If you have a history of trouble making tofu palatable, give this recipe a shot. If you follow my instructions for cooking the tofu, you should get a nice texture, and if you don’t quite get it right, the sauce is so rich that you probably won’t even notice. If tofu’s not your thang, then try this recipe with a pound of ground chicken or pork, browning and breaking up the meat as you would with the tofu.
This would make a great weeknight dinner with some simple steamed greens or sauteed peppers alongside, or take it to a party and let guests fill their own lettuce leaves with the warm tofu filling.
Tofu Lettuce Wraps:
2-3 Tbsp. grapeseed or peanut oil
16 oz. firm tofu, drained
1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts only, minced (slice and reserve tops for later)
1” piece of ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
2 Tbsp. mirin
1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. peanut butter
2 Tbsp water
4 oz. water chestnuts (half of a typical can), finely chopped
1/2 C. roasted and salted peanuts, finely chopped
About 12 Lettuce leaves, washed and dried (Bibb, Green Leaf, and Iceberg all work well)
To prepare the tofu, slice it into 4 or 5 slabs and line them up along one side of a kitchen towel. Fold the towel over a few times, encasing the tofu inside, and apply moderate pressure (you want to suck the water out of the tofu without smashing it). Flip the towel-wrapped blocks over and apply pressure to the other side to remove more water. Unwrap the tofu and crumble it onto a medium bowl.
Prepare your scallion, ginger, and garlic by chopping together finely. You can also use a food processor for this, pulsing repeatedly and scraping down the sides several times.
In a small bowl, mix together the hoisin, soy, mirin, vinegar, dijon, peanut butter, and water and whisk with a fork until well incorporated.
To brown the tofu, begin by heating a large saute pan over medium-high heat. The pan needs to be very hot to prevent the tofu from sticking and to allow it to brown, so let the dry pan heat 2 – 3 minutes for a gas stove or 3 – 4 minutes for an electric.
Add the 2 Tbsp. oil and swirl to coat the pan. Let the oil heat for about 15 seconds or until it just begins to smoke and then slide your tofu in and spread it into a single layer. There will be splattering and sizzling, but don’t panic.
Allow the tofu to sit, undisturbed, for at least 3 – 4 minutes or until beginning to brown. Once it is browning, flip the tofu over with a spatula. It will have started to stick together at this point, so it is easier to flip it in big chunks. Let the other side brown as well.
Once the tofu has some good color, begin to break it up with the spatula or a wooden spoon. Push the tofu to the back half of the pan and then add another Tbsp. of the oil to the front of the pan. Add your scallion, ginger, garlic mixture to the oil and saute for 2-3 minutes, stirring often, until barely starting to brown. Reduce the heat if necessary. Now mix the tofu and scallion mix together, continuing the break up any tofu that is still in large chunks.
Pour in your liquids and continue to mix to coat the tofu thoroughly with the sauce. Cook for another 3 or 4 minutes to thicken, continuing to stir, and then turn off the heat. Add your chopped water chestnuts and the reserved scallion tops and stir to combine.
Spoon a few heaping tablespoons of the mixture into the cool lettuce leaves, sprinkle with chopped peanuts and place on a platter. I like mine with a little Sriracha chili sauce, too.
*Note: Since lettuce isn’t particularly good microwaved, be sure to store any leftover tofu mixture separately from the lettuce so it can be reheated and then spooned into the cool leaves.