Friday, June 22, 2012

Variations: Salad with Baked Tofu

As I sit watching the thunderstorm, and changing my plans for the afternoon, I'll share the salad lunch I had today. (Well - I wish I could actually share the salad - it was delicious - but really,  I'll just tell you about it.)

Today was a blend of two lettuces - red leaf and Boston, washed ahead, as I discussed last week. Then I added chopped vegetables - scallions and radishes, carrots, and kohlrabi. You didn't know you could put kohlrabi in a salad? Neither did I, until a year or so ago... It has to be young and tender, and you do need to peel it - the top layers are tough and stringy. But it is nice and crunchy, and tastes good - and it a little more variety.

Then I added cooked chicken - and cooked tofu, the real subject of this post. In theory, one can just cube tofu and drop it in, but I prefer it firmer, and with some flavor added - and this is a good way to do that.

I take a block of firm tofu, and cut it in slices. Then I wrap them in a clean cotton dishtowel - you can use paper towels, but I think the fabric works better. The package sits on the edge of the drainboard for a while, while I get other things ready - this just dries the tofu off, and removes a bit of the moisture.

Then I need some kind of flavorful liquid - I've used plain vinegar, or a vinaigrette salad dressing. I've used lemon juice. I sometimes add herbs or other seasoning. Soy sauce, rice vinegar, and a few drops of sesame oil give an Asian-inspired flavor. You can use broth, though I don't usually do that for a  salad. (No good reason not to - just doesn't sound enticing to me.) Use whatever sounds good to you.

If I am using the oven for something else, I slice the tofu in smaller pieces, and put them in a baking dish. I add the liquid and slosh it around a bit to make sure it is on every surface. I don't usually use enough to cover the tofu - that takes much longer to cook away -  perhaps half a cup or less. If I'm doing this, I may go ahead and use two blocks - just as easy, and I'll use it for something... Pop it into the oven, and bake until the liquid is evaporated/absorbed and the tofu is a bit golden. Timing will vary depending on temperature. It's nice to turn the pieces part way through - which I may or may not get around to doing. If there is just a little liquid left when I'm finished cooking the other dish, I may just turn off the oven and leave it a while - but make sure you don't forget it!

I'm not going to heat the oven just for this in the summer, though. If I'm not using it, I just put the slabs of tofu in a non-reactive frying pan, add the liquid to come about halfway up the side,  and simmer until it is absorbed. I do turn this part way through (one reason I do not cut it in little pieces before cooking... though you can.) Right now, I'm using a good quality non-stick, and I just let the liquid cook away completely. With a stainless steel pan, I'd take it off the heat just before it dries completely, and let it sit, so the tofu will release from the pan.

See - you don't need to pay a fortune for baked tofu in the store! This is nice and firm, with a good flavor. You can go ahead and use it for all kinds of things - in a salad, tossed into a vegetable saute, dropped in some broth... I like to have it on hand, for a fast, easy protein to add to a meal.

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