Plain ... good tofu

Ways to add flavour to bland but ver­sa­tile tofu.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE -

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

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