Tofu is having a moment and we’re not going to stop it! But we are going to toot our horn to shamelessly remind everyone that Chinese tofu has been on menus since long before diets had keywords or online trending statistics.
What is tofu, anyway?
Tofu is technically soy milk, and otherwise known as (soy) bean curd. Tofu is a famed alternative for vegetarians and vegan. It’s made by coagulating soy milk. As the milk hardens, the clusters and curds and pressed in solid white blocks that we know as tofu. Tofu pieces are not all the same, but they’re generally soft and silky. But don’t be surprised to find a firm or textured tofu block; the soy milk product can be prepared in a number of ways.
Tofu is from China
Tofu comes from Han China and has been consumed as a regular part of the Chinese diet for over 2,000 years. Today, tofu is still found plentifully on menus and in a wide range of dishes.
Tofu itself has modest flavor, so it easily lends in meat-substitute quality to a range of dishes both savory and sweet. Tofu has a sponge-like consistency that helps it absorb any desired flavors, which is why it is so diversely used and often offered as a meat substitute.
As mentioned earlier, tofu can be prepared in a variety of likings and styles. The common consistencies are silken, soft, firm and extra firm. The style of tofu you prepare depends on its intended dish (for example, soft tofu in soup) and your personal preference.
Tofu styles and dishes
- Silken tofu: dips, pudding, smoothies
- Soft tofu: soup and casseroles
- Firm to extra-firm: stir-frys and grilling
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular tofu Chinese food dishes and their recipes.
4 Tofu Recipes Chinese Style
Before you dive head-first into traditional Chinese or Asian Fusion recipes, take a swift look at some of the most common dishes. This will help round out your idea of tofu’s robust flavor potential and help achieve the exact culinary mood you’re striving after.
- Spicy Black Pepper Tofu – always a crowd-pleaser with its bright colors, ashy spice, and big sensory kick.
- Kung Pao Tofu – this spicy Chinese cuisine makes eaters ravenous over its peanuts, veggies and substituted tofu for chicken. Adding chili is the all-time spicy tolerance challenge and an addition that will pack all the Kung Pao flavors with extra punch.
- Chinese Braised Tofu and Veggie Stir Fry – prepare to change your world with this deep-fried tofu dish. Really, deep frying tofu is a game-changer, and you’ll likely never again have guests questioning your preference for plant-based proteins.
- Instant Pot General Tso’s Tofu. You can never go wrong with General Tso’s! The combination of sweet and sour mix to match whatever flavor palette you’re feeling. Instant Pot is so easy to make and even easier to enjoy as a group. Try basing this dish off plants and substituting a meat or fish option with tangy tofu.
Chinese tofu recipes
Now for the recipes that we’ve selected to share! They’re super simple. Follow the directions, add spice where your taste buds suggest and plate each dish with love and whole-hearted presentation.
Remember, traditional Chinese food is about much more than flavor and ingredient composition; it’s about bringing family and friends around the table to celebrate good health together.
Spicy Black Pepper Tofu
- Cook time: 25 minutes
- Canola oil (or oil of choice)
- Firm tofu packed in water, cut into 3/4 inch (1 package, 12.3 oz.)
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 6 small shallots, sliced thinly
- 1 fresh red chili, thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed or thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp freshly ground ginger
- 3.5 tbsp soy sauce
- 1-2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp blackening spice
- 5-6 green onions (cut into 1 1/4 inch pieces)
- 1/2 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1/2 tbsp dried thyme
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- 1/2 tbsp black pepper (freshly ground)
- Combine spice ingredient in an airtight jar
- Toss tofu cubes with cornstarch in large bowl
- Heat thin layer of oil in a wok over medium heat
- Fry half tofu (unless wok is big enough for all) (6-8 min, to golden brown); stir frequently
- Place tofu on paper towel while finishing second half
- Remove ingredient remnants from wok, add 2 tbsp oil
- Add shallots, ginger, garlic and chili; cook for 5 minutes (or until soft)
- Add maple syrup
- Add tofu to sauce; warm
- Serve in deep bowl
- Sprinkle green onions
- Cook time: 10 minutes
- Extra-firm tofu (16 oz.)
- 1 cup water
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
- 1/8 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/8 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/8 cup Sherry wine
- 2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 cups chopped broccoli, blanched
- 4 cups cooked long-grain white rice
- Mix soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar in bowl. Add cornmeal. Stir.
- Dice tofu (medium) and add to the bowl along with the marinade. Stir well then let sit for 30 minutes.
- In separate bowl, mix rice vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin, sesame oil and sugar. Add 2 tbsp cornstarch and beat. Set aside. Amounts: rice vinegar: 2 tbsp, soy sauce: 1 tbsp, hoisin: 1 tbsp, sesame oil: 1 tbsp, sugar: 1 tbsp
- Cube-cut zucchini. Cut mushrooms and carrot. Chop onion, celery and garlic.
- Heat wok and add 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- Fry vegetables and ginger over high heat (4-5 minutes). Stir frequently. Add sauce to wok. Add peanuts. Stir and cook (2 minutes).
- Serve on top of rice or vegetables
- Garnish tofu with chopped green onions
Recipes with tofu make great alternatives for vegan and vegetarian eaters.
Tofu is a protein-packed alternative for those eating a plant-based diet. Tofu’s absorbent quality helps the soybean product pass of as any flavorful meat you can enjoy: sausage, chicken, fish; tofu will do the job.
If you’re serving hot pot deep-fried or extra-firm, tofu is an easy ingredient to include to keep veggie eaters full and satisfied.
Is tofu healthy?
Over the years, tofu has experienced a turbulent reputation. The soybean product has a range of health benefits, from improving kidney function to lowering bad cholesterol and decreasing chances of cardiovascular disease.
Like everything, soy products are best consumed in moderation. In particular, some studies on tofu ingredients (isoflavones) show negative effects on estrogen and health. As you prepare your tofu, be mindful of overconsumption and select product with minimal processing.
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