Cooking with tofu

I was in the grocery store the other day, shopping while hungry once again, and came across a little jar of Thai peanut sauce and a slightly bigger jar of tikka masala. So, in a fit of ambition, I bought both. (I say ambition because I almost never cook anything more complicated than spaghetti at home.)

(Terminology note: I realize that in the phrase “chicken tikka masala,” the word “tikka” modifies “chicken.” But I'm nonetheless going to call the sauce “tikka masala” for lack of a better way to describe it.)

I've been thinking and talking about vegetarianism and related topics this past year, more so than usual; there's a bunch of stuff I want to blog about that at some point, but this is not the entry for it. Suffice it to say that I decided that it was time to try making some stuff at home using tofu.

I got one tub of Wildwood super-firm tofu, and one package of Wildwood baked tofu with Thai flavorings. Last time I bought one of those tubs of tofu, it sat in my fridge for six or eight months, and then I saw that it was past its expiration date and threw it out. I eat tofu in restaurants regularly, but I've almost never done anything with it at home. (I also almost never buy or eat meat at home.) So this time I decided the only way it was going to work was if I used the tofu as soon as possible.

(Side note: I also picked up a package of imitation cheese, which I'd been wondering about for a long time. It turns out to have approximately the texture of American cheese, which I can't stand, so I think this is not the imitation cheese product for me.)

That first night, I sliced up some Thai baked tofu and put peanut sauce on it and heated it a bit. It wasn't bad. The peanut sauce was tasty, the tofu okay but nothing special.

The next night, I cubed the plain tofu and sauteed it for a while (in butter, figuring that might add some flavor), then added the tikka masala and simmered it for a while (following the directions on the jar). It came out okay, but the sauce didn't really taste much like the tikka masala that I've had at restaurants. This version was sweeter and less buttery, I think.

I might try it again with a better tikka masala. But I'm not sure tofu is the right thing to put in it. A while back, Kam and I tried ordering a vegetable tikka masala at an Indian place we liked (now, alas, gone); the sauce was tasty as always, but the vegetables didn't really work in it for us. It's not like I actually like the flavor of chicken all that much; but when I'm used to a dish consisting of chicken in a sauce, apparently I have a hard time being satisfied with substituting other stuff. I'm vaguely contemplating trying Quorn tikka masala (maybe starting with their Chik'n Cutlets?), or chopped-up-veggie-burger tikka masala, but I'm dubious about those too. And I dislike tempeh and am not a fan of seitan. Maybe chickpea tikka masala? Or lentil tikka masala? Or pasta tikka masala?

Or I suppose I could just skip adding stuff to the tikka masala and pour it directly onto bread. Naan tikka masala!

4 Responses to “Cooking with tofu”

  1. maryanne.mohanraj

    Even if you’re going to use a jarred sauce, at the very least, you need to prepare your tofu properly. Which means press it, marinate it, and then cube and saute it. Only then can you simmer it in the sauce with any hope of success — the texture is just going to be completely off otherwise. See here:

  2. fran.altvater

    I would say that you can pretty easily also doctor the sauce itself–a little tomato puree, a little paprika, and a little pepper would certainly diminish the sweetness without altering texture.


    You might also want to try freezing the plain tofu. Freezing (then thawing before you cook with it) changes the texture and makes it more “chewy”. I often try seitan in recipes where I’m looking for a vegetarian substitute for chicken.

  4. Jed

    Thanks, all!

    Fran: I think the sauce was actually a little too tomatoey, and fairly spicy. (I tasted it both before and after the simmering.) I could try messing with it to make it more like what I was expecting, but to me it didn’t taste much at all like what I was expecting, so I think that neither my sense of taste nor my cooking skills are up to the task. . . . I’ve encountered this at some restaurants, too—chicken tikka masala that tastes totally different from the sauce I’m used to. So it may just be a different recipe.

    Mary Anne and Miriah: Huh, I had no idea. Thanks for the info!

    In this particular case, I’m not sure that textural changes would’ve helped—what I ended up with seemed relatively close to tofu I’ve had in restaurants. But I’ll bear it in mind for the future. (But the idea of making a marinade seems scarily advanced to me.)


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