Tofu For the Masses

Many people don’t like tofu.

This is completely understandable, given that what comes out of the little carton from the grocery store is more bland and flavorless than library paste, and has less texture as well. Of course, some will say those very features are what give tofu its salutary versatility. Since it has so little character of its own, it can borrow the flavors of whatever sauce or marinade you can dream up. That is true, but still leaves the problem of texture. I went for years thinking I had to go to the Asian Market or the Health Food store to buy baked tofu for twice the price of the tub variety, just for it to have a good “chew.” Even though I don’t particularly mind the mushy texture of basic tofu, I much prefer it to be very firm, almost meatlike in consistency. I just didn’t realize that it was entirely possible to make it that way at home, with no special equipment. With just a little time and almost no effort you can go from this:

Before

to this

After

Here’s what you need:

  • A stockpot or large deep saucepan
  • Two cookie sheets (large plates can be used too)
  • A thick, absorbent towel
  • A white lint-free dishtowel, like a floursack
  • Water
  • 2 cakes of extra firm tofu (You can make just one, of course, but because it does take a little work I try to make at least 2 at a time, since it gets eaten up so quickly.)
  • Something to use as a weight – it should weigh several pounds

Bring the water to a boil in your large-ish pot. You want to make sure two cakes of tofu can fit in there with a little extra room, and be covered by the boiling water. Once it is at a boil, gently lower the tofu cakes in.

Let those tofu cakes boil. Boil the HECK out of them. Boil them for at least an hour. They may swell up and look dangerously bloated. That’s ok. It’s also ok if they look mostly the same as when you started. Add water if necessary to keep them covered. Let them boil most vigorously.

Meanwhile, lay out a clean fluffy towel on your cookie sheet or large plate, then cover that with your lint-free dishtowel. (You really don’t want to be picking terry cloth lint out of your tofu.) Arrange it so that you can completely surround the two cakes of tofu.

When you decide they have had enough boiling, turn off the water. Using a spatula to lift and a spoon for stability, gently remove each cake and place them on the dishtowel. Fold the towels around them so that they are covered top and bottom, with plenty of room at the sides for runoff liquid to be absorbed.

Put your second cookie sheet or plate on top of the swaddled tofu cakes and put something good and heavy on top. I use my 7-quart Lodge dutch oven.

"Old Faithful"

Let it sit. I usually begin this whole process around 9 at night, so I can let it sit overnight. 8 hours is not too long.

In the morning, or after a good long time, remove the weight and unveil your compressed tofu. It will now have the texture of a very firm cheese, or dense cold meatloaf.

Compressed

If you’re not using it immediately, refrigerate it in an airtight baggie or container. (You can also begin marinating it now if you like.)

IMPORTANT! Launder those towels right away. You do not want to know what neglected tofu squeezings smell like. Stinky does not begin to describe it.

Now! On to the delicious part! I like to slice the tofu into bite size pieces and pan-fry it in various marinades. Here are links to three fairly simple recipes for marinade/sauce that all taste awesome with tofu. You can also add it, sans marinade, to stir-fries and curries, soups and stews and it will be wonderful no matter how you flavor it. I like to use it in matar paneer for a low fat alternative to cheese. If you have another suggestion for a sauce or marinade, I’d love to hear it. Enjoy!

Recipes:

  • Barbecue Tofu – although I still like my way of prepping the tofu better, this is a much faster way to do it. Not as chewy, though.
  • Tea-Egg Tofu – I made these eggs and used the leftover marinade on tofu. I liked it so much that I made another batch and just skipped the eggs (although they were good, too!)
  • Tofu Teriyaki  (pictured above)- All the online recipes I could find for this were too sugary, too complicated, or just didn’t sound good. You can use commercial teriyaki sauce, of course, and that’s pretty tasty but usually very sweet, or you can just mix up the following. Use it all – the tofu will absorb it during cooking and come out absolutely delicious:
    1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
    1/4 Cup Water
    1/4 Cup Rice Vinegar or White Wine Vinegar
    1 Clove Garlic, minced
    1-inch chunk of Ginger, minced
    1 tsp or more honey or agave, to taste
    smidge sesame oil and or/hot chili oil (optional)

Now you have no excuses! Go forth and make some delicious tofu!

(Many thanks to my dear friend Wendy B for vouchsafing the secret to fabulous tofu texture.)

How Watermelon Saved the Day

used under creative commons license - image by wallyg

image by wallyg

We love Washington, DC.

Since we’re lucky enough to have friends who live there as well as family in Baltimore, we visit often, usually on the summer school break. We’ve become accustomed to slogging through the nasty humid boiling hot weather, grateful for the fountains and air-conditioned free museums studded through the tourist districts.

This year we had reserved tickets for the Washington Monument, for July 7. I had misgivings about a 3 pm tour time, the hottest part of the day, but wanted to make sure we’d have plenty of time to get there after lunch. It turned out to be the hottest day of the hottest summer ever on record. Our intrepid group – me, my husband, our 8 year old son and our dear family friend and DC resident Rob  – slogged slowly across the Mall, achieved our target, viewed the city in its nasty haze from the blessedly air-conditioned top of the Monument, and all too soon were spit back out on to the griddle of DC.

Hot? We were the kind of hot that steals your cheer, melts your fun and evaporates your  good will. We managed to trudge to the National Gallery, but to everyone’s disappointment, arrived just before closing. The day was oozing into evening, with no relief from the heat, and four frayed souls wandered dispiritedly, dithering about what to do.

Then Rob spotted a favorite restaurant and gently herded us in. As we took our seats somewhat grumpily, he ordered watermelon agua fresca. Wow, did that sound good. I ordered one too, and so did the 8 year old, so we ended up, mercifully quickly, with a cold sweaty pitcher, the liquid’s bright pink flush bringing a spark of life to our eyes. We poured, we drank.

There was silence. The deep, appreciative silence of the truly grateful. It was broken by my son, who said “I feel so much better already – this is all I really needed.”

The magical restorative powers of agua fresca are well known throughout Mexico, where it is sold at stands pretty much everywhere. It can be made with cucumber, lime, peach, just about any summer fruit, but the deep summer bounty of watermelon just begs to be turned into this elixir of refreshment. It’s so easy to make, too.

I vowed, while sitting there imbibing sweet relief, that I would make some every chance I had, during that short season when watermelons  are everywhere, spilling from bins and truckbeds, offering their delicious, jewel-toned flesh for our delight.

used under creative commons license - image by feministjulie

image by feministjulie

Watermelon Agua Fresca

This recipe is super easy and forgiving. All you need is:

  • Equal parts watermelon (chunked, seeds removed) and water (or somewhat less water)
  • A squirt of lime juice
  • And if your melon is less than ridiculously sweet, a touch of sugar.

If you have a blender, whirl it up and then strain it through a sieve, pushing through as much pulp as you like. If you don’t have a blender, you can do it the old fashioned way, chopping and mashing with a fork.  Chill for an hour and swirl the settled fruit back into the liquid before serving.

Of course, you can make this fancier by adding black pepper or fruit masala, you can garnish with mint, or otherwise tart it up, and I’m not against that. But for the times when you’re so hot your eyeballs feel like poached eggs, just keep it simple and keep it coming.

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