My mom has taken a special interest in tofu. Or maybe I should say she has a suspicious curiosity. When we served it at our wedding earlier this year, our firm tofu steaks in massaman curry were one of the most talked about menu items. One of the guests who loved it, happens to be mom’s coworker, so she gets regular reminders of how much it was enjoyed. All of which has led us down a path where my mom has been asking about and buying tofu lately.

Americans in general have a weird relationship with tofu, if any at all. Just saying the name in some circles is to invoke ridicule, disgust, or stupor. How did an ingredient eaten in Asia for centuries become a decades old hippy plot to steal your guns and steak? While tofu has had been on a rough, unpaved road to the American diet, the introduction of soy as an ingredient in processed food is as pervasive as ever. What could go wrong?

Our homemade tofu.

As they do, big food has exploited the versatility of soybeans, using them in a myriad of processed foods and most commonly in livestock feed (but y’all aint allergic chicken though, right?). The backlash to allergies and other soy related issues is real, and there’s a palatable sentiment change towards soy products, even in veg and vegan circles. This is not just true for soy in obvious products like soy milk and miso. The impact is vast and may include products not known primarily for their soy content, like the impossible burger people are clamoring for, or quite possibly, your peanut butter. The tragedy of all of this, is that it’s happening before people on a mainstream level (in other words meat eating Americans) have really had a chance to be properly introduced to a product like tofu.

My mom may have had tofu once in the 90’s, but it wasn’t a fun experience. Memorable, but not fun. When you’re ready to introduce new ingredients to people, take particular care to cook and season them well, increasing the likelihood newcomers will try it again and again. That’s true for anything that isn’t laced with bacon bits or has sneaky dairy and other crap we love. I can say with great certainty that if you don’t season tofu well for my family, you won’t only be swiftly relieved of dinner cooking duties, our family will also be giving your food the side-eye for a probationary period of no less than 6 months. Just think, it’s been nearly 20 years since my mom first tried tofu.

So she asked me to cook it for her after the wedding hoopla, and waited for me to do some magic. Right off the bat, I began trying to curb the mysticism behind it. I’m no expert, but in Asia, we regularly make our own tofu. I’ve even found I’m allergic to commercial soy milk, but I the homemade version causes no issues.

Simply seared tofu, bubbling in coconut milk, and seasoned.

“Mom, you just need to sear it.”

“How will you know when it’s done?”

“It’s done when you say so. We could’ve eaten it straight out of the box, but we’re doing this to add some color and flavor.”

Time to make friends with this common asian ingredient!

Here’s a few photos from the seared tofu in massaman curry that I made with mom. We dropped the tofu and curry sauce over spaghetti noodles, and she was surprised how creamy the tofu became with no cheese added. Maybe it’s time for you too, to retry tofu, or share you favorite recipe with a friend! Happy cooking.

More Facts About Tofu:

Serious Eats Guide to the Types of Tofu – This is a great explanation, but a bit overkill in terms of tofu types. Make sure you know the difference between:

  • Block tofu – This is the most common and comes is varying levels of firmness.
  • Silken tofu – The soft creamy one that you can sub for dairy in baked goods or sauces.
  • Egg tofu – The mild yellow and slippery, jiggly one. Often sold in a tube.

Soy and Health (Harvard School of Public Health) – Controversial studies about soy’s effect on your health have also negatively impacted the reputation of soy products. Here’s a brief explanation and you can check this CNN timeline of our tumultuous history with soy.

Interested in learning to make your own tofu? Maybe you can join one of our classes next summer!