Saturday, March 10, 2012

Frozen Tofu and Fresh Spring Rolls.

Seeing as I am neither vegan or vegetarian, I feel my affinity for tofu is wholeheartedly genuine. I do feel my kitchen enthusiasm may be slipping a little however, since I recently read a book on making tofu, and I didn't once attempt to make it. Maybe it's because I'm really trying harder to spend more time outdoors, but I think it was also in part because we have a pretty amazing local company who make it fresh so I don't have to try. It's as tasty as it is affordable, and actually I don't like to overdo my soy consumption. I treat tofu like I do meat, eating it only occasionally and savoring it when I do.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a Thai cooking class taught by my friend Nell. Admittedly, I have never cooked much in the Far Eastern realm. I tend to stick closer to my Eastern European and Mexican roots maybe, but I love being so inspired not only to learn more about the culture of the Far East, but also to attempt some foodstuffs that may or may not be an educated, Americanized version of their spicy fresh flavors.

One thing we made at the class were fresh spring rolls - such an easy task that I couldn't believe I'd never done it actually. Sitting around a communal table that evening, the vegetarian girls next to me asked if I'd ever frozen a block of tofu before baking it, and I had to admit I'd never done that either. I suspected it would be an efficient way of draining out the excess moisture prior to searing it up in the oven, and I couldn't really wait too long to try it out. I promptly bought a block of tofu, brought it home, and popped it into the freezer.

frozen defrosted tofu
Simple Soyman. Frozen, defrosted.

A week in a frozen state, I took the tofu out yesterday to defrost, curious if the texture would taste as spongy as it looked. It did, but really in a great way. I should maybe back up and preface this by saying that I'm not a person easily put off by the texture of foods. I don't know of much that I've tried and disliked due to texture - except for the odd piece of raw fish that has been cut wrong rendering it chewy and nearly (in my eyes) inedible.

When the block was fully defrosted, I sliced it into 4 fat slices and gently pressed out at much extra water as I could. Then, I let it sop up a marinade - which it did in no time - exactly like a sponge should. After cooked, it was still vaguely sponge-like, but flavorful, and keeping it's nice, toothsome texture even overnight. It's definitely a trick I'll use again.


The heat of the oven did give it an accomplished sear. I based the tofu marinade, and the whole recipe really, on a favorite Moosewood recipe that uses both baked tofu and pineapple with other Thai flavors like cilantro and peanut. I was nearly out of shoyu though, and the marinade was a bit skimpy, but fortunately the spongy tofu absorbed every last drop of it.


As I was throwing the cubes of tofu in a bowl with some fresh pineapple (which has been a staple around here lately since they've been so tasty), I still had no idea that this tofu would become a spring roll. After a late lunch today and a day filled with plenty of sunshine and warming temps outside, I guess Spring was on my mind. One little spring roll was plenty for a light supper, but I do look forward to rolling a few more for lunch tomorrow.

tofu, pineapple, cilantro

The idea of the original Moosewood recipe is to top a green salad with the marinated and baked tofu, fresh (or canned) pineapple, a vinegary dressing, and plenty of peanuts, carrots and bean sprouts. Instead, I tossed the tofu with pineapple, cilantro, shredded carrots and a touch of oil. Then I made Nell's peanut sauce, improvising with what I had in the pantry. I daresay that I'd serve these to my chef friend, and be quite proud of them!

You can certainly use fresh tofu that has been weighted and pressed for a half hour to remove moisture instead of freezing it first. The texture will be different, maybe preferable to you.

Spicy Tofu Pineapple Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce (inspired by Moosewood Daily Special and Nell Benton)

For the tofu: freeze one block (about a pound) of fresh (not silken) tofu. A day or many days later, defrost (under refrigeration) and cut into 4 equal slices. Press out any extra liquid and set aside to make the marinade.

Tofu Marinade (eyeball everything into the pan you will use to bake in)
  • 1/4 c. shoyu (or similar soy sauce) (I used about 2 T. with good result)
  • 2 T. rice vinegar
  • 1 T. veg oil
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • 2 t. fresh grated ginger
  • a chile pepper, minced (or dried red chile flakes to taste and home canned candied jalapeno juice like I used)

Preheat oven to 400. Turn the tofu over a few times to fully coat it in the marinade, it will soak it all up if you have first frozen the block. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the first side is seared and toasty looking, then flip and bake about 20 minutes longer until the other side matches. (When the tofu cooks, mix up the peanut sauce - see below.) Cool slightly, cut into cubes, and place in a bowl.

To the tofu bowl, add about as much pineapple as you have tofu, or less if you like things less sweet. Add one or two shredded carrots, some cilantro to taste and maybe some more chile flake. Use right away or refrigerate for later use.

To make the spring rolls, soak spring roll wrappers one at a time (I got this kind, locally, at a much better price...) in cool water for a minute to soften. Put it on a plate, add the filling, sprinkle with roasted peanuts, and fold and roll up kind of as you would a burrito. Serve immediately with peanut sauce.

Peanut Sauce (again, this is eyeballed)

  • 1/2 c. coconut milk (I used some of the thickened coconut "butter" that sometimes forms when you make homemade, it made it nicely creamy)
  • 2 T. peanut butter
  • 1 T. red curry spice (I used dried, Nell recommends Masaman curry paste)
  • 1 T. fish sauce
  • lime juice
  • 1 T. sugar (I just got some jaggery, and used it)

Heat all ingredients gently in a small saucepan, taking care not to bring to a boil. Taste to adjust seasonings.

spring roll

I think with all of this talk about tofu, I may just end up trying to make my own yet. It doesn't really seem all that complicated, and I just need some soybeans after all... though I can't promise I would put any of my homemade stuff into the freezer.

My final thoughts on frozen tofu? Use it as a preservation method if you have a block that is close to expiring or if you are going to cook or bake it into something that has a lot of flavor. But if you are a texturally challenged eater, you may not be too enthused. As for these spring rolls, I love them, and will without a doubt be making them again.

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