, rice bran or grape seed oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced ginger

2 jalapeño or serrano peppers, minced

1 sweet red onion, sliced

2 to 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and score down to but not through the skin. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil, lightly oil the foil and place the eggplant on it cut side down. Roast for 15 minutes, until the skin begins to shrivel. Remove from the oven, transfer to a colander and let the eggplant drain, cut-side down, while you prepare the other ingredients. Then cut the eggplant in half down the middle and into 3/4–inch pieces.

2. Meanwhile, drain and dry the tofu slices on paper towels and prepare the water spinach. Cut or break away the bottom 2 inches of the stalks. Break off the thicker, bottom part of the stems and wash thoroughly in 2 changes of water. Cut into 2-inch pieces. Spin in a salad spinner, then place on several thicknesses of paper towels to dry. Wash the leafy top part of the greens in 2 changes of water, spin dry twice, and chop coarsely. Place separately on paper towels to drain.

3. In a small bowl or measuring cup combine the soy sauce, rice wine or sherry, and stock or water. Add the salt and sugar and stir until dissolved. Combine the garlic, ginger and chiles in another bowl. Have all the ingredients within arm’s length of your pan.

4. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch steel skillet over high heat until a drop of water evaporates within a second or two when added to the pan. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil by pouring it down the sides of the pan and swirling the pan, then add the tofu and stir-fry until lightly colored, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove to a plate.

5. Swirl in the remaining oil, add the garlic, ginger and chiles and stir-fry for no more than 10 seconds. Add the red onion and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the eggplant and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until all of it is tender. Add the water spinach stems and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the spinach leaves, stir-fry for about 30 seconds and add the soy sauce mixture. Stir-fry for 1 minute, until the spinach has wilted, return the tofu to the wok along with cilantro. Stir together for a few seconds to amalgamate and remove from the heat. Serve with rice or noodles.

Yield: Serves 4

Advance preparation: Stir-fries are last minute dishes as far as cooking goes but you can prepare all of your ingredients hours in advance. The eggplant can be roasted a day ahead. Keep in the refrigerator until 15 to 30 minutes before you cook.

Nutritional information per serving: 217 calories; 11 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 5 grams polyunsaturated fat; 4 grams monounsaturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 18 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams dietary fiber; 384 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 13 grams protein

Martha Rose Shulman is the author of “The Very Best of Recipes for Health.”


The health benefits of tofu | Healthy Eating | Eat Well | Best Health

Want to go meatless more often? Tofu is a great low-fat option that’s also packed with protein. Here’s why it’s great and how to prepare it
By Nettie Cronish The health benefits of tofu

Made from soybeans, tofu is a great protein source that is low in fat. (Eight ounces [240 g] of firm tofu provide the same protein as eating 2½ ounces [75 g] of steak or three ounces [90 g] of ground beef). And it’s low in calories and high in calcium: A four-ounce (½ cup) serving of extra-firm tofu contains only 120 calories and as much calcium as an eight-ounce (1 cup) serving of cow’s milk. Bonus: It contains isoflavones that may help ease the symptoms of menopause.

When it comes to cooking, tofu is versatile. Yes, its taste is bland, but the porous texture of firm tofu means it easily absorbs whatever flavours it’s cooked with (blend soft tofu with chocolate to make a dessert, or with garlic, lemon juice and basil to make a dip). It can
be added to recipes in a number of ways. Try it crumbled, mashed, sliced, braised, baked, poached, fried, puréed or diced. You can also buy it baked, smoked, fermented or fried.

How it’s made

Tofu is made in a similar way to simple cheeses, such as ricotta. A mineral salt- or acid-based coagulant is stirred into heated soy liquid. The liquid separates into curds and whey. The curds are then pressed into a block; the longer it’s pressed, the firmer it becomes.

What to look for when buying

You will find tofu in supermarkets, in either the produce section or the refrigerated food cases. It’s sold immersed in water and you’ll need to rinse it before you cook with it. Here are the textures you’ll find and the meals most suited for each:

Firm (or regular) tofu

This is an all-purpose tofu. It’s not as smooth as silken tofu or as grainy as extra-firm. When fried, it is creamy on the inside. Use it as a topping on pizza, or in chili and tacos.

Extra-Firm tofu

This is tofu that was pressed the longest; it won’t fall apart during cooking. There are many ways to enjoy extra-firm tofu: Marinate it, grill it, or crumble it up to make it resemble ground hamburger.

Silken tofu

This is soft and silky with a custard-like texture. (Silken comes in soft, firm and extra-firm, but they’re all soft tofus.) Use it in salad dressings, pie fillings, puddings and smoothies.

Storage tips

To store unused firm, extra-firm or silken tofu, put it in a container filled with cold water, then cover and refrigerate for up to seven days —but be sure to change the water daily to keep it fresh.

Leftover firm or extra-firm tofu can be wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to five months. But be aware that freezing tofu changes its texture and colour, making it chewy and turning its colour from white to amber. To defrost, remove the plastic wrap and place the tofu in a deep bowl. Cover it with boiling water and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Before using, press it firmly between your palms and squeeze out excess water.

This article was originally titled “Tofu, anyone?” in the September 2012 issue of Best Health.


Broiled Tofu with Miso Glaze and Asparagus | Serious Eats : Recipes


[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

Broiled Tofu with Miso Glaze and Asparagus


  • 4 tablespoons white miso (or Korean miso)
  • 2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 (19-ounce) package of firm tofu, drained
  • 1 tablespoon canola
  • 1 bunch asparagus, tough ends trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds


  1. Heat miso, gochujang, apple cider vinegar, honey, ginger, garlic, and water in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally and cook until mixture reduces to a thick glaze, 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, dry tofu, wrap in paper towels, and weigh down with a plate. After 10 minutes, discard paper towels, cut tofu into 2-inch by 1-inch pieces. Toss with canola oil on a foil lined baking sheet.
  3. Arrange top oven rack to 6 inches below the heating element and preheat broiler to high. Set the baking sheet under the broiler and cook until tofu pieces are lightly browned on top, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the pieces and brown lightly on the other side, another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove baking sheet from the oven.
  4. Brush the tofu pieces on both sides with the miso glaze. Set back underneath the broiler and cook until glaze has browned, 2 to 3 minutes a side.
  5. Add asparagus to the boiling water and cook until bright green and tender, about 3 minutes. Drain asparagus.
  6. Divide the tofu and asparagus between four plates. Drizzle any extra of the glaze over the asparagus. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.