Plain ... good tofu
Ways to add flavour to bland but versatile tofu.
Betty Saw’s The Asian Tofu Cookbook presents interesting ways to add flavour to bland but versatile tofu.
TOFU is tasteless. Unseasoned and unfried, plain, raw tofu tastes of nothing. Which is why it’s hard for me to convince any of my meat-eating friends to try my tofu dishes, especially when there are other options available.
On its own, tofu isn’t special. However, it is versatile. When tofu is properly seasoned and cooked well, it’s really delicious.
As I am a vegetarian, tofu is a staple in my diet. Apart from eggs, beans and legumes, tofu is my main source of protein. For vegans (who don’t eat eggs or dairy products), tofu is even more essential an ingredient.
In the course of trying to be creative with tofu, I’ve browsed through recipe books in bookstores, scanned through recipes online and watched many a cooking show on making the most out of the humble pale soy cake.
So when I came accross Betty Saw’s The Asian Tofu Cookbook, my interest was piqued. Let’s see what twists to tofu she has to offer, I thought.
Saw is a Malaysian cook who has appeared on several cooking shows on TV. I remember watching her shows a couple of times when I was younger. I never tried her recipes then, but I do remember her. She is also a wellpublished cookbook author with 13 or so titles to her name.
In the preface to The Asian Tofu Cookbook, Saw shares that her kitchen experiments with tofu began after a friend told her how the Japanese diet of soy (tofu, miso, shoyu, etc) contributed to the longevity of Japanese, particularly in Okinawa where they eat at least two helpings of tofu daily.
Liking its health benefits, she began to experiment and found that tofu was also easy to cook with.
“It absorbs flavours and aromas and is very versatile. It combines wonderfully with all kinds of meat, seafood and vegetables.”
Saw also likes that tofu can be cooked in a variety of ways: stir-fried, deep-fried, steamed, baked, boiled or braised. It is also a cheaper alternative to meat, a nice option.
As a result, she came up with hundreds of recipes, 100 or so of which she shares in this book. Saw doesn’t try to camouflage the taste of tofu by making mock-meat dishes with tofu. Tofu is presented as tofu. But it’s well seasoned and combined with a medley of ingredients we perhaps wouldn’t have thought of.
She divides her book into these sections: Just Tofu, Tofu and Mushrooms, Tofu and Chicken, Tofu and Seafood, Tofu and Vegetables, Curries and Sambals, and A Taste of Tofu: Rice and Noodle dishes. That’s a lot to work with. I decided to try a recipe from the Just Tofu section in which tofu is the main ingredient, not to be overshadowed. This, I thought, would test the strength of Saw’s recipes. Could she really turn the bland soy product around?
There are about 10 recipes in this section. I tried two: Tofu With Five Spice Honey Sauce, and Crisp Fried Tofu Balls. Then I tried the Prosperity Tofu And Mushrooms from the section on Tofu and Vegetables.
All three dishes were really easy to make and required very little cooking. In the first recipe, the sauce was the key to the flavour. Apart from a light marinade, the tofu was only lightly fried. The dish worked because Saw’s honey sauce was really tasty.
I thought the second dish may be a bit bland because the ingredients were pretty common; tofu, mushrooms, spring onions, chilli and eggs and turkey bacon (which I omitted).
The dish turned out to be an interesting one as the crispy balls were flavourful. Thanks to the alkaline water and tapioca flour, they were quite springy and nice.
I would, however, serve them with a sauce or dip. Saw does not include one to go with the recipe but she has many sauce recipes in the other sections of the book.
The Prosperity Tofu was another surprise. It’s a simple dish of steamed tofu with a thick sauce that’s rich with vegetables. Though steamed and with minimal seasoning (just sesame oil and salt), the dish isn’t bland at all because the sauce is rich with taste. It is important to have a nice robust stock or the sauce will not work as well. Saw uses chicken stock but I substituted it with a thick, rich, homemade vegetable stock.
In her book, Saw includes many dishes that would be familiar to Malaysians. Tofu and Vegetables in Mini Yam nests, for example, is similar to the Yam Baskets which I dare assume is a favourite among many Malaysians. Also, there is Tofu With Peanut Sauce – which we would recognise as Tofu Bakar. Also, in the last section, Saw reminds us how tofu can be used to jazz up staples like Fried Rice (her Fried Olive Rice With Tofu looks lovely), Sawarak Laksa and Lontong. But there are many recipes that are new to me: Baked Prawn and Tofu Otak Otak with Sweet Basil, for example. Or Tofu Pakoras – that’s definitely not an Indian original!
Saw’s take on tofu is interesting. Her innovative use of tofu got my creative juices going. If you are looking for variety in your tofu dishes, here’s a book to check out.
n Veggie Chick blogs at nodesserts.blogspot.com