The first time I tasted tofu, as cubes in a steaming bowl of hot and sour soup, I was eight years old and delighted. I called it “white Jell-O.”
During the hippie era of the 1970s, when tofu was tossed into nearly every stir-fry and in some of the worst tofu puddings, “cream” pies and cheesecake ever, I resolved to show how delicious this protein-rich, vegan, mild-flavored food could be. Two cookbooks devoted solely to soy foods eventually followed. (They included miso, edamame and other soy choices along with tofu.)
Dishes that transform tofu from bland and utilitarian to enticingly good start with firm tofu. Extra-firm sounds good, particularly for stir-fries, grilled cutlets and kebabs, but it is often dry, grainy and tastes like plaster. Press the firm tofu unless you find tofu labeled “steak,” or cutlets, which means it has been compacted already. The recipe below describes how. Besides squeezing out water, compacting tofu this way makes it enjoyably chewy. The result is well worth it. Note: If you come across grilled tofu, it is excellent pressed this same way.
I am often asked how long to marinate tofu to add flavor. Since it is not absorbent, marinades penetrate only about 1/8-inch, so the length of time, beyond 30 minutes doesn’t matter. Rather, I prefer using a glaze thick enough to cling to the tofu, melding with the surface as it grills or bakes. This distinctly Mediterranean glaze made with reduced pomegranate juice shows how this works.
I serve this tart-sweet, aromatically herb-tasting tofu right from the pan, like steak, accompanied by garlic-pungent kale or collards and brown rice garnished with browned onions and a sprinkling of pomegranate arils.
1 (16 oz.) package firm tofu
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1 tsp. orange juice
1/2 tsp honey
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried thyme
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
Olive oil cooking spray
Lay two paper towels on plate. On plate, standing block of tofu on long side with short end facing you, cut tofu vertically into 2 slabs and lay tofu slabs side by side on paper towels. Cover tofu with 2 more paper towels. Set cast iron skillet or wooden cutting board on top of tofu. Place about 4 pounds canned or boxed food (for example, soup cans or boxed milk) on top for 20-30 minutes, to press liquid from tofu. Tofu may be pressed, then covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 24 hours in advance.
In small pot, boil pomegranate juice over medium-high heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 15 minutes. Mix in orange juice, honey, garlic powder, thyme and salt. Stir in oil. Set glaze aside.
Coat skillet with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat. Brush pressed tofu slabs on one side with the glaze. Place glaze-side down in hot pan. Brush top with glaze. Cook for 3 minutes, until tofu is dark brown on bottom. Turn, brush with marinade and cook until tofu is browned on other side. Turn tofu again and brush with second coating of glaze and cook for 1-2 minutes. Repeat on other side for second coating and cook the tofu for 1 minute. To serve, cut each of the 2 tofu steaks diagonally, making 4 triangles and place a triangle on each of 4 plates.
Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 106 calories, 4 g total fat (<1 g saturated fat), 8 g carbohydrate, 9 g protein, <1 g dietary fiber, 73 mg sodium.
Something Different is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.