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nakji

Asian Tofu Dishes--Cook-off 47

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Welcome to the eGullet Cook-off 47 - Asian Tofu Dishes! Click here for the Cook-Off index.

Our last cook-off took us to Mexico, where we learned to make the enchilada in all its glorious varieties.

Tofu: much maligned, long the subject of jokes involving hippies, health-food stores, granola and Birkenstocks; it may now be poised for a moment in the spotlight. Low calorie, low in cholesterol, and low in price - it seems like an ideal protein for these lean times. However, its bland face and demure demeanor on the plate have left many of us wondering what to do with it. An answer can be found in the profusion of dishes made in Asia, whether it's a boiling bowl of sundubu jigae in Korea; a subtle side dish of agedashi tofu in Japan; or a searing plate of ma po tofu in China.

In Asia, fresh tofu can be silken or firm; fried; braised; boiled in a stew or served cold with seasonings. As Asian tables feature a balance of dishes, tofu is rarely used as a meat replacement on its own. It's often used to stretch or complement the flavour of meat, or as a cooling counter-point to other dishes. Good quality fresh tofu is worth seeking out for its creamy texture and delicate flavour, which will benefit your finished dish.

Here in the forums, we've talked about where it came from; discussed Japanese dishes and even fermented tofu. In true eGullet fashion, we've also made our own.

In our eGullet Culinary Institute, we have an excellent course on Japanese soy products, along with an enlightening Q&A follow-up.

Maybe you've always cruised right on by the tofu section in your local Asian supermarket, or turned your nose up at the plastic packs in your produce department. Maybe you already know your momen from your foo yu. Either way, please join us here in learning new recipes or sharing your favourite Asian tofu methods and dishes.

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I felt really conflicted picking a dish to make for this cook-off. Obviously, I should have picked any one of the awesome tofu dishes from Korea, like sundubu or my personal favourite - dubu kimchi. Whenever my friends and I went hiking in Korea, we would always murder a plate of dubu kimchi when we came down off the mountain to the drinking huts that inevitably ringed the bottom. Pork and kimchi are a marriage made in heaven, and smeared over thin slices of sweet tofu and chased down with cold rice wine, it's hard to find a better reward for exercise.

Or at least a chigae. Throw cubes of tofu, clams, zucchini, chili, garlic and doenjang into a pot and you've got a stew that's way more than the sum of its parts. But that's still a tough sell for my husband, who I've yet to get eating shellfish, despite all the strides I've made with him. For the longest time, I couldn't even get him to eat tofu at all until I introduced him to the tofu gateway drug that is ma po tofu.

But honestly, I never really saw the point of eating tofu as more than a vehicle for pork myself until I lived in Vietnam and ended up working with several (European) vegetarians. Suddenly every table I was at included a dish of tofu cooked with tomato; they could never convince the staff to serve the mapo tofu without the pork topping, and tofu and tomato was pretty much always the other tofu dish on the menu.

It seemed so simple, but with really fresh tofu and tomatoes, I started seeing the possibilities of tofu without meat. Of course, I haven't gone vegetarian - I always serve this dish in concert with another meat dish - but the flavour is simple and sweet, and I think it goes well with chicken or fish dishes.

The mise en place:

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I take equal measures of chopped ginger and garlic - in this case about four cloves of garlic, and an inch of ginger; along with four or five chopped green onions, and saute them in vegetable oil.

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When that's fragrant and before it browns, I add three or four medium-sized good ripe tomatoes, chopped. You can substitute canned, if you like; and you can blanch the tomatoes if you're using fresh, but I never bother. I also add a tablespoon or so or chicken powder I bought in Vietnam, although fish sauce can be used as well. When I cook this for vegetarians, I adjust the seasoning with salt and a bit of sugar instead.

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I cook it down for about 10 minutes, then add some fried tofu - I added about 250g, which I purchased pre-fried at the supermarket. [if you don't have access to fried tofu, you can use plain firm tofu - and if you like, you can fry that yourself. Just make sure to drain it well - under a weight for ten minutes - or you can nuke it for a minute in the microwave. Then fry until golden on all sides in a neutral oil.]

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The finished dish:

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Sometimes when I'm feeling fusion-y, I serve this alongside a chicken breast which has been pan-seared, drenched in ponzu-soy sauce, and covered with a mound of green onions. But tonight I decided to go completely Vietnamese and serve it with caramel chicken wings - Canh Ga Khon Gung, and a salad - Ga Xe Phai.

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My favorite Chinese dish is Ma Po. I made some the other night along with the spaghetti squash I mentioned in the mei fun thread.

Ma Po just hits on all cylinders. And there was none left so I can't supply pics. It was a very good batch though. I had spring vidalia bulbs that I used in place of green onions, and when the local Korean grocer has garlic bulbs, look out!

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Ma Po just hits on all cylinders. And there was none left so I can't supply pics. It was a very good batch though. I had spring vidalia bulbs that I used in place of green onions, and when the local Korean grocer has garlic bulbs, look out!

I use Japanese negi all the time in the place of green onion, since I have them on hand more. Mapo dofu is satisfying on all levels - except it's hard to take a flattering picture of it!

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I know that freezing tofu makes the texture crumbly, but does it do that if the tofu is fried already? Could I buy a bag of fried tofu and keep it in the freezer?

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Okay, I had some fried tofu leftover, and I just put it in the freezer. I'll defrost it in a day or so and let you know how crumbly it gets.

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I'm very naive when it comes to tofu. Do you know how the protein content of tofu compares to pork or chicken?

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100g of silken tofu has:

Total Fat 3.7 g 6%

Saturated Fat 0.5 g 3%

Cholesterol 0 mg 0%

Sodium 8 mg 0%

Total Carbohydrates 1.8 g 1%

Dietary Fibre 0.2 g 1%

Sugars 0.7 g

Protein 6.5 g

Calcium 111 mg

Potassium 120 mg

100g of firm tofu has:

Total Fat 4.1 g 6%

Saturated Fat 0.8 g 4%

Cholesterol 0 mg 0%

Sodium 12 mg 1%

Total Carbohydrates 1.7 g 1%

Dietary Fibre 0.9 g 4%

Sugars 0.6 g

Protein 8.2 g

Calcium 201 mg

Potassium 148 mg

I do remember reading somewhere that proteins in tofu are more easily absorbed than meat based proteins, but that could have been hippy propaganda.

This thread has inspired me to make 豆腐脑 (Tofu Brains) tonight, it's one of my favourite tofu dishes. Will try to post pics.

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This thread has inspired me to make 豆腐脑 (Tofu Brains) tonight, it's one of my favourite tofu dishes. Will try to post pics.

Tofu brains? What an excellent name, I can't wait to see how you make it. Is it a Japanese of Chinese dish?

I know that freezing tofu makes the texture crumbly, but does it do that if the tofu is fried already? Could I buy a bag of fried tofu and keep it in the freezer?

Okay, after a day in the fridge, the tofu externally still held its integrity, but the inside was a noticeably more crumbly. It also let out a lot of water, so you'd have to be sure to drain it well.

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It sounds obvious to me that freezing tofu makes it spongy, like koya dofu (also known as shimi dofu and koori dofu in Japanese).

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The Chineses freeze tofu quite often to obtain a more open structure that can soak up broth or sauce. This is particularly good for hot pot.

On the other side, you can freeze what my partner calls puffed tofu with very little effect on the texture. The fried on the outside but silky in the inside tofu would certainly be very crumbly in comparison.

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It sounds obvious to me that freezing tofu makes it spongy, like koya dofu (also known as shimi dofu and koori dofu in Japanese).

Spongy is an excellent way to describe the texture.

Yeah, that's what I was afraid of. Thanks for doing the experiment!

My pleasure. But how do you usually prepare your tofu? If you crumble it into a salad, or use it in a stew as Max suggests, the looser texture wouldn't be so noticeable. I often have an extra bit of tofu left over that I usually throw away. I think I might start freezing it to add into hot pot.

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This thread has inspired me to make 豆腐脑 (Tofu Brains) tonight, it's one of my favourite tofu dishes. Will try to post pics.

Tofu brains? What an excellent name, I can't wait to see how you make it. Is it a Japanese of Chinese dish?

i am also waiting to see and read about "tofu brains". i really enjoy sauteed brains but can't have them in the house because my husband freaks out if he sees them. this sounds as tho it might be a good substitute. looking forward to the recipe

thanks

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I love brain omelettes and if tofu brains are like that, I would appreciate a copy of the recipe and better with pics! :)

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When I was a kid, tofu was that weird white thing that you could buy in health food stores. Most of what I tasted then had turned sour from being kept on the shelves too long and was frankly quite disgusting. As a teenager, tofu became an idea more useful for jokes than food. It was sold as a meat substitute and it convinced many of my friends to never turn vegetarian.

Over the years however, the quality of the tofu sold in grocery stores got better. It actually became possible to cook edible things out of it. I think that the simple fact that more people were eating it meant that we had access to a fresher and therefore better ingredient.

Shortly after moving to Toronto for my studies, I was exposed to freshly made tofu by my Chinese friends including the person who would later become my better half. I cannot find words to express my surprise at how delicious tofu could be. To me, tofu instantly became a greatly enjoyable delicacy after being thought for too long as a barely edible meat replacement.

I later discovered tofu's various density and textures, its range of color and culinary uses. We now have some sort of tofu dish every week at home... when I can find day fresh tofu however, this is how I like to eat it:

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Very simply with a few coriander leaves, hot pepper and/or scallion and a bit of Chinese black vinegar, sesame oil and/or soy sauce.

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Oh wooooowww...I love tofu and I am looking forward to this. We have a shop here in Oklahoma City where the women who owns the shop hand makes tofu and that is all she sells and it is a whole different world from the store bought stuff. I was shocked when I first had it and now I cannot go back to the store bought stuff. I bought two "bricks" of the stuff today and now I have to come up with something really, really good to make with it. If I can figure out how to load pictures I will take some and post them.

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I love brain omelettes and if tofu brains are like that, I would appreciate a copy of the recipe and better with pics! :)

oops totally forgot pics.

There is no real recipe, I just tried to copy what I've had in china. Now I have my own version, but it's basically:

silken tofu

garlic

mushrooms

ginger

dash of light and dark soy

sesame oil

spring onions

coriander

chilli oil

a little bit of stock

cornflour

You cook everything in the logical order and stir in the tofu at the end and warm it through, scrambling it a bit.

As far as I know there are a few versions, including sweet ones. Sometimes as a soup too, sometimes drier like I make it. It's called tofu brains because the texture is similar to brains, apparently.


Edited by pat_00 (log)

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My favorite Chinese dish is Ma Po.  I made some the other night along with the spaghetti squash I mentioned in the mei fun thread.

Ma Po just hits on all cylinders.  And there was none left so I can't supply pics.  It was a very good batch though.  I had spring vidalia bulbs that I used in place of green onions, and when the local Korean grocer has garlic bulbs, look out!

my recipe submission:

- take an ordinary mapo dofu recipe (probably enough to serve 3 or 4 as a main dish)

- add 2 cubes of dofuru (fermented/stinky dofu) (no noticeable taste or smell in the finished dish but it makes the flavor "bigger")

- add 1-2 Tbls mashed fermented black beans according to individual taste

Serve over soft wheat/egg noodles (I use regular spaghetti when I don't have chinese noodles).

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OMG! Nakji I just tried your tomato and tofu dish and I loved it. I never thought to pair tomato with tofu like and it was great. Sweet, salty, a hit of sour from the tomato and the fried tofu had a nice toothiness to it. Yum. I think this dish is going down as a staple from now. Thanks. :)

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I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's amazing how well they go together, and how rich the dish tastes for how simple it is to make. I make this one for everyone who says they don't like tofu. The key, however, is as I said: using really good tofu and really good tomatoes.

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