Tofu or not Tofu

Tofu is a healthy source of protein, no doubt. It’s also the plastic of food products — it can be formed into just about any form, texture, and flavor from deli-like slices of “bologna” and “turkey” to soy pepperoni, soy chicken nuggets, and meatless ground beef. The myriad soy products out there constitute an impressive feat of food engineering, and personally, I love Tofurky’s Italian sausages and WildWood’s Spicy Southwestern Veggie Burgers. But would I serve them to The Professor? Not a chance. When it comes to meat-eaters, soy products masquerading as meat products are doomed to fail.

So can you ever serve soy products to a carnivore? Yes, but only in two forms. First, the humble soy bean. Do you know anyone who doesn’t like edamame, as the Japanese call young soy beans? The Professor and my toddler will both gobble them down (and I plan to find or develop some recipes using the little green beans soon). Second, as straight-up tofu — I recommend it cubed and fried, and buy it freshly prepared that way at my local Whole Foods.

Now let me just say, I wouldn’t have served tofu for dinner if the Professor hadn’t suggested it as a possible addition to a dish he already likes: Udon Noodles with Soy-Ginger sauce. In the past, I’ve served it topped with salmon (a recipe I’ll share in my next post). But in the interest of creating a more strictly vegetarian version, and with The Professor’s permission, we tried tofu.

You’ll need:
1 lb udon noodles
1/2 lb fried tofu
4-6 portobello mushrooms (depending on size and how much you like mushrooms), halved and then sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
2 1/2 cups shredded cabbage (green, Napa, or Savoy)
1/2 to 2/3rds of a bunch of scallions, washed and chopped (use the whole scallion, cutting the whites into fine slices and the green ends into 1/4 inch pieces)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 inches ginger, chopped
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sweet mirin (a cooking wine sold in the Asian foods section of any well-stocked supermarket)

(A quick note about the sauce: you can make and add more or less sauce depending on how juicy you like it. Just remember the 2:1 ratio of soy sauce to mirin.)

While a big pot of water is heating up, prep the garlic, ginger, scallions, mushrooms and cabbage.
Make the sauce
When the water is boiling, add the udon and a generous handful of salt and set the timer for 6 minutes.
Heat a wok or frying pan, then add oil to coat.
When the oil shimmers add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring frequently for 30 seconds.
Add the mushrooms and toss to coat with the oil. Sprinkle with salt and cover. Take off the lid every minute to stir and check the mushrooms. If they are done before the noodles, turn the burner off.
When the timer goes off, rinse the noodles in cold water. They should be a bit undercooked — chewy but not crunchy.
Push the mushrooms to the sides of the wok or pan, add the sauce and turn the heat to high. Add the noodles, the tofu, and the cabbage and toss until the tofu is warmed and the noodles are coated in sauce and fully cooked. Turn off the heat and mix in the scallions.

Now, The Professor gave the noodles with tofu a B, in part because the cubes were a bit too big. But he welcomed a second attempt … more on that soon.

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