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I initially wanted title this post ” I did a stint as a vegetarian once…” but that made being a vegetarian some sort of punishment, like community service or latrine duty. But I was a sort of part-time vegetarian for several years and it turned out to be some of the best eating of my life. It was pretty easy to cut out a lot of meat from my meals, especially if you ate a lot of Asian food at home.

Many food enthusiasts know the magical benefits of your local Asian market, and to vegetarians and vegans, this is even more fantasmic. The Asian market holds so many treasures for meat alternatives as well as spices and accoutrements to turn that somewhat bland meat substitute into the stuff of unicorns. Also, many products tend to be so much cheaper at the Asian market because they can’t mark the cost up based on exoticness (is that a word?). One of my favorite non-meat proteins is tofu. I was actually raised eating tofu with my meat. My family didn’t view tofu as a meat alternative, it was just another protein to throw into our best sauces and consumed at the same time. Being raised with tofu also makes me very comfortable with the texture. Texture seems to be the numero uno reason sited by most for why they don’t like tofu. To that I say, get over it. Texture is part of the experience, some tastes have to be a certain texture. Take gummi candy for example, there’s nothing like really good gummi candy.

Now, I know what the numero dos reason sited by most for why they don’t like tofu is the blandness. Tofu doesn’t taste like anything. To that I say, I have a solution for both. My baked tofu “recipe”. I use quotes here because I feel a bit sheepish about calling it a recipe. It’s really just a hodge podge of other people’s tofu recipes, flavors I tend to like, and loose interpretations of things I’ve seen my mom do. There aren’t really measurements and I couldn’t give you an exact baking time. And the ingredients and composition of said ingredients tends to change, depending on my my mood and what I’m out of. Yeah… I’m in a pretty off-the-cuff mood this evening.

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This recipe solves the problem of texture and taste because the baking of tofu dries out some of the moisture and firms up the tofu. So, instead of mushy, crumbliness, the tofu becomes denser and more substantial – al dente but not chewy. The marinade is so flavorful the tofu soaks it all up and becomes so tasty I often end up eating a lot of it without anything else and straight from the cookie sheet. I also curse myself a little for doing that because it’s still too hot and I end up burning my tongue or involuntarily ejecting it from my mouth onto the kitchen floor…

The main trick to getting that bland cube to become a flavor bomb is to press the tofu…

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This can be done between 2 plates lined with several layers of paper towels. I just put a can of beans on top and let it press for 30 mins or so. Just be very careful with the tofu brick, they crumble and fall apart easily. Once you press the excess moisture from the tofu, there’s room for it to soak up some of your magical marinade.

After a good pressing, I cut the big cube into smaller cubes and add it to the marinade. Some recipes will just slice the cube into rectangular planks for a “meatier” look but it’s still tofu. I like the cubes because I like incorporating them into recipes like stir-fries and bowls of noodle soup. These little tofu cubes are amaze-balls in a bowl of cheap ramen.

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My marinade is usually a combo of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, ginger powder, and sesame oil. I have also used teriyaki sauces, orange juice and orange zest in my marinade. You can get pretty creative with your recipe. I will generally make 2 packages of tofu at a time, it goes surprisingly fast at my house. The recipe that follows will be for 2 packages of tofu.

I let the tofu marinate for at least an hour. This amount of time has generally yielded the best result. There have been a few times I’ve been rushed and didn’t let it marinate as long and tried to baste it while it baked. It just didn’t taste as good. After marinating, I line up the cubes on cookie sheets and bake them in the oven at 350 degrees F for 40 mins., turning half way through. But you can bake it longer or for less time depending on how you like the texture. If you like a little jiggle, cook it for less, more bite, bake longer.

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What you get at the end is a beautiful, little, golden cube of goodness. You can do so much with these lovelies. I throw them into stir-fries, on top of rice, over noodles, into bowls of soup, and just by themselves like chips – meaty, proteiny, umami basted, delicious chips… Below is a bowl of baked tofu tossed in a veggie stir-fry over quinoa pilaf.

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Baked Tofu

2 packages of Firm tofu

4 Tbsp soy sauce

4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp sesame oil

1 Tbsp garlic powder

1 Tbsp ginger powder

Get 2 plates dinner plates (not too big, the smaller the plate, the easier to balance the can on top), line one plate with layers of paper towels. I usually fold 2 paper towels into quarters and they are just slightly bigger than the tofu cube. Drain the tofu over the sink and place the cube on top of the paper towel lined plate. Add another layer of paper towels on top of the tofu cube. Place the other plate on top of the tofu and paper towels, balance a can of soup or beans or whatever, on top of the plate. Don’t put too much weight on top of the tofu, it can cause it to break. Press tofu for 20-30 mins.

While the tofu is pressing, mix up your marinade. Put soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, sesame oil, garlic powder, and ginger powder into a bowl and whisk to combine.

When the tofu is done pressing, place tofu cubes onto a cutting board and discard the wet paper towels. Cut the tofu into cubes or planks, keep in mind that they will shrink a bit during baking. Place the tofu in a flat bottomed dish and pour the marinade over it. You can also baste the tofu with the marinade to make sure you get all the sides. Let marinade 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place tofu cubes on cookie sheets (you can grease them if you like but I generally don’t). Bake in the oven for 40 mins. Turn over with tongs about halfway through. Remove from oven and let cool (crucial, often neglected step) 5 mins. before serving.

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