Until quite recently, tofu was one of those words that made my husband slightly recoil in horror. I think it has something to do with the fact that some tofu (and I stress some!) is pretty bland and the texture can a bit mushy – or even rubbery.
Don’t get me wrong; tofu isn’t the most flavoursome of creatures BUT it is a great carrier for flavours. Fortunately there are also some much better varieties available these days and good bit of marinating can infuse a more appealing taste. Some tofu even comes pre-flavoured with a nice selection of natural ingredients, from Indian spices to basil.
I think one of the turning points for my husband was a trip to Japan where there is a much wider range of tofu to taste and it’s cooked really well. We stayed one evening in a Buddhist temple and had a totally vegan feast (shojin rynori) featuring all manner of tofu. Even my husband admitted it was pretty tasty even if it was “more my [as in me] kind of thing”.
There are different tofus for different purposes. Silken tofu, for example, is nice blended into a dressing, used as a scramble or even in desserts (which is great if you’re vegan or just trying to cut back a bit on animal products). Clearspring make a nice silken tofu sealed in a little sleeve. For anything in stir-fries and salads, you need a firmer type. Many of these will need cooking, but I love Clearspot tofu as it’s safe to eat straight from the pack and has a good taste.
Both of the brands I mentioned are organic. I always go for organic versions of tofu as soy is a bit of a funny ingredient with quite a bit of GM soy wandering through the market, particularly if you’re outside of the UK. I also tend not to overdo how much soy I eat as there is evidence of soy having some gene-modifying effects which may alter hormone responses*.
That said, I really enjoy tofu and it’s a great plant-based protein option if you’re vegan, vegetarian or wanting to eat a bit less meat or seafood. As I mentioned above, the secret is all in the flavouring. Tofu is a natural partner for other Japanese ingredients, like soy sauce and seaweed, plus ginger and garlic – or even a good drizzle of sesame oil.
I also like tofu as an alternative topping for a warming salad that crosses seasons. Given we’ve had a bit of an autumnal July and beginning of August in the UK, I’ve actually been fancying warm rather than cool salads. I enjoy mixing up the soft crispy texture of tofu with some crunchiness; in the case of my latest recipe the crunch is from lightly cooked veggies and a good sprinkle of dukkah (a herby, nutty Middle Eastern topping).
This particular dukkah is taken from Sarah Britton’s lovely new book, Naturally Nourished, and is a blend of spices, hazelnuts and sesame seeds. It’s a very tasty combination with the creamy dressing using one of favourite store cupboard ingredients, tahini. Be generous with how much you add of both – then sit back and enjoy this crunchy tofu salad that’s full of crisp and colour.
Crunchy Tofu Salad
Vegan, Gluten Free
150g firm tofu
1 tbsp tamari soy sauce
Thumb sized piece of ginger, minced or finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced or finely chopped
1-2 teaspoons rapeseed oil
1 medium-large carrot, cut into thin julienne strips
1 medium courgette, cut in thin strips
2 spring onions, sliced diagonally (including the green bits!)
1/2 red pepper, deseeded & sliced
5-6 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
A generous few handfuls of salad leaves of your choice
Juice & zest of half a lemon
1/4 tsp sea salt
Few good grinds of black pepper
Crispy Dukkah Topping (taken from Sarah Britton’s new book, Naturally Nourished)
140 g 5 oz raw, unsalted hazelnuts
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
75 g 2¾ oz raw, unsalted sesame seeds
1 tsp fine sea salt, plus extra as needed
1. Start by making the dukkah topping (see the full instructions below). You won’t need the full amount, so store any leftover dukkah in an airtight glass container for up to a month.
2. Slice the tofu into thin strips. Put the the ginger, garlic and soy sauce in a bowl and mix it well. Place the tofu in the bowl and toss it lightly with your fingers so that it is totally coated with the soy mix. Leave to marinate for 10-15 minutes.
2. While the tofu is marinating make the tahini dressing. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk so they are well combined. Add a splash of water if the dressing is a bit thick.
3. Heat a wok or frying pan over medium to high heat (I used the same one I used for making the dukkah), add a splash of rapeseed oil and warm it up. Drop in the carrot, courgettes, pepper and spring onions, and stir fry for a couple of minutes. You want the veggies to be warm, maybe a little golden around the edges, but still crunchy. Pop the lightly cooked veggies into a bowl and put to the side.
4. Using the same pan, heat a little more oil if needed and drop in the tofu strips (and all the ginger garlic sauce from the bowl). Stir fry till the tofu is nicely browned and a little crispy around the edges. You’ll need to turn the slices over once or twice so that they are cooked on both sides.
3. Divide the salad leaves between two plates or bowls. Scatter some dukkah over the leaves, add the vegetables and top with the tofu. Drizzle the tahini dressing generously over the tofu and salad, and sprinkle over another generous handful of dukkah.
To make dukkah
1.Preheat the oven to 160°c / 325°f / gas mark 3 (reduce the temperature slightly for fan ovens). Spread the hazelnuts out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 20–30 minutes until fragrant and the skins have turned darker in colour. Another good way to check for doneness is to bite a hazelnut in half and inspect the colour – it should be golden, not white, inside. Remove from the oven, and when cool enough to handle, rub the nuts together to remove the skins. Place the nuts in a food processor.
2. While the hazelnuts are roasting, preheat a dry frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, toast the coriander and cumin seeds, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat immediately, leave the seeds to cool, then place them in a mortar and pestle and add the peppercorns. Using the pestle, grind the seeds and peppercorns together until pulverized (alternatively, grind them together in a coffee mill or food processor). Set aside.
3. In the same frying pan, toast the sesame seeds for about 2 minutes until they are fragrant and begin to pop. Leave to cool slightly. Place the sesame seeds in the food processor with the hazelnuts. pulse to chop the mixture until you get a chunky-sand texture. Do not blend, or you will end up with hazelnut-sesame butter! tasty, but not what we’re after.
4. Add the pulverized spices and the salt to the food processor and pulse once more to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.
This is quite a filling salad, but you could also serve it with some brown basmati rice or quinoa.
Some other flavour options:
– Add 1/2 teaspoon of chilli flakes to the tahini dressing – or use lime instead of lemon
– Swap the hazelnuts in the dukkah for almonds
– Sprinkle seaweed flakes over the top of the salad alongside the dukkah
– Add some sliced shitake mushrooms to the veggie mix (you may need to add these to the pan first and cook for a few minutes before adding the rest of the veggies)
– Play around with your own combinations of vegetables and colours in the vegetable mix depending on what’s in season e.g. thinly sliced matchsticks of sweet potato or beetroot
Thanks to Quarto Books for sharing the delicious dukkah recipe from Naturally Nourished.
*Check out Tim Spector’s The Diet Myth if you’d like to read a bit more about this.
Explore more mixtures of colours and textures through The Joy Of Eating programme!