Tofu – Bean dare, done dat

Aug 17, 2011

Yeah, I'm daring you to try tofu. If you hate it, it's probably because you've only had it as some horrible hippie concoction like Tofu Chili Surprise or whatever. There's only one way to eat tofu and that's Asian. 

So next time you're at a Chinese restaurant try some hot and spicy Ma Po Tofu. Or tofu stuffed with shrimp and pork or anything Asian and tofu. I bet you'll change your mind. Maybe you'd like to do it your self. Nancy Leson's got a recipe for a terrific cold tofu cocktail with shrimp at her All You Can Eat blog.

My own belief is that tofu is at its best when it's being itself – not masquerading as something else. And that's what too many American recipes have it doing – filling in for the meat in chili or what have you. Keep it Asian and let it fly its bean curd flag proudly – you'll have something well worth eating.

Styles and textures

Tofu comes in a lot of styles and textures, firm to soft and silken. Besides its fresh form you can also get it in dried tofu skins or sheets. You can soak these to soften and then spread them with various fillings of minced vegetables or meat or both, fold them up into little packets and then steam it. Or just break off little pieces and deep fry. They puff right up sort of like fried pork rinds. 

I'd be lost without my favorite Chinese condiment, fermented tofu, variously transliterated as  dofu ru, fu yee, fu yu – or as my friend Jim Robbins calls it: "The toe jam of the gods." The flavor is hard to describe but is sort of maybe possibly within shouting distance of a really ripe  soft cheese. Almost every non-Asian I know who has ever tried it has really hated it.

"My parents were vegetarians. I'd show up at school, this giant black kid, with none of the cool clothes and a tofu sandwich and celery sticks."

-- Aisha Tyler

Food for Thought” is a weekly KPLU feature covering the world of food as well as the thinking that goes into it. The feature is published here and airs on KPLU 88.5 every Wednesday during Morning Edition and All Things Considered.