I’ve never really been Team Tofu — I tolerate it at best and eat it knowing that it’s vaguely good for me, but I’d rather enjoy edamame, the young tender soy beans, right out of the pod. But in an attempt to get my family to enjoy more meatless meals, I decided to delve into creating a delicious tofu dish; their only request was “big flavor.” Challenge accepted!
The key to crisping up tofu is to make sure to remove as much moisture as possible. Even the most firm tofu carries extra water weight. Most of the time needed for this recipe is for draining and pressing the tofu. But from there, it’s a simple toss with spices and cornstarch (you can use arrowroot or potato starch or rice flour), which helps with the crisping. As to the heat level, you can modify using your favorite pastes or sauce. Garlicky, chili crunch pairs perfectly with tofu. I’m currently addicted to the Sichuan chili crisp from Fly by Jing and Momofuku’s chili crunch.
While the tofu is crisping up in the oven, cook some rice or noodles and chop up some vegetables and maybe do a quick pickle of cucumbers or carrots. What to do with all this crispy spicy tofu? Eat like hot fries dipped in a sauce. Top soups, noodles, or rice bowls. Pile onto bread with pickled veg for a vegan banh mi sandwich. Make lettuce cups or fold into an omelet, maybe even add as a pizza topping. The final verdict from hubby and teenager? “Seconds please and when can you make this again?”
Crispy spicy tofu
Makes 3 to 4 servings
1 (14 to-16-ounce) package extra-firm tofu, preferably organic
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar, cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chili crisp, garlic-chili crunch, harissa, gochujang, or Sriracha
1 to 2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon hot Madras curry powder (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar or honey (optional)
1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot powder (or rice flour or potato starch)
Garnishes: thinly-sliced green onion; sesame oil
Serving suggestions: cooked buckwheat noodles; cooked rice; pickled vegetables; roasted vegetables; bok choy or cabbage; roasted seaweed; kimchi or sauerkraut
Drain tofu and slice into three slabs. This is an important step: Place several layers of paper towel or a clean kitchen towel on kitchen counter. Add tofu in a single layer, side by side. Add another few layers of paper or kitchen towels. Place a cutting board on top of the towels and place a few heavy cans or a heavy skillet to press and drain the tofu, at least 30 minutes. Remove towels and slice each slab of tofu into bite-sized cubes (or triangles).
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk together soy sauce, vinegar, chili crisp/hot sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds. And, if using, add curry powder and sugar. Use dry paper towels or a kitchen towel and pat dry the tofu pieces once more. Add tofu and gently turn in the sauce to coat all sides. I use a silicone spatula, as it’s gentle enough to not break the tofu. Sprinkle over tofu 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch (or rice flour, potato starch, or arrowroot) and mix well to coat tofu all over. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch and toss just to incorporate. Note: If you added more sauce/liquid, add up to one more teaspoon of cornstarch to absorb most of the liquid.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick mat. Add the tofu to the baking sheet and arrange pieces so they are not touching. Bake tofu, stirring/turning tofu pieces over every 10 minutes to ensure even crisping, for 30 to 35 minutes, until crispy and golden. Remove pan from oven and allow tofu to sit a few minutes to continue crisping. Garnish, if desired, with green onion and sesame oil. See serving suggestions above.