Tag Tofu

Baked Tofu

The search for a vegetarian version of my udon noodles with a soy-ginger sauce continues. A quick recap: The pescatarian version of my udon noodles — topped with roasted salmon — earns an A from The Professor.

But I’ve been trying to develop a vegetarian version.

Photo by Chris Wells

For my first attempt, I used fried cubes of tofu bought at Whole Foods, but the cubes were too big and required cutting. Early in our marriage, when I was still passionate about our wedding presents, I would have jumped at the opportunity to use the new steak knives. But, while I still love the knives (thanks again, Ruth and Andras!), using them to re-cube the tofu mid-meal was a drag.

I decided to fry my own. So next time, I sliced a brick of tofu in two, pressed out the water, and cut the halves into perfectly bite-able cubes. But things went downhill from there … and I decided to try baking

Again, I sliced the brick of tofu in half the long way and pressed out the excess water. I let it sit in a marinade of soy sauce, mirin, garlic and ginger. And then I baked it at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. And then another 5 minutes. And another five. I kept hoping that the tofu would start to crisp!

Eventually I gave up and served it. The result: the tofu was definitely tasty and brought more flavor to the dish than the unseasoned fried versions I’d already tried. But it was also spongy. It lacked any crispness.

“If you’d never served me the noodles with salmon, I might have thought this was great,” said The Professor. “But it’s definitely not as good as the version with fish.”

So the search continues. But I am optimistic, in part because my friend Joanne, who doesn’t cook, offered up her fiance, who does. I’m hoping to get a lesson in frying tofu from Sean soon.


Fried Tofu … A Tale of Woe

Last night I made soy-ginger udon noodles with mushrooms … and tofu. I have often served the Asian noodles topped with roasted salmon, and that’s been a hit.

Udon Noodles topped with Salmon

But because my ultimate goal here is to find or develop great vegetarian (rather than pescatarian) dishes, I’ve been trying to create a version with fried tofu.


For my first attempt I bought cubes of fried tofu from my local Whole Foods. They were tasty and not too fried, so they didn’t sit like lead in your stomach. But they were also big — so big you couldn’t comfortably get some noodles and a whole cube of tofu into your mouth at the same time.

For my second attempt, I thought I’d just fry up the tofu at home. I diligently pressed the tofu to squeeze out the water, sliced it, heated up a few tablespoons of peanut oil, and tossed the little cubes into the pan. “It will take a few minutes for the tofu to turn golden,” Deborah Madison had advised. So I cleaned some mushrooms while they began to fry. When I turned back to the stove to flip the cubes, I found they were sticking to the pan. Hot oil was spattering, the baby was crying, and eventually I ditched my tongs for a metal spatula and began scraping the little cubes off of the pan’s surface.

My first attempt to fry tofu

Was the pan too hot — or not hot enough? Had I not dried the tofu off enough? Or should I have just used a non-stick pan? I don’t yet know.

On the positive side, the slight crunch of the somewhat overcooked tofu added a nice texture to the dish. That said, next time I think I’ll try baking it.

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.