How do you make tofu taste good?
The eternal question posed to vegans everywhere. Some people might say that tofu is an acquired taste, that it isn’t for everyone or that beans and legumes are more versatile and flavourful forms of plant-based protein.
And to those people I say: you’re sorely mistaken.
Okay, okay – I’m being dramatic (are you surprised?). Yes, tofu definitely doesn’t float everyone’s boat, but my guess is that if you’re not a fan of the ol’ coagulated bean curd then chances are you just haven’t had it prepared right just yet.
The best tofu, in my humble opinion, is firm in texture, bursting with flavour, delightfully crisp on the outside but satisfyingly juicy on the inside. There are a few tofu pro-tips I’ve picked up over the years which I hope will be of help to even the most novice of tofu explorers:
- Always opt for non-GMO and organic where you can
- Firm, extra firm, super firm, mega firm – the firmer the better! If you see soft or silken tofu bear in mind those are better used in sauces or desserts rather than stir-fries or curries
- Pressing and draining tofu for at least 15 minutes improves texture and marinade absorption significantly.
- Alternatively, if you have an air-fryer, cook your tofu for 5-7 minutes or so on 200 C without any seasoning (tossing once in between to keep things even). This trick is life changing for me – it dries the tofu up just enough to make it the perfect vessel for whatever marinade you have on hand.
- Always marinate your tofu in a shallow tupperware box – more surface area and easy tossing/flipping + storage during the week if you don’t want to cook all your tofu in one batch!
And on that note – on to today’s recipe. The Caucasian contestants on Top Chef and I have a common love for the humble za’atar spice blend. While ingredients will obviously vary depending on where your za’atar hails from, it typically consists of a mix of wild thyme, oregano, basil, sumac, salt and toasted sesame seeds. While I’m quite partial to sprinkling it on top of my vegan labneh open-faced toasts, I also adore using it to spice things like tofu, tempeh or even air-fried chickpeas.
- 1 block of extra firm tofu (organic and non-GMO is best)
- 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tsp maple syrup or other liquid sweetener
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 3 tbsp za'atar spice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1-2 tbsp water to mix
- Start by draining and pressing your tofu – wrap it in a clean cloth and place a heavy book on top for about 15 minutes. When done, slice your half block into 6 strips of medium thickness.
- Combine all marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Note that you want the marinade to be a thicker consistency rather than watery – so adjust liquid amounts accordingly.
- In a tupperware box, lay out the tofu strips and pour over a little marinade on each strip before layering more tofu and adding more marinade. Pour on any additional marinade left over and leave the tofu to rest for 30 minutes, flipping in between. For best results, I'd suggest marinating overnight.
- If baking, pre-heat your oven to 200 C. Bake tofu on a lined baking tray for 20-25 minutes flipping once in between.
- If using the air fryer, cook on 200 C for 10-12 minutes or until crispy.
- Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh wild thyme or more za'atar spice.
My preferred way to make this tofu is by using the airfryer hack mentioned earlier. Even if it means having to cook it in batches (depending on the size of your airfryer basket) the resulting texture is just incomparable. I mean, seriously – look.
Perfect bites as a side to a Middle Eastern spread with hummus, salad and a grain or lentil-based dish. Oh, and if za’atar isn’t your thing – might I recommend you check out my tofu halloumi recipe instead?
Until next time, friends.