That if it has no flavor, that if its texture is not pleasant, that if it is a thing for vegetarians and vegans or if it is not for men: the integrity of tofu, from time to time, is at risk. This timid food has great enemies who shout that there is nothing better than eating a steak while photographing it and uploading it to Instagram mentioning Minister Alberto Garzón for his crazy recommendations (that even the most outdated nutritionists and doctors support practically in unison).
Tofu comes from soybeans, a legume that is gaining more and more strength thanks to its nutritional profile. It contains all the essential amino acids for our body, such as chickpeas. It is a great source of protein of high biological value of vegetable origin, which gives it all kinds of beneficial properties. There are, however, health recommendations that advise us to regulate the consumption of soy enriched in isoflavones. This is not found in all soy derivatives that we find on the market, being tofu one of the derivatives without it.
To prepare tofu, you have to rehydrate the legumes, cook them in water and grind them: later, the resulting concoction is strained, and the liquid that is obtained is gelled with an agent called nigari. The final result is pressed and a block of tofu is obtained. If meat reactionaries and libertarians can be credited with anything, it’s that tofu lacks flavor (although we don’t see that complaint when it comes to pasta or rice). In general, it is flat and somewhat bland, but it must be valued for its ability to absorb flavors: within the gastronomy in which it emerged (China), the use of spices and fermented foods endow tofu with powerful flavors and aromas.
An example of this is the traditional mapo tofu, a stew with chilies, fermented beans, garlic, Sichuan pepper and minced meat in which the tofu absorbs all the flavors that make it a bomb. While most applications go through stews, soups and stir-fries, the properties of tofu make it suitable for many more applications.
Gluten-free bakery and pastry
When I’m not writing, I cook and spend my working days running the kitchen of a place where, with our things, we try to innovate. One of the problems that sometimes comes up is the quality of gluten-free pastries. Flours, starches and lack of elasticity generally result in dry and gritty products. The absence of gluten is not easily fixed, since it acts as a protein matrix, of sustenance. Since this is pure protein, one crucial thing is to find a way to replace it. That is, if we need a protein net that is elastic but we can’t benefit from gluten, we have to create one.
In general, gelling agents such as psyllium powder and xanthan gum are added in both gluten-free bakery and confectionery. Although this is already a giant step, it leaves me a little lame. Tofu, luckily, is pure protein, and if we use it as a new matrix, it will help counteract that gritty texture of gluten-free flours. In addition, it provides moisture, preventing the crumb from being dry and falling apart easily. Calculate that, for every 350 grams of total flour and starch, a contribution of 75 grams of crushed or ground tofu is perfect for making a protein network.
For baking, however, other laws apply: fermentation by yeasts and the lower amount of fat used requires that we use a much lower intake of tofu. To make a gluten-free focaccia, for the total of flours and starches, I use 45 grams of tofu. Tofu is, in short, an ally in gluten-free baking and pastry, but it is equally valid in any type of dough in which it is important to preserve the moisture of the crumb well.
Salads and cold dishes
There is nothing more powerful than a good vinaigrette, and nothing benefits from this more than tofu. There are different varieties of tofu depending on its consistency, and tofu silkens or mild is best for cold dishes. Its texture is somewhat reminiscent of a fusion between boiled egg white and gelatin. Since it doesn’t require cooking, it makes things a lot simpler. The photo you see above is a tofu salad with a quick tomato dressing, doubanjiang, garlic, sugar, vinegar and soy sauce. Sautéed for no more than five minutes, it is added to the tofu on top and allowed to cool. Before eating, a few strips of fresh ginger finish off the dish. If you want to simplify even more, a tofu salad with avocado, soy sauce, lime, peanuts and coriander does not require cooking or for the dressing. or the salad liang pi, which traditionally doesn’t benefit from tofu, but here’s a variation that does. In Asia it is common to find even softer varieties of tofu than the ones we find here, some resembling jelly. If you add some nuts, dehydrated fruits and a little brown sugar syrup (or honey) we have a very typical Chinese street dessert. And, if we want to think of options to combat the horrible summer heat, tofu is perfect for making homemade ice cream. Crush the tofu and add cocoa powder, a little coconut milk, nuts, sugar and take it to the freezer. In a couple of hours you will have a tofu ice cream that, nutritionally speaking, is very complete.
Spreads and creams
One of the best options I find in tofu is to turn it into a spreadable cream. If you crush firm tofu and add a good amount of sesame oil, fish sauce (or soy sauce), salt, a pinch of sugar and another of glutamate, you have an incredible base on which to put some roasted peppers or aubergines. Accompany it with minced shallot and any aromatic herb that you like and a little chili oil or toasted butter on top. If you are looking for a substitute for mayonnaise, this tofunesa from Mònica Escudero is what you need.
If the vegetable creams are a bit soft and runny, an extra supply of tofu not only rounds out the nutritional profile, but also thickens it and adds creaminess. Sauté an onion, 300 grams of cauliflower, half a zucchini, two cloves of garlic, a tablespoon of fresh ginger and 250 grams of tofu with a pinch of ras el hanout, lemon juice and coconut milk: decorate with mint leaves and enjoy .
The easiest to find tofu is the one found in block, either soft or firm, but if we investigate we find other formats that further expand its tremendous versatility. Tofu skin, for example, looks like noodles and can perfectly replace pasta when you are looking for a higher protein intake. Fried tofu is like a sponge that absorbs a lot of the broth it is in; personally one of my favorite things in a hot pot. Depending on the fermentation formats, we find hairy tofu (in which a type of fungus is grown) and stinky tofu (the name is more than deserved, and it is difficult to find outside of Asia). There is also a variety of tofu fermented in chili oil that is used as if it were pate, although it serves as a flavoring for any hot preparation. Another of the best known formats is tempeh, which has a manufacturing process similar to tofu but requires the fermentation of soy beforehand.
A couple more tricks
If hard tofu freezes and thaws, it loses some of its water and leaves a lot of little holes that we can fill with marinades that will give the tofu the flavor we want: ideally, dice it first to make the process easier, and at defrost we will have it ready to receive a spicy bath. A mixture of soy sauce or miso, vinegar to give it a touch of acidity, a little olive or sesame oil, curry, sweet or hot paprika and a little while to rest will turn that tofu into a flavor bomb. Do you also want a creamy texture? Use a satay sauce or this peanut sauce as a base.
To get a crispy crust that contrasts with the tender interior, we can lightly coat the tofu with a little cornstarch before sautéing it, always over a cheerful heat to help the crust form. Crumbled it can be used as a substitute for minced meat in pasta sauces or lasagna, and scrambled with a bit of turmeric for colour, oil and kala namak salt we will have a perfect vegan substitute for scrambled eggs (and without eggs, so it’s perfect also for allergy sufferers).
In short, tofu is a food with a wide range of possibilities. It is completely normal not to know how to get the most out of it, since it is not common in our gastronomy, but as with everything in life, there is a learning process. In the same way, if one is not willing to investigate recipes and ingredients that come out of the supermarket next to his house, the logical thing is to stay on the surface when it comes to taking advantage of any food. All you need is desire, energy and information.