Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Maple-Lemon Tofu

This could also be called “Maple-Lemon Tofu with a little side of funky.” Or MORE Tofu, as in “I wish there were more tofu.” It is our new favorite tofu recipe, which is saying a lot, since we have a number of excellent tofu recipes up our sleeves around here.

Those are the first spring chives from our garden! They were one inch long, and I picked two of them.
Tofu is one of the few things we all love equally. I know that’s a weird thing to say from just about every angle: first of all, loving tofu is kind of like loving a sea sponge or loving Styrofoam. And second of all: Really? Doesn’t our whole family eat just about everything? And the short answer to that is no. In fact, we are in an odd phase of becoming more, rather than less, difficult to feed. Birdy has become a serious vegetarian, and by “serious” I mean that she won’t even eat bacon anymore, which is the dietary equivalent of wearing a soy yarmulke. Luckily, however, she would still prefer bread and cheese to just about any complicated something you might think to serve her, so she is not a difficult person to feed. Even though she claims to not like soup. (WTF?)

Birdy, waiting for her friends to arrive. Sigh. Stay gold, Ponyboy.
Meanwhile, Ben, who has always passionately loathed watermelon and raw tomatoes, has started also to dislike shrimp, arugula, beets, sesame seeds, and all egg dishes, such as quiche, that are not simply the eggs themselves. Unless the eggs are hardboiled, in which case he would sooner gulp from a pool of stagnating muck than eat them. Then there’s Michael, who won’t eat goat cheese, cottage cheese, polenta, winter squash, avocado, tropical fruits, walnuts, olives or anything that smells like it ever thought about olives. Me, I won’t eat overripe bananas or undercooked eggplant, and I don’t love white pepper.

On the one hand, that is, cumulatively, a lot of different foods to avoid. On the other hand, everybody in the family has a positive outlook about food, and so I don’t get a claustrophobic feeling trying to squeeze dinner into everyone. Picky eating is, I think, a state of mind. If you have a good attitude and an adventurous spirit, I don’t really care what you do and don’t eat. Especially since we all love beans and rice, and bread and cheese, and salad, and most fruits and veggies—and those are our main food groups. Along with tofu, which is where I’ve been headed all along here.

Tofu has the added advantage of being nice and cheap.
This recipe makes tofu with a custardy inside and a golden, crusty outside that’s thickly glazed with sweet-and-sour saltiness. Do you know Bragg’s Liquid Aminos? I know. It just gives you a vague ninth-grade biology feeling, the word “aminos.” I don’t understand what the point of them is, and I don’t know if they’re made by the Dr. Bronner soap people, and that’s why the bottle is covered in crazy talking. But it tastes funkily delicious: like vegemite crossed with soy sauce and distilled through the umami machine. It appears to contain both essential and NON-essential amino acids (look out!) and, let’s be frank, is mostly salt. It makes everything taste like the dry-sautéed string beans you might get at a Chinese restaurant, in a good way. 
It looks like we were doing shots.
For scale.
Meanwhile, you already know about maple syrup, which is sweet, and lemon, which is sour, and garlic, which is garlicky. Altogether, it’s one of the stickiest, crunchiest, yummiest tofu dishes you’ll ever have the pleasure of eating. Report back, okay?

Maple-Lemon Tofu
Serves 4 (but double the recipe if you want to forestall complaining)

A version of this recipe circulates online as Matthew’s Delicious Tofu, and it has ginger in it and less lemon. I like it better the way I make it. It is one of the very few dishes in which I use lemon juice but not the zest. I’m not really going for the lemon flavor as much as the tartness—in fact, you could use rice vinegar instead, if it’s what you’ve got.

1 block firm or extra-firm tofu
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, very finely minced or put through a garlic press
1/8 cup maple syrup
1/8 cup Bragg liquid aminos (or soy sauce)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Finely snipped chives or scallions, for garnish

If you have time, wrap the tofu in a clean dish towel and put something heavy on it, such as a large can, then leave it to drain for a half an hour or an hour or so (I did this while the rice was cooking.)

Slice the tofu into 12 skinny slices, then cut those in half so that you end up with 24 skinny half slices. Now multiply that by the square root of kill me and you’ll have exactly π.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Lay the tofu in the pan in a single layer and leave it undisturbed for 5 or 6 or even 7 minutes. By this point it should be golden and crisp on the bottom (it won’t get very dark, but it will look nice and appetizing). Flip all the pieces and cook for another 4 or 5 minutes, then lower the heat to medium-low, add the garlic, and move it around with a spatula for a minute. You’ll have to kind of fry the garlic in the spaces between the tofu.

Now add the maple syrup, Braggs, and lemon juice to the pan, and shake the pan to make sure that all the tofu gets coated with the sauce. Cook for a minute or so, then flip all the pieces and cook for another minute or so, until the sauce is reduced to a syrupy glaze and all the tofu looks nicely coated. Arrange the tofu on a platter, top with the chives or scallions, and serve.

Weighting the tofu.
Cutting the tofu.
Frying the tofu.
Admiring the tofu.
We ate it with brown rice and a spinach salad. Yum.
Birdy likes to eat with a single stubby chopstick that she carved herself. She uses it like a cross between a fork and a harpoon.


  1. That firm or extra firm tofu in the ingredients reminded me of a long-ago post wherein a certain undergarment was bought and the sales assistant used the word "contour". Love reading, hate cooking, n love all the posts and comments here

  2. I think you are going to lift me out of my tofu rut, my friend. xo

  3. I am oddly relieved to read all the things that your family doesn't like. So relieved I just might try this tofu thing...

    (I think a robot could have figured out the word I had to type more easily than I)

  4. For merely this you are the absolute greatest: 1) soy yarmulke, 2) the bottle covered with crazy talking.

    1. ladidah1:37 AM

      also, the caption "for scale"!

    2. Anonymous4:47 PM

      Thank you for helping me not miss that capiton. Awsome.

    3. bottle covered with crazy talking. yes. loved that.

  5. Agh, why IS the aminos bottle covered with so much to read? I normally love to read boxes and bottles, but I have to draw the line at Bragg's aminos and Dr. Bronner's soap. I get overwhelmed.
    So far my family likes tofu, but my son is so picky I dare not serve it too much lest he discover it belongs on the yucky list. I also was relieved to see what your family doesn't consume. My list, like yours, is short but covers a much larger range: meat.
    Thanks for continuing to share.

  6. I make your "Soy-glazed" tofu regularly around here, and this sounds like a nice variation on it. If "liquid aminos" don't prove to be too pricey, this will go into rotation! Also, Catherine, I made your pop-overs tonight, to go with some Trader Joe's carrot ginger soup. And. OH!! Why have I not made those before? Why am I not making them every single day? I was so excited I had to link to it on Facebook!

  7. Froilyn- Philippines1:23 AM

    Ha, ha! I love your formula for pi!

  8. ladidah1:36 AM

    i kind of worship you for figuring out how to TYPE pi! liquid aminos looks and sounds like some kind of 19th century snake oil tonic!! i can't express how pleasing it is that most of your list of inedible foods not supposed to be eaten...one overripe and one undercooked.

  9. Stacey1:57 AM

    I have followed and loved you since way back at BabyCenter, and I just gotta say, that Birdy has the prettiest lips I think I've ever seen. :)

  10. Erin K.2:50 AM

    made this tofu tonight - it was awesome! This may have replaced my other favorite tofu recipe - also yours - the citrus-soy glazed one.

  11. Oh Catherine, it's Pi day, 3-14. You even mention pi in your post! But no pie recipe? I give you permission to gorge on pie and weird circle themed crafts all day long. Today we are having quiche for breakfast (Joe's Os for the non-quiche eaters), banana cream pie and shepherd's pie for dinner, a recipe my daughter invented for lunch - tropical pie? - and steak for dinner. Because it's also SBJ day, you know, the anti-Valentine's day for the guys...

    Happy celebrating ALL of the holidays today...

  12. So, it turns out your husband and my husband have almost the same food dislike list. I find the goat cheese/olive/avocado thing most distressing, because, well, that's a salad for me! My eldest would also forgo meat if she could, but won't eat beans other than edamame, or vegetables other than cucs, sometimes green beans/peas/carrots, but not ever touching one another. Should would have a cheese sandwich every night, but instead we have epic fights and it's horrible. I'm just curious if we are actually expected to feed them for like 10 more years?!?

  13. alison9:23 AM

    Bragg’s Liquid Aminos is our favorite condiment, we put it on everything from Rice to broccoli to cheese sticks to popcorn. I was so excited to see it in your recipe! IMO it doesn’t even compare to soy sauce. Also, Braggs with rice vinegar is my FAVORITE salad dressing.

  14. Anonymous10:48 AM

    Here's another Happy Pi Day comment. We are having an office pot-luck lunch. Lots of pie and other circles or spheres.

  15. Robin1:30 PM

    Today at the college where I work, you can get a free piece of pie if you wear something with the pi symbol or the numbers on it. (Homemade signs are acceptable.) But I'm an English teacher, so I forgot.

  16. Deirdre2:13 PM

    "She uses it like a cross between a fork and a harpoon." SO FUNNY! I imagine her doing it vigorously like Tom Hanks in Cast Away except it’s tofu right in front of her! Don't love tofu but love you and thank you for all the laughs.

  17. Ryann Cheung3:38 PM

    Lost it over "Stay gold Ponyboy, stay gold" And also the Dr. Bronner/crazy talking bottle comment - was just looking at the soap bottle the morning and how I always feel too guilty to actually waste the water to stand and read it. (nevermindthaticouldtakeitoutoftheshowertodoso)
    surprisingly hard for me to type w/out using the spacebar!

  18. alison12:12 PM

    Made it last night and it was fantastic. I used firm tofu and only got 16 slices. The sauce was awesome! Next time i'll probably use less oil though.

  19. Loved the dislike list! My daughter is Birdy's age, and has been a vegetarian since she was 3. (In a very carniverous household!) However she is a picky vegie eater as well, so it limits what she will eat, noodles every night is not on my menu! I will definitely try this, we do meat as a side dish to every meal now so those who like can add it in.

  20. First time my ENTIRE family ate all their tofu. There are six of us and my oldest son calls it unaffectionately "topoo". This recipe was great and there was even a bit of arguing over the last few pieces.

  21. libramom10087:48 PM

    So relieved that your family has food dislikes, as I have always blamed myself and my lackluster attitude about cooking for mine. Now I can cross that off of my guilt list! Hooray, and thanks!

  22. Anonymous3:45 PM

    Hi Catherinem great post! I'm trying it right away, even though I'll need to substitute some ingredients for the ones I can by here. We call tofu "ricotta", I wasn't sure it was the same, thanks again for the pictures!! Nice and cheap, my kids love it (even the baby), and is an excellet protein source. Love, really love, your blog.

    Many regars from the far, far, southern country (also called Uruguay ;))


  23. Whilst I greatly appreciate your attempt to make your adventurous foodie family sound as picky and unpredictable as mine, I don't think showing a smallish child willingly tucking into tofu, brown rice and spinach salad is really GETTING the concept of "picky". Seriously, there's not one aspect of this recipe (which I think I might like, but am not sure) that my younger daughter would even allow on her plate...
    You've clearly done something right (my daughter would eat junk food (which I never serve, except pizza sometimes), white pasta-no-sauce-no-butter-no-cheese and bread only. No vegetables, no soup, no fruit, only select types of meat (chicken, ham, that's about it).
    Thanks for the recipe, though. You never know, I might be able to try this sometime, even if I have no idea where to get most of the ingredients here in France!

  24. Anonymous11:20 AM

    I made this last night and here I am, wishing I had more tofu to make it again today. I found it kind of hilarious that my kids (who eat mostly vegetarian) insisting on calling it "yummy chicken".

  25. WE loved your old soy-glazed tofu, and I'm going to try this one too, although weirdly my 7-year-old prefers tofu plain, right outta the box. I served it to him that way as a baby, and he never stopped loving just big handfuls of it, which he will eat until all of it is gone. But me? Well, I'll eat it plain 'cause I like bland food, but your recipes make it much more delicious!

  26. Something tells me I need to put "The Outsiders" in my Netflix queue.

  27. Anonymous9:27 PM

    Just made this tonight and oh! you weren't whistling 'Dixie' regarding the delicousness of it. Per your suggestion, I made a double recipe and the 5 of us (one of whom is 2, one 7 and one 9) gobbled up every one of the 48 lovely pieces. I will second the comment about needing less oil; even halving the amount, I was all besplattered when I was done cooking. My only question: where did you find a non-stick pan big enough to hold it all? I used three pans to cook my double recipe, and even still, there were some pieces I couldn't fit in. We are definitely adding this to the rotation (but next time I will wear an apron.) :) Thank you!!

  28. Anonymous2:48 PM

    Hi, ¿do you think that honey would be a good substitute of maple syrup? I can't by that here. Thank you!!


  29. Anonymous2:49 PM

    Sorry, I can't buy syrup ;)je, je


  30. I second the comment by Anonymous, basically in its entirety. My family of 5 (kids 9, 6, 3) adored this. They made me bring the pan to the table after we finished the tofu so we could scrape every possible bit of the sauce onto our rice. And these same children completely rejected the last very similar tofu recipe of Catherine's (weirdos). We only had one block of tofu, which I cut into 24 pieces--it just fit in my 13" skillet. Next time I'll double the recipe if I can figure out how to cook it. Has anyone tried it on a non-non-stick pan? Any tips for avoiding splattering your whole kitchen and self with hot oil when cooking it? I feel like I must have been doing something wrong there. I wonder if less oil will cause the tofu to stick to the pan. It was absolutely delicious and I also plan to try cooking salmon and chicken in this sauce.

  31. Anonymous9:27 AM

    OMG- my tofu hating children loved this!!! Thanks!

  32. Anonymous2:33 PM

    This reads like a joke caption but I love that it is simple reporting: "Birdy likes to eat with a single stubby chopstick that she carved herself."

  33. Hi Catherine! I just made this with your Cold Noodle Bowl recipe (it was 90 degrees here in Phoenix today!). The tofu was a bit overpowered by the dressing, but while putting away the leftovers I enjoyed the tofu all by itself and it was so so good. Thanks for another keeper!

  34. I think Michael's list of disliked foods is basically my list of favorite foods (except the tropical fruits, which I am mildly allergic to)! My husband and I will eat pretty much anything, although like you, I dislike overripe bananas and undercooked eggplant. My son, on the other hand... I will have to try this. Thanks for another wonderful recipe; my recipe box pretty much overflows with Catherine Newman recipes.

  35. Very yummy! My husband and I devoured it, but sadly our children wouldn't touch it. :( How did you get your children to love all these good things?

  36. My 8-year-old declared that this tofu tastes like bacon. There is no higher praise!

  37. Catherine, I made this tonight and it was so good! Had to use soy sauce instead of the liquid aminos (it was $9 for a small bottle, yikes), but I may spring for the aminos next time since I will be making this a lot from now on. We are tofu lovers here and it's nice to have a super easy, yummy recipe that uses ingredients I always have. Oh and I can't stand white pepper either, which most people find really odd. Can't do goat cheese either, it tastes like goats. Then again, I think beets taste like dirt but I like them anyway. Guess I'm just weird!

  38. Anonymous5:04 AM

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