Tofu dishes


Tofu burger with Asian flavours

These light, nutritious and colourful tofu burgers are far removed from the mundane, ready-made supermarket variety in terms of taste and texture.

Serve them either in a bun with sliced onions, tomatoes, lettuce, alfalfa sprouts and a little chutney or ketchup or, alternatively, accompanied by brown rice and stir-fried green leafy vegetables. They also taste great with a deep-flavoured mushroom sauce, along a side helping of potatoes, grilled tomatoes and sautéed spinach. For a variation of flavour, add a pinch of curry powder to the tofu mixture.

If you don’t eat eggs, you may substitute the egg – which only acts as a binder in this recipe – with a tablespoon or two of cornflour (cornstarch), though to be honest I have not tried this myself.

Panko – which are available in Japanese grocers – can be replaced with ordinary dried breadcrumbs if you can’t find them. Remember to go easy on salt because it’s already added to soy sauce and panko, and you don’t want your burgers to become too salty. Makes 6 to 8 burgers/ Serves 3 – 4.

1 lb/ 450g firm plain tofu
5 tablespoons corn or groundnut (peanut) oil
3 spring onions, trimmed and very finely chopped
4 large shiitake mushrooms, stalks removed and finely diced
3 oz/ 75g carrot, trimmed, peeled and finely diced
2 tablespoons celery, trimmed, peeled and finely chopped
1 or 2 green chillies, finely chopped
4 tablespoons fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium egg, beaten
Around 8 to 10 tablespoons panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

1.    Place the tofu between several layers of kitchen paper, and weigh it down with a heavy kitchen utensil or a bag of sugar. Leave for about an hour to drain off excess water so that you get the dry texture that’s necessary for this recipe to work.
2.    In a large bowl, crumble and mash the tofu with your fingers until it resembles fine soy mince.
3.    Heat a large frying pan (or a small wok) on high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, and stir-fry the spring onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery and chillies for about 3 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through. Let them cool a little.
4.    Tip the vegetables into the crumbled tofu. Add the coriander, soy sauce, and a little salt and pepper. Mix well.
5.    Add the egg and about 5 tablespoons of the panko, or enough to make a mixture that can be formed into patties. Mix well, and adjust the seasoning.
6.    Shape the tofu and vegetable mixture into 8 round burger-shaped patties.
7.    Spread the remaining panko in a thin layer onto a large plate. Roll the burgers in the panko so as to cover them lightly on all sides, including the edge. (If you are not cooking the burgers immediately, you can refrigerate them for up to 3 to 4 hours).
8.    A few minutes before you are ready to eat, heat a large, non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in the pan and, when hot, put in the burgers 2 or 3 at a time. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until they are well browned.
9.    Drain on kitchen paper. Serve immediately.

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thai-lettuce-wraps-with-tofu-and-pineapple

According to Thai culinary philosophy, every Thai dish should be a perfect balance of savoury, sweet, sour and hot – and if any single flavour dominates, then the dish is all wrong. Well, actually I’m putting it simplistically. Thai gourmets would judge each dish in terms of the first flavour that hits the tastebuds, the second flavour and the third flavour – and how harmoniously all three work together. So I guess you’d need to know what a traditional dish is supposed to taste like in the first place before you could judge. You’d also need a finely tuned, razor sharp, educated palate – and, if you don’t already have it, the good news is that it can be developed.

All this goes to show how complex a language food is: learning to cook a few dishes from a country is akin to knowing just a few words of a foreign language, and it is only by immersing yourself in a country’s culinary heritage with an open mind and a spirit of adventure that you will learn the full vocabulary. Be respectful of different cuisines, become curious, ask questions, read up, and prepare to experiment with new ingredients, flavour palettes, and cooking techniques. Cookery is, in other words, a journey rather than a destination – and like all good journeys, along the way you will learn a lot about yourself.

This lovely, summery recipe has bland, meaty tofu pieces taking on the sweetness of palm sugar along with the savouriness of soy sauce, sharpened by a background of chilli heat, refreshed by the sour, tangy, fruity overtones of lime, lemongrass and pineapple. Cashewnuts provide the necessary crunch, and the entire dish is perked up by the effusive liveliness of fresh green herbs.

Serve these light flavour bombs as appetiser or snack, or hand them around to your guests while they’re building up their appetites before a barbecue. Serves 4.

1 iceberg lettuce with unblemished leaves
12 oz/ 300g firm tofu
4 oz/ 100g cashewnuts
4 pink shallots, trimmed, peeled and halved
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large stalk lemongrass, trimmed
1 or 2 fresh red birdseye chillies
2 tablespoons groundnut oil
4 fl oz/ 100 ml light Thai beer or mild vegetable stock
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon palm sugar or light brown sugar
Salt
4 oz/ 100g fresh pineapple, diced small
Large handful of fresh coriander (cilantro) and mint leaves
2 limes, quartered

1.    Carefully remove the whole outer leaves of an iceberg lettuce, taking care not to break them. Cut off coarse stems and scrape off any tough ribs. Wash the leaves thoroughly to remove grit, and leave in a colander to dry for several hours, or as long as possible.
2.    Drain the tofu between several sheets of kitchen paper, and cut into small pieces.
3.    Dry roast the cashewnuts in a small frying pan until lightly browned. Remove from the heat, and leave to cool a little.
4.    In a small mixer, coarsely chop the nuts – some pieces should still be visible as they will provide texture. Remove and set aside.
5.    Place the shallots, garlic, lemongrass and chillies in the mixer bowl and finely mince into a paste.
6.    Heat a wok on medium heat. Pour in the oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the shallot paste. Turn the heat to low, and fry for about 5 minutes until the aromatics turn a light golden colour and perfume your kitchen.
7.    Add the tofu, and stir-fry for another 2 or 3 minutes.
8.    Add the beer or vegetable stock, soy sauce, sugar, and a little salt if needed. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat to very low. Simmer without the lid until the liquid has completely evaporated, stirring occasionally.
9.    Add the pineapple pieces and stir-fry until they’re evenly coated.
10.    Remove from the heat, and mix in the chopped cashewnuts. Let the mixture cool a little.
11.    Now make sure that the lettuce leaves are completely dry – wipe them with a kitchen cloth if necessary. (Wet leaves will make the dish soggy, so I’m emphasising this point). Spoon the tofu and pineapple mixture into the centre of a lettuce leaf. Top with a few coriander and mint leaves. Squeeze over a little bit of lime juice. Wrap the lettuce leaf tightly to make a parcel. Repeat until you have used up all of the tofu mixture.
12.    Serve immediately with extra lime wedges and, if you like, some Thai chilli sauce.

stir-frying-broccoli-and-tofu

I realised with some alarm that I hadn’t yet done a broccoli dish on this site. This is most unusual, as my passion for broccoli borders on obsession. This pretty emerald-coloured vegetable is the ‘default’ item that I put in my shopping basket whenever I haven’t worked out my menu plan, because I know that I’ll always find a use for it. If I don’t eat broccoli at least once or twice a week, I’ll start having serious cravings for it. I cook the vegetable in many different ways – but because I cook it so frequently, I’m always on the lookout for new broccoli recipes, so if you know any good ones, do let me know!

This authentic Chinese recipe is one of my favourite ways of cooking broccoli. It’s based on two cooking techniques commonly used in Chinese cookery: stir-frying and braising. I adore tofu, too – especially its texture – and in this recipe, it absorbs the sauce, giving it a lot of flavour.

Use light soy sauce for a lighter colour, as the addition of dark soy sauce will give it a darker colour and denser flavour. Using preserved black soy beans will give the dish an earthy depth; but go easy on the quantity, otherwise the dish will taste ‘muddy’. (About 7 times out of 10 when making this dish, I omit the black beans).

Use any sort of broccoli you like – Chinese (gai lan), ordinary, or tenderstem – but not purple sprouting, as its taste and texture is too coarse for this dish. I have tried numerous variations over the years – mixing the broccoli with cauliflower, pak choi or cashew nuts, for instance – but I always come back to this basic combination. I have to admit that I’m a little precious about this recipe – which is why my cooking instructions are more than usually detailed.

As it is so delicious, I cook this dish frequently. I like eating it with plain, steamed white basmati rice. I know Chinese short-grain rice would be more authentic, but I like the way the intense earthy savouriness of the dish plays off with basmati’s floral, exotic perfume. Serves 4.

For the sauce:
3 teaspoons cornflour (cornstarch)
12 fl oz/ 350 ml mild vegetable stock made with instant stock powder
2 tablespoons Chinese shaohsing wine (rice cooking wine), or dry sherry
2 tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon preserved Chinese black soy beans, rinsed and chopped (optional)

For the broccoli and tofu:
9oz/ 225g broccoli
9oz/ 225g plain firm or silken tofu (both will give a different texture)
4 tablespoons groundnut (peanut) or corn oil
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 or 2 fresh red birdseye chillies, sliced (optional)
6 spring onions, trimmed and sliced widely on the diagonal
Salt

1.    Start by making the sauce. In a bowl, place the cornflour and gradually add 4 fl oz/ 125 ml of the vegetable stock (leave the rest for the braising that’s required later in the cooking process). Mix well, making sure there are no lumps. Add the wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, and black beans if using. Combine thoroughly and set aside. (Incidentally, this basic sauce is wonderful for any vegetable stir-fries).
2.    Cut the broccoli flowerets in medium pieces. Peel the stalks, and chop them in similar-sized pieces to the flowerets.
3.    Drain the tofu on several layers of kitchen paper, then cut into cubes, long slices, or triangles.
4.    Heat a wok on medium heat. When it’s hot but not smoking, lower the heat and add the oil. Then add the ginger, garlic, and chillies (if using), and let them sizzle for a few seconds. They should not become brown or burn.
5.    Add the spring onions and broccoli, and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Add the remaining 8 fl oz/ 225 ml stock and salt, and bring to the boil. (Go easy on the salt – because the vegetable stock and soy sauce are already salty, you won’t need much – if at all). Lower the heat, and simmer with the lid on for a couple of minutes until the broccoli is tender but still al dente. Do not overcook – the broccoli should preserve its vibrant green colour.
6.     Remove the broccoli from the wok with a slotted spoon and set aside. (Some of the spring onions clinging to the broccoli will come out, too – this is okay!).
7.    Turn the heat to very, very low, and add the tofu pieces to the remaining liquid. (If you’re using silken tofu, handle it gently as this is the point where it’s likely to break up).
8.    Once the tofu is heated through, give the cornflour-based sauce a stir and pour it in. Mix very gently. Cook until the sauce begins to thicken and reduce in quantity.
9.    Add the cooked broccoli back to the wok. Once again, mix gently and thoroughly, so that the broccoli and tofu are coated with the sauce.
10.    Once the sauce has thickened, remove the wok from the heat. Serve immediately.

veggie-oden

This is a vegetarian version of the classic Japanese stew that’s normally made from meat, seafood, vegetables and tofu. It is ubiquitous in Japan during winter months and sold everywhere from street stalls to smart shops, where there might be a pot bubbling away behind the counter. I’m surprised it’s not better known in the West – or, at least, it is virtually unknown in the UK.

Don’t be intimidated by the ingredients, as the stew itself is simple to cook. Admittedly, it is time-consuming and involves several components, so a leisurely weekend would be the best time to prepare it. To cut down on the cooking time, you can use prepared mustard paste (available in little tins or tubes in Japanese shops); and, instead of making your own dashi, use mildly flavoured vegetable stock or instant vegetarian dashi powder (though the latter is not easy to find – you’ll have to make sure it doesn’t contain bonito fish flakes).

A very simple version of dashi can be made from soaking dried shiitake and kombu, and using the strained soaking water as stock. However, if you make Japanese food – or even only miso soup – regularly, it is a good idea to make your own dashi in large quantities and freeze it in ice cube trays for future use. Which is why I am giving a recipe here.

Konnyaku is speckled grey, gelatinous root of the ‘devils tongue’ plant. It is believed to be extremely low in calories, and regularly used by the Japanese for detoxing. Numerous health benefits are associated with it.

All the specialist ingredients can be bought from Japanese shops, but if you can’t find them, substitute vegetables such as baby turnips, baby pak choi, sweet potatoes, Japanese kabocha squash, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, etc. Stick to oriental roots, starches, greens or mushrooms as much as you can (rather than using, say, bell peppers, courgettes, etc). Indeed, aburage, fu, and konnyaku are used more for texture than flavour. You can make a simplified version of this dish using only two or three ingredients, and it will still taste good.

Oden is a unique combination of hearty and filling, yet light at the same time. It can be eaten on its own, or with plain white rice and pale pink Japanese ginger pickle. It should always be eaten with hot mustard, which is essential for this dish (it just won’t taste the same without it).

Here in the UK, the weather continues to be absolutely freezing – with snowfall and sub-zero temperatures all around – so the combination of ginger and mustard would certainly help clear the sinuses! Serves 4.

For the mustard condiment:
4 tablespoons Japanese (or English) mustard powder
Approx 12 tablespoons cold water

For the vegetarian dashi:
Approx 10-inch piece kombu (kelp) seaweed
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
4 pints/ 2 litres cold water
1 oz/ 25g tororo-kombu seaweed (or use nori if you can’t find it)
4 tablespoons sake (rice wine)
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine)
½ teaspoon sugar
5 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce

For the stew:
6 sheets aburage (flat sheets of fried tofu), or fu (small pieces of dried gluten)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 oz/ 250g firm tofu, drained on kitchen paper and cut into triangles
3 pints/ 1.5 litres vegetarian dashi (as above)
4 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
4 tablespoons mirin
½ teaspoon sugar
2-inch piece kombu
2 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced chunkily
8oz/ 200g daikon radish, peeled and sliced chunkily
8oz/ 200g konnyaku, cut into triangles (similar to the tofu)
6 oz/ 150g fresh or prepared lotus root, sliced horizontally
4 large hardboiled eggs, shelled and left whole
Salt

1.    Prepare the mustard condiment first. Combine the mustard powder with water, making sure that the consistency is thinner than you would like (as it will gradually thicken). Set aside.
2.    Next make the dashi. Clean the kombu with dry kitchen paper to remove any grit, but do not wash otherwise it will lose its flavour. Snip into large pieces with scissors.
3.    Steep the kombu and dried mushrooms in a saucepan of water, and set aside for 3 or 4 hours.
4.    Gently heat the saucepan until the liquid reaches just below the boiling point. Remove the kombu and discard.
5.    Add tororo-kombu to the pan, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
6.    Add the remaining dashi ingredients. Again bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for a further 2 minutes.
7.    Drain through a sieve, and discard the seaweed and mushrooms. Set the dashi aside. It should have a pure, clean taste.
8.    Now make the stew. If using the aburage sheets, steep them briefly in boiling water to remove excess liquid. Rinse in cold water, squeeze between the palm of your hands, drain, and cut into 1-inch squares.
9.    Heat the oil in a small wok, and fry the tofu triangles until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
10.    Heat the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, sugar and kombu in a large saucepan, and bring to the boil. Add potatoes and carrots, and bring to the boil again. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes until almost tender.
11.    Add the daikon radish, konnyaku, and lotus root, and simmer for another 10 minutes.
12.    Add tofu, aburage (or around 16 pieces of fu), hardboiled eggs and salt, and simmer for 5 minutes. Check each vegetable for doneness, and adjust the seasoning.
13.    Remove the piece of kombu and discard. Carefully lift out each egg, cut it in half, and place the halved eggs back into the stew.
14.    Ladle the oden into individual bowls, and serve with small quantities of hot mustard.

This subtly flavoured main course is a classic Zen Buddhist dish, found in most Japanese restaurants. Serves 4.

For the vegetarian dashi stock:
1 sheet konbu seaweed
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 litre/ 1.74 pints water

For the tofu:
600g/ 20 oz silken tofu, evenly sliced in oblongs fingers
6 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons mirin
4 tablespoons plain white flour
Corn or groundnut oil for deep-frying
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely shredded
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced on the diagonal
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

To make dashi:

1. Wipe the konbu with moist kitchen paper and cut into strips.
2. Steep the konbu and shiitake in a saucepan of water and let soak for at least one hour, preferably overnight. Then bring gently to boil over low heat.
3. Just before the water reaches boiling point, the konbu will rise to the surface. Remove it and discard.
4. Increase the heat and boil the stock quickly for 2 minutes.
5. Set aside to cool at room temperature. Then remove the mushrooms, and strain the liquid.

To make agedashi tofu:

6. Drain the tofu on kitchen paper for 30 minutes to 1 hour, taking care not to break it. The pieces should be thoroughly dry.
7. Heat the dashi, soy sauce and mirin in a saucepan, but do not boil – keep the mixture simmering at a very low heat, just below the boiling point. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.
8. Sprinkle the flour evenly on a plate, and roll the tofu slices until they are evenly covered with the flour.
9. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a deep-fryer until very hot but not smoking. Fry the tofu until golden brown, and drain on kitchen paper.
10. Place the tofu in 4 individual serving bowls, and ladle over the dashi.
11. Garnish with ginger, spring onions and sesame seeds, and serve hot with rice, vegetables and Japanese pickles.

This recipe is perfect for those chilly days when you come home from work, you’re too tired to cook, but still crave something nutritious. It’s made in a jiffy! To reduce cooking times even further, boil the water in a kettle and use frozen vegetables and ready-fried tofu pieces. It won’t be quite as good as the recipe below, but it will still taste better – and healthier – than supermarket ready meals. I have given a combination of vegetables that I particularly like in this dish, but you can also use carrots, spinach, peas, shiitake mushrooms, or baby corn. Serves 2.

3 tablespoons groundnut, corn or other vegetable oil
250g/ 10 oz tofu, drained, cubed, and pressed between kitchen paper to remove excess moisture
16 fl oz/ 400 ml water
125g/ 5 oz broccoli, chopped small
125g/ 5 oz mange tout, sliced on the diagonal
1 pak choi, quartered
2 packets instant ramen noodles with sachets of soup mix
6 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced on the diagonal
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Schichimi togarashi (Japanese 7-spice pepper), or red chilli flakes

1. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the tofu cubes on all sides until lightly golden in colour. Line a plate with kitchen paper and drain the tofu while you get on with the rest of the dish.
2. Boil the water in a saucepan, and add broccoli, mange tout and pak choi. Bring the water back to boil and add ramen noodles, stirring to separate them. Boil for 2 minutes.
3. Bring back to boil, and add the fried tofu, spring onions and the packet soup mix. Boil for another minute.
4. Serve hot in large shallow plates, drizzled with sesame oil and a generous sprinkling of schichimi togarashi or chilli flakes.