Tofu is a much maligned substance, usually described by it’s critics as “Tasteless, white nothing; I’d rather have a slab of steak any day thanks very much.” The exact origins of tofu are unknown, though it is cited that Chinese legend ascribes its invention to prince Liu An (Chinese: 劉安 Liú Ān) who kicked around the kitchens of China in period between 179 and 122 BC. The inventiveness of the Chinese is well heralded in many areas of industry, philosophy and science so I can well believe that Prince Liu gifted us with the legacy of curded soy. An arguably more useful legacy that anything the British Royal family has managed lately.
Personally, I can understand the disdain that steak eaters have for the flavour of tofu as it’s raw flavour is perhaps too subtle for many palettes. Myself, I like the flavour of uncooked tofu and will occasionally nick a small piece off the kitchen bench after slicing and dicing the block in preparation for cooking. However tofu’s greatest strength is its ability to sponge up for other flavours, and in doing so act as a vehicle for their transportation to taste buds. The other interesting characteristic of tofu, and one which greatly extends its culinary usefulness is that the texture utterly changes when a block is solidly frozen and then defrosted. Putting tofu through this cycle makes it both firmer and most importantly leaves it with a bready consistency.
Tofu naturally comes in a number of grades (not of quality but of texture) ranging from very firm through to the jelly like consistency of silken tofu. The change made by the freezing and defrosting cycle is most noticeable when using silken tofu. In its original state silken tofu is akin to the consistency of solid custard, however after the freeze cycle it acquires a consistency similar to that of white bread – albeit in a wet tofuey sort of way. When lightly mashed with a fork it then becomes almost exactly like scrambled eggs, thus providing the perfect base material for creating a vegan alternative – with no chicken littlens required.
There’s one more thing you need to know before we get to the actual recipe bit – after defrosting the tofu you must thoroughly drain in order for the breading process to wok properly. Left too long stewing in the water that will be in the packet will begin to render it back to its original consistency. To drain thawed silken tofu press it firmly either between the flats of your palms, or between two plates.
Of course you’ll still need something else to add flavour to this dish; something to be carried along in the vehicle of the tofu sponge if you will. The other magic ingredient in this dish is fresh tumeric root – alas, the more common tumeric powder just won’t do. You can usually obtain tumeric root from any Asian green grocer, and sometimes in better supermarkets.
Ingredients (serves two)
- One block of silken tofu, frozen, thawed and drained
- 2cm cube of tumeric root, finely grated (use a ginger grater if possible)
- 1 small clove of garlic, crushed
- 1/2 medium tomato, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon of mixed dry Italian herbs
- 2 teaspoons of tamari sauce
- 1 tablespoon of soy milk
- Grated pepper to taste
- Olive oil
- Over a low heat lightly sauté the tumeric, garlic and pepper. Do not allow to burn.
- Add the tomato, tofu, herbs and tamari. Lightly stir with a fork.
- Once the tomato is softened, add the soy milk.
- If the result has too much liquid for your liking, cook for a few minutes with the lid off. Next time try draining the tofu a bit more as perhaps some residual liquid remained after the thawing and squeezing process.
Serve on toast, optionally spread with avocado.
Next time I make this dish, I’ll try to have a camera handy to take a foodporn photo.