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Tofu: there’s no need to be scared

‘Fess up, you crinkled your nose when you read that word, didn’t you? It’s ok, most people do. For many (especially those who grew up outside of Asia), “tofu” is synonymous with “bland” and “tasteless.” But really, the trick is just to find a way to cook and eat it, and believe it or not, you will begin to appreciate it. The nice thing about tofu is that it’s got a fairly neutral flavor and will absorb whatever other flavors you add to it–so as long as you get the texture right, it’s quite easy to make it delicious.

Here’s a secret: the tastiest way to eat it? Deep fried. I know, not very healthy, is it? But when it’s all crispy and golden on the outside and chewy and tender on the inside… Yum, yum, yum. Unfortunately, I don’t recommend eating it this way (for obvious reasons). That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t still get the same crispy-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside by other means. And by other means, I am talking about your friend, the oven. That’s right, we’re going top make oven-fried tofu, which can then be used in various different ways, one of which is the tofu fried rice recipe I share below.

Oven-fried tofu (makes 4-5 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of extra firm tofu (8oz)
  • 1/2 tbsp canola oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven on the broiler setting.

Toss all ingredients in a bowl until the tofu is well seasoned, then spread on a baking sheet and broil for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until golden and crispy. Your timing will vary a little here; you won’t want to overcook the tofu because it’ll turn rubbery, but at the same time, if you don’t leave it in the oven long enough, you won’t get that nice, crispy texture on the outside. Check it at 10 minutes and if it’s not quite golden brown, leave in and keep checking every 5 minutes.

Once it’s done, you can use the oven-fried tofu in salads, stir-frys, sauces… Get creative! Because you’ve used only salt and pepper as your seasoning, you’ll be able to add any other seasoning to it when you add it to your favorite dish.

Here’s the one I made for dinner tonight:

Tofu fried rice (serves 1)

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz cooked tofu
  • 1 tsp canola oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup steamed brown rice (you can use white rice if you prefer; I just like brown rice because it’s healthier :))
  • 1 cup mushrooms
  • 1 cup broccoli
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp green onions
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

In a nonstick pan, heat up 1/2 tsp of oil, then stir-fry the veggies, making sure to season with salt and pepper. Once veggies are cooked, set aside in a bowl.

Now, cook the egg and egg whites, gently breaking up the eggs to scramble them. Cook them to your desired texture (I like them slightly runny, but that’s a personal preference), then add to the bowl with the veggies.

Heat up the other 1/2 tsp of oil, and add the garlic, when the garlic is brown (watch that you don’t burn it!), add the rice, and sprinkle with a touch of salt. Since the rice is already cooked, you don’t need to fry for too long (1-2 minutes); you just want it in there long enough to get the garlic flavor. Add the tofu to warm it through and re-crisp it. Now take off the heat and add back the veggies and the egg/egg white scramble, tossing well. Sprinkle the green onions on top.

You can use whatever veggies you like here; I was out of broccoli tonight, so I used zucchini, but I’ve also used asparagus, bell peppers, green beans… I love most veggies, so whatever I have handy, I go ahead and toss in there.

Tofu fried rice
Don’t fear the tofu

 

Switching gears a bit… It’s no secret that in Asia, we eat a lot of tofu. And in the Philippines in particular, we eat it all kinds of different ways, including sweet dishes. My favorite as a kid was a staple breakfast of mine (I rotated between this, champorado, and sliced papaya with milk for my go-to breakfasts): taho.

Taho is basically silken tofu in a rich simple syrup, with tapioca pearls. Sounds a little odd, I know (and with the syrup, it’s not exactly healthy), but oh my God, is it good. To this day, just thinking about it puts a big smile on my face and brings me back to the days when the taho vendor would go around the neighborhood, carrying his two pails (one with the tofu, and the other with the syrup and tapioca), yelling, “Taho!! Taho!!” I remember begging my mother to ask for extra tapioca pearls and he’d charge her extra as he’d count each additional one that he’d add to my cup.

Ah, memories :).

Taho is the easiest thing in the world to make, and I really don’t know why I don’t make it more often (other than the fact that it is a lot of sugar to ingest in one meal ;)). Here’s a simple recipe below:

Taho (serves 3-4)

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of silken tofu (8oz)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (unpacked)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 jar of tapioca pearls in syrup (you can find these at an Asian market)

Directions:

In a sauce pan, add the sugar and water and stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and you get a syrup. You can add a bit more water to thin it out if you’d like; simple syrup is usually a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water, but after that, it’s up to you to adjust to your liking.

Once you have your desired consistency for the syrup, take it off the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Next, open the jar of tapioca pearls and drain the syrup (you’ve already made the syrup–you don’t need to add the syrup from the jar, trust me; you’ll go into sugar shock otherwise ;)). Stir into the syrup.

Heat the tofu for about 30-40 seconds in the microwave, then mix all of the ingredients together. Remember how I told you above that tofu absorbs whatever flavor you add to it? Well in this, it’s going to absorb the syrup flavor–which makes it sooooo goooood. The tapioca pearls add a bit of chew and texture, and this creates a nice juxtaposition to the silkiness of the tofu.

I’ve got a goofy grin on my face now. And a sudden temptation to go to the nearest Asian store and buy a jar of tapioca.

No picture of this to share, alas–I don’t have any of the ingredients handy to make this tonight, but now that I’ve reminisced about how good taho is, I’m going to be making some very soon :).

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About writejenwrite

Silicon Valley marketer by day, novelist-in-training by night--running addict, foodie, bookworm, pop culture enthusiast, and aspiring philanthropist in between.

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