My first encounter with tofu was neither pleasant nor life changing. I ordered a miso soup that accompanied a sushi dinner. I remember dunking my spoon into the cloudy amber liquid and lifting jiggly chunks of tofu out from beneath the brothy surface. The flavor was nothing spectacular but the texture was just a little off-putting. I had little to no desire to give tofu a second chance.
But this wouldn’t be a good blog post if I didn’t try tofu again. Many years later I tried tofu in a rice bowl, cooked until crispy and drenched in creamy coconut curry sauce. I thought “man, this is good.” For a second I thought vegetarianism was possible for me.
But the truth is, I love meat. I grew up in an Italian household and that meant fish for Christmas, lamb for Easter and fresh vegetables on the side. The comforts of a Sunday sauce simmered with meatballs or a fried chicken cutlet at my grandma’s house could never be replaced by vegetarian alternatives.
Though I love meat, I have no desire to try something marketed as a “meat alternative.” It’s not meat, don’t try to make it meat. What do I want? I want to highlight plant based proteins and meals for their naturally, non-meat flavors, which brings me to tofu. Let’s edit the dialogue…
While some “meat substitutes” capitalize on tofu’s ability to crumble like ground beef, I prefer to savor this jiggly soy protein for its naturally appealing qualities, and that means heavy handed seasoning and crisping the edges until golden brown. Since tofu is a blank canvas seasoning is everything. It’s not the time to be timid in the kitchen. In my experiences, tofu tastes best with a sweet and salty sauce (like here in this vegan noodle bowl). The tofu’s creamy texture also compliments a bit of spice nicely, so go ahead and add those chili peppers.
When cooking tofu, at least for a crispy result, it is imperative to really squeeze that liquid out. Put the block under some weights and let it just release liquid for as long as possible before cooking. This will ensure maximum flavor absorption and minimal spongey texture.
The downside to tofu? Not great for leftovers unless eaten cold. In my experience reheating tofu results in that rubbery texture. Certain things (like the aforementioned noodle bowl) don’t taste spectacular cold or reheated, but a cold tofu dish tastes great. These shawarma spiced tofu pitas tasted arguably better the next day cold: the tofu maintained crisp edges and didn’t seize up and become little morsels of rubbery nightmares.
Takeaways to this tofu rant: vegetarians and non-vegetarians can enjoy tofu. Period. If you try tofu and it’s spongey or jiggly, give it a shot elsewhere. Season it aggressively and don’t expect a meaty flavor. Instead, approach tofu with open-mindedness and interest to try something new. You might be an omnivore like me and begin incorporating more plant based meals into your diet too, no disguise needed.