Seriously, I love tofu. I lived on a sort of hippie commune in the middle of nowhere for several years in the late 70's, and about the only protein I ever got was tofu and the occasional tiny bit of cheese. So I learned to love it. Tofu and miso soup. Fried tofu. Tofu sandwiches. Yes, tofu sandwiches.
So last week, trying to come up with something new for the blog, Jhan decided to try marinated tofu, and it allowed me to try out some Asian-looking plates and dishes I'd bought. Turns out it was delicious.
The Food (Jhan)
I love tofu too.
Tofu can be bland and tasteless but if flavored properly it can be a tasty treat. One of the tricks to flavoring tofu involves marinating the tofu with some combination of sauces and spices that includes oil and vinegar (try different oils and vinegars to change the flavor profile). Both the Tassajara Cookbook and Mollie Katzen (can't remember which cookbook) offer great basic tofu marinade recipes to use as a pattern to create flavorful tofu tailored to your taste.
I use firm or extra firm tofu and I always press the water out of it - some recipes say to freeze the tofu first and then thaw and press the water out - either way is fine depending on what texture you prefer for your tofu and sometimes the cooking method you'll use. For this dish I marinated the tofu with sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic salt, crushed red peppers, green onions, black sesame seeds and a little soy sauce. I added some honey to sweeten the marinade slightly - you can use agave nectar or brown sugar if you want. The sesame oil is a very strong flavor but goes well with the veggies in the final dish.
After marinating the tofu overnight I baked it on a parchment lined baking tray at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. The baking produces a tofu that is crispy on the outside but soft and creamy on the inside.I stir fried the veggies with salt, cracked black pepper, crushed red peppers, ginger and added a tablespoon of General Tso's stir fry sauce at the end - you can use any thick soy or teriyaki sauce you like, peanut sauce is also great.
Like I said, I wanted to try out some Asian-looking dishes, and once I saw how Jhan was preparing the food, I decided to go with a rectangular plate and placed four of the tofu squares on the plate. I wanted to put down five (because odd numbers are compositionally more dynamic), but I didn't have room.
I thought the plate looked a bit boring with just the tofu squares on it, so I got the bright idea of dripping some sriracha sauce on the plate to add a bit of color. I almost freaked out when I saw the huge red blobs start to splatter on the plate. God, those drops were HUGE, and not the effect I wanted at all. But it was too late. I cursed myself for ruining the shot, but went ahead with it anyway (tasted great, though!).
On the shoot table, I went with a dark brown table cloth and a round light brown place mat to accentuate the color of the tofu. I put the white rice in a black bowl and the stir fried vegetables in a white bowl. Chopsticks completed a simple, but clean presentation. Circles on the edges, rectangles in the center was the theme of this composition.
In the end, I've been able to look past the blood-splattered plate and to enjoy the lighting and the composition, but next time I'll think twice before adding something like that to a plate.
I put the key light high and on the right, but zoomed tight and pointed down on the food. This left some pronounced shadows. The rear fill and left fill were turned down provide relatively little light, and the low position of the left fill insured that it wouldn't fill many shadows.
As a result, I got what I think is some of my best lighting to date. Let me know what you think.