The Wonderful World of Tofu

A Simple Stir-Fry of Seasoned Firm Pressed Tofu with Ground Chicken and Chopped Vegetables.

When one thinks of Vegetarian and Vegan cuisine, most carnivores immediately snicker and think of Tofu — those big tasteless blocks of soy protein. And knowing that I probably would now be eating a lot more of this stuff than I used to, I started researching what I could do to make this highly malleable and versatile ingredient into something tasty.

Tofu comes in a number of different forms — in its most unprocessed state, they are simply blocks of bean curd, which come in different firmness levels. Personally, I prefer to buy firm or extra firm tofu, because it can handle much more man-handling when cooking so it doesn’t completely fall apart. I also like to buy firm-pressed tofu that has been seasoned (usually with a Chinese five spice blend or smoked, giving it a flavor similar to ham) which I typically buy from Asian groceries. This is particularly useful in stir-fries where you want sort of a meaty texture to complement vegetables or small amounts of meat to be used as flavoring. A third form, and less known to Westerners, is dried bean curd skin. In Japanese cuisine this is known as Yuba. In its most unprocessed form, it comes as dried “sheets” which in turn can then be reconstituted to use as wrappers or even cut up as “noodles”.

Want to enter the wonderful world of Tofu? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

Tofu Skin Noodles with Spicy Peanut-Sesame Sauce

Ever since I started on my voyage of healthier eating I have had cravings for that cold peanut/sesame noodle dish you get at American Chinese restaurants. The problem is, I’m really trying to limit my carb intake and pure pasta and fat dishes are pretty much off-limits.

However, you can sort-of simulate this dish by using bean curd skin. Granted, cooked bean curd skin does not anywhere resemble pasta — it has a more rubbery, firmer texture. Typically the Chinese use it as a meat analogue for such Buddhist dishes as “Mock Duck”, for hearty earthen pot casseroles (aka “Meat wrapped in Bean Curd Skin”) or as a dim sum wrapper. It can also be deep fried in addition to braised.

Tofu Skin, as packaged in sheet and shredded form.

This tofu skin “noodle” recipe is really more of a salad, but it has the flavor and spicy punch of the original dish.

Tofu Skin Noodles with Spicy Peanut-Sesame Sauce

1 Package of Tofu Sheets, Tofu Skin Noodles or Tofu Shreds

1 Small or Medium Cucumber, De-Seeded and Chopped

1 Red Bell Pepper, Chopped

2 Green Onions, Chopped

2T Natural Peanut Butter

1/2T Sesame Oil

2T Soy Sauce

Chili Sauce / Sriracha Sauce to taste

If using tofu sheets, roll up entire stack and cut into thin strips. Boil tofu skin in a pot of water for 20 minutes, drain and put in mixing bowl. Mix peanut butter with 4oz of hot water, 2T of Soy Sauce and desired amount of Chili Sauce / Sriracha, until thoroughly integrated into peanut sauce consistency. Toss with cooked bean curd skin and vegetables. Refrigerate until cool.

Ma Po Tofu

Even before I became a “Born-again-low-carber” I loved the classic Sichuan dish Ma Po Tofu. The spicy and hearty combination is great for the winter, when you really want that comforting warmth in your food.

The following recipe is an adaptation of the one from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land Of Plenty, which in my opinion is the definitive Sichuan cookbook. The Garlic and Ginger in my version is not traditional Sichuan, but I like the flavor that it adds to it.

Ma Po Tofu

1 block of firm or extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes and drained.

1 Leek, chopped

1 large onion, chopped, or 1 bunch of scallions, chopped, whites and green parts separated.

1T Peanut Oil

1/2lb ground chicken or turkey (Optional, can be left out if you want to prepare this completely vegetarian)

2 1/2 Tbsp of Sichuan-Style Chinese Chili Bean Paste (I use Korean SSamjang fermented bean paste with chili, which is slightly different but easier to obtain where I live)

1Tbsp of Fermented Black Beans or prepared Chinese Black Bean Paste condiment

2tsp of ground Sichuan Chiles or 1T of prepared Chinese-Style Chili Sauce

4 Garlic Cloves, finely Chopped

1 “Thumb” of ginger, finely Minced

1C Poultry or Vegetable Stock

Soy Sauce to taste

4T Cornstarch mixed with 6T cold water

1 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns

Ma Po Tofu Mise en Place.

Prepared Black Bean Sauce and Chili Sauce. Don’t get too hung up on the brands, they come in a lot of different styles. I’m using Malaysian/Indonesian Chili sauce here, but you could use any kind of Chili sauce. A popular brand distributed all over the US is made by Huy Fong in Los Angeles.

Sichuan Peppercorn is an essential flavor to this dish. You want to buy the peppercorns whole and grind them yourself with a mortar and pestle.

Add peanut oil to hot wok on high heat. Add ground chicken/turkey. Stir fry with onions/scallion whites and leeks with chopped garlic and ginger for about 1 minute until translucent. Turn heat down to medium, add chili bean paste and chili paste, stir fry for about 30 seconds. Add black bean paste, stir for another 30 seconds. Pour in the stock, add tofu. Add 2tsp of Soy Sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Add green parts of the scallion and gently stir in. When they are barely cooked, add cornstarch mixture in two or three stages, stirring well, until the sauce has thickened. Mix with freshly ground Sichuan peppercorn. Serve over brown rice with simple vegetable stir-fry.

26 Responses to The Wonderful World of Tofu

  1. xenos says:

    Some of that looks and sounds surprisingly good. I may have to rescind my “No Tofu” policy after reading this.

  2. tracey says:

    Jason dont forget about the shirataki(sic) noodles…almost no carbs, pick up sauce flavors well and they are chewy/slippery. They also come as a konyaku/tofu blend.
    mizducky speaks well of them


  3. I’ve had the Tofu Shirataki noodles…. they actually have a nice texture, although softer than egg noodles. I made a sphagetti and meatballs with it a few weeks ago, it worked out pretty good.

  4. What a lovely post, lots of information and great pictures. I’m bookmarking it…yum.

  5. cornerseat says:

    oh, i am crrrrrazy about tofu!!!!! thanks for this post. yummy!

  6. Is there a “Wonderful World of Seitan” installment in our future as well? Tempeh’s another great protein sub for the freshly meatless…

  7. Yup, seitan/wheat gluten is coming.

  8. Joan says:

    Great posts on your healthy eating these days. I used to eat all kinds of (very good tasting) crap but I am mostly a vegetarian now and this recipe is right up my alley. I’m lying if I say I don’t miss good white rice but seeing as all my relatives in Korea are eating brown rice/mixed grain rice these days, I don’t feel so bad. Keep it up!

  9. antigenre says:

    Well, dang it, now I’m hungry again! These recipes look fantastic, and I love almost anything with tofu!

  10. Rochelle says:

    I’m so delighted to see you coming to tofu. Have you tried freezing it or pressing it? Both result in chewier, “meatier” texture. I used to just pitch tofu in the freezer as soon as I brought it home from the store, back in my vegetarian days when I ate a lot of tofu. I eat less tofu now that I eat so many other proteins, but I still have a soft spot for it. I even like plain soft tofu, sprinkled with a little soy sauce and perhaps some scallions or toasted sesame seeds. It’s soft, custardy, innocent.

  11. bob says:

    the recipe calls for rollin up he stack of Yuba and slicing it into noodle-like strips? I have a package and it is very, very brittle and flaky. Do you stem the stack to softness first? If so, can that be done in a microwave?

  12. Bob if you have dry yuba sheets, you might want to place them in warm water for about 10 minutes first to make them pliable.

    Chinese markets also sell “Fresh” yuba in the refrigerator case in sheet or “pasta” or shred form.

  13. eksith says:

    I don’t trust Tofu.
    A food than can taste like anything or be made to look like anything is witchcraft I say!

    But seriously, I don’t see the list of uses for soy cheese coming to an end any time soon. The future savior of planet Earth and ender of world hunger?

  14. Jon says:

    Even for those people not on as strict a diet as the Perlows, Tofu can be a big positive addition to your diet. I mean even if you insist on keeping red meat in your diet, Tofu can improve the “health” of the dish by allowing you to cut the QUANTITY of the meat to half or even a third of the amount you might have used otherwise.

  15. Jon says:

    One thing Jason probably can’t experiment much with (due to most pasta, and certainly tomato sauce being out of his diet), but I’ve done successfully in the past is use Tofu in Italian cuisine.

    It works pretty well. Tofu and red sauce are not the enemies you might think they’d be.

    Also… it can be used as a meatball/meatloaf ingredient–the idea being not to replace the meat, but to allow you to change the percentages. With the right spice mix and ground turkey you can come up with some interesting varieties.

  16. Actually Tomato Sauce in and of itself is not the problem from the perspective of Type II diabetes, It’s canned and other processed tomato product that which is sweetened with processed sugar or HFCS which I need to avoid. A Tomato-sauce based dish from time to time, provided it isn’t sweetened, isn’t going to kill me. It also depends on the variety of tomatoes, some types of tomatoes are naturally significantly higher on the Glycemic Index than others.

    You would be surprised how many brands of canned tomatoes have High Fructose Corn Syrup in them now. Even the expensive or “good” stuff at Whole Foods. You need to look at the labels when buying stuff.

  17. whataslacker says:

    Man that sounds good. I never really minded tofu, but can no longer have it. I have an allergy to soy and have to stay away from it. Guess I could do an reverse vegetarian dish and change the tofu to chicken in the dishes. But then again I am also allergic to peanuts so guess I just have to leave this one to the rest of you. Enjoy it for me will you!

  18. mike says:

    Looks Great!! Thanks for the post!

  19. Will says:

    Try using Chinese sesame paste (as well as peanut butter) in the Sesame noodles. Very different taste from tahini, and adds a lot to sesame noodle recipes.

  20. Melissa says:

    Great post. Thanks. I am a vegetarian, and these recipes look fantastic!

  21. Foodie says:

    Instead of Dynasty brand, try using Hot Bean Sauce made by the Har Har Pickle Food Factory in Taiwan. It is much spicier and has a deeper, more complex flavor. I bought a jar at United Noodle in Minneapolis.

  22. Actually I have a number of different hot bean pastes I am experimenting with now. I never make the dishes exactly the same way twice.

  23. Hafeesah Simmons says:

    Being a vegan I taught myself to make a variety of soymilk especially hemp soymilk. I also make the best tasting vegan tofu in the world from a variety of fruits juices organic wines and sodas. I make tofu sherbet and tofu popsicles. It’s never boring or tasteless. Asians have followed the same recipe for thousands of years. No one has experimented other ways to make tofu like I have. The most important part of the tofu is the whey. It’s a tofu sin not to drink the tofu whey. It’s nutritious and tasty. But tofu makers disregard it as waste. The whey let you know the coagulating process is completed or not. I learned that nigari or other bitter minerals did not complete the tofu making process like fruit juices and aloe vera. My whey help you digest the oil in tofu and keep your muscles healthy and strong. It also balances your electrolyte and oxygenates your cells. The protein vitamins and minerals from the tofu curds end up in the whey. I use it as probiotic dietary supplement. It is a perfect food for anoxia individuals and cancer patients. The cow industry came along and added cows’ whey to soybeans and called it a health drinks? What a joke. It’s a vegan sin to keep fresh tofu in water. It removes the nutritious whey and nutrients. I eat my tofu right after it’s made. I also make the yuba skin to from rice soymilk to wrap my tofu meals in. Everyone should know how to make soymilk and vegan tofu it’s easy and fun. It does not taste like commercial soymilk or tofu.

  24. […] Cold noodles in Spicy Peanut Sauce, one of the first things we made when we burned our Fat Pack membership cards. These “noodles” are actually made out of Yuba, or tofu skin. No carbs. […]

  25. […] and sauce, and use it as a protein extender with traditional Asian-style dishes such as a Sichuan Ma Po Tofu or Korean Soondubu Jigae. Still, using the seared tofu block with the crispy skin over the rich […]

  26. Emily says:

    Hello! I am dying to find the Tofu Shred noodles you have pictured here…I loved them while I was living in Xi’an. I’ve found dried tofu skin, but it doesn’t have the same thickness or texture as the “noodles”. Would you mind telling me what brand they are? Have you ever seen them online to buy?

    Thanks for your help!

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