toying with tofu


Do you tofu?

Last week, there was a “Hell’s Kitchen”/Gordon Ramsay segment on “American Idol,” where the five finalists were asked to make an omelet. Gordon deemed Lauren’s the best, with Jacob’s in second place. In the final face-off between Lauren and Jacob, they were blindfolded and asked to identify three different foods: steak, tofu and hot dogs. When it came to the tofu, both Lauren and Jacob gagged. 

I’m guessing the texture is what turned them off, because tofu by itself is basically bland. I wonder how I would react if I hadn’t grown up with it, seen it floating in steamy bowls of miso soup, stir fried in dozens of dishes, pan fried with a spicy chili sauce, pulverized in fruit smoothies, baked into cheesecakes and pies, tossed into salads, or simply sliced into little cubes and dipped in a shoyu dressing. Tofu is a given in Hawai’i, a staple of Asian cuisine, an unassertive player who is happy to absorb the flavors of other ingredients. There are few foods so versatile and nutritious. Still, when all is said and done, it comes down to taste.

This being Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and all, I thought it the perfect time to tout the terrificness of tofu with a couple of cool recipes. Both are from my half-sister Sylvia, former caterer and uber talented chef to the stars. If you suffer from tofu phobia, hopefully one of these dishes will win you over. Enjoy!

(4 servings as part of a Chinese meal)


4 cups chicken broth
3 slices fresh ginger
1/4 lb. beef, minced
1 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp pepper
pinch sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 pkg. medium firm tofu, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1-1/2 T cornstarch
1 bunch cilantro, washed and coarsely chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 tsp pepper
salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring broth and ginger to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine beef, cornstarch, sugar and soy in a small bowl. Let marinade until broth is ready.

Carefully drop minced beef into broth, breaking up any lumps. Add tofu. Turn heat up and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, combine 1-1/2 T cornstarch with 1/3 cup water. Add to soup, stir well and bring to a boil until soup is thick. Just before serving, add cilantro and green onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste.



1 block firm, organic tofu, cut into good sized cubes
7 or 8 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked overnight, or a similar amount of fresh ones, cut into halves
Broccoli that has been trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces


3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
a small finger of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced


1/3 cup bottled oyster sauce
1/4 cup rice wine (not vinegar)
1/3 cup sesame oil
4-5 T sugar (should be sweet, so add more if needed)

To cook:

Heat cooking oil in wok or frying pan. Brown the tofu cubes and set aside.

Stir fry the broccoli until crisp tender, set aside.

If you need to add a little more oil to the pan, do so, and sizzle the garlic and ginger. Add the mushrooms, if dry, cook until tender and juicy (keep splashing a little broth or water in the pan if it dries out).

Add broccoli and cover and coat all with the sauce. If it is thick, thin a little with broth or water. If you need more sauce, add in the ingredients proportionally.

NOTE: Dried mushrooms add so much depth and richness to this dish that I actually prefer them. You just need to be sure that when stir frying, you cook them until tender and keep adding a bit of water or chicken broth as the mushrooms tend to dry out.



Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

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