I did cook tofu, I really did. And I only googled “how to cook tofu” three times, and looked at fifteen different websites before I opened the package. Speaking of packaging, did you realize that you can purchase both shelf-stable tofu, and refrigerated tofu? Who knew, right? I used a block of refrigerated organic tofu for this specific cooking experience but I can’t wait to see how the shelf-stable tofu tastes… like tofu, perhaps?
The first time I had tofu I was in 9th grade, living in California, and was dating a half-Chinese, half-Italian kid (OHMYGAWD THE FOOD, GUYS.) His family served some very interesting meals. One of my favorites salads to this day is one that I ate at his house;
- Chopped romaine lettuce
- Garlic salt
- Balsamic vinegar
- That’s literally it.
But truly, you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I ate. In fact, that relationship alone, introduced me to a whole world of Asian products that I would likely of had no other exposure to. Grass Jelly, anyone?
So, this tofu “dish” – both Asian and Italian – was very tasty, albeit bland, but I think that was a courteous thing to do for my teenage, white-girl palette. From what I recall, it was cubed tofu (maybe boiled?), crushed tomatoes in spice, over white rice. I felt so cultured, it’s embarrassing to remember now.
But since then, I’ve been ordering tofu whenever given the opportunity. I enjoy it as a sub in traditionally meat filled dishes, and also fried-crispy with a dipping sauce. I have yet to encounter a tofu experience I didn’t find tasty. However, I had yet to prepare it at home myself.
Until last Tuesday night.
I really thought preparing tofu at home would be an incredibly long, and delicate process. I was anticipating fancy contraptions, and foreign utensils that required a finesse that I just don’t have. But in reality, tofu is just edible play-dough, really. Every single recipe I browsed online had dozens upon dozens of variations, but all held one thing in common: drain your tofu.
With the rule of thumb being to “drain” the block of mayonnaise-white foodstuff, a second search commenced; “best way to drain tofu.” I found several options, including step-by-step photos, and once I had read, and re-read, the instructions, I felt confident enough to pick out a recipe and give it a shot. Or rather, I knew what I wanted to make, and now I needed to find a super-easy, and quick way to recreate at home: General Tso’s Tofu.
There’s this cheap and tasty Chinese restaurant the delivers in our neighborhood, Aloha Chopstix, and since becoming vegetarian this past summer, we had explored their meatless options. The best (so far) is General Tso’s Tofu, and an order of Buddha’s Delight. Just plop it all together over white rice and you’ve got dinner, and lunch, for the next two days.
General Tso’s Tofu is just cubed and fried tofu, cooked in the “General Tso” spices and gummy-ish sauce. It’s a bastardization of anything truly Chinese, I’m sure, but it’s tasty and cures the Chinese-food cravings. And so naturally, I wanted to make it at home.
My game plan (after I had thoughtfully researched whether or not I could handle preparing tofu) was to shame this recipe some more, and cut corners in order to prepare it in half an hour on a weeknight. I don’t claim to be a foodie, or a gourmet, or dedicated to the art of cuisine, or anything like that. I just like to eat. I am not ashamed of eating food, and when it takes good, you feel good.
And without further ado, here’s how a white girl prepared tofu for the first time at home, and made it really easy, no-nonsense and idiot-proof:
The Basics to Achieve the Meal
- Crispy tofu (adapted from this recipe, just the crisping part, not the marinating)
- (1) 16oz bag frozen “Stir-Fry” Vegetables (or just steamed broccoli, up to you)
- (1) packet General Tso’s Chicken seasoning mix (such as this one)
- go ahead and mix the seasoning up in a 2-cup measuring cup and set aside
- Rice (like, however much you want)
- Purchase a block of “firm/extra-firm” tofu (most grocery stores have tofu within the organic produce section)
- GET A ROLL OF PAPER TOWELS and a baking sheet, line baking sheet with… 9 paper towels? it’s so many paper towels, it’s irritating
- Open package, take out block of tofu, and cut (with a knife, stupid) into, like, 1″ wedges? just slice it until you have ~6 wedges
- Lay your newly sliced tofu tiles on the paper-lined baking sheet, and cover with 9-2,000 more paper towels
- Here is what I didn’t do, but what you could do:
- get cutting boards or some other kind of heavy flat thing and put on top to “press out” the water in the tofu, and wait approximately 25 minutes
- What I did do, and totally worked fine:
- gently (but firmly?) distribute my palms over each tofu tile to squeeze out the water and speed up time spent on draining tofu
- Switch out paper towels if you were a doofus and didn’t put enough down to begin with, and keep draining tofu until… it looks (mostly) dry (the things I read online said something like THIRTY WHOLE REAL MINUTES to drain, and I was like, “ain’t nobody got time fo’dat!”)
- Cut your totally-drained-and-not-still-retaining-a-little-moisture tofu into cube-like shapes
- THROW AWAY $13 WORTH OF PAPER TOWELS (cry) and grease baking pan with non-stick spray
- Get a bowl and put all your tofu nuggets in it, SPRINKLE 1 tbsp. corn starch over tofu and “toss well to coat” (most pretentious sounding instruction in this whole recipe)
- Fling your freshly coated tofu cubes onto baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes (until crispy, because the goal is to make crispy tofu)
- Every ten-fifteen minutes, stick your head in oven to make sure nothing is exploding or burning or turning into something other than tofu, and shovel around the pieces with a big spoon, marveling at how much less tofu there is now because it kind of shrank while baking
- TAKE PAN OUT OF OVEN and turn off oven.
- Heat (on med-high) 1 tbsp. oil in a big pan (that has a lid that fits it)
- Dump bag of frozen vegetables in pan
- Poke around with a spoon for about 3-4 minutes.
- ADD ALL OF YOUR CRISPY TOFU NUGGETS to pan with vegetables
- Pour the already-been-prepared-and-waiting-in-a-measuring-cup seasoning sauce
- “Stir well to coat” (lol)
- Turn down heat to a LITTLE under “medium” and cover pan
- Let vegetables and tofu simmer in the quickly thickening sauce for 3-4 minutes.
- I don’t think this deserves any instruction because virtually every other recipe I looked at online, just says “serve over rice” and I never, ever was confused or stumped about this step.
- COOK RICE – however you like to cook rice; in an electric rice cooker, boil-in-bag, minute rice in a pan with a tbsp of butter, who cares.
- It’s water and rice, typically in a 1 to 1 ratio, but sometimes NOT so it all depends on the type of rice you like
- For the sake of saying exactly what I did, I used Jasmine rice (in an electric cooker). Because I had some already.
Eat the Meal You Just Prepared
- Put rice in bowl
- Dump veggie-tofu-sauce mixture over rice
- EAT IT
- Good job.