I don’t mind admitting I’ve been on a journey with tofu. A journey that started with me as a staunch tofu sceptic and has arrived here, at the point where I get nervous if I have fewer than four blocks of tofu in the fridge.
You, too, can learn to love tofu to this extent. Maybe. Let’s give it a try, anyway. To attempt to sway you, let’s address the complaints that most people have about tofu.
‘It’s boring’/‘Tofu doesn’t have any flavour’
Preach! Tofu doesn’t taste of anything. It is blander than a living room decorated entirely from John Lewis. But rather than seeing this as a negative, try to see tofu as a flavour vessel. It will take any flavour you want to throw at it. And for that, tofu is a marvel.
Like me, you just have to learn how to smother tofu in flavour. And we’ll get to that later….
If you want your tofu to have some sort of base flavour, try smoked tofu. It has a bit of oomph built in, but will still take on other flavours. It’s the only tofu we buy these days. If you’re in Bulgaria, Lidl does a good smoked tofu. So does Metro (the last time I went in Metro, anyway. It’s been a while). Kaufland’s smoked tofu is decent (much better than their regular tofu, which I don’t rate at all.)
‘I don’t like the texture of tofu’
Tofu does have a rather unique texture. The word spongey doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s more than that. It’s … well, it’s tofu. There’s nothing else like it.
All I can say is, focus on getting great flavours into the tofu, and cooking it in interesting ways (see recipe ideas coming up). And just … stick with it. You will quickly get used to the texture. And then, you’ll start to quite like it. The next step is full tofu indoctrination and LOVING the texture. That’s as far as I’ve travelled. I have no idea if there’s a step beyond this. Worshipping blocks of tofu on a tofu altar, perhaps? Naming your first-born child Tofu? Answers below, please.
It may also help to stop thinking of tofu as a meat substitute. It’s not trying to be chicken. The texture is nothing like chicken. The texture is tofu. Because tofu is a food in its own right.
Another tip is to go for the firmest tofu you can find. (Again, smoked tofu is great because it’s usually extra-firm.) I tend to steer clear of cooking with silken tofu, which is like eating hot and soft tofu jelly. (Just my opinion. Silken tofu warriors stand down.) However, even silken tofu is really useful in certain contexts. I once made a brilliant vegan cheesecake by combining silken tofu with blended cashews (and sugar, obviously). I’ve also used it as the basis of a savoury custard for a vegan quiche. Again, decent. So basically, use the right tofu tool for the job at hand.
‘I don’t know what to do with it’
Neither did I at first. The first few times I cooked tofu, I just chopped it up and threw it in a stir fry, vaguely thinking ‘This is what vegans do, right??’
And plain tofu in a stir fry is … fine. There are worse things you could put in your mouth. But, my friend, there are much better things you can do to a block of tofu.
Like these recipes:
Black pepper tofu. Coming out strong with this, the spiciest and most labour-intensive of all tofu recipes. But wait, bear with me, because this was the first recipe to make me think I could learn to love tofu. It’s an Ottolenghi recipe, from the book Plenty. (If you haven’t got the book, the recipe is floating around online.) As I said, this recipe is SPICY. I usually dial back the chillies. And it’s not a quick midweek meal. Make it on a weekend, when you have time to spare. It’s worth it.
My za’atar tofu skewers. Much, much easier than black pepper tofu, this is our go-to way of marinating tofu before cooking it on the barbecue. (It’s really good on the barbecue, especially this way. Think vegan souvlaki.) You’ll find the recipe here, including plenty of other suggestions for plant-based barbecuing. You don’t have to cook the tofu on the barbecue, by the way. The skewers are perfectly nice fried in a pan.
Tofu scramble (pictured below). I know, I know. Tofu scramble sounds like the vegans have gone mad. I once proudly declared on Instagram that ‘the thought of eating tofu scramble makes me want to weep’ and I was an Actual Vegan at the time. Then I strapped on my big girl pants and gave it a try. And I bloody loved it. It’s far superior to scrambled egg. It tastes great and there’s none of those white stringy bits. For the best tofu scramble recipe, you can trust Nisha over at Rainbow Plant Life.
Tofu tikka masala. Again, I must doff my cap to Nisha at Rainbow Plant Life for this recipe. If you love the flavours of tikka masala and want to try a meat-free version, you can’t go wrong with this recipe. Or any of her recipes, for that matter. She’s an obsessive recipe tester, so you can trust that her recipes will work.
‘Soy is bad for the environment’
*clears throat and puts on best know-it-all voice* ‘Actually, soy is really bad for the environment because of deforestation and blah, blah, blah.’
If that’s your main objection to tofu then – and I’m sorry to break it to you – you’re a dumb f*ck. In the words of the fabulous Elizabeth Banks, in one of the finest works of cinematic art ever made (*cough* Pitch Perfect *cough*), ‘Crack a book.’
You don’t even have to open a book. Just a simple Google search will tell you that, ‘More than three-quarters (77%) of global soy is fed to livestock for meat and dairy production. Most of the rest is used for biofuels, industry or vegetable oils. Just 7% of soy is used directly for human food products such as tofu, soy milk, edamame beans and tempeh.’ (Source: Our World in Data.)
So while there are undoubtedly issues with soy farming in terms of deforestation and biodiversity, you’re barking up the wrong tree by blaming tofu.
‘I’m not a Beta Male Soy Boy’
Good lord. Not sure I can help you. Not sure anyone can help you. Maybe use your manly thumbs to google ‘vegan bodybuilders’?
Let me know where you stand on your tofu journey. Are you tempted by any of the recipes mentioned above? Even better, tell us your favourite tofu recipes.