A Carnivore's Journey to Tofu Acceptance

Tofu n00b? 6/21/11

What did it take for someone who grew up eating pulled pork BBQ, side meat, bacon, steak, burgers, fried chicken and regretably, even chitlings, to be a believer in tofu?

Well, I was forced to eat tofu by a bearded clockwork orange trickster. Well, that's an exaggeration, but here's what happened.

Last December I was manning my busy Stitch Machine booth alone at The Big Crafty in Asheville and all the while getting hungry. A guy in suspenders and a black bowler hat was walking around selling food, but the only thing he was selling was...yuck...tofu sandwiches. I waited for the hamburger guy to come through, but eventually realized there was no hamburger guy. An hour or more later the suspender guy approached again and I figured I better pounce on the opportunity, or go hungry. I reluctantly handed over my five bucks and received my hefty tofu wrap.

Between customers I tore through the saran wrap a quickly as I could. Flashbacks of the fried, spongy tofu I'd tried in my college cafeteria almost made me abort, but I was way too hungry for that. I took a huge bite and waited for the worst...and...it was DELICIOUS!! I couldn't beleive that this sweet and spicy curry flavored stuff was tofu. It was cut into strips and was firm, a little crispy on the outside and nice to bite into. It was filling and yummy with the fresh greens, carrots and strips of red cabbage rolled up with it. If this hours-old tofu sandwich could taste this great, I wondered what else tofu could taste like.

I didn't dive open arms into tofu after that though. It still took some time to warm up to the idea. While working at the grocery store, out of curiosity, I began asking people who were buying tofu how they planned to cook it. The more recipes I heard, the more I realized that learning how to cook tofu would give me more possiblilties for delicious meals on the days I didn't want to eat meat.

The top two tips I got from tofu-eating customers at the grocery store were:
#1 For cooking, extra firm tofu is the only way to go.
#2 Just think of tofu as a blank canvas- like chicken or ground beef. Season and cook it like you would a meat.

I was still a little scared. Even though people have been eating tofu for thousands of years, growing up in the South gave me a huge bias toward tofu. "It just ain't natural!" But last week I went ahead and bought my first container of tofu for $2.99 and cooked up a pot of spaghetti. Instead of beef, I seasoned and sauted my tofu and then stired it into the sauce. It turned out great! My first reaction after cooking it is that tofu is kind of like broccoli- it soaks in and intensifies the flavors it's cooked with.

So I've used tofu twice now in my kitchen. I can't give up my pork BBQ, bacon, or the deer my brother gives me in the winter after his hunting trips. But now I'd feel comfortable substituting tofu for meat a few times a week. And best of all, I have a new protein and new recipe options to experiment with!

An aside:
I love my meats but I'm getting interested in eating less of them.

For years I have been incorporating alternative forms of protein into my diet, substituting rice & beans, edamame, yogurt and peanut butter for meat here and there. Mostly, I just like variety. But the other thing is, Americans eat a lot of meat, and I've definitely been one of those Americans. The US is about 5% of the world's population and Americans eat about 8 ounces of meat per day, roughly twice the global average (Rethinking the Meat Guzzler, Mark Bittman, New York Times, 2008). Does that really make sense? Eating meat everyday makes less sense the more I learn about the awful realities of huge US factory farms. And I'm learning that the economic, environmental, and third world human hunger consequences of factory farms (where most of our supermarket meat comes from) are very real. Now, that just ain't natural.

Worldwide Annual Meat Consumption per capita 2007


  1. Asheville certainly does have some good tofu! I've been vegetarian for about 12 years and STILL have trouble decently cooking tofu, so good for you! Have you tried tempeh? It's easier for me to cook and is an alternative to soy, which I eat too much of anyway. I love sauteeing some tempeh until crispy on the edges, then putting in the oven covered in Sticky Finger's BBQ Sauce (Memphis style!) until gooey and delicious. NOM NOM!

  2. brandi-
    Mmm yummy...BBQ style- brilliant! But I'll have to use vinegar based sauce- Eastern NC style LOL. What is tempeh exactly? I saw someone buying it yesterday and was wondering.

    P.S. your Cherry Valentino blog is so cute! I'm adding it to my reading list- and oh yeah- i'll be at The Big Crafty again next month, so you'll have to stop by.

  3. Tempeh is sort of a grainy loaf, for lack of a better, more appetizing word. It's more toothsome than tofu, and there's no need to press the water out of it or anything. It's dry so you'd have to sauce it up, and it has more of a grainy flavor rather than a blank slate. But it's another option, and for me less tricky than tofu.

    BUT, I wanted to tell you that after seeing this post I figured I should try harder with tofu! I've been avoiding it forever, but I'm a much better cook than I used to be, and if meat eaters are starting to try with it, so should I, right?!

    I made a maple/soy/orange juice glaze and it was DELICIOUS! This is a close approximation to the recipe I used for the glaze, pretty much equal amounts of maple syrup, soy sauce, and OJ, with a few cloves of garlic and pepper added in. SO GOOD! Just make sure to get your tofu pretty crispy before adding the sauce to reduce on it. And I reduced my glaze way more so it was gooey and thick!


    So thanks for the inspiration! I'm excited now that I've overcome my weird fear of failure with it!

    I may be moving back to Memphis soon, but if not I'll definitely see you at the Big Crafty! :D

  4. brandi-

    I can't tell you how happy this comment makes me!! I'm so glad you decided to give it another go and that this post was the inspiration- that's what this whole blogging thing is all about! (It's what keeps me motivated to keep posting.) So yay!

    That recipe looks and sounds soooo good- i'm going to put those things on my grocery list today, and the tempeh too.

    mucho respect for being a vegetarian for 12 years-


  5. Sarah, you've got to stop by the Rosetta's Kitchen booth on Sunday for their peanut butter tofu! It's tofu at its most sublime! XOXO, Big Crafty Brandy
    (Brandies with Ys and Is love tofu!)

  6. Brandy (with a Y)-
    Oooo yes I'll plan on it!! This weekend I'm actually looking forward to the tofu selections at The Big Crafty!!

    (and brandi with an I- did you move back to Memphis yet?)