Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fried Tofu Sticks

Having established that soy protein is a good option to replace some of the higher fat proteins we tend to eat, it seemed only right that I offer you a tofu recipe right away, yeah? How about some fried tofu?

In the past, when someone said ‘tofu’ we’d automatically think of pale, gelatinous cubes scattered among our otherwise innocent salad greens. It wasn’t all that appetizing to many. The texture was squishy and the flavor was largely non-existent. Fortunately, tofu has become more mainstream and we are more accustomed to seeing it in stir fry and casseroles. Still, for lots of people, tofu’s rubbery texture is off-putting and doesn’t really inspire us to try it in new and different ways.

Alton Brown of the Food Network did a great show on tofu and I wish I could remember all his clever tricks and recipes. However, I can recommend his cookbooks as being entertaining and informative. I do remember that he talked about marinating the tofu to give it flavor before frying it or using it in other recipes. It’s a smart idea and one I’ve used here. Here’s how it goes:

You’ll need:
· Extra firm tofu – The grocery store near me carries Mori-Nu tofu in shelf-stable packages of 12.3 oz each but whichever brand and package size you find will be fine.
· 1 C orange juice
· ¼ - ½ cup rice wine – seasoned or not, your choice
· 1 tsp each – garlic powder, onion powder, celery seed, celery salt
· 12” skillet – non-stick is not necessary
· Oil – you can choose whatever type you like best – enough to be about ¼” deep in your skillet
· All-purpose flour – about 1 C for dredging
· Salt and pepper to taste

To make the marinade, mix together the orange juice, vinegar, garlic, onion, celery seed and celery salt in a container with a tight-fitting lid. It is best if this is wider than it is tall since it makes it easier to get the tofu in and out and maximizes its contact with your marinade.

Drain the tofu and slice it into strips that are about ½ inch thick. Carefully place the strips into your container of marinade. Cover it tightly and place it in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Longer is better and I try to leave it in at least six hours. You could prepare this in the morning before going to work and it would be just right for cooking when you get home in the evening.

When you are ready to cook, heat your oil (I used canola for this since I wanted to really taste the orange) in the skillet on medium to medium-high heat. While the oil is heating, lightly dredge the tofu strips in the flour that you’ve seasoned with the salt and pepper. A regular dinner plate works very well for this. Since the tofu is soft and rather fragile, I suggest you get right in there with your fingers to do the dredging.

Carefully place the strips into the hot oil, a few at a time. Cook until the strips are golden brown, flipping them with a fork. Again, the tofu is a bit fragile so tongs are sort of overkill here. When they are browned on all sides, remove to a plate covered with paper towels to drain and cool. I like these served with honey for dipping.

These strips are best eaten warm since the crisp coating won’t really stay crisp once it is cooled. However, if you don’t mind that, refrigerate the leftovers and have them on a salad for lunch the next day.

Ready for some variations? The marinade is VERY adaptable. Change out the juice, the vinegar and spices for any other flavors you like. You can even use a ready-made vinaigrette dressing. If fruit juice is too sweet for your taste, use more vinegar, a bit of water and some soy or teriyaki sauce. If you do that, consider a sweet and sour sauce for dipping. Try lemon juice, vinegar, garlic and oregano in your marinade and serve Italian dressing for dipping. How about lime juice, vinegar and cilantro and then serve with salsa? Let your imagination go! If you’d like a crisper coating, you can make a batter and deep fry your strips.

The tofu will take on a lovely flavor and though it remains soft, the crisp exterior is a nice contrast. It makes a fun finger food for kids and a funky new appetizer before dinner. Try combinations of flavors that will compliment your dinner courses.

So, now that you know how to serve up a protein-rich soy snack, let’s go eat that!

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