Oh, What to Do with Tofu?

Having friends in the food industry means samples. Plenty of samples. About every second or third week I’m gifted with something new to play with. I’m diligent about pre-planning our meals and shopping week-to-week; but when a sample gets thrown my way, I shuffle my plans and think on my feet to use it! It challenges my moderately Type-A personality by forcing me to be flexible and spontaneous. It causes me to stretch in my creativity and relax. I don’t do spontaneous much, but even in the spontaneity, I’m in a competition with myself to grow.

No too long ago for me, the challenge was tofu. It is a bit like the mystery boxes on Chopped, isn’t it? Being a firm meat-eating, decidedly not vegan household, it’s sometimes difficult to sell a tofu dish to my All-American, meat-loving husband. I love a good Meatless Monday during the summer, but it’s usually things like salads, soups, or pastas. I can count the number of times on one hand how many times I’ve served tofu in our house. I know not to push my luck with him. The key is to pack a ton of flavor into a meatless dish, so that you don’t really notice that meat is absent. One of my favorite meat-free dishes actually is Jillian Michaels’ recipe for Black Bean Chili from her Ripped in 30 meal plan (scroll down to page 14)!

Our conception of the problem in the United States is that we should assemble the voluntary effort of the people. We propose to mobilize the spirit of self-denial and self-sacrifice in this country. -Herbert Hoover


The idea behind “Meatless Monday” is relatively recent crusade focused more on health rather than conservation, but it has its origins in WW1 (and it was originally Meatless Tuesdays) when certain foods were rationed in order to safeguard food supply for the men fighting overseas. Incidentally, Wheatless Wednesdays were actually a thing too for the same reason. The campaign at the time was immensely successful and as an unimagined consequence, American waistlines shrank after countless meals featuring pulses and home-grown veg-laden plates for the war effort. If you look at pictures from the era, some have commented that Grandma and Grandpa looked thinner than were used to seeing people nowadays. In reality, body composition measurements of the time tell us that they were in fantastic health. There’s actually a blogger in the UK who took on the task of the “ration book diet” in her The 1940s Experiment and ended up losing an astonishing 100lb in one year!

Image courtesy CambridgeBlog.org

So getting back to my gifted tofu. There aren’t too many cuisines that readily utilize tofu. As a predominantly Asian component, you would typically see it used in Asian dishes. (I couldn’t even find many tofu-celebrating recipes in my many cook books.) You also will notice that tofu is often paired with mushrooms. The textures are similar and they both readily take on the flavors around them. One of the only times I’ve seen tofu more separated from an Asian influence was when I made a Hot Pocket-type of dish of Mushroom-Tofu Pockets (there are those mushrooms again) from Better Homes & Gardens. I’ve heard of silken tofu being blended into smoothies to add a little extra protein, but I’ve never personally tried this method, but I’ve heard it’s an excellent way to sneak extra protein into your (or your kids’) smoothies. The Mushroom-Tofu Pockets were fair, but… I think I just prefer tofu to remain in the Asian realm.

Food is a weapon (full page) - WWII Posters at New Hampshire State Library  (NHSL)
Image courtesy NH.gov

In that vein, I didn’t want to take on anything too radical with an unfamiliar ingredient on a weeknight. Not having worked with tofu too many times, I didn’t want to waste an ingredient and worse yet, waste dinner. There’s the Type-A in me talking… I thoughtfully chose a recipe from one of my most straightforward cookery texts especially designed for the home cook, Betty Crocker. I love Betty Crocker recipes for their time-tested reliability. I can appreciate a Julia Child recipe like the next foodie, but sometimes Betty just hits the mark.

Betty’s recipe for Teriyaki Tofu Noodles was absolutely loaded with so many different types of mushrooms, so much so that the tofu blended in the midst of it all pretty well. It was still unmistakably a tofu-based dish, but we definitely dig mushrooms in our house. Another selling point of this dish was the noodles. Who doesn’t enjoy a good noodle dish after all? One of my favorite things to get in my Chinese takeout is a side order of lo mein noodles. Something about chewy, sticky, soy sauce-seasoned egg noodles just completes the meal for me. Some people want fried rice and egg rolls. I just want noodles and crab rangoons.

Ready in about an hour, this dish was sticky-sweet from the delicious teriyaki sauce and loaded with umami richness from the variety of mushrooms involved. I was thankfully able to find many of the varieties in my local grocery store! For starters, instead of soaking the dried mushrooms in hot water, I swirled in a little Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base into the hot water prior to pouring over the mushrooms to add a little extra flavor, of course. While the mushrooms were soaking, I took this time to quickly prep all of my other ingredients and cook my noodles. This was by far the most time-consuming portion of the whole recipe.

After the soak, all of the ingredients are able to be sautéed in layers and served up piping hot. For added texture and crunch, I sprinkled roasted, salted pepitas along with the toasted sesame seeds over top each dish. Now, tell me about your experiences with tofu. Are you a Tofu Master Chef? Or are you a Tofu Novice? Tell me in the comments below!

Currently Reading: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Scripture of the Day: “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side.” -Ezekiel 4:9


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