The Kitchn’s Cooking School
Lesson 8: Tofu and Tempeh
I almost skipped the tofu and tempeh lesson. I’ve never had tempeh, but I was still curious about cooking tofu, despite it not being my favorite ingredient. I’ve had tofu plenty of times in my life. I even tried to cook tofu once in France because I wanted to keep a vegetarian kitchen. I don’t remember what I did with it, but obviously it was not disastrous or delicious enough to have seared itself into my brain.
I only like tofu when it’s smothered in a sauce with strong flavors or has been cooked in an “unhealthy” way. I don’t mind deep-fried tofu with some sweet-and-spicy dipping sauce topped with crushed peanuts, for example. I love silken tofu drowned in chili Sichuan sauce. That kind of dish is even better when you have minced meat in it. I grew up eating gang jeud taohu moo sab (tofu and minced pork soup), which is mild in flavor. When I was seriously considering skipping this lesson because none of the recipes interested me, I came to a realization that the West likes to treat tofu only as a healthy ingredient or meat substitute.
OK, I’m not being entirely fair. The recipes in this lesson are intended for vegetarians. None of them sound bland or gross. I even considered making tofu chickpea stir-fry with tahini sauce because I love both chickpeas and tahini. But as a non-vegetarian who loves chicken pot pie, I see no need to make vegan tofu and vegetable pot pie. I love vegetarian soup, curry, and stew, but my preferred non-meat protein in a curry, for example, is paneer.
But tofu doesn’t only have to be in vegetarian or “healthy” dishes. It can be just another protein, another texture, and another flavor in a recipe. It can exist alongside meat in a dish, too. So if you want to cook with it, don’t lock it up in the health-food cage. God knows the sad pale slab needs some character.
So here’s a recipe for taohu pad prik songkreung (literally, tofu stir-fry in chili sauce) from Voice TV’s Thai-language Cozy Cooking show. The word “songkreung” means to decorate or dress something with sauce or topping. The recipe may be a stir-fry, but it has a consistency of a thick sauce. In the video, the chef only gives us the ingredients, not their amounts, and shows us how to make the dish. So the recipe below is from my own measurements. This was my first time making the recipe, and I tasted as I went along. It came out well, although I’ll mention along the way what I might do differently in the future.
Tofu and Pork Stir-fry in Chili Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
1 Tbsp canola oil
2 cloves garlic
340 grams [0.75 lb.] minced pork
1 Tbsp chili paste (nahmprik pao) [This paste is one of my favorite chili pastes. It’s a little bit hot, a little bit sweet, with a hint of sourness. You can use it as a dip. Just squeeze in some lime juice, if you want a little more tartness, and eat it with khao kriab goong, or shrimp-flavored rice crackers]
2 Tbsp soy sauce
4 tsp fermented soybean paste (taojiao) [In Thailand, there’s organic fermented soybean paste now. The Lumlum brand is American-, Thai-, and Japanese-certified organic. It’s triple the price of the regular kind but still affordable at 69 baht a jar, if you don’t use it that often.]
280 grams [0.62 lb.) silken tofu, cut into medium-sized cubes
1/2 Tbsp tapioca starch
Thai chili powder
1 large scallion, finely chopped
1. Heat oil in the pan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, stir in some garlic.
2. When the garlic begins to release its aroma (don’t wait for it to brown), add the pork to the pan and sprinkle it with salt. If you see the pork getting too dry, pour in some water.
3. When the pork is almost done, stir the chili paste into the pork. Pour in a bit more water.
4. Add soy sauce and fermented soybean paste. Mix well before adding some more water. [Adjust the amounts of soy sauce and fermented soybean paste as you cook as the recipe requires you to keep adding water. The amounts listed above are the final measurements of the two ingredients. Next time, I might try using only 3 teaspoons fermented soybean paste and 3 or 2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce intead.]
5. Add the tofu and coat it with the sauce. Careful of breaking the tofu as it’s very delicate. The chef in the video suggests you gently toss the pan to cover the tofu with the sauce, but I used my spatula very gently, and it was fine.
6. Add the tapioca starch and mix well.
7. Lower the heat and add any amount of chili powder.
8. If it’s too dry, add some more water and let it reduce until you get the desired consistency. If it’s too watery, cook it a little longer. Again, you want it to be like a thick sauce.
9. Before you take it out of the pan, stir in the chopped scallion, but don’t let it cook too much. You can also save some for garnish. Serve warm with rice.