The trouble with tofu…

How would you describe tofu? Tasteless? Bland?

Like most people, I’ve always had a bit of an aversion to tofu. I mean, who gets excited by a cold slab of soya, also known rather unsexily as bean curd?

Tofu is a bit like quinoa (yes, I am that walking vegan cliché) because it’s completely devoid of flavour. So far, so meh. But this, arguably, is the best bit about plain foodstuffs. They act as a blank canvas, a sponge if you like, that soak up herbs, spices, oil and all the other stuff that makes food tasty – and this is where the magic happens.

Like a lot of things in life, it’s all about the preparation with tofu. If you’re using the firm kind (you can also get the silken type which is ideal for desserts – watch this space for some sweet treats) you need to take it from its packet and drain it of all its water. Use kitchen roll to soak up excess moisture and then place in between two heavy chopping boards (weigh the top one down with a tin or hardback book) for up to an hour. Trust me, this works.

Another tip: try baking your tofu before you fry it so that it keeps its firmness and doesn’t crumble when it hits the pan. And for the love of God, give it some seasoning. Whether it’s garlic, lemon juice, soy sauce or whatever you fancy, tofu needs a bit of love and affection – remember, it’s not a piece of meat.

Armed with the right tools (and attitude), you can make some pretty tasty tofu dishes and it’s not just about the stir fries – although my friend Carina recently made tofu in a satay sauce with stir-fried veggies and it was delicious.

If you’re looking for some new ideas, here are two tofu recipes with a twist.

Scrambled tofu

I’ll admit it: I miss eggs, especially the sort that’s scrambled. Anything that can recreate my favourite childhood breakfast is worth a try and scrambled tofu is actually quite nice. It can be a bit hit and miss (I made some the other day with sage and it was only OK) but I find that a generous hit of salt, spice and olive oil usually does the trick.

Get some drained tofu and mash it up with a fork. Add a clove of garlic, some lemon juice, a pinch of salt, half a teaspoon each of dried cumin and turmeric and a bit of fresh or dried chilli. Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a non-stick pan and cook the tofu for about five minutes, stirring regularly. Once it’s brown, it’s ready. Serve with toast, avocado, tomatoes – or whatever you like.

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Scrambled tofu with all the trimmings, including the obligatory avocado on toast

Tofu ricotta toast

Thanks to the lovely Áine Carlin for this recipe. You can keep the tofu mixture in the fridge for about a week so makes a handy snack at any time.

Once you’ve drained your tofu, crumble it into a bowl and season with the juice of half a lemon, a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and some salt and pepper. Mash it all together with a fork and you’re good to go. Spread a generous amount on toast or baked potatoes. I did as Áine suggested and topped my tofu ricotta toast with sliced nectarine and some crushed pistachios. It would also work well with avocado or thinly sliced cucumber – and fried mushrooms would be nice too. You could, of course, add chilli and herbs to the mixture. Do what you want – it’s definitely a ‘spread’ that lends itself to a bit of artistic licence.

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Tofu on toast. Next time I’ll use bigger bread.
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