The university where I work offers monthly cooking classes during the lunch hour as part of a wellness program intended to keep employees healthy. I attended my second one last Friday. The theme was “Heart Healthy Lunches” and the intention was to learn to cook quick, healthy alternatives to fast food. The classes are set up to where you separate into teams and each team tackles a different recipe. I talked my friend Candace into attending with me and we choose a tofu stir fry dish. We did this because 1) Neither of us had ever cooked tofu so we felt we might actually learn something 2) Candace is a vegetarian and 3) No one else really seemed to want it.
The ingredients were laid out for us and a graduate assistant working the class advised us on the importance of draining and blotting the tofu well. It turns out that tofu has a lot of water in it. We were supposed to return the blotted tofu blocks to their boxes which we were told would make it easier to slice. However, even though I clearly heard this, I tossed our boxes in the trash in an effort to maintain a tidy work station. In my defense, neither of us really believe putting the tofu back in the box would have improved anything. The texture of the tofu blocks was sort of in between a soaked sponge and a block of jello.
We could our tofu into ½ inch cubes as walnut oil heated in a skillet. (This was another first for me, I really had no idea that walnut oil existed). We tossed it in the skillet and waited for it to brown….only it didn’t. I’m not sure if our oil wasn’t hot enough, our tofu wasn’t dry enough, our burner wasn’t heating evenly or it was a combination of all of the above. So we waited somewhat impatiently for a nice browning effect that never really happened.
While we worked, curious onlookers drifted by our stove to see what the tofu looked like and to ask us if we actually ate the stuff or planned to eat it. A few people were familiar with it and a couple even admitted to eating it regularly. By far, the most popular comment though was “Ewww.” I accepted the fact that our dish was probably not going to be licked clean by the masses during the buffet that follows the class.
“It smells wonderful!” I said at one point.
“I think you’re smelling the bacon from the bistro salad station,” Candace replied.
We eventually gave up on the notion of nicely browned tofu, and completed the recipe with slightly pale blocks of the stuff. The recipe was a simple one, and actually looked quite pretty on the plate.
I liked it. As someone told us early on, it really has no taste and takes on the flavor of whatever you are cooking it with. So in this case, you got a lot of ginger and soy taste (someone forgot to purchase the garlic-it would have helped). Another taste tester described the texture as being similar to that of scrambled eggs, and I think that’s a fair assessment: square scrambled eggs.
I tend to get very grossed out when preparing raw meat so I could see myself substituting some tofu into a recipe here and there just to add a little variety. In fact, when I later Googled “tofu recipes” and found this nice collection :
The recipe we prepared could definitely use more vegetables, and I would have preferred to have had some rice or noodles to accompany it. Still, it was a good basic recipe. Here it is:
Stir Fried Tofu with Scallions
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes
1 1/2 to 2 pounds firm to extra-firm tofu, blotted dry
3 tablespoons peanut oil or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger (optional)
1 or 2 bunches scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths, white and green parts separated (about 2 cups total)
1/3 cup vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)
1. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch or slightly larger cubes. Put the oil in a large skillet or wok, preferably nonstick, over high heat. When hot, add the garlic and the ginger and cook, stirring, for about 10 seconds. Add the tofu and the white parts of the scallions; cook, stirring occasionally, until the tofu begins to brown, a couple of minutes. Add the stock and cook, stirring, until about half of it evaporates; add the green parts of the scallions and stir for about 30 seconds.
2. Add the soy sauce, stir, taste and adjust the seasoning, garnish if you like, and serve.
So while it might not become a regular part of my diet, it is a food I will try again. Tell me, have you tried or would you try tofu?