Suffolk private chef Lilian Hiw, of Lilian’s Kitchen, on everything tofu, including some tasty recipes
Over the years that I have been running my cookery school and private dining business, I have had many questions on how to cook tofu, from people who would like to increase their protein intake through a plant source, to vegetarian and vegan friends who would like to build up their repertoire of tofu dishes and to increase their knowledge.
On the other end of the spectrum, I also know people who hate tofu because they have had tasteless tofu, and some just do not like the texture of tofu.
So. . . let’s talk tofu!
WHAT IS TOFU?
Also known as bean curd, tofu is made from white soya beans - the beans are soaked, ground, boiled and strained to become soya milk. This milk is chilled, a coagulant added to it and gently simmered. These next steps determine what type of tofu is produced - silken, soft, firm or extra firm.
For silken tofu, the soya milk curd is solidified in its final container. The curd and whey are not separated and the whey is not pressed out; resulting in the velvety soft texture of silken tofu. In regular tofu, the mixture is simmered until the curd and whey separate, placed into cloth-lined moulds and pressed to remove the whey (similar to the making of dairy cheese). The longer the press, the firmer the tofu.
Tofu has a neutral subtle flavour, it is pretty tasteless really but I personally think that this characteristic is part of the charm of tofu. I would describe tofu as a blank canvas, it can take on any colour and flavour you give to it and it can be savoury or sweet, crunchy or soft - great, isn’t it? You can go mad and create some delicious tasting dishes!
IS TOFU GOOD FOR YOU?
It is a popular plant-based meat and dairy alternative with a rich source of protein. Tofu contains all nine of the essential amino acids that our body needs but can’t make on its own and is rich in minerals and vitamins for growth and repair. This protein source is also easily digestible, naturally low in calories, dairy and gluten free. Wow, this makes me want to eat tofu more regularly, does it have the same effect on you? I promise that I have not been commissioned by any tofu boards, if there is such a thing?
HOW TO TREAT TOFU?
Silken tofu can be used directly out of its box as it is the soft, creamy texture that we are after.
Regular tofuis generally sold soaked in water, so the tofu holds a lot of water. If you do not ‘treat’ it, any flavours you add will struggle to be absorbed into the tofu.
TO COOK OR NOT TO COOK?
You can eat tofu ‘raw’, straight out of its packaging as it is pre-cooked.
Chilled Spiced Tofu
One of my favourite dishes is chilled silken tofu with century egg. I spoon on lots of crispy chilli, drizzle over some light soya sauce, dark vinegar and top with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds and fresh coriander.
A popular Chinese dish from Szechuan province, this classic recipe calls for silken tofu, ground pork, fermented chilli bean paste, chili oil, and a dusting of Sichuan peppercorns, which gives it that famous numbing sensation.
The smooth, creamy, velvety texture is also perfect for sweet dishes like ice creams and white chocolate truffles etc.
COOKING WITH REGULAR TOFU
Braised Chinese five spice tofu with a medley of vegetables
1. Press the liquid from firm tofu, cut into 2cm slices.
2. Pan fry with vegetable oil till golden, season with Chinese five spice, soya sauce, a splash of Shaoxing rice wine, white pepper and a cupful of water. Simmer on medium heat with vegetables of choice like carrots, baby corn, leeks and mushrooms etc for 15 minutes.
3. I like to add some Chinese greens and a drizzle of sesame oil towards the end of cooking and thicken the dish with some cornflour mixed with some cold tap water; this last step ensures that each piece of tofu and vegetable is evenly coated with a thin layer of the sauce.
Chargrilled tandoori tofu skewers
Freeze and squeeze out the liquid from the tofu, cut into 2cm cubes. Marinate with yoghurt and tandoori spice for ten minutes, skewer and grill or pan-fry on a medium high heat.
Curries of the world
Tofu will take on the flavours of any country’s curry brilliantly, try your hand at making an Indian Masala curry, a Japanese Katsu curry or a Thai Green curry.
Deep fried tofu puffs
A nostalgic dish of stuffed tofu puffs from my grandmother, she named it ‘Fluffy Dog’ because the finished product looks like a shaggy dog’s fur. You can buy the tofu puffs from any Asian shop or online sites; turn the puff inside out and stuff it full of mince pork, chopped water chestnuts, chopped spring onions, seasoned with oyster sauce, white pepper and a little pinch of sugar. Deep fry till dark brown and crispy, serve with chilli sauce.
I would recommend these fried tofu puffs to those who do not like the texture of white tofu. These are brilliantly crispy when deep fried; or you can just add them (unstuffed) to soups and stews for an extra chewy texture and a burst of protein.
Follow any recipe for dumplings, simply replace meat with firm tofu. Steamed Siew Mai, deep-fried wontons, pan-fried Gyozas or boiled dumplings served in broth.
I hope this article has inspired you to try your hand at making some dishes with tofu, and for those who did not have a good experience with tofu, do try out my tips and create something really tasty. I would love to hear about your tofu journey. Till the next time, take care of yourselves.