Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sweet & Sour Tofu

As I’ve said before, tofu is one of those ingredients that are easily misunderstood. In Western culture, it has become a “meat substitute” and is prepared in a very limited number of ways, possibly because it is available in a limited number of ways. But there’s a whole world of tofu out there, and in Eastern cultures that have used it for centuries, a number of ways to prepare it! I’ve also often had it served with meat, so it’s just a way of eating soy, not a way of getting protein without eating animals. I keep hearing about a book called Asian Tofu, by Andrea Nguyen, which seems like THE reference book to own. It describes fresh tofu (which isn’t the same as the white blocks of tofu at the grocery store), along with things like soymilk skin, fermented tofu, tofu curls, crumbly tofu, etc. I wouldn’t know where to buy all that stuff here!

All this to say that I’ve had good tofu lately and I wanted to know how to prepare it well. I started by reading this post on Herbivoracious, which taught me that there are tofu stores. You know how you can go to a bakery to get awesome bread? Well, apparently there are tofu stores where you can get the best tofu! I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in my life. It seems possible to get the stuff in Montreal, though. If all you can get is the grocery store stuff, that’s fine – that’s what I have, too. Then, the Herbivoracious author suggests cutting the tofu into slices, soaking the slices in warm salted water (optional), patting it dry and pan-frying it at very high heat. That was a bit counter-intuitive for me, because it seemed like the heat would be too high, but it was just perfect. I got tofu slices that had a nice brownish-blonde color, crispy on the outside and a little creamy on the inside – perfect! So I’ve got pan-fried tofu covered.

Then, it was on to an actual dish with seasoned tofu: sweet and sour tofu from Big Girls, Small Kitchen, which I served with brown rice. It turns out that it’s basically pointless to season the tofu before you cook it, as it doesn’t really absorb flavor. The flavor should be in the sauce served with the tofu. The sweet and sour sauce here took care of that, though it’s not the most flavorful I’ve had (it is all natural, though). The recipe calls for flour to create a kind of breading around the cubes of tofu; if you want a gluten-free option, either use gluten-free flour or omit it entirely. You can also use wheat-free tamari sauce instead of the soy sauce.

1 block firm tofu
about ¼ cup whole wheat flour
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice (or rice vinegar)
¼ cup honey/maple syrup/brown sugar
¼ cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp. grated ginger or garlic (I used both and recommend it)

Cut the tofu into slices about 1 inch thick. Press the water out of the slices, then cut them into 1-inch square cubes. In a baggie or on a wide plate, toss the tofu with the whole wheat flour until all the pieces have a thin coating.

Mix the lemon juice, sweetener, soy sauce, and ginger in a small bowl.

In a frying pan, warm the oil. In one layer, brown the tofu (in two batches if your pan is small). When it’s browned, add the sauce and let it cook down so the tofu is nicely and thickly coated, 5-10 minutes.

Serve with rice and vegetables.

*Update: I forgot to say that I used maple syrup and lemon juice and, when the sauce didn’t taste quite tart enough, added a bit of rice wine vinegar. My friend Jen just made this dish; she used ginger garlic paste, which she highly recommends, along with honey and rice vinegar, and she had the good idea of doubling the quantity of sauce and using a cornstarch slurry to thicken it. And she omitted the flour altogether. I took note of it and will try it her way next time!*

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