Tofu may be the most misunderstood food in America. Maybe its useful but creepy ability to be anything and everything is what has made this anemic-looking block of curdled and pressed soy milk a pre-packaged punchline. Just add it in front of the name of any popular food: tofu cheesecake, tofu smoothie, tofu burger—doesn’t sound fun.
It doesn’t help that, because tofu is loaded with protein and iron, Western culture forced it into a meat-shaped mold, and the results are confusing. The embodiment of this is the tofurky, whose reappearance every year around the holidays as a bloodless centerpiece is heralded by inexplicably strong emotional reactions ranging from cultish devotion to patriotism-flecked disgust.
The biggest problem for me was that I thought tofu was boring. For that reason, I avoided it for pretty much all of my life, convinced that this weird looking sponge tasted exactly how it looked—like nothing.
Then, on what turned out to be a very fateful evening, a friend served Jack and the Beanstalk tofu, and a surprising thing happened: I reached for a third helping. And I suspected that I may have only ever eaten bad tofu, because this tofu was unbelievably tasty.
Certified organic and made in nearby Salinas, Jack and the Beanstalk exposed me to how delicious and versatile well-made tofu can be, and now I eat it all the time. On its own, it has a pure, sweet, fresh taste and a silky texture. When cooked, the innocuous flavor complements the other ingredients and doesn’t, as I assumed, just absorb whatever flavoring you add. It’s delicious sliced cold with green onion and drizzled with soy sauce and sesame oil. The cubes get delightfully puffy when baked and thrown in grain bowls or salads. I love fishing out chunks of it in curry or soup, or frying slices for quick snack or a banh mi.
Available at Staff of Life, New Leaf Markets and served at Charlie Hong Kong.