You probably think you know tofu, don’t you? A wobbly block of bland, white protein much-loved as a meat substitute by vegans and health nuts. But as a card-carrying carnivore, I’m telling you that tofu is a delicious, versatile and nutritious ingredient that should be in everyone’s fridge or store cupboard.
Certainly, the flavour is delicate, though I’ve come to love the subtle soybean taste of top quality tofu. It’s also a fantastic foil for your favourite punchy flavours, whether they are traditionally Asian or not. The other joy of tofu is in the wide range of textures, each one suited to a different way of cooking.
Tofu is also very healthy as it’s high in protein but relatively low in calories and fat. Depending on the coagulating agent used, it can also be high in calcium and magnesium.
Neil McLennan developed a taste for tofu in South West China’s Sichuan Province. Inspired by the “subtlety of taste, simplicity of craft and versatility of cooking“, he began to make his own tofu at home, eventually launching his business ‘Clean Bean’. He uses top quality organic soybeans from North China to make his London organic fresh tofu which he particularly enjoys in the Japanese dish hiyyayakko – chilled tofu served with a few simple toppings and a dipping sauce.
Tofu | image via shutterstock.com
Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk (itself made by soaking, grinding and heating soy beans with water) and straining the resulting curd. Originating in China about 2000 years ago, the technique spread to Korea and then Japan in the 8th century, coinciding with the spread of Buddhism – tofu becoming an important source of protein in a Buddhist vegetarian diet.
Incidentally, if you ever wondered about the English-language name, it’s taken directly from the Japanese, which is itself taken from the Chinese dòufu. Dòufu translates as “bean” “curdled”, giving us the name that is more prevalent in the United States – bean curd.
The variety of tofu available in East Asia is amazing!
Silken tofu is the softest kind and, because it’s not strained or pressed after coagulation, it has a really high moisture content. It comes in soft and firm versions but both are far softer and wetter than pressed tofu. It is great added to clear soups and salads or blended into desserts, smoothies and sauces.
Pressed tofu retains some moisture, but not as much as its silken cousin. The firmest is pressed rigorously and has an almost rubbery texture, a little like paneer or halloumi cheeses. Try it in stir fries and hotpots, or marinated and grilled on the barbecue.
There are also a number of processed products including fermented, pickled and dried tofu. Look out for Stinky tofu which smells much like the very stinkiest of European cheeses and, just like cheese, tastes better than it smells! These days, tofu is readily available in the UK, though not in quite as many varieties as you’ll find in East Asia.
Maria Dawson has been involved with Clearspring since her father Christopher set up the business in 1993 and is now the Sales & Marketing Manager. She explains that after developing an interest in organic production methods, a macrobiotic vegetarian diet and Far Eastern philosophies, her father moved to Japan, where he worked for a Japanese exporter of traditional foods. It was a natural progression for him to bring Japanese foods to the UK, and he focused on products that are “not only delicious, authentic and healthy, but also produced according to sustainable and traditional production techniques“. Clearspring’s organic firm and silken tofu is long life which means it doesn’t require refrigeration and makes it a great store cupboard staple. Try it in recipes such as Maria’s favourite tofu cheesecake, my green beans with a tofu, miso and sesame dressing or this warm tofu with spicy soy, spring onion & garlic sauce.
Warm Tofu with Spicy Soy, Spring Onion & Garlic Sauce
Serves 2 as a light lunch, with some green vegetables or salad
- 1 packet firm tofu (approx. 300-350g)
- 1 clove garlic
- 2-3 spring onions (scallions)
- 2 tsp white sesame seeds
- 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp red chilli flakes (or more if you prefer)
- generous pinch salt , to taste
There are significant differences in the many types of soy sauce (light, dark, Chinese, Japanese) in both their strength of flavour and their saltiness. I use Japanese dark soy sauce, which is light in flavour and not too strongly salted.
Remove the tofu from its packaging and transfer to a saucepan of cold water. Take care, as tofu can be quite fragile and you don’t want to break it.
Bring to a simmer and then turn the heat down to its lowest setting and cover the pan.
Meanwhile, finely slice the spring onion (white and green parts), crush or very finely chop the garlic and grind the sesame seeds. I use a Japanese surabachi to grind the sesame seeds but you can use a spice grinder or regular mortar and pestle – if you use the latter, it’s easier to crush the garlic and sesame seeds together.
Combine all the sauce ingredients (everything but the tofu), taste and add a little more sugar if needed.
To serve, carefully lift the warmed tofu from the pan, drain on paper towels and transfer to a small plate or shallow bowl.
Spoon half of the sauce over the top and serve immediately, with the rest of the sauce in a small jug or bowl.
Where to Find Tofu
Fresh organic tofu from Clean Bean
Long life organic silken tofu from Clearspring
Long life tofu products can be purchased online from many oriental supermarkets including Japan Centre, Wing Yip and Wai Yee Hong.
Fresh tofu is not available by mail order so seek out your nearest local oriental grocery or health food store and phone to ask if they stock it.
Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!26 Comments to "A Taste For… Tofu | Warm Tofu with Spicy Soy, Spring Onion & Garlic Sauce"
I love Tofu, but never remember to buy it, except a packet of pre-fried one that I keep in the freezer! I might give this recipe a whirls, looks delicious! I have all the ingredients, except Tofu :(!
It’s very simple and really tasty!
I’m a recent convert to tofu, mostly the crispy kind, but this looks delicious and that sauce sounds amazing!
I love it that way too, so good in stir fries in particular!
I’ve never seen tofu served this way. Thanks for all the great information on the origin of tofu. So interesting.
It’s a classic home-style dish in Japan and really simple. Glad you enjoyed all the info!
Admission: I’ve NEVER made anything with tofu. The fact that you’re a carnivore who actually likes tofu grabbed my attention. Given all of the great nutritional benefits (thanks for the great info!), I think I’ll finally have to try it—and this recipe is the perfect jumping-off point.
I really am – I’m seldom happier than when gnawing on a lambchop bone or slicing into a really juicy steak! But I’ve really come to enjoy tofu a lot – I think variety is the spice of life, most especially when it comes to food and tofu gives me a wholly different set of textures to meat.
Ooh Kavey, that sauce looks terrific! I love tofu, I even make my own, it’s so versatile and so delicious! I also find reading about it fascinating – my eldest is living in Tokyo at the moment and he’s thoroughly enjoying the variety available!
I’m so impressed with his courage to go and live so far away from home. It’s an incredible opportunity and experience, I’m sure, but stil impressive at such a young age to get up and go! We have loved our three trips to Japan and would love to spend extended time there too, but at this stage in our lives it’s harder to make it happen, but I’ve not given up hope! I’m so glad you enjoyed the information on tofu. Hope you try the sauce!
We rarely eat tofu but I’d love to try it cooked this way:-)
It’s so simple and really tasty!
It’s early but you have me drooling here Kavey, that looks so good. Shared!
Thanks Jacs, it’s so simple and tasty.
I’m not a huge tofu fan (laziness to try it more than anything) but you’ve won me over with this recipe
I really love it, but it’s certainly a subtle ingredient.
Only had silken tofu once so far and absolutely adored it. For me tofu takes on the flavours you add to it, so this recipe is one punch plateful!
Ooh, this is an interesting recipe. I’ve never eaten a great deal of tofu, preferring tempeh when I can get it, but I’d never have thought to try it this way. It’s also true the quality of the tofu counts for a lot.
This needs a decent quality tofu for sure, but is so good.
Nice to know the history of Tofu. I think the same recipe can be made by replacing tofu with paneer. But tofu is healthier than paneer.
Yes, you could do it with paneer but would recommend using freshly made, and not pressing too heavily – the texture of tofu here is very silken, very very soft and light whereas paneer is more dense and firm and rich.
Tofu is delicious! We love it so much, with lots of ginger and soy like your tasty version!
All praise to tofu and soy! Fabulous Chinese inventions both!
I definitely will be trying this spicy tofu. It looks super delicious & flavoursome – and so easy to whip up too!
Yes it’s a pretty quick recipe!