Tofu gets such a bad rap. I guess its reputation is due largely to its appearance. No matter how you dress it up, no one looks at a spongy white rectangle and thinks, “Ohhhh yeah”. And yes, the texture is kind of weird, and definitely nothing like meat, but lots of tasty things don’t resemble meat and we forgive them without much question. Perhaps if we stopped asking tofu to do the impossible, replace spare ribs for example, people could cut it a little slack.
After being marinated and grilled, tofu tastes pretty freaking amazing. I don’t need it to be anything but what it is. I’m not asking it to fill some chicken-wing shaped void in my soul. I just want it to taste good, fill my belly, and digest without a fight. Though its spongy texture might seem a bit odd, it’s not at all unpleasant. Provided its been pressed and drained adequately, tofu has a very nice bite, soft. It’s chewy, and just a little bit springy. Oops. Am I making it sound like a sponge again?
Maybe being sponge-like isn’t the worst thing anyway! Being spongy lets tofu suck up flavor like it’s oxygen. I’ve been playing around with different marinades to see what kind of tofu will be tastiest. My most recent round of deliciousness is this lemongrass marinade. If you can find fresh lemongrass, it’s worth the extra trouble. Just cut the stalk into 3-inch pieces and smash it a bit with the butt of your knife, or a mallet. Your whole kitchen will smell amazing.
Makes one pound of tofu
- 1 pound extra firm tofu
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup (simple syrup, honey, or agave nectar would also do)
- 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast powder (optional)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 lime, zested and juiced
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 red chile peppers, chopped
- 1 3-inch stalk of lemongrass, smashed
- 1 1-inch knob of fresh ginger, sliced
- 1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns
- Remove the tofu from its package and sandwich it between two piles of paper towels or clean kitchen towels. Place something heavy and flat on top. (A small dish or pan is fine.)
- Let the tofu drain for at least ten minutes. In a pinch, you can use it right away, but if you have the time, about thirty minutes is ideal.
- Slice the tofu into its desired shape. I like to cut the brick in half, then make 1/2 inch slices from each side, producing the tidy little squares you see in my photo. After slicing, place the tofu in a container just big enough to hold it. A small tupperware or casserole dish is perfect.
- Whisk together the soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, yeast powder salt, lime juice (and zest). Add the garlic, chiles, lemongrass, ginger, and peppercorns, then mix again.
- Pour the marinade mixture over the tofu. I like to make sure the marinade gets underneath and in between every slice, so I usually fidget with them a little during this step.
- Put a lid on the container, and let the tofu marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours, or for as long as twenty four hours. I don’t recommend letting the tofu sit for much longer than that. The flavor of the marinade will become too intense, making the tofu taste too strong.
How to Use the Tofu
My favorite way to cook marinated tofu is to grill it in a cast iron skillet. Just add a spritz of oil to a hot pan, then fry the slices until they are golden brown. Flip them over and give the other side the same treatment. The grilled tofu can be enjoyed as-is, over rice, over noodles, or stuffed into spring rolls, banh mi, or sushi.
You could also crumble the tofu and stuff it inside a dumpling, toss it with noodles or fried rice, or make some tofu and veggie kebabs. The possibilities are many.