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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mmmm...Tasty Tofu

It's been quite a long while since I've cooked tofu. I like tofu when it's prepared just right - it has to be firm and chewy - but I have trouble getting that texture at home, so I sort of gave up on it. The class with David Hirsch (a chef, author and collective owner of Moosewood Restaurant) that I wrote about yesterday, however, changed all that. For the salad course, he prepared a Caesar salad with tofu croutons. They're really not croutons at all, but seasoned, baked tofu cubes that once cooked, do resemble croutons in appearance if not texture.

I was very intrigued by this method of preparation - it calls for tossing the tofu in a tasty sauce and then baking it in a single layer on a baking sheet - much easier than sauteeing which is how I am used to preparing tofu. To help get the chewy texture that I personally enjoy, there are several key things you need to do. First, choose extra-firm tofu. Second, you need to extract as much of the excess water from the tofu as possible. I do this by putting a thick layer of paper towels on a large plate, placing the tofu on top of the paper towels, followed by another layer of paper towels and thenfinally, a cast iron skillet. The skillet isn't quite heavy enough on its own, so I put a few heavy canned goods in the skillet for added weight. As the tofu sits, the water is gently pressed out. I changed the paper towels once to get even more water out. To get the tofu even chewier, you can try freezing the tofu before you press it.

Caesar Salad with Tofu Croutons

The third important step in achieving a chewy texture is to cook the tofu long enough. I taste-tested the tofu cubes as they cooked and it definitely took the entire 25 minutes to get the tofu a bit crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside. I used a metal cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, so anything thicker than that - say a glass baking dish - will likely require a longer cooking time to achieve the same effect. Don't be afraid to cook the tofu until it is quite dark - just keep checking as you go and stop when it reaches the desired texture.

The texture was just right and the flavor was amazing. I am not a big fennel fan, but the fennel seeds are absolutely essential in this recipe. The sauce creates a flavoring that is savory and a bit spicy - not at all unlike a sausage seasoning - the perfect flavoring to turn tofu skeptics into tofu lovers. My only quibble with the sauce is that there was really too much sage and fennel - the flavoring was fine, but a lot of it ended up on the parchment paper, charred. When I make this again, I will double the tofu and all of the sauce components except the fennel and sage. And I definitely recommend doubling the tofu - my family scarfed down the tofu very quickly. It was enough to make a meal, but it would have been nice to have a little extra, especially for leftovers.

The star for me in this salad is the tofu, but the dressing is very good as well. It's a creamy Caesar-style dressing that uses mayonnaise which I presume is in place of raw eggs. In order to make this truly a vegetarian meal, you'll want to use the soy sauce instead of the Worcestershire sauce since Worcestershire contains anchovies, a non-vegetarian ingredient. I'm not a vegetarian and I prefer Worcestershire for a Caesar dressing. Although Caesar salad is typically made with simply romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese and croutons, I couldn't resist throwing in some red bell pepper and shredded carrot for added color and nutrition.

If you are a tofu skeptic, I urge you to give this recipe a try - I think it will change your mind. As we enjoyed our salads, I began envisioning other variations on this salad using various seasonings for the tofu - perhaps Buffalo tofu croutons? Or maybe toss them with a nice Teriyaki dressing? The possibilities are endless.

3 comments:

  1. alysha..if you could find a type of tofu that's already pressed you'd might like it too. this type of tofu has flavor already, like teriyaki, etc. the color is usually brown and vaccum packed. usually sold in asian grocery store or maybe in some bigger grocery store.

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  2. Eliza - Thanks. I did try that kind of tofu - Wegmans carries it - and liked it pretty well, I think I just had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to do with it the one time I bought it. Cooking it this way, the tofu was much more flavorful, but obviously more time-consuming.........

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  3. that's true. i usually end up stir-fry that kind with vegetables. good luck experimenting with tofu!

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