The first time I tasted tofu, as cubes in a steaming bowl of hot and sour soup, I was eight years old and delighted. I called it "white Jell-O."
During the hippie era of the 1970s, when tofu was tossed into nearly every stir-fry and in some of the worst tofu puddings, "cream" pies and cheesecake ever, I resolved to show how delicious this protein-rich, vegan, mild-flavored food could be. Two cookbooks devoted solely to soy foods eventually followed. (They included miso, edamame and other soy choices along with tofu.)
Dishes that transform tofu from bland and utilitarian to enticingly good start with firm tofu. Extra-firm sounds good, particularly for stir-fries, grilled cutlets and kebabs, but it is often dry, grainy and tastes like plaster. Press the firm tofu unless you find tofu labeled "steak," or cutlets, which means it has been compacted already. The recipe below describes how. Besides squeezing out water, compacting tofu this way makes it enjoyably chewy. The result is well worth it. Note: If you come across grilled tofu, it is excellent pressed this same way.
I am often asked how long to marinate tofu to add flavor. Since it is not absorbent, marinades penetrate only about 1/8-inch, so the length of time, beyond 30 minutes doesn't matter. Rather, I prefer using a glaze thick enough to cling to the tofu, melding with the surface as it grills or bakes. This distinctly Mediterranean glaze made with reduced pomegranate juice shows how this works.
I serve this tart-sweet, aromatically herb-tasting tofu right from the pan, like steak, accompanied by garlic-pungent kale or collards and brown rice garnished with browned onions and a sprinkling of pomegranate arils.