Caramelized Tofu

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Tofu. You knew this was coming right? Since I’m living in China and all? Guys, don’t judge. It costs me 20 cents to feed three people their protein for a meal and we can get this down at our market. We generally freeze our meat when Juan brings them home from Carrefour, so in the end, our tofu option has saved me on countless weeknights when I realize at 7 pm that Juan and I both forgot to unthaw something in the freezer.
And, I’ll try to keep the tofu thing short, but in my opinion, the first step in being able to like tofu is to stop calling it a meat substitute. If you use the word meat and then slice into a big block of tofu, you’ll already be backing away in disgust as you cut into the first soft, very un- meat-like slice. In fact, the funny thing is that one of the most famous dishes known to man is Mala Tofu…and in its original spicy deliciousness, the tofu is paired with small bits of pork or some other meat that is definitely NOT plant-based.
Actually, since we’ve been here, almost any time we’ve had tofu it has been accompanied by meat. So, most of the time it’s not actually a substitute at all, but a compliment that is important to the outcome of the final product that ends up on your plate.
And tofu is actually pretty good for you; it’s low fat, low cal, cheap (if anything is cheap anymore), and full of protein, calcium and iron. All good things my friends. All good things.

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Plus it’s always a good idea to have at least one vegetarian friendly meal in your back pocket. If your original tofu recipe has meat in it, you might be able to take it out and still get a tasty vegetarian treat. Trust me, vegetarians usually get a plate of bland pasta or four cheese pizza shoved in front of them while others are feasting on foie gras and bacon wrapped dates and such. I bet most vegetarian guests would knock over their host(ess) with joy if given something that was both tasty and made of something a little different.
I fell in love with this recipe. It’s got the very things that line the back of my stovetop burners, is ready in about 20 minutes and can be served alone with rice, steamed veggies, or a warm whole-grain salad of some sorts (I am perfecting the one you can see in the pics).
I actually kind of wish I’d doubled this recipe…we could have eaten more, or at the very least had some for dinner, but that’s okay. Since it’s such a cinch to make, I’m sure I’ll be reacquainted with this beauty before the week is through.

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So to set the stage, cut the tofu into thin squares – precision: you want them a little thinner than a fluffy pancake, not so thin you won’t be able to move it from the cutting board to the pan – and then you fry it until the water evaporates, and the outer skin is golden brown and crispy to the touch. The pièce de résistance is a really simple sauce that includes brown sugar and ginger that caramelize the tofu and stick to it so that while you are eating, you get little explosions of fresh zippiness.
This dish is definitely sweet and salty. It is definitely crispy. In fact, it’s a little like Chinese takeout but not overpowering, and made fresh to order-no soggy reheat here!
This recipe was adapted (slightly) from Savoring Spoon. What a wonderful, innovative idea! Thanks!

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Caramelized Ginger Tofu
Cuisine: Vegetarian
  • 14 oz. block medium/firm tofu
  • 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 ½ piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying
  1. Thinly slice your tofu into rectangles, about the size of a fluffy pancake. This is a little thicker than what your fried tofu slices will be. You should be able to pick it up with the blade of a wide knife and transfer it to a frying pan without breakage. Then, cut the rectangles in half.
  2. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a small bowl.
  3. Heat a frying pan and 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil.
  4. Heat the tofu slices for about 7 minutes on medium heat. In this time you should shake the pan every now and then to make sure the slices don’t stick. Turn one over and see if it is golden brown all over. Then flip your tofu. I did this piece by piece, working quickly. Do the same thing to the other side. Once both sides look the same and your tofu has shrunk slightly in size, it’s time for you to add your sauce. Move the tofu slices to one side of the pan and add the sauce. Lower the heat.
  5. Coat each piece in sauce and let the pieces cook until most of the sauce has evaporated, before the garlic and ginger have time to burn. Your goal is caramelization…
  6. Remove from the pan and serve with whatever side dish you’d like to accompany your crispy, crunchy, pan-fried tofu.


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  1. psharma3 says

    Thank you for your comments about being vegetarian. As a vegetarian, I whole-heartedly agree. Tofu/soy protein should never be meat substitutes. It needs to take good in itself not trying to be something else.

    • sircserreb says

      I used to be vegetarian and I always felt frustrated at that kind of reasoning. It actually took me awhile to like tofu, but I think that, like a lot of ingredients, you just have to know how to use it.

  2. Mom says

    I remember one of your first tries at tofu; on the grill! Poor joe! Lol! I actually don’t mind it in hot and sour soup. Don’t know if I’d want a hunk of it though;). Hmmm!

    • sircserreb says

      Like I said in the post, the biggest mistake people make with tofu is calling it a meat replacement. I definitely did not know how to prepare it back then. This was sweet and salty, and chewy not watery. I think it would be a good recipe to introduce people to tofu. The other world renowned tofu dish is mapo tofu-and that has bits of meat in it:p
      Hey, remember my peanut butter hummus because you guys didn’t want to splurge on sesame paste? That is my all-time least favorite vegetarian moment!


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