Ingredient Introduction #52 – Tofu

I’m thankful for a lot in my life.

Many of the reasons are as mushy as a greeting card.

But in terms of food my gratitude is as glutinous as a bottomless pit.

I’ve watched a friend get the itches after eating a salad topped with nuts.

My partner in cuisine crime cringes at the thought of scrambled eggs and practically convulses if he eats them. They trigger his gag reflex worse than a strep throat test.

For some reason, my trip down the assembly line of life did not include a detour through the food allergy and food texture phobia departments. Talk about a true prize in the fortune cookie of living.

Still, there are foods that freak me out.

Tofu has always been one of them, and I think it’s because of my experience with it.

Sure, in my mind I see a Tofu as this rubbery concoction made with the crap orthodontists use to craft a mold of your teeth.

But my reason for disliking it dates back to college.

In our dining hall there was always a vegetarian option. I’d walk up to it and see chunks or plaques of tofu sitting listlessly on a bed of some saucy vegetable.

I remember it having a dry, boring, vapid, cottony existence. It scarred me.

I’ve spent every day since avoiding tofu in my pad Thai and Asian soups. Oh the horror.

Our friend Andrea was a vegetarian (she eats meat without a bone now) and still loves tofu. While we’ve eaten chicken or beef, she’s feasted on the cubes of make-believe-meat. In an attempt to win us over, she suggested tofu for one of my final ingredients.

My partner in cuisine crime threatened me with all kinds of torture, but I took the tofu by the blocks and went for it.

I got two kinds: silken and extra firm.

Tofu, also called bean curd (I prefer “tofu.” Curd is a gross word) is made from soy milk in the same way cheese is made from milk.

With tofu, soy beans are heated and ground with water to make soy milk. The soy milk is separated from the solids. The milk gets curdled and the curds are formed into the obligatory block.

Silken has more moisture, extra firm has less.

Another difference between the two is the amount/use of a coagulant, which congeals the mixture.

Both come packaged tightly. I had to cut open the packages. This stuff is swimming in liquid.

They were each $2.99, which seemed like a good bargain to me.

It’s a great source of protein. The firmer versions have more. According to the package, 3 ounces of extra-firm tofu gives you 9 grams of protein

The silken tofu was very soft. It really just fell apart. It reminded me of the consistency of a loose flan.

I’ll admit that I was a little giddy here.

I’ve been a big fan of chef Rocco Dispirito’s books about healthier eating. His recipe for silken chocolate mousse (from Now Eat This Diet) had me intrigued. I never had tofu in the house, so I didn’t make it. This was my chance.

Here’s what you need for his recipe:
12 ounces silken tofu
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, plus extra for garnish
2 Tbsp. Unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. sugar-free chocolate syrup

I didn’t have bittersweet chocolate, so I used a strawberry champagne dark chocolate bar (thanks, Aunt Karen!), which had a pretty high amount of cacao.

I’m not a fan of sugar-free products (they use too much crap to make up for the sugar), so I used low-sugar syrup.

Here’s how you do it:
Cut the tofu into cubes. Be careful, it falls apart. Put the cubes in a strainer and let them hang out for 10 minutes to get out extra moisture.

Chop 2 ounces of the chocolate, put it in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave for about 30 seconds. Stir. If it doesn’t melt all the way, use 15 second intervals till it’s melted.

Put everything into a food processor.

Blend until silky smooth. Scrape the sides. Blend again.

Transfer to 4 small dishes (I used ramekins) and refrigerate. Let it sit for at least an hour.

I served the mousse with whipped cream and chocolate shavings (use a veggie peeler on the chocolate bar).

I loved it. But I don’t know that I’d call it a mousse. It wasn’t light and airy. It was a bit more like a pudding.

Because of the strawberry champagne chocolate bar, the mousse reminded my partner in cuisine crime and I of a chocolate covered cherry.

He thought the mousse was a bit grainy. I think it needed to be blended just a tad more.

Andrea liked the consistency, but hated the flavor. She hates chocolate covered cherries, so there you have it.

I would definitely make this again!

According to Rocco, this version has 161 calories compared to the traditional egg-laden mousse. The tofu stands in for the creaminess and thickening talents of eggs.

I went all savory on the extra firm tofu by grilled it on kabobs and serving it with pasta.

I’ve read a lot of grilled tofu recipes and all the commenters harped on the importance of a marinade.

Here’s what you need:
1 package extra tofu
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 graffiti eggplant
Garlic powder

Drain the tofu and slice it into 1/2 inch thick pieces. Then cut those in half to make squares.

On a bed of paper towels, line up the squares, top them with more paper towels and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

Be careful. I over-smashed and had a few blow outs. Oops.

Put the squares in a big resealable bag along with the vinegar and the honey. Seal the bag and gently mix all the ingredients together. You want that honey to spread around. Let it sit for 30 minutes.

Slice your eggplant in the same width of your tofu, about a 1/2 inch. Then cut each slice into half moons. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

You can prepare your sauce and pasta now.

After the tofu is done marinating, lay it onto a cutting board and sprinkle both sides with the rosemary, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

Put a piece onto a wooden skewer through the corner of the tofu so it looks like a diamond. Add a piece of eggplant, then another piece of tofu. If your skewers are big keep alternating till they’re full.

I used a cast iron grill pan.

Make sure you oil your grill and your tofu well. I had some bad sticking issues at first.

Grill each side for 3-4 minutes or until you have nice marks.

Make a mound of pasta on a plate, top with a skewer, and a good sprinkle of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano. I also added a drizzle of basil oil.

The marinade is what made the tofu work for me. It was sweet, but had a bite from the vinegar. The rosemary made the flavors pop.

I kept laughing at Andrea because I felt like she was eating the tofu raw. She ate a few pieces before I could grill them. Truth is, the tofu isn’t raw. It’s just cold. And it was good that way!

I preferred the grill marks, though. They gave the tofu a bit of a crust.

I paired it with eggplant, because I felt like it would be a similar, but slightly different texture (it’s more firm).

My partner in cuisine crime hated the texture of the grilled tofu. He compared it to scrambled eggs. But he loved the flavor.

This ingredient introduction was a big success for me. It was the end to a year’s worth of investigation and it made me face one food that I’ve been avoiding since that bad experience in college.

Will I eat tofu as a main course again? Probably not.

Will I use it to make mousse (pudding)? Yes!

Am I afraid of it anymore? Heck no!

If you’re lucky like me and aren’t terrified of texture, I think you’ll be surprised at how much you’d actually like tofu. Try it and tell me what you think. If you’re a tofu lover, tell me how you use it.

And if you have texture troubles, I’m soy sorry for your luck.

Tip: Use silken tofu in your morning smoothies!
I used it for my peachy green smoothie.

Here’s what you need:
4 ounces silken tofu
1 thin slice of fresh, peeled ginger
3/4 cup brewed and cooled green tea
3/4 cup kale
3 big basil leaves
1 Tbsp. peach preserves
1 cup frozen peaches

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blast them.

The basil, ginger, and green tea energize you. The preserves sweeten the pot. The tofu gives the smoothie body and protein.

This makes ones serving.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Chef Mike, you’ve left me drooling again. I LOVE lemon curd. 🙂

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