It's Meat Free Monday today and I thought I'd cover one of the most basic, and also most elusive, topics in vegetarian cookery: cooking with tofu!
At the Vegetarian Cookery School, one of our challenges is to persuade ‘tofu skeptics’ to love tofu and the key to conversion is in the marinade. But before I get to that, it helps to know what tofu is and, importantly, the type of tofu to buy to ensure a delicious result.
What is Tofu?
Tofu is soya bean curd and makes an excellent substitute for meat, fish and dairy products. It's highly nutritious: low in saturated fat, free of cholesterol and high in calcium (often lacking in a dairy free diet) and a good source of B-vitamins and iron.
How is Tofu Made?
Tofu is made from soya beans, which are soaked, then ground, mixed with water into a mash and drained to produce soya milk. The soya milk is then boiled with a setting agent/coagulant. In China, they use calcium sulphate (natural gypsum); in Japan, Nigari (bittern), a by-product from making salt. It's made very much like soft cheese: the whey is drained of the ‘curds’ and the solid tofu is what's left behind.
How to buy Tofu:
There are different types of tofu, which we've covered in-depth in this post: Types of Tofu and How to Use Them. In summary:
How to prepare Tofu:
With firm tofu, drain off the liquid and pat dry with kitchen paper, then slice or cube and marinate.
For extra firmness, you can squeeze out more liquid, by wrapping the tofu in kitchen paper or a clean tea-towel, cover with a chopping board and add a heavy weight on top. Leave for 1 hour, and you will find that more liquid has seeped out and the tofu is drier and firmer and ideal for making kebabs.
You can freeze tofu, which totally transforms its texture: it goes from soft and most to a more open spongy texture. You'll find that you can actually squeeze thawed tofu like a sponge, removing most of it's water, and leaving behind the perfect vehicle for absorbing marinades.
We recommend using a whole block of tofu at once. If you need to store an opened packet, cover the tofu with water and keep in the fridge and change the water every day. There is nothing worse than finding smelly unused tofu at the back of your fridge!
How to make a Marinade:
Tofu is very bland and tasteless and to make it tasty, marinate it. There are endless ways in which you can marinate tofu, but here's a good basic technique to start with and work from:
This is the same marinade we use for our Black Sesame Tofu.
How to Cook Tofu:
Drain the marinade of the tofu (keep the marinade to add to a stir-fry or for marinating more tofu). Dry the tofu with kitchen paper before frying, otherwise the tofu will spit at you.
Top 10 Tofu Recipes:
Here are a few of my favourite tofu recipes to get you started cooking with tofu.
I'd love to hear about your experiences with tofu - favourite tofu recipes or dishes. Or do you have any questions or tofu horror stories? Share those too - I'd love to help!
And of course, if you're really baffled, you can always take one of our classes at the Vegetarian Cookery School. Or ask away on Twitter or Facebook. Whatever you do, I look forward to your tofu creations and quandaries. Let's hear them!