Sautéed tofu with ginger and garlic

Soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar and aromatics dial up the umami in this sautéed tofu main course.

Blue Kitchen
Sesame, ginger, vinegar, and garlic combine to form an Asian-inspired marinade for this tofu.

Our friend Carolyn recently shared a meme on Facebook about preparing tofu. It said this: Step 1: Throw it in the Trash. Step 2: Grill some Meat.

Not that long ago, I would have laughed even harder than I did.

As an avid meat eater, tofu has long been something of a punchline to me. Something that vegetarians get overly excited about. Something that totally puzzles me when non-vegetarian friends choose it in a meat-serving restaurant. But I’m getting better.

Partly it’s because we’re making a conscious effort to eat less meat, mainly by eating smaller portions — a four-ounce steak instead of eight, using a modest amount of Italian sausage to flavor a big pot of red sauce, or even using mushrooms or other umami-rich ingredients to replace meat in a dish. Partly, though, it’s because more interesting tofu dishes have been showing up lately, in interesting places.

One particular place is on Chinese menus. Chinese chefs tend to treat tofu as an ingredient in its own right, not as a substitute for meat or a pretend-meat ingredient (you won’t find tofurkey on Chinese menus). In fact, while many Chinese tofu dishes are vegetarian, not all are. At Yan Bang Cai, one of our favorite spots in Chicago’s Chinatown, you’ll find tofu paired with shrimp and with pork. It’s not there as a stand-in for animal protein — it’s there because of what it brings to the dish.

On July 4th this year, one of the holiest meat-grilling days of the year, we had a vegetarian house guest. So while I indeed grilled some pork ribs in an acceptable improvised hoisin barbecue sauce, Marion prepared this delicious Asian-inspired sautéed tofu dish. Our vegetarian friend got all she wanted, but everyone else at the table sampled it, too. And the other night, this carnivore asked Marion to make it again.

Sautéed Tofu with Ginger and Garlic

3/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup rice or white vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1 or 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled, crushed and minced
1 14-ounce package of extra firm tofu
canola oil
2 or 3 scallion tops, cut into 2-inch sections, then sliced lengthwise into slivers

1. Mix soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, sugar or honey, garlic and ginger together in the marinating container — I used a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.

2. Slice the tofu into eight pads of equal size. Drain them for 10 or 15 minutes on paper towels or a lint-free cloth. Then gently slide them into the marinade. After about 15 minutes, turn and let them marinate another 15 minutes.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil to medium in a big flat nonstick skillet. Carefully transfer tofu to the pan, reserving marinade. Sauté about 4 minutes on each side (or until nicely golden brown). Plate, garnish with a scattering of the sliced scallions. Serve with individual dipping bowls of the reserved marinade.

Kitchen Notes

For this recipe, we used Nasoya organic extra-firm tofu. Nasoya also has a new line of tofus, TofuPlus, that are fortified with particular vitamins — valuable for those who don’t eat a lot of meat. For the soy sauce, we used Kikkoman, our favorite everyday soy sauce.

You may change up the marinade in lots of ways — for instance, adding cayenne or hot oil or a dash of sriracha, or substituting lime juice for the vinegar. You can also marinate this far longer if you like — say an hour or so on each side. But this relatively brief marinating still imbues the tofu with lots of great umami flavor. And of course, you can garnish it differently — cilantro leaves are very nice on top of this.

We had this with a leafy green salad and a fruit salad, and it was terrific. You can also use this sautéed, marinated tofu in other ways — for instance, to make tacos, with warm corn tortillas, mango salsa and cilantro; as an enchilada filling; or in a noodle soup, slid on top at the last moment.

See related post on Blue Kitchen: Tofu curry 

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