Quick tip: Using tofu in bento-friendly recipes
Tofu is a great protein, especially useful for vegan or vegetarian, but also useful for lightening up meat based recipes. I use tofu in a number of recipes here, but I thought it would be useful to address how to deal with tofu when you're using it for bento recipes.
Types of tofu
If you go to an Asian/Chinese or Japanese store, you might be confused by the variety of tofus on sale. For bentos you will want to stick to either the fried tofus and tofu products, which have a light brown exterior, or firm, extra firm or momen (momen means cotton) tofus. Tofus that are labeled silken, soft or hiyayakko, have far too much moisture content, and are suited for soups and for eating as-is with condiments. (Also see: Looking at tofu.)
While fried tofu is lower in moisture content and can be used as-is, when you are using plain tofu for further cooking, you often need to drain off some of the moisture from it. This is particularly important when tofu is being used as a base for burgers and 'meatballs', such as in the green vegan burgers or tuna tofu miso burgers. Simply draining off the water the tofu block comes packed in is not enough. Here are three ways to drain off tofu moisture:
- Traditional method: Put the block of tofu on a plate or other flat surface. Put another flat object, like a cutting board, on top of the tofu, and a light weight (like a can or a small bowl filled with water) on top. Let sit for 10 to 20 minutes, until the tofu block has shrunk to about half its original size. Wipe off any excess moisture with paper towels or clean kitchen towels.
- Boiling method: Cut the tofu into chunks. Put the tofu in a pot of boiling water to cover, and boil for 2-3 minutes. Drain, and let rest in a colander until cool enough to handle. Gently squeeze out excess moisture by gathering up the tofu in paper towels or a clean kitchen towel.
- Microwave method: This is the fastest way. Cut the tofu block in half lenghwise, and put on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave on HIGH, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Careful taking it out - it will be steaming hot! Drain in a colander until cool enough to handle, and squeeze out or wipe off excess moisture before proceeding.
By using one of these draining methods you can avoid soggy-burger syndrome!
From the food safety point of view, you should really treat tofu as if it were raw fish, If you are packing tofu-based products into your bento, be sure that it is cooked through thoroughly. In addition, some Japanese bento cookbooks recommend avoiding tofu block + meat type dishes if the weather is very hot.
Finally, be absolutely sure you are getting fresh tofu! Tofu should never, ever smell funny or taste 'off' or sour.
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