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September 2011


All content © 2007-2011 Jama Rattigan. Please do not reproduce in any form without permission. All rights reserved.


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toying with tofu


Do you tofu?

Last week, there was a "Hell's Kitchen"/Gordon Ramsay segment on "American Idol," where the five finalists were asked to make an omelet. Gordon deemed Lauren's the best, with Jacob's in second place. In the final face-off between Lauren and Jacob, they were blindfolded and asked to identify three different foods: steak, tofu and hot dogs. When it came to the tofu, both Lauren and Jacob gagged. 

I'm guessing the texture is what turned them off, because tofu by itself is basically bland. I wonder how I would react if I hadn't grown up with it, seen it floating in steamy bowls of miso soup, stir fried in dozens of dishes, pan fried with a spicy chili sauce, pulverized in fruit smoothies, baked into cheesecakes and pies, tossed into salads, or simply sliced into little cubes and dipped in a shoyu dressing. Tofu is a given in Hawai'i, a staple of Asian cuisine, an unassertive player who is happy to absorb the flavors of other ingredients. There are few foods so versatile and nutritious. Still, when all is said and done, it comes down to taste.

This being Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and all, I thought it the perfect time to tout the terrificness of tofu with a couple of cool recipes. Both are from my half-sister Sylvia, former caterer and uber talented chef to the stars. If you suffer from tofu phobia, hopefully one of these dishes will win you over. Enjoy!

(4 servings as part of a Chinese meal)

4 cups chicken broth
3 slices fresh ginger
1/4 lb. beef, minced
1 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp pepper
pinch sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 pkg. medium firm tofu, cut into 1/2" cubes
1-1/2 T cornstarch
1 bunch cilantro, washed and coarsely chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 tsp pepper
salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring broth and ginger to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine beef, cornstarch, sugar and soy in a small bowl. Let marinade until broth is ready.

Carefully drop minced beef into broth, breaking up any lumps. Add tofu. Turn heat up and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, combine 1-1/2 T cornstarch with 1/3 cup water. Add to soup, stir well and bring to a boil until soup is thick. Just before serving, add cilantro and green onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste.



1 block firm, organic tofu, cut into good sized cubes
7 or 8 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked overnight, or a similar amount of fresh ones, cut into halves
Broccoli that has been trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces


3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
a small finger of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced


1/3 cup bottled oyster sauce
1/4 cup rice wine (not vinegar)
1/3 cup sesame oil
4-5 T sugar (should be sweet, so add more if needed)

To cook:

Heat cooking oil in wok or frying pan. Brown the tofu cubes and set aside.

Stir fry the broccoli until crisp tender, set aside.

If you need to add a little more oil to the pan, do so, and sizzle the garlic and ginger. Add the mushrooms, if dry, cook until tender and juicy (keep splashing a little broth or water in the pan if it dries out).

Add broccoli and cover and coat all with the sauce. If it is thick, thin a little with broth or water. If you need more sauce, add in the ingredients proportionally.

NOTE: Dried mushrooms add so much depth and richness to this dish that I actually prefer them. You just need to be sure that when stir frying, you cook them until tender and keep adding a bit of water or chicken broth as the mushrooms tend to dry out.


Click here for another Sylvia recipe: Bay Scallops with Lemon Sauce.

"Real Cat Thoughts" by Deborah Leigh/flickr

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan's alphabet soup. All rights reserved.




tanita says:

The gagging is just so... it's like it's a food that's a big joke, and whether that comes with its own racism (I say yes, oh, yes) I dunno, but too many people have a knee-jerk reaction to cast up their accounts when faced with it, which makes no sense. I guess texture-wise, the other two items that the contestants ate had to be cooked - you're asking for trouble if you're going around making people eat stake raw (sans tartare seasonings) or hotdog (call 911!), but it was fair game not to do anything to the tofu?


Anyway. Enough of me trying to find a conspiracy theory here - thanks for the recipes. I love tofu, and wished we'd had more time to cook together, so we could have gotten to that. NEXT TIME.

Re: tanita says:

You do have a point -- hadn't thought about the raw vs. cooked thing. Gordon *did* have a smirk on his face when feeding them the tofu -- like he was expecting them to be grossed out. That the other foods, steak and hot dogs, were so "all American" and tofu represented "ethnic," a kind of joke -- this was probably not a good thing.

Sometimes I do come across people with the knee-jerk reaction of which you speak. I'd never associated it with any degree of racism, but more to a lack of exposure. If you grew up with it, you don't think twice about it. I can see how it would seem very "foreign" and yucky to some.

Sure, I wish they would be more open-minded about the whole thing, but there you have it. It's their right, but also their loss.
Yeay! More recipes and I love tofu!
Thanks as always.
Hope you enjoy them. Let me know how they turn out! :)
I think the firmness of the tofu makes a big difference. I only like firm tofu, preferably stir-fried or in a soup similar to the one here. M didn't like tofu until he tried it those two ways.
Firm tofu is preferable for stir frying, etc., while the soft/silken variety is best for baking, smoothies, etc. Which reminds me, I need to make a tofu pie soon. . .


Cute robot! I like tofu a lot and I've tried to get my family to enjoy it, but without much success. One of my kids and my husband will eat small amounts of it. I'm sure they would like it fine in smoothies.
Have you ever tried silken tofu in pies or cheesecake? I'm guessing your family might like it that way too. But smoothies are good.


Three cheers for tofu! Love all the great visuals here. :0)
Robyn, tofu-eating vegetarian since 1988
Yay, another tofu lover! :)
It's all about the texture of tofu for me, Jama. I just can't do it. Ugh. Maybe if it was in tiny tiny pieces and lathered in sweet and sour sauce or teriayki sauce but even then, I just don't think I could manage enough of it to ever get full. :)