Tofu is often praised for its versatility and ability to take on other flavours. That might sound like I’m damning it with faint praise, but far from it – I find the difference in texture between firm and silken tofu, for example, just a little bit wondrous. Firm tofu, for which soybean milk is curdled and pressed of all its moisture, retains its shape when cooked, making it ideal for stir-fries, barbecues, skewers and so forth. With silken tofu, on the other hand, the soy milk isn’t curdled or pressed, so it retains all its moisture, and crumbles and collapses easily into dressings, sauces, desserts and so on. So, today, three recipes to showcase how being sponge-like and versatile is, in fact, high praise indeed.
Tofu in spicy sambal with cashews and ginger pickle (pictured above)
This is a very spicy dish that just cries out to be served with white rice. If you marinate the tofu the night before, it will soak up more of the marinade. I’d also recommend making extra pickle, because it keeps for weeks in the fridge and is a wonderful accompaniment to all sorts of things from rice and fish to salads. I’ve roasted the shop-bought roasted cashews a second time, because I find they are usually never roasted to their full potential before packing.
Prep 35 min
Marinate 30 min+
Cook 50 min
For the tofu
1 x 280-300g pack extra-firm tofu
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 lime, juiced, to get 1 tbsp
100g roasted salted cashew nuts
1 tsp olive oil
300ml sunflower oil
For the ginger pickle
20g piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced into matchsticks
1 lime, juiced, to get 1 tbsp
½ tsp maple syrup
¼ tsp salt
For the sambal
60ml olive oil
300g shallots, peeled and finely diced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
30g fresh large red chillies, finely chopped (remove and discard the pith and seeds if you prefer less heat)
3 fresh makrut lime leaves, finely chopped
2 star anise
5¼ tbsp (20g) fresh coriander, leaves picked and stalks finely chopped
2g hot dried chillies, or mild ones, finely chopped
1½ tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
3 tbsp tomato paste
1½ tbsp maple syrup
Pat dry the tofu with kitchen towel, then cut the block first into four widthways and then cut each quarter into three lengthways, so you end up with 12 tall cubes. Cut each cube in half, then put in a small tray. In a small bowl, mix the garlic, soy sauce and lime juice, pour the mix over the tofu in the tray and stir to coat the cubes, making sure they’re covered on all sides, and leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes, basting at least twice while it does so.
Heat the oven to 170C (150C fan)/325F/gas 3. Mix the cashews in a small bowl with the teaspoon of oil and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, arrange on a small tray lined with greaseproof paper, then bake for 12 minutes, until they take on a deep brown colour and look as if they’ve spent a day tanning at the beach, but are not actually burnt. Set aside to cool.
Mix all the ginger pickle ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
Put the olive oil for the sambal in a large saute pan on medium-high heat, then add the shallots, garlic, fresh red chillies, lime leaves, star anise and chopped coriander stalks. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until deeply golden and crisp.
Meanwhile, put the sunflower oil in a small saucepan on medium-high heat and, leaving the excess marinade in the tray, fry the tofu in two or three batches for about two minutes, until golden brown with slightly dark edges. Return the fried tofu back to its marinade, toss to coat and set aside.
Stir the dried chillies, caraway seeds, turmeric, tomato paste, maple syrup and a teaspoon of salt into the sambal pan, and cook, stirring frequently, for five more minutes. Add the water, stir it in well, then cook for another minute. Lift the tofu out of its marinade (which can now be discarded), add to the mix and stir gently to coat.
Stir the reserved coriander leaves into the ginger pickle, then spoon the tofu on to a medium sized platter. Scatter some of the pickle and cashews on top, and serve with the rest in two bowls on the side.
Beer-battered salt-and-vinegar tofu with herb scraps and tofioli
Tofioli is a combination of two words, tofu and aïoli, and it’s so aïoli-like that anyone would have a hard time guessing it’s egg-free. If you want to get ahead, marinate the tofu overnight and make the kelp salt in advance. The batter needs to be made just ahead of frying, however: the colder it is, the crispier it will be.
Prep 20 min
Marinate 30 min+
Cook 40 min
Serves 2, generously
For the tofu
300g firm tofu
90ml apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce
For the tofioli
150g silken tofu
3 tbsp cider vinegar, plus extra to serve
30g coriander, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled
150ml rapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
Salt and black pepper
50g plain flour
¾ tbsp ground coriander
For the seaweed salt
1 tbsp kelp or nori flakes
1 tsp flaked salt
For the batter
50g plain flour
2 tsp kelp or nori flakes
¾ tsp carom seeds (AKA ajwain)
130ml fridge-cold beer
For frying and serving
1 litre rapeseed oil (or other neutral oil), for deep-frying
2½-3 tbsp (10g) coriander leaves
2½-3 tbsp (10g) parsley, picked, removing any hard stalks
Pat dry the tofu and press to squeeze out any excess liquid, if necessary. Once dry, cut the tofu block lengthways into quarters, so you have four equal rectangles, then cut each piece widthways once, to give you eight smaller rectangles. Cut each of these once diagonally, so you end up with 16 triangles.
In a medium-sized, high-sided tray big enough to hold all the tofu triangles in a single layer, mix the vinegar and soy sauce to make a marinade, then lay in the tofu and swirl the tray so it all gets covered in marinade. Set aside for at least 30 minutes, and ideally an hour (or overnight).
Meanwhile, put all the tofioli ingredients in a food processor, season with a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, then blitz until smooth and flecked with green. Pour into a bowl, cover (I use reusable kitchen wrap) and refrigerate until needed.
Put the litre of oil in a medium-sized saucepan and set it over a medium heat. While the oil is heating up, mix all the dredging ingredients with a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Once the oil is hot, coat the tofu triangles in the dredging flour, then fry in batches for about two minutes at a time, drain on kitchen towel and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, make the seaweed salt by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl, then set aside.
To make the batter, mix all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl with a quarter-teaspoon of salt, then whisk in the cold beer until well incorporated. While the mix is still very cold, dip the tofu triangles in the batter, to coat, fry in batches for five to seven minutes, until golden and crisp all over, then drain on kitchen towel. Dip the coriander and parsley leaves in the batter, fry until crisp – this will take only about 30 seconds – and drain on kitchen towel. Drop small spoonfuls of any remaining batter into the hot oil, to make scraps, then drain once crisp.
To serve, arrange the tofu, fried herbs and scraps on a large platter, sprinkle over some of the seaweed salt and the reserved vinegar, if you like, and serve with the tofioli on the side.
Coconut and tofu flan with coffee caramel
All the wobble without an egg being cracked: the vegan wonder of tofu! This needs to set in the fridge overnight, so get going the day before serving.
Prep 10 min
Cook 55 min
120g caster sugar
1½ tsp instant coffee powder (not granules)
1 x 320ml tin coconut condensed milk
1 x 400ml tin coconut cream
1 x 300g pack silken tofu, drained
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
25g tapioca starch (not tapioca flour)
Heat the oven to 170C (150C fan)/325F/gas 3, and put in a 20cm x 20cm square nonstick tin (or a similar-sized ovenproof dish) to warm up– do not use a spring-form tin, or the caramel will escape later.
For the caramel, put the sugar in a large pan on a medium heat and cook for about eight minutes: resist the urge to stir, and instead swirl the pan around until the sugar has melted. Continue cooking and swirling slowly until the sugar turns a dark amber colour, then quickly remove the warm tin from the oven and pour in the caramel, tilting the tin as you go so it spreads out and evenly covers the base. Sprinkle the coffee powder evenly over the caramel, then sprinkle over a quarter-teaspoon of salt and set aside for five minutes, so the caramel cools down.
Put the coconut condensed milk, coconut cream, silken tofu, vanilla, tapioca starch and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt in a blender and blitz on high speed for about 30 seconds, until completely smooth. Pour the tofu custard into the tin, then transfer the tin to a larger, high-sided baking tray and place in the oven, keeping the door open for now.
Carefully pour boiling water into the larger dish so it comes halfway up the sides of the flan tin, then shut the oven door and bake for 45 minutes, or until the surface is set, but the flan still has a good wobble to it (it will set further in the fridge). Carefully lift the tin from its hot water bath, set aside to cool slightly, then refrigerate overnight.
The next day, take the tin out of the fridge 15 minutes before you want to serve it, and run a knife all around the edges of the flan, to release it from the sides. Place a large, lipped platter on top of the tin, then quickly flip the whole thing over so the flan ends up on the platter. Spoon into bowls and serve immediately.