Tofu is what I consider a “super ingredient.” It’s a blank canvas, just waiting to take on any flavor and seasoning you’re craving. That same blank canvas ability is the very reason some people cringe at the mere mention of the “T” word. Commercial tofu on its own is rather bland (homemade tofu is a whole other story), but with minimal effort you can transform it from boring to mind-blowing.
I prefer cooking with extra-firm tofu, since you can cut it into “steaks” or cubes for making stir-fries. Taking the time to drain any excess water helps the tofu hold its shape better too, so plan on an extra thirty minutes of “hands-off” for prep work.
Draining the tofu is super easy. Start by slicing it into slabs, about 1-inch thick for “steaks”, and 3/4-inch thick for cubes to sauté. Lay the slices on a cloth or paper-towel lined tray. Cover the slices with another layer of towel. Place a cutting board or cookie sheet on top of the tofu slices, and weigh it down with a heavy pot (watch this video to see the technique). Let the tofu sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. During that time the tofu will firm up as the excess liquid absorbs into the towel (and you can started on other dinner prep work while you’re waiting).
You can then use it to grill, sauté or make a quick, easy and flavorful stir-fry like the one below.
Orange-Sesame Tofu with Snow Peas
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1 small garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup orange juice, preferably fresh squeezed
6 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
14 ounce block extra firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, plus more as needed
5 ounces snow peas, ends trimmed
1 teaspoon black sesame seeds
Hot cooked jasmine rice, to serve
1. Roughly chop the ginger and garlic on a cutting board. Sprinkle with salt, and continue chopping until it forms a fine paste. Add the mixture a deep bowl, along with the orange juice, soy sauce, sesame oil and pepper. Stir with a fork. Add the tofu, and using your hands or a rubber spatula, gently toss to coat well. Cover, and let sit in the refrigerator at least two hours, or overnight.
2. Drain the tofu, reserving the marinating liquid. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a wok or deep skillet. Add tofu and sauté over high heat, turning once, until nicely browned on both sides; add more olive oil if needed to keep the tofu from sticking to pan. Transfer the tofu to a paper towel-lined dish to drain for 1 to 2 minutes (you may need to do this in two batches depending on size of work or skillet).
3. Discard any remaining oil and browned bits of tofu from the skillet.
4. Add the remaining teaspoon of oil and the snow peas to the skillet. Pour in the reserved marinade. Toss well, and cover. Cook for 2 minutes to steam the snow peas. Remove the cover, add the tofu back to the pan. Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top, and shake the pan to toss well. Cook for 1 minute more. Return the tofu to the wok. Toss well, and cook 1 more minute. Serve with hot jasmine rice.
Mom and blogger Jennifer Perillo of In Jennie’s Kitchen has been in the food industry for 15 years, first in the restaurant business, and finally as a food writer, now serving as Consulting Food Editor at Working Mother magazine. Her forthcoming book, Homemade with Love: Simple Scratch Cooking from In Jennie’s Kitchen, is available here.