Recipe: Baked Tofu

Making tofu at Hodo Soy Beanery in Oakland
Making tofu at Hodo Soy Beanery in Oakland, CA

One of my favorite things to cook is also one of the most unphotogenic dishes I know: the savory baked tofu from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant*. Although it has a monotone and bland brown hue, its taste is much more exciting: tofu’s subtle flavor in the background,  and a foreground of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, vinegar and sesame oil.**

The dish is quite easy to make:  put the sauce ingredients into a baking dish, slice some tofu, add it to the pan, and bake.  Sometimes I add sliced carrot or wedges of Satsuma sweet potato (a variety from Japan) to the pan and let the vegetables roast along with the tofu.  Although it seems like a good idea at the time, it is rarely successful because the baking times are mismatched.

You could probably just set the tofu block into the baking pan and wind up with an OK result, but you’ll get much better flavor if there is more exposed surface area to roast and absorb the sauce.As I thought about describing how I like to slice the tofu, my descriptions soon became hopelessly confusing, so I made simple drawing to help explain.  The drawing below roughly replicates the dimensions of a standard piece of tofu, with the primary dimensions represented by 1, 2 and 3***.  I prefer the pieces of tofu to be relatively thin, so I like to make one cut on side 1, two cuts on side 2, and two cuts on side 3 to give 18 rectangles. Of course, more pieces means more turning.

Recipe:  Baked Tofu

Adapted from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant

16 ounces (453 g) tofu, firm or extra firm, cut into rectangles, triangles or other shapes
3 T (45 mL) soy sauce
1.5 T (22.5 mL) rice vinegar
1.5 T (22.5 mL) sake or rice wine
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
3 t (15 mL) grated ginger
4 T (60 mL) water
3 t (15 mL) sugar
1 T (15 mL) toasted sesame oil

Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C).

Combine all of the ingredients except the tofu in a shallow baking dish [8″ x 8″ or larger (20 cm x 20 cm)].  Add the tofu pieces and turn a few times to coat the surface.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, turning the pieces every 10 minutes.  There is no fixed point when the dish is “done,” so you can decide that it is done based on how much sauce is left, the color of the tofu, or that it is time to eat.

* Some other great recipes in Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant include Groundnut Stew, Capetown Fruit and Vegetable Curry, Beurek with Parsley-Cheese Filling, Berbere (a spice mixture), Niter Kebbeh (spiced clarified butter), and the two W’ets (Ethiopian stews that use the Niter Kebbeh).
** Good, but not good enough or original enough to submit to Food52’s best tofu recipe contest
*** Most blocks of tofu seem to be the same size.  How long ago was that dimension chosen, and how was it chosen?  Might there be a centuries-old Chinese or Japanese specification that was adopted by makers in the U.S.?

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