Published May 23. 2012 4:00AM
From a preparation standpoint, tofu is a hard nut to crack. I had to eat a lot of nasty, tasteless, gelatinous glop before arriving at tofu that I actually enjoy. But it was worth it. Nothing fills me with nutritional righteousness like cooking, eating and enjoying a dish that includes tofu.
It was my good friend Sean that pointed me to the right track. We agreed that tofu’s texture is usually its worse feature. Most often, when trying to prepare tofu, I’ve ended up with giant chunks, the texture of something you simply do not want in your mouth, floating in some kind of sauce. Just vile, really.
Sean’s expert advice: Buy the extra firm tofu, packaged already cut into the smallest pieces you can find. Then, when you get it home, put it in the freezer. When you’re ready to use it, thaw it in the microwave. The idea is that freezing and microwaving toughens everything else, so why not tofu?
I have expanded on his theory by always flavoring and toasting the tofu, no matter what the recipe says, before I put it into any dish. I use whatever flavors (usually some garlic powder and cayenne pepper, at least) that seem to go with the dish. I flavor and fry the cubes in a hot pan, in olive oil, which the tofu absorbs almost immediately, and the tofu cubes end up toasting to a lovely brown.
This combination of freezing, thawing and frying works like a charm. To my taste, it alters the texture enough so that my mouth can relate it more to meat and less to goop that I want to expel, immediately.
In its original form, from “Greens Glorious Greens!” by Johnna Albi and Catherine Walthers, the recipe, below, does not call for tofu, but I think it makes a delightful addition, turning these greens into a meal.
Sometimes, when I’ve fallen off the no-sugar, whole-foods, plant-based wagon, I eat these greens and tofu for breakfast. They’re delicious and filling and, somehow, for me, a day that begins on this righteous path seems less likely to veer off course.
Spicy Indian Greens and Tofu
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces cubed, extra firm tofu
Sprinkling each of garlic powder and cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
1/3 to ½ cup scallions, white and green parts, trimmed and roughly chopped
1½ pounds red or green Swiss chard leaves (about 12 cups) that have been washed, stripped from their stalks, and very thinly sliced
Drain tofu cubes thoroughly in a colander, then shake them onto a stack of three or four paper towels. Spread them into one layer and, place a similar stack of paper towels on top. Press down with the flats of your hands, squeezing out as much liquid as you can.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. When it’s good and hot, put the tofu into the oil and spread the cubes into one layer. Sprinkle on the garlic powder, cayenne pepper and sesame oil and toss the cubes in the pan. As the cubes cook, they will absorb every bit of oil in the pan then begin to toast. Toss them in the now dry pan until they are nicely brown. Set the toasted tofu aside.
In the same skillet, warm butter over medium-low heat. Add shallots, ginger, cumin, turmeric, coriander, jalapeno and salt, and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don’t let it burn.
Add water and mix with spices, scraping the pan bottom to release any stuck bits and to get the steaming started. Add scallions and chard and toss with spice mixture. Cover and cook over medium-high heat, allowing the greens to wilt. Remove cover and stir periodically. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the tofu. If there is too much liquid, leave the cover off, turn heat to high, and cook the liquid off while stirring greens. Otherwise recover the pan and cook for another 2 minutes or so, until the greens are tender and the tofu is hot. Finish with a bit more butter.
Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Her column runs every other week in The Times. Send comments, questions or recipes to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.