Small, Good Things: Tofu Twofer

Herb-Marinated Tofu and Bean Salad

As far as I can tell, the main problem with tofu is taste: It has none to speak of.

The secondary problem is texture: It has one; it’s just not very interesting. Despite soothing marketing adjectives like “silken” (pahh!), the overall effect is about as pleasant in the mouth-feel department as say, Jell-O. Hungry yet?

When looking to score humble bragging points with vegetable-forward friends, one can always drag out a classic Korean sundubu-jjigae (soft tofu stew), mightily seasoned with gochugaru, gochujang and kimchi — although my preferred version usually sports a discreet “whisper” of pork belly, just for taste, mind you.

But a recent Voraciously newsletter from The Washington Post presented a recipe for Herb-Marinated Tofu “Feta.” The recipe comes from Post food and travel editor Joe Yonan’s bean-centric cookbook, Cool Beans. (The irony quote marks are mine as the “feta” reference subsequently confused one too many dairy-phobic friends.)

The description was enough to make me give it a go: drained cubes of “firm” (a misnomer, if you ask me) tofu are marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and cider vinegar with white miso, salt, pepper, herbs, lemon zest and nutritional yeast (warning sign!) — unusual, yes, but very easy. The instructions said to marinate for at least two hours before using, so the commitment bar was set very low.

I assure you, as a former tofu skeptic, the return on investment is high. My first batch, a tentative pint jar, lasted all of one day. Scattered on a bed of arugula with some quartered Kumato tomatoes (a lifesaver until the “real” ones arrive) and diced avocado, with nothing for a dressing but a bit of the marinade, an extra squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of oil, it was an epiphany. This is a keeper, and the tofu gets better with age, keeping for up to two weeks.

The combination of Mediterranean (oil, lemon, herbs) flavors, the sweetness and umami of the miso, and the creamy-cheesy edge of the nutritional yeast (a curiously redeeming characteristic and one that is played for maximum effect here) was in fact reminiscent of feta but has an identity and virtues all its own.

In addition to numerous shares of the recipe to friends, it prompted the purchase of Mr. Yonan’s cookbook, where I discovered my new favorite recipe unceremoniously buried in a very short final chapter titled “Condiments and Other Pantry Recipes.” Go figger!

The book itself is a humble and unfussy ode to bean cookery of all stripes, and I’ve included, along with the “feta,” a secondary recipe for three-bean salad with parsley and feta, which sports oven-roasted green beans and onions along with a combination of red and white beans and an impossibly good and oh-so-simple sweet and sour dressing, finished with what I still consider the main course.

And, just like this tofu feta, it’s even better the next day — if it lasts that long.

Herb-Marinated Tofu and Bean Salad

Adapted from Cool Beans, by Joe Yonan

For the Marinated Tofu

  • 14 ounces water-packed firm tofu
  • 4 strips lemon peel
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white miso
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 sprig rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 sprigs thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 sprigs oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

For the Bean Salad

  • 1 pound green (or yellow wax) beans
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 4 cloves garlic (unpeeled)
  • 2 & 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ⅓ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 1½ cups cooked, drained red beans (kidney or a varietal)*
  • 1½ cups cooked, rinsed and drained white beans (Great Northern, cannellini or a varietal)*
  • 2 sticks celery, sliced thin
  • 1 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, chopped roughly

*Canned beans are OK if you must; Brad’s Organics suggested.

1. For the marinated tofu: Drain tofu, wrap in a clean kitchen towel and microwave on high 1 minute. Unwrap tofu and repeat with a fresh towel, then unwrap and cool, while you prepare the marinade. While tofu cools, whisk together the remaining ingredients (except for the lemon peel) in a bowl or measuring cup.

2. Cut tofu into ½-inch cubes; transfer tofu and lemon peel to a tall, lidded jar. Pour marinade over all. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before using. Turn jar occasionally to coat tofu. Keep covered and refrigerated for up to two weeks.

3. For the bean salad: Heat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, toss green (or yellow wax) beans, unpeeled garlic and sliced onion with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt and grated pepper. Spread evenly on a large, rimmed sheet pan. Roast in heated oven for 20 to 30 minutes (until just beginning to char). Set aside to cool. 

4. When garlic cloves are cool, squeeze the softened garlic from the skins into the same bowl the beans were tossed in. Along with the remaining 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper, mash to a paste. Add the sugar and cider vinegar and whisk to dissolve the sugar. Chop the cooled green (or yellow wax) beans and onions to 1-to-1½-inch lengths and add to the bowl with the dressing. Add the drained red and white beans, celery and parsley, tossing gently to combine. Add ¼-to-½-cup herb-marinated tofu and lightly toss to incorporate. Serve alone or over greens garnished with more tofu if you like.

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