August 01, 2011
The word tofu has a lot of power.
It has the power to induce disdain. Nose-wrinkling. Repeated diatribes - especially from hard-core carnivores. Oprah is a famous one that comes to mind. I've never seen someone recoil physically as much as she does even at the mere mention of eating the stuff. Then the audience laughs knowingly. Everyone nods in agreement, and a sacred pact between carnivores is again silently affirmed: nothing - especially not tofu - will threaten the ability of anyone to eat and enjoy their meat. In my mind I liken the reaction to NRA members discussing gun control and Republicans discussing Democrats - a give-them-an-inch-and-they'll-railroad-us-completely mentality.
It's a funny thing when these same people actually take the time to stop talking and start tasting tofu that's prepared well and cooked perfectly. Their entire demeanor changes. I'm a practicing vegetarian - mostly vegan - married to someone who eats like I do at home but has to order meat when we go out. He and his like-minded friends also have to throw in a dig or two when I'm trying my dishes out with tofu versus the 'normal' ingredients. But, invariably, they'll want to try my dish or concoction and often concede that my choice in food was as good if not better than theirs.
Largely, because it was prepped well. I've traveled the world and lived in Japan and Hawaii, where eating tofu - essentially made from soybeans - is a way of life. It comes in so many shapes, sizes, and varieties, it's hard not to love it. In those countries it's not sold as a 'hippie meat substitute' but as part of the cuisine, as a fantastic source of plant-based protein that is just one part of a usually varied diet that does still include a little meat and lots of veggies.
The key to a delicious tofu dish is to prepare it with spices or marinate it well. To all you carnivores out there, I hate to break it to you, but this is the same for meat. When have you been satisfied with a piece of chicken raw, uncooked and marinade free?
So, give tofu a break. Try it before judging it. My Masala Tofu Scramble should be enough to convince you!
My recipe is a take on the Masala Omelette that my mom made for us growing up and that is often served on the streets in India and made in many households - served alongside a stuffed Indian bread or Parantha.
Masala Tofu Scramble
Makes 2 cups
1 14 oz. package extra firm, organic tofu, crumbled
1/2 small white or red onion minced (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 inch ginger, peeled and grated (1 Tablespoon)
1- 2 green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chilies, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon red chile powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon kala namak (optional)
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
1 tablespoon oil (canola/vegetable/coconut)
1. Crumble tofu with your hands, place in a colander set on a plate and allow to drain while you prep the remainder of your ingredients. With extra firm tofu there won’t be a lot of excess moisture, but every little bit helps.
2. Heat oil in heavy, flat pan over medium-high. Once hot, add cumin. After the seeds start to sizzle, add onion, ginger, green chilies, and turmeric. Continue to cook and brown for about 1 - 2 minutes, stirring to prevent mixing from sticking.
3. Add tofu and mix well to ensure the entire mixture turns yellow from the turmeric.
4. Add salt, kala namak (it will give you the egg-like smell and taste), and cilantro. Mix well. Serve with toast, a warm roti, or rolled in a wrap. The tastiest is eating this with a warm parantha.
Notes: Kala Namak can be found at any Indian grocery store. Kala means black and namak means salt. Mined from soft-stone quarries in central india, this salt is high in minerals and gives off a sulphureous smell and has a tangy tastes. Adding it to cold foods including street foods heightens flavor and give your snack foods more punch. Kala Namak is often used in Raita (savory yogurt) and on cold salads with lemon and white salt. The only mainstream store I've found it so far has been Treasure Island, but there it was incredibly expensive compared to the options at the Indian Grocer on Devon Ave. here in Chicago.