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Steamed Tofu

I’ve probably mentioned it a few times: I’m a big fan of tofu, or bean curd. Just to be clear, I’m not a vegetarian. I just happen to love tofu, and its a big part of the Asian diet that I grew up with.

Friends previously unfamiliar with tofu complained that it was bland and had a strange texture. Um, its because they didn’t know how to cook it? No point harping on its nutritional value if it tastes like nothing! It’s true that tofu is super subtle. I think that is its merit, rather than flaw. Some types of tofu have great capacity to soak up the flavours of the ingredients its cooked with. Some provide the perfect blank canvas to an intense sauce, allowing the sauce to take centre stage.

There are many kinds of tofu: dried long strips folded over several times, large pieces of dried tofu skins, fresh pressed blocks, dried and knotted ones, canned tofu pockets (inari), to name a few. They are all used differently. For the newly initiated, you may be most familiar with tofu blocks, which is what I’m focusing on today. In Paris they are easily available in Asian grocers and organic sections of supermarkets or specialty health stores. If you are overwhelmed by the tofu section imagine what its like for me at the yogurt aisle(S) in French supermarkets!

Texture is definitely an important element of tofu and can be categorised as soft, medium, firm, or extra firm.

Tofu is essentially made from soy milk, water and a coagulant (usually food grade gypsum or calcium sulfate or a chloride based salt ). Firstly soya milk is extracted from ground mature soya beans, then heat and coagulant turn the soya milk into curds. Separating the whey, the curds that are left are pressed in a mould. Tofu that has most of its water pressed out is firm and has a higher protein content. This will give you a very firm tofu. On the opposite end, tofu which has little of its water pressed out will be soft and retain a high water content. So there you have it. All this means that a firmer tofu has more protein than soft tofu. And firmer tofu is better suited to frying or grilling. You may find places where soft tofu is called silken tofu as well. Similar too is the Japanese tofu (version without eggs).

Some tofu brands will indicate the level of firmness. I find this recipe best with a softer tofu, or with Japanese tofu. Just be careful handling the jiggly soft tofu as they may break apart quite easily.

This steamed tofu recipe is simple and delicious. Plus point: you can whip it up in less than ten minutes, if you have some garlic oil all ready. Make a jar of it and it can be used over blanched vegetables or noodle soups. You can also use store-bought fried shallots, or leave it out altogether and grate some fresh ginger over.

With summer arriving, I also like a cold version of this recipe. Just drain the tofu, and pour the topping over (yes, you don’t have to cook tofu, technically it’s already cooked).

Some people say you either hate it or love it when it comes to tofu. I beg to differ. It’s really a matter of cooking it right.

For a cold version of this recipe, simply remove the tofu from the packaging, drain well and top with the condiments listed below. Tofu block sizes may differ, so adjust the condiments accordingly.

Steamed Tofu


Serves 4

Prep Time 5 mins/Cook Time 5 mins/Total Time 10 mins

  • 1 block soft/silken/Japanese tofu (app 300 to 500 g)

  • 1 to 2 tbsp light soya sauce

  • 1/2 to 1 tbsp sesame seed oil

  • 1 1/2 to 2 tsp garlic in oil/fried shallots (see below for recipe)

  • White pepper

  • 2 spring onions, chopped


  1. Prepare your steamer.

  2. Remove tofu block carefully from packaging and drain. Place it into a plate that fits into your steamer.

  3. Steam over high heat for 5 minutes.

  4. Remove from heat, carefully pour out water that may have collected in the bowl.

  5. Top with soya sauce, sesame seed oil, garlic/shallots, dash of white pepper and chopped spring onions.

For the garlic oil


  • 1/4 cup oil

  • 1 small head garlic, peeled and chopped


  1. Peel and chop the garlic (or blend roughly).

  2. Place 1/4 cup oil and chopped garlic in a small pot/pan over medium high heat. Swirling your pan or stirring occasionally, allow to cook until the garlic is lightly golden and crispy.

  3. Remove from heat before it burns, and transfer into a heat-proof jar. Can be kept at room temperature for a week or longer in the fridge.


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