In this week's issue, food critic Laura Reiley reviews Thinh An, a new Tampa restaurant that is the first place in the Tampa Bay area to make its tofu from scratch. (Review, Page 3E)
Last month, Laura got a peek at how Thinh An's Michael Nguyen "takes 60 pounds of soybeans and transforms it into blocks of velvety 'coagulated bean curd.' "
Learning about the process, which begins by pouring "small, pale yellow presoaked beans into an open-topped receptacle like an oversized coffee grinder" and ends with hot curds being pressed through a cheesecloth-lined stainless steel press into familiar molds we see in stores, made me think of the soy product differently. Those off-white blocks sold in packages often seem unappealing to me, mostly because I'm never quite sure exactly what they are composed of, or what to do with them.
I set out to come up with ways to use tofu that let the ingredient shine. The main thing to know about tofu is that is has a neutral flavor and will soak up any other ingredients you introduce alongside it. It also adapts to different cooking methods, including frying and grilling.
Vegetarian Tacos: Start with one 14-ounce package of extra-firm tofu, then drain it, pat it dry and crumble it. Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tofu plus 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes, then add one 10-ounce package of frozen corn that has been thawed and cook for another 2 minutes. Add a 5-ounce package of fresh spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted. Divide mixture among 8 small flour tortillas and top with 3/4 cup crumbled goat cheese and 3/4 cup salsa.
Fried Peanut Tofu: Start with one 14-ounce package firm tofu, drained, and cut it into 8 equal pieces. Cut each piece into two triangles, then place the triangles on a single layer of paper towels and top them with a cutting board so the tofu can drain further. Let stand for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine 1 1/2 cups uncooked instant rice and 1 1/2 cups rice or coconut milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions, 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, 3 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper and more salt to taste. Cover and keep warm. Now we're going to coat the tofu so we can fry it. In a shallow dish, combine 1 teaspoon water and 1 large egg white. Pulse 1/3 cup peanuts, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper in a food processor and place on a plate. Dip one side of each tofu triangle in egg mixture, then in the peanut mixture. Do the same with remaining triangles, then cook them in batches in a large skillet coated with peanut oil. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side. Serve with rice.
Kale and Tofu Salad: To make the tofu, coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and preheat an oven to 450 degrees. Combine 3 1/2 teaspoons paprika, 3 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add one 14-ounce package extra-firm water-packed tofu that has been drained and cut into cubes, along with a 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed. Stir to combine, then spread on a baking sheet and roast in oven for 20 minutes. When finished cooking, add to a large bowl with 14 cups torn kale, 1 medium yellow or orange bell pepper cut into 2-inch strips and 1/2 cucumber, sliced. Dress with your favorite dressing and serve.