When people ask me the ubiquitous protein question all vegetarians and vegans are faced with, I tend not to start my answer with ‘well, there’s tofu’. Not because I don’t want to see that face most people pull when they hear the dreaded T word but because I have a love/hate relationship with the stuff myself.
It’s mainly a texture thing. The idea of eating soft silken tofu, for instance, makes my skin crawl. For me there are three ways of preparing tofu that turn it into a treat.
The first one is lazy and easy: I buy ready-cubed, ready-marinated tofu bits that have (somehow) been dried out a bit. They are perfect for stir-fries and salads once you’ve fried them.
The second method is deep-frying. Now of course a good deep-frying will make almost anything edible, but tofu and a vat of hot oil really go well together. Fuchsia Dunlop has some great recipes for deep-fried tofu in her excellent book Every Grain of Rice. But, as we all know, deep-frying isn’t overly healthy, so deep-fried tofu is a treat reserved for special occasions.
Which brings me to the third way of preparing tofu, which is baking. It is easy, healthy and, most importantly, delicious. I have to thank my friend Caroline here, because she is the one who put me on to this method (she has a gorgeous food blog herself, by the way: http://thepatternedplate.com). I am a big fan of using the oven. Less work, less splattering, and there aren’t many foods that don’t benefit from being baked.
So texture is important but, as far as I’m concerned, tofu needs a bit of spicing up, too. Plain tofu has a bland flavour that I don’t dislike, but I prefer it as an undertone. As the firm tofu I generally use is porous, it will absorb a marinade, so my first instinct was to drain, slice and then marinate it overnight, giving it maximum flavour. It didn’t work out that way. The tofu absorbed most of the marinade, which meant it had flavour but was also heavy and soggy once baked. I like to think of the marinade I use in this recipe as a coating that delivers flavour and is at the same time the glue for the curry-flavoured breadcrumbs.
I have been planning this post for some time and have made several batches of these baked tofu slices to make sure this recipe won’t disappoint. I have tried them with and without the breadcrumb coating, left the tofu to marinate overnight, I have frozen and later baked a marinated batch, turned and not turned them as they were baking, and I am glad to say I am very happy with the result. I was trying to create slices of tofu that were crispy on the outside and a bit chewy on the inside, with bags of flavour, and I think I’ve succeeded. The slices may feel and look a bit soft when they come out of the oven, but they firm up as they cool.
Draining tofu. I gently squeeze the tofu myself first, then put it between two chopping boards with a double layer of kitchen towel beneath and on top of the tofu. I refresh the kitchen towel after 30 minutes and drain for an hour in total. Weigh down with whatever is handy. You want the tofu to keep its shape, so don’t put anything too heavy on it.
Serves 2 generously
325 g block of firm tofu (the type that comes in a pack filled with water), drained for an hour, then sliced into 1 cm slices
3 tbsp kecap manis (or dark soy sauce)
generous splash of Sriracha or other hot sauce (optional)
2 tbsp lime juice
½ tbsp ginger syrup
1 tbsp garlic oil
generous pinch of salt
30 g/6 tbsp Panko breadcrumbs
1 heaped tsp mild curry powder
– Mix all the ingredients for the marinade in a flattish container or bowl and add the tofu, preferably in a single layer, turning to coat both sides. Marinate for 30 minutes while you heat up the oven to 190°C.
– Mix the ingredients for the coating on a plate.
– One by one, dip the marinated tofu slices in the coating and turn, covering them on all sides.
– Lay the slices on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.
– Bake for 30 minutes and serve.
I like to eat these with egg-and-pea-fried rice and a salad.