Smoked Tofu Stir Fry

A version of this article will be popping up over on Honest Cooking in a few days. But I couldn’t resist sharing it here, first!!

smoked tofu stir fry recipe

Several months ago, while in China, I waxed poetic about the virtues of good, smoked, baked tofu. I shared an excellent recipe for tofu stir fry over on Honest Cooking- it was easy, tasty, fast, and fresh.

Now I’m back in the U.S., and the ideas of easy, tasty, fast, and fresh food can be found EVERYWHERE around me. I’m elated!

smoked tofu_top view

Since I’ve gotten a job over at Union Market, I’ve found myself exposed to a number of folks who are bringing back the artisan foodways of yesteryear. From farmhouse dairies, to homemade preserves, to in-house curing of meats, to family oyster farms and local bakeries, small business have come forward to provide and promote a small scale production of quality, local, and tasty provisions. And this is not just happening at my local market, but all over the city, too. In fact, it’s happening in cities all over the U.S..

But back to the offerings at Union Market: Neopol Smokery is part of this wonderful artisanal movement. Based in Baltimore, Maryland, their provisions feature a variety of smoked fish, but also extend to smoked spices, herbs, and most intriguing to me – smoked tofu.

smoked tofu+cross sections

I brought a cube of Neopol’s smoked tofu home with me last weekend. This isn’t your typical, store-bought, mild-flavored, densely packed smoked tofu. No, it’s a grill-marked, heavily scented, rich and smoky tofu, weighty, but pillowy and then firm, all at the same time. Slicing off a raw piece at home, I deemed the intense smokiness beckoning to be accompanied by other earthy, umami-rich ingredients such as mushrooms and leeks. The tofu, somewhat bland on its own, desired a kick of flavors that could easily be lent from soy, ginger, and mirin.

leeks, ginger, and mushrooms

Now, both as a writer and a cook, I shoot for variety in my work. But sometimes, when I come across something so good and so fresh and made with some much love and care, variety just gets pushed to the sidelines. So here it is, another recipe for a smoked tofu stir fry.

**For all my friends who have got a smoker in your backyard, I encourage you to try making your own smoked tofu. I know not everyone has access to Neopol’s amazing treasures. Of course, the store-bought stuff is a fine enough substitute….and that’s not said with any amount of snuff or anything…

tofu stir fry with leeks and mushrooms

Fresh Smoked Tofu Stir Fry

  • 1 medium leek, greens and whites, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cube smoked tofu, approx 8 oz., thinly sliced
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, any variety (cremini & hen-of-the-woods used here), chopped/sliced into small pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. mirin
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 small nub ginger, finely minced (approx 1/2 tsp)
  • 6 oz. ground turkey
  1. Heat a bit of vegetable oil over high heat on a large skillet or wok. When oil is hot, add garlic and leeks. Saute for 3-5 minutes, or until leeks are soft.
  2. Lower heat slightly to medium high. Add tofu and mushrooms. Let cook for 3-5 minutes, turning occasionally to saute. Don’t stir too vigorously, or the tofu will break up. You want the tofu to brown on the sides and the mushrooms to become soft.
  3. Mix the mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger in a small bowl. Add to the stir fry, and sautee. Add the ground turkey, and cook until turkey is well done, approx 5 more minutes.
  4. Serve, hot, accompanied by rice.
If you love spicy fare, this dish would do well with the addition of a couple of chili peppers or a teaspoon of hot sauce.
Yield: 2-3 servings, as a main dish


Tofu at Home

As I mentioned before, I was recently living at my parents’ house for two months. I asked them when it would ever be inappropriate for me to go “home” and live with them, rent-free, with meals included. Luckily for me, they answered,


So until I’m too old to do so, I’m going to be doing things like going back home to my parents’ house when I’m sick and using their Vitamix to make tofu.

My friend Sarah from RecipeRelay first started me thinking of homemade tofu, when she created her own batch last year. As much as I eat the stuff, I never really considered it possible to try making it at home. In the U.S., it’s so commercially sold that we often forget it’s meant to be eaten fresh and hand-made. So with Sarah breaking it down and providing a link to a step-by-step recipe I could follow, I was super inspired. But the task was still a bit daunting, and with tofu so cheap at the markets in China (as little as 10cents for a small block!), I never had the urge to try it myself in my own kitchen.

That, and I lacked a Cuisinart or Vitamix to blend the soybeans- a crucial step in the process for making tofu.


So with a few extra hours on my hands (and an article on tofu due the next day), I spent an afternoon at the home of my parents, taking advantage of an industrial-strength blender, experimenting with soybeans.


I did plenty of reading prep beforehand. When DIY’ing in the kitchen- whether it be for marshmallows, ice cream sandwiches, pop tarts, fig newtons, or granola bars– I definitely recommend doing your research and reading through a few different recipes before rolling up your sleeves. In my case, I read and re-read Sarah’s experience, which directed me towards this website and very helpful recipe. Given my time and resources (which was a lot and many, respectively), I was also able to make a trip to the local library where I sat in the cookbook aisle for an hour and skimmed a few books about soy and tofu


With my tofu research session finished, I finally understood the very basic process that produced tofu: a product of fresh soy milk, separated into curds and whey, and then pressed. The magic ingredient that would produce curds in the “milk” of the soybean extract was called the coagulant, a crucial part of all tofu-making processes. The coagulant used in traditional tofu making is a Japanese ingredient called nigari, a concentration of various salts that remain after the crystallisation of salts extracted from seawater. While visiting the neighborhood Japanese supermarket one afternoon I peeked in the salts and dashi aisle, and became overwhelmed at the selection of salts and powders, none of which were labeled in English. Luckily as an alternative to nigari, Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate), fresh lemon juice, or apple cider vinegar can also be used to produce the same curdling effects. The variations in the results are seen mainly in the texture of the tofu, and only slightly affect the taste.  I decided to use some apple cider vinegar that was already in the pantry.

I procured a pound of organic soybeans from the bulk grains aisle of Whole Foods to start my tofu-making adventure. After soaking the beans overnight and waking to their plump soybean glory the next morning, I got busy boiling, grinding, cooking and straining the soybeans. Fresh soy milk, as easy as that.


Pressing forward, I followed instructions carefully and put my soy milk back on the stove, adding the coagulant (in my case, apple cider vinegar), and stirring as advised.  As expected, a pot full of steaming soy milk soon separated into small curds and whey. Little Miss Muffet, you’d be proud!


The curds were spooned into my own homemade tofu press – a rectangular plastic Tupperware container with holes punched throughout the bottoms and sides, lined with cheesecloth. With the curds weighted down with a bevy of canned ingredients, I let time do its job.


A short and surprising 15 minutes later, I checked on my result. There it was: the curds had compacted into one small rectangular form. Homemade tofu, firmer than I had imagined, smaller than I would have liked, and a far more crumbly than I would have preferred, but nevertheless it was tofu!

For the step-by step recipe, jump over here.


Remember the days of AIM? When, Apple computers looked like space-aged jolly ranchers, and Google wasn’t yet a verb- let alone a real word. I think it meant something dirty, but I’m not sure.

I still remember downloading and signing onto AIM chat for the first time, at the family computer in my parents’ living room. In the awkward years of middle school (which, to me weren’t so awkard- I actually had a blast in the 7th and 8th grades) trivial matters were viewed with great gravity. As if your life depending on choosing the perfect length for your backpack straps (in the 90’s, the perfect length was until your backpack dragged to just about your knees). Or, the outfits you and your friends would wear for the first school dance. Every school dance, for that matter. Or perhaps more importantly to a middle schooler growing up in Silicon Valley in the mid-90’s, what to choose as your screen name.

While my fellow junior highschoolers had nicknames like aznboi1234 or kewlchk555 or drgn<3, beginning an era of perpetual abbrevs, I chose tofubrain13. It liked it because it was different, clever, unique, and dorky in the coolest possible way. I still like it, even if I am partially horrified if I ever have to exchange screen names with a new friend.

It was (and still is) an ode to my love of tofu- much like the recipe below. Tofu is versatile, it’s satisfying, and before the vegan community discovered it, I claimed it.

I shared this recipe online months ago on RecipeRelay, so it’s been out in the world for awhile. But on recent trips to the market I’ve been slowing to peruse the tofu options more than usual. Luckily the DiploMan shares my love of tofu (!), so I know this dish will make an appearance on the dinner table soon enough.

This tofu recipe is perfect as an appetizer paired with a chili-mayo dipping sauce, as a side dish with rice and spinach for Meatless Monday, or as I prefer, on top of a crisp and crunchy salad with a savory cilantro dressing. And if you think you don’t like tofu- well, this one comes out of the pan hot and crispy and savory and fried. I guarantee it will turn you into a tofubrain.

Panko Crusted Tofu


  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 lbs firm tofu (1-2 packages store-bought tofu)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp Tandori spice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • to taste – salt and pepper
  • 6 Tbs canola oil
  1. Drain and rinse the tofu. Slice into 1/2 inch slices. Using a tea towel or paper towel, pat each piece dry and set aside.
  2. Set up your breading station: in one medium-sized shallow bowl, beat eggs and add a pinch of salt and pepper. In a second medium-sized shallow bowl, mix flour with a pinch of salt and pepper. In a third bowl, combine panko crumbs with spices, and add another pinch of salt and pepper. This may seem like a lot of salt and pepper, but it’s not.
  3. Take your (patted dry) tofu steaks that you’ve set aside. One by one, bread the tofu: Using one hand, put the tofu in the flour and coat. Gently shake off excess flour, and set in the egg bath. Now using your other hand, bathe the tofu in the beaten egg, and transfer to the panko crumbs with the same hand. Finally using your original flour/non-eggy hand, completely coat tofu with the panko crumbs (warning: your hands will become slightly stained form the Tandoori spice!). Using this method of alternating hands, keeping one hand dry and one hand wet, makes for a less messy process.
  4. Continue breading all your tofu, setting aside on a plate as you finish each one.
  5. When you have finished breading, add 3 Tbs canola oil into a skillet and heat on high. When the oil is ho t- ideally just before it starts smoking – turn down the heat to med-high and begin to fry your tofu, dropping in 3-4 pieces at a time, depending on the size of your skillet. Cook tofu for 1-2 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
  6. Remove from the skillet onto paper towels or a rack to cool.
  7. Repeat with the remaining tofu, dumping out the oil and contents of the pan once you’ve completed half of the tofu. Wipe the skillet clean with a dry paper towel, and using the remainder of the oil (3 Tbs) to fry the rest of the breaded tofu.

The tofu lady

For those of you who checked out my post on RecipeRelay, thank you!

On my hunt to create something delicious from fresh market finds, it ultimately wasn’t difficult to settle on tofu as the star. Afterall, my first, only, and current AIM screenname remains tofubrain13, however embarrassing it tends to be when I chat with a new friend. So undoubtedly the tofu table, one of the first to the entrance of my wet market, never ceases to amaze me. The fresh varieties of dried, firm, soft, puffy, thing, thick, fat, spongy…makes me swoon. Is that weird?

Unlike their oft-packaged, cold and sterile Western counterparts, tofu here is sold either by weight or by the pieces at the market. Four small squares of soft tofu cost me 70jiao, or about 10cents. One large chunk weighing one jin (a little more than a pound) cost me 2 kuai (bucks), or about 30cents. It’s a tofumaniac’s paradise at this stand. I love the fact that you can buy the quantity you desire, and carry it home in nothing but a small, flimsy plastic bag, the same method of packaging as every other vegetable and even eggs bought from the market (except with eggs they are gracious enough to double bag in case of any mishaps).

By the time I leave China I have sworn to purchase and cook each of these varieties sold at this table. And, sometime in the near future I will try out my own recipe based on my mom’s memorable seasoned ground pork wrapped with tofu skin, as I had promised weeks ago.

Rice is king: a rice monologue

I’ve been thinking about rice for awhile- and perhaps because it is such a big part of Asian cookery, it’s been a bit daunting to sit down and actually write about. Rice is a pretty big deal around these parts of the world, and though I knew it, it was hard to be convinced. But going to Bali changed my mind for good.

For a long time, I thought rice was bad.  I mean, evil-bad. It was something unneccessary used to fill your stomach, especially when you could have much better selections like meat and vegetables. In Chinese cuisine, rice is often served at the end of the meal, to act as a filler and a last-resort, in case your guests were not completely satisfied. Asking for a bowl of rice at the end of a fancy banquet is as spiteful as spitting in the host’s face.

Particularly having lived in Los Angeles for five years, rice was Atkins’ and my worst enemy. Obviously I think about rice, noodles, and bread differently now- now that I know rices has better and more realistic things to do than to make me gain 20 pounds.  However though I more frequently devour baguettes and pizza without caution, I still have some beef with rice (is there a pun there?  I can’t quite tell)- after all, rice is not only uselessly filling, but in the Western world it’s just so boring.

I’ve been reading more about rice lately, by way of books like these, and combined with my own rice-ventures, am starting to realize that it actually deserves more credit than I’ve given in the past.  Rice has sustained cultures and societies for ages, and it has provided for communities in the same way that coffee, tobacco, and corn crops have around the world. Passing through rice fields first in Yangshuo and finally in Bali, I was able to see the beauty of the plant like I had never before, and quite literally, a bigger picture. I was able to relate rice to a life form- to a cycle,to the earth, and just as realizing your meat comes from animals, this makes eating it a little bit different.

In Bali, many “traditional” Balinese foods involve rice.  Even those that don’t, come served with a side of rice.  It’s not only necessary, but a symbol of self-sustainability, of living off the land, and of a living food culture.  As I ate my tofu and tomatoes off a cheap plastic plate, with a side of “Balinese greens” and little mound of rice, I casually thought about these things and decided that rice wasn’t so bad after all.

We have an a-yi, or our “auntie” who cooks for us once a week.  A little while back, she came to me with a sac of rice tied in a plastic bag, boasting that she had purchased this special type of rice for us- the kind the she likes the best. It was more expensive at the market, but definitely worth it.  Living in a place where we select rice the same way I selected tomatoes on a warm summer day at the Union Square market, I am finally able to view rice at it’s rightful place in the food pyramid: at the top.