As Andrea Nguyen puts it, "People are afraid of tofu." And we’d have to agree. Navigating the different types of tofu at the market, some packaged in a murky brine while others are firm and vacuum-packed or browned, can be confusing. Let alone figuring out what to do with the one you end up with — especially if you pick the wrong type for the recipe you want to make.
In her most recent cookbook, Asian Tofu, Nguyen simplifies the world of tofu for readers, offering guides, tips, and recipes inspired by numerous countries and cuisines. While she does an excellent job of simplifying the world of tofu and even offering steps to make it yourself at home, we wanted to ask her advice for ways to use tofu that people wouldn’t necessarily think of.
Her immediate response was to share all of the different and exciting things that can be done with extra-firm tofu (usually best for grilling). As she explains it, "The firmer the tofu and the harder it is, the less apt it is to absorb seasoning because as it gets harder, the pores are not as receptive to flavors."
What to do with it then? First she suggests grating the hard or extra-firm tofu and using it as a substitute for paneer like in these Spiced Chickpea Crepes. Filled with grated tofu, tomato, and spices, the dish is an excellent source of protein.
Second, she suggests using firm tofu in desserts like this Cashew and Cardamom Fudge with Soy Paneer that’s a wonderful Indian dessert topped with pistachios. (Side note: you can also freeze this addictive bite-sized fudge for later.) Or, use pressed tofu for these snackable Chinese Chive and Pressed Tofu Turnovers.
Check out her last three tips and give these recipes a try.
Faux Egg Salad: Using a medium-firm or firm tofu, cut it into 1-inch cubes, let them drain for a few minutes, and then mash them up with a fork. Add a curry powder or a pinch of turmeric, drizzle of soy sauce, mayo, and sweet pickle relish. Season with salt and pepper. Let it sit for 15 minutes or so to develop flavor. Make a sandwich or spread it on a cracker; it keeps in the fridge very well.
Simple Pan-Seared Tofu Slabs: If you're short on time and don't want to drain the tofu for long, cut the block into slabs and drain them on a dishtowel or paper towels as you heat up a nonstick skillet over medium-high. Lay down the tofu slabs with no oil in the skillet, sprinkle on salt and lots of black pepper. (The water leaks out of the tofu as it browns.) After lightly browning both sides (be gentle when turning over the tofu), drizzle a little oil into the skillet and a little soy sauce directly onto the tofu. These ingredients add richness and umami to the tofu. Finish browning to a rich hue and slight crispness.
I just did this with medium tofu, which is very delicate. (Most people will likely use firm.) A chunk broke off when I flipped the slabs. No biggie, I just let it pan-sear undisturbed. What to do with the pan-seared slabs? I often eat them with soy sauce and chile garlic sauce, as is, or with a little rice. Today I put my slabs into bowls of ramen for lunch.
Gluten-Free Meatballs: This is a great idea that I borrow from the Hmong: Add mashed tofu (squeeze it through muslin to quickly drain) and an egg to the meatball mixture and cut out the bread; you can elect to cut down on the amount of meat if you want to lower your meat intake. Aim for 1:2 or 1:3 weight ratio of mashed tofu to ground meat. The tofu and egg act as binders and lighten the meat mixture. There's usually egg in meatballs, so whatever quantity that you typically use, keep it and add the tofu. If you don't use egg, I suggest that you add one as it makes things cohere nicely.
Click here to see How to Grill Tofu.