By Josie Braaten
Casual Observations 

Full of Tofu Knowledge

 


I was raised to regard tofu as a joke rather than an actual nutrition source, much less one that could actually taste good. In my mind, it was this mysterious lump of matter that those crazy vegans forced themselves to eat to prove their unwavering vegan-ness. This past fall then, I was shocked when my very omnivorous friend whipped a carton of tofu out of the fridge as casually as a head of lettuce. But impressionable, little amateur foodie that I am, I was also inspired. Then, when I found out how inexpensive and packed with protein tofu was, I simply couldn’t fight my penny pinching college student instincts and it started appearing on my weekly shopping lists. Over the next few months, I tried cooking with tofu about every two weeks. In the beginning, I had to literally douse my sad little tofu attempts with ketchup to get myself to eat them. With time and a whole lot of googling though, my tofu cooking skills improved, and I found myself legitimately enjoying my little nuggets of soy-protein.


Now I have to admit that I have a moderate obsession with tofu, fueled by dead-of-the-night Pinterest binges. A few weeks ago, it was mentioned to me in passing that Dyan Carlson sometimes uses tofu in her famous Table for Six dinners. Of course I was immediately filled with a frenzied excitement at the thought of tofu prepared by a legitimate chef, and as soon as it was socially appropriate, I reached out to her about talking tofu with an infant convert such as myself.

We met at the Dynasty Chinese restaurant, and over a plate of her favorite shrimp stuffed tofu and a cup of hot and sour soup, she started dishing out her tofu wisdom. First and foremost, tofu is an animal product free protein source made of condensed soymilk. There are four main types of tofu ranging from soft to firmest; silk, firm, extra firm, and sprouted. Each tofu is best prepared a certain way. Silk is best in smoothies and soups, firm bakes well, and extra firm and sprouted are the most logical choice for dishes that involve a lot of movement or manipulation. Sprouted, as Dyan shared with me, is her personal favorite because of its nuttier flavor and hearty texture.

After establishing what exactly tofu was, we got down into talking about the nature of it. “Most people are weird-ed out by tofu because it doesn’t really have a taste,” said Dyan, “but that’s what's great about it, it can absorb any flavor.” To get a strong flavor, Dyan recommended pre-drying the tofu to get the water (what it’s stored in) out so that it absorbs flavor better, stays together easier while cooking, and gets crispier. She also said that tofu cooks a lot like meat, in that it forms a crust while frying and “releases” itself when finished. However, it isn’t able to absorb any more flavor after it develops its lovely crust, so Dyan recommended seasoning or marinating it before cooking. When cooking it then, Dyan said that she usually uses peanut or olive oil, and she recommended using a wok because it’s able to get hot enough to give the tofu a “nice skin.” I was dazzled. So much tofu knowledge.


At this point, I was in a mesmerized stupor, but was suddenly struck with a burning question. Where do you buy tofu in Glasgow? Dyan laughed and said that it took her a lot of searching before she finally found her favorite organic-sprouted tofu tucked in one of the farthest corners of Reynolds, wedged in beside the salad fixings. Then she became serious, advising me against buying tofu that didn’t require refrigeration, and to always use up my tofu within, at most, five days after opening. I could only nod solemnly. I couldn’t even dream of disobeying a direct tofu order from this woman.

As Dyan and I inhaled our delicious tofu, we found ourselves musing about its bad reputation. It seems that the negative connotations associated with tofu (that it has no nutritional value, tastes nasty, is only eaten by militant vegans) stems from a simple lack of actual experience with tofu. If my dear friend wouldn’t have literally held a carton of tofu under my nose, it would never have occurred to me to ever buy it. Consequently, I would never know just how much I love eating and am learning to love preparing tofu. A truly tragic thought. I left Dynasty then, full of tofu and tofu knowledge, with my box of leftover tofu nuggets cradled in my arms and a fortified resolution to not let myself be limited by the unfamiliar humming through my mind.


 

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