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10 Ways to Cook Tofu With Global Flavors

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Tofu, again? Yes, definitely! Tofu is one of the most versatile foods. It can be used in soups, salads, entrees and sides, and eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. Tofu can be baked, broiled, stir-fried, scrambled, and stewed. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could ever get bored with eating tofu but sometimes it happens. That’s when it’s time to take a trip around the world and experience tofu with a variety of ethnic flavor profiles. Tofu takes on the flavors that it is cooked with, so changing up the spices, herbs and flavors can let us enjoy a different cuisine every time. Of course, one of the keys to making great tofu dishes is to treat the tofu right. Check out 7 Tips to Make the Perfect Tofu Dish, 6 Tips that Will Make You Love Tofu, and Tofu: How to Avoid 5 Common Cooking Mistakes for some quick tofu tutorials. You don’t need a passport and you don’t need to pack anything for this trip around the globe. Just sit back and enjoy it.

1. British

When I think of British cuisine, the first thing that comes to mind is fish and chips. I always loved the flaky fish that was fried in beer batter and the side of fries that I would dunk in tartar sauce. I make a vegan version of fish and chips with tempeh, but it can certainly be made with tofu. For another version of the classic dish, try this Vegan Fish and Chips (a Cleaned Up British Classic). Also make this Bad Ass Vegan Fish Sandwich and these Crispy Tofu Nuggets for more battered and fried tofu dishes.

2. Chinese

Tofu is perfect for so many Chinese dishes. It soaks up all the salty, spicy and savory flavors of tamari, hoisin sauce, garlic, ginger and chiles. If you ever liked the Chinese dish of orange chicken, you will love my Orange Tofu. Press and drain a block of extra-firm tofu and cut it into cubes. In a large bowl or container, prepare a marinade of 1 Tbs. olive or sesame oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, 3 sliced scallions, 1-inch fresh grated ginger, ¼ cup tamari, ¼ cup orange juice, 3 Tbs. brown rice vinegar, 2 Tbs. lemon juice, 1/3 cup brown sugar and a pinch of red pepper flakes. In a separate mug or bowl, mix 1 Tbs. arrowroot and 2 tsp. water together until smooth. This is a slurry. Add the slurry to the marinade and mix well to incorporate. Add the tofu cubes to the marinade and let sit for at least 20 minutes. Heat 2 Tbs. vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the cubes from the marinade and pat them dry. Arrange the cubes in the skillet in a single layer and cook until browned and crisp on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Serve the orange tofu over brown rice.

Other Chinese tofu dishes to try include General Tso’s Tofu, Sesame Tofu, Kung Pao Tofu, Pan-Fried Tofu with Ginger, Spinach and Mushrooms, Spring Rolls with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce, Vegetable Fried Rice with Tofu, Asian Chili Tofu, and Sesame Tofu with Broccoli Salad. For cooking tips, read How to Make Your Own Chinese Dishes at Home.

3. Indian

Indian food is filled with warm, fragrant spices that can turn a plain block of tofu into an exotic dish. My Indian Tofu and Eggplant in Coconut Sauce is a delicious dish that is easy to make. Cut a pressed and drained block of extra-firm tofu into cubes. Toss the tofu cubes in 1 Tbs. garam masala. Heat 2 Tbs. of oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook the tofu cubes until browned and crisp on all sides, about 7 minutes and set aside. Add another 2 Tbs. oil to the saucepan and saute 1 large chopped onion for 5 minutes or until softened. Add 1 Tbs. minced ginger, 4 cloves minced garlic, 1 Tbs. mustard seeds, 2 Tbs. curry powder, 1 tsp. chile powder 1 tsp. ground turmeric to the pan. Stir well so that the onion is fully coated in the spices. Let cook 2 minutes until fragrant. Add 2 large chopped carrots and 1 small eggplant cut into cubes and toss to coat in the spices. Cook for 4 minutes until the eggplant softens. Add 2 large chopped tomatoes, 1 cup canned coconut milk, and ¼ cup water. Stir to combine. Add the tofu back to the pan and toss so everything is covered in sauce. Add salt to taste. Cover the pan and let cook on medium heat for 10 – 15 minutes or until the carrots are tender. If the sauce cooks down too much, add more water. After the carrots are tender, add 3 cups fresh spinach to the pan. Cover and let cook until the spinach is wilted. Add 2 Tbs. fresh chopped cilantro the pan and stir to combine. Serve over rice.

For more Indian tofu dishes, try Tandoori Tofu Tikka, Curry with Tofu and Grilled Vegetables, Tofu “Paneer” Bhurji, Healthy Tofu Tikka Masala, Tandoori Tofu, Indian Saag Dip, Tofu Pakoras and Kari Laksa: Spicy Coconut Curry with Fried Tofu, Green Beans and Bean Sprouts. For cooking tips, read How to Make Your Own Indian Food at Home.

4. Italian 

I grew up eating Italian food all the time, and it thrills me that I can make vegan versions of all my favorite dishes. Tofu helps me do that by taking the place of meat and/or seafood, indulgently prepared with the Italian flavors garlic, tomatoes, oregano and basil. One of my most special recipes is my Tofu Piccata. It has crispy pan-fried slices of tofu topped with a sauce of white wine, lemon, garlic and capers. To make it: cut a block of extra-firm tofu that has been pressed and drained into 8 slices. I do this by cutting the block in half width-wise, then cutting each half-block into 4 thin rectangular slices. Put ¼ cup of flour on a plate. Season it with salt and pepper. Coat both sides of the tofu slices with the flour. Heat 1 Tbs. vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pan-fry the tofu slices until they are browned and a bit crisp on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the tofu to a warm platter and set aside. Add ¼ cup white wine to the pan (it is safer to take the pan off the heat when you do this) and then add 3 cloves minced garlic. Cook until the garlic is slightly browned and the wine is mostly evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth, 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice and 1 Tbs. capers to the pan. Return the tofu to the pan and let the slices cook in the liquid for about a minute on each side. This will allow them to soak in the flavor of the liquid. Then transfer the tofu back to the warm platter. Add 2 Tbs. vegan butter and 6 or 7 lemon slices to the pan to complete the sauce. When the butter melts, pour the sauce over the tofu. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and more lemon slices. Serve over pasta or with any side dish. When I do make this with pasta, I double the sauce so there is enough to toss the pasta in.

Other Italian tofu dishes include Spinach Tofu Gnudi Balls, Spicy Balsamic Tofu Kabobs, Tofu “Shrimp” Scampi, Gluten-Free Vegan Lasagna and Ooey-Gooey Baked Ziti.

5. Jamaican 

A cuisine that makes me extremely happy is Jamaican food. I love the hot spices, the rice and peas and all the layers of flavor. Caribbean food, Creole food, and Rastafarian food are all favorites of mine. Jerk food is very spicy but I figured out a way to make a simple version of it that most palates can handle. To make my Jerk Tofu: make the marinade by combining ¼ cup tamari, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup lime juice, 2 Tbs. vegan Worcestershire sauce, 2 tsp. hot sauce, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 minced chile pepper, 1-inch grated ginger, 3 Tbs. brown sugar, 2 tsp. ground allspice, 2 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. onion powder, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, ½ tsp. ground nutmeg, ½ tsp. cayenne pepper and ¼ tsp. ground cloves. Mix it all well and add 1 block of extra-firm tofu that has been pressed, drained and cut into cubes. Let marinate for at least 15-20 minutes. Heat 2 Tbs. coconut oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Remove the tofu cubes from the marinade and pat dry. Add the tofu to the skillet and toss to coat in the oil. Cook the tofu and flip the cubes every few minutes. You want the cubes are slightly crisp and heated through, about 20 minutes. Add 2 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley and serve while hot.

6. Japanese 

The flavors of Japanese food are light and delicate, with umami adding flavor and depth. Tofu can take on the flavors of Japanese cooking, which include miso, sake, soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin or sweet rice wine, ginger, sesame seed oil, sesame seeds and wasabi. Begin your meal with this Udon Noodle Soup that has deep-fried tofu. Learn How to Make California and Teriyaki Tofu Sushi for tasty fun and eating. Enjoy Asian Baked Tofu, Seared Tamari and Maple Tofu and this Miso Roasted Pumpkin and Grilled Tofu over Udon Noodles.

7. Mexican/Latin/Spanish 

This is my favorite type of food. I have a special fondness for anything spicy, and if I had to choose my one favorite spice, it would be cumin. To me, cumin is the spice that makes food smell Spanish. One day I had an urge for a stewed chicken dish my mother used to make. I knew that I had to make a vegan version of it with tofu and I also gave it a Spanish twist. The result was my Arroz con Tofu Guisado or Rice with Stewed Tofu. Cut 2 blocks of extra-firm tofu that has been pressed and drained into cubes. In a deep bowl, combine the ingredients for the marinade: 2 tsp. each garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin, dried oregano, brown sugar and kosher salt, 1 tsp. black pepper, ½ cup water and the juice of one lemon. There should be enough liquid to completely coat all the tofu. If there isn’t, add more water. Let the tofu sit in the marinade for at least 30 minutes. Warning: you will reserve the marinade after removing the tofu. After the 30 minutes, heat a Dutch oven or a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbs. of oil and let it get hot. Add 2 tsp. brown sugar and stir it into the oil with a spatula. Before the oil can get too hot and burn, add some of the tofu cubes to the pot. Cook the tofu in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pot. Cook until the tofu is browned, about 4-5 minutes, then turn the pieces and cook until the cubes are browned on all sides. Remove the browned tofu cubes to a plate and continue to cook the remaining tofu cubes, adding more oil as needed. When all the tofu is browned and crispy, set it aside.

Add 1 diced onion to the pot and toss to coat in the browned oil. Let the onion cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add 3 stalks of diced celery and 3 diced carrots and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add 2 Tbs. alcaparrado (green olives), 6 minced garlic cloves and 1 tsp. dried oregano and mix all the vegetables together. Add 8 oz. tomato sauce to the pot, followed by 2 Tbs. of chopped parsley or cilantro and 2 fresh bay leaves. Add in the reserved marinade. With a wooden spoon, scrape all the yummy, caramelized bits off the bottom of the pot. Stir everything together and cook for another 3-4 minutes until the liquid reduces a bit. Return the tofu to the pot and add 2 cups water or broth. The tofu should be covered with liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring the sauce to a boil, then partially cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the sauce is to your desired consistency. Taste for seasoning adjustments. Serve with rice and garnish with more chopped parsley or cilantro.

For other dishes with a Spanish flair, try this Grilled Tofu and Squash with Easy Chimmichurri Sauce and Couscous, Chile-Rubbed Tofu with Onions over Spanish Rice, and Mexican-Spiced Tofu Scramble . Get more ideas by reading How to Cook Veggies Mexican Style.

8. North African/Moroccan 

Casablanca. Bogey and Bacall. Amazing Moroccan food. The flavors of North African cuisine are warm and spicy with ginger, sweet paprika, hot paprika, cumin, cinnamon, saffron, turmeric, cayenne, mint and harissa. My Delicious Casbah Tofu with Yellow Rice has warm spices, sweet carrots and raisins, salty green olives and tart lemon that all come together to make an incredible dish. My Moroccan Tofu in Lemon-Olive Sauce over Spaghetti is a dish I make often. The slightly spicy tofu is cooked in a tart and salty sauce and served over pasta. Yum!

9. Thai 

My love for Thai food developed just recently, but I have already had fun coming up with lots of vegan Thai dishes including ones with tofu. The most popular and well-known Thai dish is pad thai, something often made by street food vendors. This vegan version of Street Pad Thai is authentic and delicious. Tofu and eggplant are a marriage made in heaven and here, this Stir-Fried Thai Basil with Tofu and Eggplant is no exception. These Thai Tofu Vegetable Wraps are filled with baked tofu strips, crisp fresh vegetables, and a creamy, zesty sauce these wraps make a yummy lunch or a light supper. Many Thai dishes use fish sauce but you can make a vegan version without the fish. Read How to Make Vegan “Fish” Sauce to see how.

10. Other Cuisines

Tofu makes an appearance in many other cuisines and they deserved to be mentioned. Take a trip to Ireland and savor this Shepherd’s Pot Pie with Tofu.  Visit France for these Eggs Benny and Flo – Vegan Benedict Meets Eggs Florentine. This Vegan “Liverwurst is a German treat and this Vegan Vietnamese Tofu Banh Mi Sandwich is an incredible Asian dish.

If tofu had a passport, it would have lots of stamps inside from all these different countries and cuisines. What country and cuisine will inspire your next tofu dish? Tell us in the comments.

Image Source: Asian Baked Tofu



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