Barbecue Tofu — Giving Stir-Fried Tofu an American Bite

barbeque tofu

Nothing sadder than a vegan at a barbeque, unless somebody there knows how to cook. Photo of someone else’s recipe by jeffgun at Flickr. CC 2.0 License.

(I’m going through old posts, updating and redoing the ads, boring stuff on a winter’s day. But! I feel I should add to this that if you want real tofu, you make it yourself from good, fresh beans. It’s an art. This Yamako tofu press is a clue to that. First you get good dried soybeans, if you soak them overnight and split one into halves, the halves should be flat and little bubbles should be coming up in the water over the beans. Ground fresh soybeans give you soy milk and okara, okara is the fiber left behind when you press the ground beans. From that wonderfully bland soy milk, so bland that when you sip it there is a blast of negative flavor in your mouth, you make soy curds, using seawater or vinegar or the stuff you soak your feet in (epsom salts) depending on what flavor you wish to impart to the tofu. Seawater is best, feet come in last. Then press and drain the curds in a real tofu press, with burlap or cheesecloth as a wrap to keep in the curds. There’s so much more flavor in this tofu than in what you buy in the store. Almost forgot the best part, you can delay the tofu process and make yuba, the dried delicious film that forms on the top of the warm soy milk. You can make soup from the curds and whey. You can wash dishes with the whey, or use it for furniture polish, or just drink it. You can make delicious fiber-filled breads and even doughnuts with the okara. It’s a wonderful, nourishing versatile food. Plus, it take almost all day.)

Vegans need something for those times when they crave a sticky, savory component to a summer meal, especially when attending barbecues with meat-eating friends and family. Thanks to free-thinking experimental chef Jimmy Two Hats, now veggie enthusiasts won’t have to merely look on as others stuff their bellies.

Because of the ingredients involved, and if you hope to keep the meat separate from the tofu, you may want to prepare the dish ahead of time and bring your BBQ goodness along to the party.

The BBQ tofu recipe is not only vegan, it can be made gluten-free if you use wheat-free soy sauce. If you cannot locate a wheat-free soy sauce, a bouillon cube can be used as a substitute for the soy sauce component.

Essential appliance for
making your own tofu:
a really good stockpot.

Ingredients for the Main Dish

  • Tofu
  • Garlic
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1/2 lime
  • Corn oil

Ingredients for Sauce

      • Tomato paste
      • Mirin
      • Dark molasses
      • Soy sauce or veggie bouillon
      • Thai curry
      • Oregano
      • Basil

Combine mirin, tomato paste, soy sauce (or bouillon) and dark molasses first. Take a half-cup measure, and fill it about a third full of mirin. Add one big tablespoon of molasses. Put in a cube of veggie bouillon (or if it’s jar-type, one big teaspoon) or add the equivalent amount of soy sauce. Fill the half-cup the rest of the way with tomato paste. Transfer to a bowl, stir well and sample the flavor*. Add 1/8 teaspoon each of dried basil and dried oregano. Add 1/2 teaspoon of curry paste. Stir well. These are estimated measurements based on creating half a cup of sauce. Cooks can fine-tune to suit individual taste, and the amounts can be multiplied to create a larger batch.

A good tofu press but made
to press water out of
finished tofu. Not for
making tofu.

*Tasting the sauce before you add the remainder of the ingredients is a vital step, as you can tell if it’s too sweet or too salty and make an adjustment. The sauce will be pretty stout, but the tofu mellows it out. If you do not use soy sauce, you might want to cut back on tomato paste or add mirin. The mirin boils away after you simmer the sauce with the tofu, but it leaves a sweet flavor behind.

Drain and slice the tofu. Add corn oil to a hot frying pan, and sear the tofu until it browns on at least two sides. Add a little chopped onion and garlic to the pan with the tofu. Squeeze half a lime over the top of the contents after the onion and garlic have cooked about one minute. Once the onions turn clear and the garlic appears soft and cooked, add the sauce. Toss everything to coat the tofu; heat until the ingredients start to caramelize.

For a sauce more like the consistency of a spaghetti sauce, substitute tomato sauce for tomato paste. The tomato paste-based sauce has a more tart flavor and produces a thicker, more traditional sticky BBQ sauce.

Jimmy’s Notes:

For a couple of years in the 70’s I lived extremely cheaply, surviving mostly on rice, alfalfa sprouts and tofu. I made my own tofu from beans I bought at the House of Rice in Seattle’s University district. I got to know tofu very well and found it a fascinating food. I’m still surprised that many westerners haven’t learned to cook with it. The main thing to know about tofu is that it’s overwhelmingly powerful, in a bland way. The Chinese cooking system I learned used five flavors, although I don’t limit my cooking to that. Seems like when I do it works out better, though. The five primary flavors are: Spice, Salt, Sweet, Sour and Bland. Bland is the tofu. If something is shockingly overspiced, just add some tofu to it and it settles down. But, eat tofu by itself and it’ll knock you on your keester with bland. The only genuine flavor comes from the ingredient used to curdle the soy milk, so different types of tofu taste slightly different according to whether they were made with epsom salts, vinegar, or nigari. Many commercial brands use epsom salts, and adding a dash of vinegar as you finish cooking the tofu gives the tofu some welcome tartness and flavor. This recipe has plenty of flavors and should taste pretty stout when you sample the sauce by itself. Added to the tofu, it’s a nicely balanced recipe. On a sandwich, you’ll find it regretful.

“Always make a point of tasting them before sending to table, for if not sufficiently salted they are very insipid.” Bowdich, Mrs. (2009-10-04). New Vegetarian Dishes (Kindle Locations 67-68). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

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