Our cookbook this week is the just-released Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook It at Home. Because if anyone can convince us to make tofu at home, it is Andrea Nguyen, the sort of tightly focused, thoughtful food writer who inspires you to explore a new subject (Vietnamese cuisine) in a firm yet encouraging, maternal sort of manner.
On her blog, the Santa Cruz-based author sums up how we felt after flipping through this fantastic tofu primer. "I started out thinking that I knew tofu but quickly realized that I had lots to learn," she recalls.
The book begins with a brief tofu history. L.A. is featured prominently on the modern end of that timeline, from that day in 1958 when Nguyen says Boys Market in L.A. became the first American supermarket to sell tofu to the L.A. Tofu Festival's debut in 1996 (it ran through 2007). But most of us are really just here for the tofu recipes, and Nguyen doesn't disappoint.
The first chapter is a tofu making tutorial, beginning with how to make soy milk and graduating into recipes for silken tofu, tofu pudding, block tofu, seasoned pressed tofu, tea-smoked pressed tofu, white fermented tofu, fresh tofu skin and soy-simmered fried tofu. You'll use them in the following chapters, or you can buy tofu, but making them yourself sounds like a lot more fun.
The next chapter, "Snacks and Starters," includes recipes for tofu skin sashimi, grilled crisp tofu pockets, and tofu "French fries" served with wasabi mayonnaise and spicy-sweet chile sauce, a recipe that Nguyen based on the tofu fries at the Santa Monica outpost of Musha. In the third chapter Nguyen covers a few soup and hot-pot recipes (tofu-tomato-dill soup; soy milk lees and kimchi hot pot), and in the fourth she moves on to main courses (bitter melon-pork-tofu stir fry, batter-fried tofu with chile soy sauce, simmered greens with fried tofu).
There's a chapter on salads and sides and one on mock meats, but not in that make-a-mockery imitation meat sort of way. And another dedicated to buns (spicy-sweet fried tofu buns), dumplings (tofu-pork-kimchi), crepes (spiced chickpea with soybean paneer), noodles (stir-fried Thai noodles) and rice (fried rice with fermented red tofu). For dessert? Sweet tofu pudding with ginger syrup, Okara (soy milk lees) doughnuts and cashew and cardamom fudge (recipe below).
If you're still reading this with the same "I must make that!" enthusiasm we felt as we flipped through Asian Tofu, then yes, this is a must-have book. No matter how you feel (Silken? Slimy?) about tofu.
Cashew and Cardamom Fudge [Soy Paneer Kaju Barfi]
From: Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen
Makes: 36 small pieces
Note: Per Nguyen, "Finely grating the tofu allows it to seamlessly merge with the other ingredients." You can find super-firm tofu at health food markets and specialty grocers. She also adds: "This fudge keeps well, covered, for up to five days in the refrigerator. You can freeze it for up to one month but it loses a touch of its oomph. I often eat the fudge as I cut it."
8 ounces super-firm tofu
3 1/2 ounces unsalted raw cashew pieces or whole nuts
1 [14-ounce] can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
11/2 tablespoons chopped raw pistachios
1. Line an 8-inch-square pan with parchment paper to cover the bottom and one side. Set aside.
2. Wipe the tofu dry, then finely shred it using the smallest hole on the grater. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Put the cashews in a small or full-size food processor and grind to a texture resembling breadcrumbs or fine cornmeal. Add to the grated tofu and toss to combine.
3. To cook the fudge mixture, use a medium pan, such as 2-quart saute
pan. It's easier to evenly cook the ingredients in that kind of shallow pan. Pour in the sweetened condensed milk. Add the tofu and cashew mixture. Over medium heat, stir the ingredients together. Cook the mixture for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally at the beginning as things heat up, then frequently and, eventually, constantly. Prevent scorching by scraping the bottom and sides as you stir. The mixture should not boil but just thicken at a moderate speed. The mixture will transform into a rough mass resembling very thick, rough oatmeal. When stirring results in the mixture pulling away from the sides or slightly lifting off the bottom of the pan, it's done.
4. Remove from the heat and stir in the cardamom, then transfer the fudge to the lined baking pan. Spread it out evenly, then pat it flat. Sprinkle on the pistachio nuts and gently press into the mixture. Set aside to completely cool. Because this fudge is on the soft side, cover and chill for a few hours or overnight to make it easier to cut; if you're in a hurry, freeze until cold, about 15 minutes. The resting time also develops flavor.
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5. Use the parchment paper on the side of the pan to help you remove the fudge. Place it on a cutting board and cut it into 36 small squares for bite-size portions. Or, aim for 16 to 20 large ones. Take liberties with shapes: Triangles are easy to achieve, and diamonds are lovely and traditional. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
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