It took Americans 216 years to go from tofu-ignorance to tofu-contempt.
- In 1770, Benjamin Franklin became the first American known to write about tofu, in a letter he sent from London to Philadelphia. He enclosed soybean samples. (And, one can only assume, a how-to manual).
- In 1986, a Roper poll published in USA Today named tofu “America’s most loathed food.”
Changing the attitude of a tofu non-believer requires, first and foremost, eliminating its squishiness. There’s a two-part solution:
- Start with extra-firm tofu, and
- Invest in a tofu press. Slide the tofu block into the miniature vise, and leave it there until you hear a little voice yelling, “uncle!” (Anywhere between 20-minutes and 24-hours).
Now that you’ve drained the excess water from the protein-rich, low-fat food, you’re ready to crisp it up to make salad croutons, spice it up for Chipotle-esque burrito bowls, crumble and bake it to mimic ground beef for chili, turn it into an Indian tikka masala that will rock your world, add it to a veggie stir fry or a coconut curry noodle soup.
Either you love tofu, or you haven’t prepared well.
These recipes will have you, your friends and family, asking, “please, may I have some more?”
But first, another tofu press note: Not ready to make the investment? There are a few tofu-draining techniques. My favorite: wrap the tofu block in clean kitchen towels, rest it on a cutting board, then weigh it down and smush it with a heavy item, e.g., a stack of cookbooks or cast iron pan. But beware: As the water seeps out, the tofu can shift, and your tofu sculpture will come tumbling down. So choose your weight carefully, balance, and keep an eye on it.
Here are a few of my tried-and-true tofu repeaters. Enjoy!
Peanut sauce: The ingredients are humble, yet when combined in the same bowl, the flavor becomes complex and bold. I love this 5-minute, sweet-salty-tangy-peanuty sauce so much I want to kiss it.
Coconut broth bowls, teriyaki bowls, and mango burrito bowls are just a start. The bowl possibilities are endless. Once you get your pressed tofu groove on, go to The Google, type “tofu bowl recipes” and you’ll consider quitting your day job.
This Pad Thai has got to be one of the World’s Great Recipes. It calls for tamarind paste, which few Americans have stored in their refrigerator door next to the ketchup and mustard. No worries. This aptly named, Everyday Pad Thai, is 90% as good, and doesn’t require a trip to an Asian market.
Stir fry is my go-to weeknight dinner. I make it so often, I’m often searching around for new sauce recipes, just to mix it up. Here’s my stir fry sauce resource. Press your tofu, and go wild!
Writing about this Indian palak paneer makes my mouth water. Ditto for any curry created by Vegan Food Genius Nisha Vora. These are just two of dozens of her recipes that will make you crave tofu. Warning: May require a trip to an Indian grocery store. But I promise what you buy won’t linger in the back of your spice rack for a decade. You’ll come back to these recipes again and again. Plus, she’ll continue creating more!
Bonus for New York Times Cooking subscribers: Anyone who’s had a food conversation with me over the last few years knows I am not impressed with the paper’s (rare) vegan recipes. This Sheet Pan Dinner with Crispy Tofu is an exception. It’s creative and delicious, easy enough to make for a weekday dinner, impressive enough to serve to tofu-wary friends. Important note: Double the sauce recipe. (I learned this the first time I made it, then read the Comments section and realized many agreed).
Dessert! There’s no better way to prove tofu’s versatility than to turn it into chocolatey, sweet dessert. My friend Diana of Beantown Kitchen has done just that. Make this chocolate mousse for a dinner party, and I bet not a single guest will guess what makes it so dreamily creamy.
Go forth and enjoy! Let me know how it goes.