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Tofu Three Ways

Soy stands in for chicken in three recipes for three levels of cooking.

It’s just a homely product of an ages-old legume, yet tofu intimidates many. “What do you do with it,” people often ask when they learn I’m a tofu lover. Truth be known, I’m quite content to eat it out of the box with a fork. But it’s easy to modify many chicken recipes to feature tofu instead. Here are three examples, fit for three different situations. For a light bite that’s sure to please kids, dip-able Tofu Fingers pack a popular protein punch. On a weeknight when time is dear, try Tofu in Lemon Butter, a spin on a generations-old family-favorite chicken dish. And if you have a few more minutes to impress tofu-phobes with a more sophisticated meal, whip up some Tofu Piccata. The melded flavors of lemon and capers in this Italian classic are sure-fire crowd pleasers that tofu showcases especially well. The last time I made it, side-by-side with my dad as he prepared a chicken version, our omnivorous guests polished off the tofu first!

Tofu Fingers
As a teenager and a new vegetarian, at 16 I found myself longing for the simple comforts of youth… like chicken nuggets. Determined to be meat-free, I developed a tofu version to satisfy my craving. Minimal seasoning, satisfying crispiness, and great dip-ability make this quickie a kid-friendly staple. Serves 6 kids or 4 grown-ups.

olive oil, for coating pan
1 egg
¼ cup water
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pound firm or extra-firm tofu, pressed and cut into “fingers” (see Tofu 101)
ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey or preferred dipping sauce

1. Pre-heat oven to 425˚F. Brush a cookie sheet with olive oil.
2. In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk egg with water to make a wash. In a second wide, shallow bowl, mix breadcrumbs with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Dredge tofu fingers first in egg wash, tapping excess off on the side of the bowl, then in breadcrumb mixture, turning to coat.
3. Arrange coated fingers on prepared cookie sheet and bake 10 minutes, then flip. Bake an additional 10 minutes, or until golden. Cool on racks.
4. Serve with ketchup, barbecue sauce, or honey for dipping.

Tofu in Lemon Butter
When I stopped eating meat, my mother’s signature chicken dish was what I most dreaded giving up. She had fixed it frequently during my childhood, as did her mother during hers. Imagine my delight when I discovered that I could recreate its savory succulence, sans animals! This is a great weeknight meal, quick and resulting in minimal dirty dishes. Serves 4.

1 stick butter
½ cup white wine
2/3 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt
2 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
1 pound firm or extra-firm tofu, cut into triangles and pressed (see Tofu 101)

1. Put all ingredients in a large skillet and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Add tofu triangles and boil again, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes, turning tofu after 15.
3. Ladle as much sauce as possible into a gravy boat, then increase heat to medium. Continue to cook tofu until golden-brown, turning to color both sides.
4. Serve tofu over rice, with sauce drizzled on top.

tofu piccata

Tofu Piccata
When company calls, wow them with tofu! Adapted from a chicken recipe in Giada De Laurentiis’s Everyday Italian cookbook, this zingy dish is fancy enough for an informal dinner, but still easy enough to leave time to mingle. The flavors shine brightest when served over white rice. Serves 4.

½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
6 tablespoons butter, divided
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound firm or extra-firm tofu, cut into triangles and pressed (see Tofu 101)
1/3 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (1-2 lemons’ worth, depending on size)
½ cup vegetable stock, such as Imagine “No-Chicken Broth”
¼ cup small brined capers, rinsed
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped, for garnish

1. Mix flour, salt, and pepper in a wide, shallow bowl.
2. In a large pan or skillet, heat olive oil and 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat.
3. As the oil and butter are heating, dredge tofu slices in flour mixture, tapping off excess.
4. When the butter is melted and the oil mixture has begun to sizzle, add the tofu to the skillet. Gradually brown on one side, then turn and brown on the other side. (Patience pays off in this step; tofu develops a succulent crispiness when cooked slowly this way.) Remove tofu from skillet to a plate.
5. Add lemon juice, stock, and capers to pan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally and scraping up any bits of flour and tofu from the bottom of the pan.
6. Return tofu to the pan and simmer 5 minutes, then remove from pan to a serving plate. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to pan and whisk vigorously, then check and add salt if the sauce seems too sour. Pour sauce over tofu and garnish with parsley.