Plant-based meats are today’s megastar, but good, old-fashioned tofu, surprisingly, is having its moment, too.

Here in Maine, chefs rave about the quality of the locally made tofu from Heiwa in Rockport, one of many tofu manufacturers in the United States reporting an uptick in sales as a result of food trends accelerated by the pandemic. During the past decade, tofu, like all plant-based proteins, has seen sales slowly yet steadily increase. But the pandemic supercharged demand.

Tofu sales rose 40 percent during the first half of 2020 compared to 2019, according to a report in The Washington Post, which credited the increase to three causes: Healthy eating trends, supply disruptions of animal-based meat and PETA’s “Tofu never caused a pandemic. Try it today!” campaign. This fall, Vox magazine cited similar drivers for the increase in tofu sales, and added a fourth: A “noticeable shift to environment-friendly habits.”

Last month, the New York Times featured a recipe for crispy tofu; Bon Appetit ran one for saucy tofu; and in December, The Washington Post carried a Filipino adobo recipe for use with either tofu or chicken. It’s clear the time is right for more tofu.

In my vegan kitchen, tofu plays a starring role multiple times a week. I use the softer silken tofu if I make a mousse pie or a thick smoothie. But I most frequently use Heiwa’s firmer block tofu, which is sold refrigerated (silken tofu can bought refrigerated or on store shelves).

Tofu is an ancient food made by coagulating soy milk with magnesium chloride (nigari), calcium sulfate (gypsum) or magnesium sulfate (epsom salts). The resulting curds are pressed together to create a neutrally flavored food that’s high in protein but low in calories. Tofu is made with varying degrees of firmness; the firmer it is, the more protein it contains.

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I prepare firm, block tofu by roasting it sheet-pan style or pan-frying it on the stovetop. Both produce delicious, versatile results. Here are two of my favorite ways to prepare tofu for use in a grain bowl or as a sandwich filling.

Crispy Breaded Tofu.  Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

Crispy Breaded Tofu

Serve the breaded tofu as hors d’oeuvres with a spicy mayo dipping sauce (vegan mayonnaise, red pepper flakes, chopped pickles), on top of a grain bowl, or on a sandwich with slaw and spicy mayo.

Serves 5 to 6

1 block firm tofu
5 tablespoons vegan mayo
1 teaspoon dulse flakes (or other crumbled sea vegetable)
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1½ cups panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly oil a sheet pan or other baking pan and set aside. Place tofu in a tofu press or on a plate with a cutting board on top and stack with a heavy can or other object. Let tofu press for 10 to 15 minutes.

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Meanwhile, mix together the mayonnaise, dulse and nutritional yeast in a bowl big enough to accommodate the tofu. Set aside. Mix together the panko, onion powder and garlic powder in a second bowl big enough to accommodate the tofu. Set aside.

Remove the tofu from the press, drain the water and pat the tofu dry. Cut the tofu into sticks (about 1/4-inch thick) or cubes. Pat each piece of tofu dry again.

Create an assembly line with the tofu pieces, mayo mix, panko mix and baking sheet. First, coat each piece of tofu in the mayo mix, then dip it into the panko mix to completely coat it. Place the coated tofu stick on the baking sheet. Repeat until all the tofu is coated and on the baking sheet.

Bake the tofu for 30 to 40 minutes, keeping your eye on it, until golden brown.

BBQ Tofu

Use your favorite BBQ sauce, or make the sauce according to the directions below. Serve the BBQ tofu on top of a grain bowl or on sandwich buns with vegan mayo, shredded lettuce, cabbage, onions and pickled banana peppers.

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Serves 5 to 6

1 block firm tofu
Small amount cooking oil for frying

FOR THE SAUCE:
About 5 ounces plain tomato sauce
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

Place tofu in a tofu press or on a plate with a cutting board on top and stack with a heavy can or other object. Let tofu press for 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix all the sauce ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl.Pour into a small sauce pan and set on stove over medium low heat and allow to simmer. Place a frying pan over medium high heat and allow it to warm for a minute or 2. Then add cooking oil to the depth of about 1/8-inch.

Remove the tofu from the press, drain the water and pat the tofu dry. Cut the tofu into sticks (about 1/4-inch thick). Add the tofu to the hot oil in the pan and cook for about 3 minutes until golden before flipping. Keep flipping the tofu until it’s golden on every side. Remove from the pan and place the fried tofu on a paper towel to drain.

Toss the pan-fried tofu into the sauce to coat.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]
Twitter: @AveryYaleKamila


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