Tofu and I have a long, sometimes fractious relationship. We didn’t start off well.
When I was in high school, I decided to become a vegetarian. Suddenly disgusted by meat, I announced to my mother that I didn’t want to eat it. My brother joined along too.
Mom announced that I would be cooking my own meals from now on.
Okay. I liked to stand in front of the electric griddle and flip the grilled cheese sandwiches. This shouldn’t be hard.
However, at the time we were eating the typical American diet: meat with a couple of sides. Learning to cook without meat was like diving into cold dark water. Yikes it was tough to stay in there. Laurel’s Kitchen offered recipes for Savory Dinner Loaf with soy grits and bulghur wheat, neither of which was in our kitchen. Lentil Nut Loaf seemed do-able, until I saw torula yeast and soy flour. I had never heard of either. In the breakfast section, Uppuma involved turmeric powder and black mustard seeds, along with cracked wheat. Oh dear.
(My memory isn’t that great. I still have the copy I bought at that Malibu garage sale, all these years later. And flipping through it, I notice just how many recipes call for whole wheat or wheat germ. Trying to be healthy, I was making myself sick.)
Mostly I made a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches and iceberg salads with bottled ranch dressing.
One day, however, I decided to make veggie burgers. My parents were grilling steaks. I wanted something good to go on the grill too. I didn’t have a recipe. I made one up on the spot. I squelched tofu through my fingers to break it up, then threw in sunflower seeds, ketchup, wheat germ, and spinach, then shaped them into patties.
I stopped being a vegetarian after that.
(By the way, there are tremendous recipes for veggie burgers out there. I love eating them, now that I know more what I’m doing.)
No wonder I didn’t like tofu for awhile.
My mistake was the one most folks make: thinking of tofu as a meat substitute. That’s what Danny thought for years. However, tofu is so much more.
Tofu has a fairly neutral taste, so it takes on the flavors of the foods you throw on it. Chile oil or peanut butter — they both work with tofu. Instead of thinking of it as a substitute for meat, think of tofu as a convenient holder for the flavor you want to build.
However, it’s easy to cook tofu badly, really badly. I’ve eaten tofu sautéed in a cold pan with lukewarm oil and I’ve wanted to spit it out at the dinner table. I refrained, but I wanted. I’ve eaten barely warm tofu with curry sauce thrown at it. That didn’t help my cause of convincing Danny to like tofu.
He swore for years that he hated tofu, one of the few foods he wouldn’t eat.
However, after a couple of years of hearing him talk trash about tofu, I realized something: he had never tried it before.
When we were at a friend’s house, a friend who is a vegan, Danny tried the roasted tofu done Canary Islands style, and he went back for seconds. Seconds! When I said to him later that night, “See, tofu can be good!” that’s when he admitted that was the first time he had ever eaten it.
After that, I convinced him to try it more often. He still didn’t love it. He tolerated tofu.
However, this past year, Danny has been creating weekly specials at the restaurant where he’s a chef. (We always say Daddy’s Restaurant when we talk to Lu, but he neither owns it nor runs it. He likes the fact that he goes in to cook and leaves at the end of the night with nothing left behind.) He creates a new fish special every day, as well as a gluten-free dessert. However, every Monday he thinks all day long about what to start cooking for his weekly special.
His gluten-free, vegan special.
Danny, in the past, could be a little derisive about vegans. He loves feeding everyone, and he would never slip meat or cream into a vegan diner’s dish. But like many chefs, he used to believe that bacon or butter made everything better.
His food has been transformed this year. Now he makes vegan bouillabaisse with gluten-free focaccia croutons that leave the entire staff begging for more. Or a three-rice stuffed pepper with romesco sauce. Or chickpeas and black rice with bok choy, lacinato kale, sunchokes, and a blood orange-white balsamic vinaigrette.
When I go into his restaurant to eat with Lu, I almost always order the vegetarian special. It’s almost always the best meal on the menu.
In some of these dishes, he has been making grilled tofu. We have a tofu factory here on Vashon. Danny loves to use local ingredients. People love his vegan specials with grilled tofu. The staff loves them. Danny was tempted to eat some grilled tofu and wanted more. He started liking tofu, a little.
Last week, we made a tofu dish inspired by Michelle Stern’s lovely new cookbook, The Whole Family Cookbook: Celebrate the Goodness of Locally Grown Foods. Michelle is passionate about getting kids in the kitchen and involving families in every step of the cooking process, as well as the need to use as many local foods as possible. Her kind and thoughtful book is meant to help busy families make healthy meals together. Of course we wanted to help spread the word about this.
When I saw the recipe for tofu triangles with dipping sauce, I told Danny we had to make it. He wasn’t particularly enthusiastic, but he agreed.
We changed it up a bit — Danny can never make a recipe as written — and decided to roast the tofu instead of baking it. Roasted tofu has a crisp skin with a soft interior. It squeaks sometimes when you bite into it — there is that much crunch. As Danny said when I pulled them out of the oven, they look like homemade marshmallows. They puff up that much.
Roasting is my favorite technique for making great tofu.
We let them cool a bit, then took these photos, and then we three ate together.
“Wow,” said Danny. “This is really good. Can we make more?”
ROASTED TOFU WITH TAMARI DIPPING SAUCE, inspired by a recipe in The Whole Family Cookbook: Celebrate the goodness of locally grown foods
Pull out the ingredients for this and you could be having a great snack within half an hour. These are pretty addictive – this batch disappeared pretty quickly. However, if you have any leftover after the initial eating excitement, the roasted tofu would be great in salads or over brown rice with roasted vegetables. The dipping sauce makes a great marinade for seared salmon or roasted chicken, as well.
The wasabi powder here is optional but it adds a great zing to the sauce. Wasabi root, known as Japanese horseradish, has a bit of a kick, which breathes some fire into otherwise bland dishes. You probably know it best as the green glob that appears next to your sushi. It has so many other uses, however. The McCormick Gourmet folks sent us some of theirs (remember that we’re part of their blogger group and thus paid to talk about their spices) and we have been using it in unexpected dishes. Just a pinch adds great heat.
16 ounces firm tofu
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 nub ginger, peeled (about the size of half your pinky finger)
2 tablespoons wheat-free tamari
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon wasabi powder (optional)
3 tablespoons sesame oil
9 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Preparing to roast. Preheat the oven to 450°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roasting the tofu. Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes. Season the tofu with salt and pepper. Pour the oil over the tofu and gently toss them with oil to coat. It’s probably best to do this with your fingertips, taking care to not crumble the tofu. You want solid cubes.
Tumble the seasoned tofu onto the baking sheet. Slide it into the oven and roast the tofu for 15 minutes. Take the baking sheet out of the oven and flip over all the tofu cubes. Slide the baking sheet into the oven again and roast until the tofu cubes are puffed up and browned, about another 15 minutes.
Making the dipping sauce. While the tofu is roasting, toss the garlic cloves and ginger to a food processor. (You could also use a blender for this.) Whirl them up until they are pulpy. Add the tamari, rice wine vinegar, and wasabi powder (if you are using it) and mix up the sauce. With the food processor running, pour in the sesame and grapeseed oils, slowly, a bit at a time. This will emulsify the dipping sauce, which means the ingredients will hold together.
Remove the tofu from the oven. When they are cool to the touch, dip them in the sauce and eat.