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Easy dinner recipes: Homemade tofu and creative ideas for Meatless Monday

Here's something fun for Meatless Monday: Homemade tofu. The method is simple: Combine cold soy milk with nigari water (a brine used to set the soy milk) and steam the milk until it sets up like a custard. The whole process takes about 15 minutes. The results? Very light in flavor, this delicate tofu is almost like a custard with its creamy texture. Flavor it with a variety of sweet or savory ideas depending on your tastes.

If you're not into the idea of trying homemade tofu, consider this: For a rich and flavorful -- and completely vegetarian -- dinner idea, look no further than this tofu dish from Andrea Nguyen. Fermented black beans give it a rich, almost meaty flavor and feel. It's a great main dish, served with a side of rice.

Or go the deep-fried route: Deep-fry cubes of tofu and serve with a tart, tangy dipping sauce flavored with soy sauce, rice vinegar, green onion, garlic and red chile, with a touch of sugar to sweeten. The whole dish comes together in less than 30 minutes.

In 2009, Food did a story on fresh tofu in Southern California. We included a recipe for fresh, homemade tofu -- very light in flavor, this delicate tofu is almost like a custard with its creamy texture.

The method is simple: Combine some cold soy milk with nigari water (a brine used to set the soy milk) and steam the milk until it sets up like a custard. The whole process takes about 15 minutes.

- See more at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/dailydish/2012/03/test-kitchen-tips-homemade-tofu.html#sthash.6Tjk9w9Z.dpu

In 2009, Food did a story on fresh tofu in Southern California. We included a recipe for fresh, homemade tofu -- very light in flavor, this delicate tofu is almost like a custard with its creamy texture.

The method is simple: Combine some cold soy milk with nigari water (a brine used to set the soy milk) and steam the milk until it sets up like a custard. The whole process takes about 15 minutes.

- See more at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/dailydish/2012/03/test-kitchen-tips-homemade-tofu.html#sthash.6Tjk9w9Z.dpuf

In 2009, Food did a story on fresh tofu in Southern California. We included a recipe for fresh, homemade tofu -- very light in flavor, this delicate tofu is almost like a custard with its creamy texture.

The method is simple: Combine some cold soy milk with nigari water (a brine used to set the soy milk) and steam the milk until it sets up like a custard. The whole process takes about 15 minutes.

- See more at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/dailydish/2012/03/test-kitchen-tips-homemade-tofu.html#sthash.6Tjk9w9Z.dpu

In 2009, Food did a story on fresh tofu in Southern California. We included a recipe for fresh, homemade tofu -- very light in flavor, this delicate tofu is almost like a custard with its creamy texture.

The method is simple: Combine some cold soy milk with nigari water (a brine used to set the soy milk) and steam the milk until it sets up like a custard. The whole process takes about 15 minutes.

- See more at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/dailydish/2012/03/test-kitchen-tips-homemade-tofu.html#sthash.6Tjk9w9Z.dpuf

In 2009, Food did a story on fresh tofu in Southern California. We included a recipe for fresh, homemade tofu -- very light in flavor, this delicate tofu is almost like a custard with its creamy texture.

The method is simple: Combine some cold soy milk with nigari water (a brine used to set the soy milk) and steam the milk until it sets up like a custard. The whole process takes about 15 minutes.

- See more at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/dailydish/2012/03/test-kitchen-tips-homemade-tofu.html#sthash.6Tjk9w9Z.dpu

RECIPES: 99 easy dinner ideas in about an hour or less

Of course, you could always stick with a simple sandwich. Flavor mashed tofu with fresh basil, green onion, garlic and lemon juice and use it as a spread. Add sliced tomato, red onion, shredded carrot, alfalfa sprouts and crisp romaine to create a sandwich as flavorful as it is colorful. While it works great as a dinner option, it travels well and is also a great choice for picnics and packed lunches.

You can find all four recipes below.

And for more ideas, click through our easy dinner recipes gallery and check out our Dinner Tonight page, devoted to recipes that can be made in an hour or less. Looking for a particular type of recipe? Comment below or email me at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

Homemade tofu

Total time: 15 minutes

Servings: 5 (3-ounce cup) custards

Note: Adapted from Sona's Kuniko Yagi and Meiji Tofu. Nigari water is a brine used to set the soy milk. It is available at Japanese markets. Serve with grated ginger and soy sauce, or with a chiffonade of herbs, such as shiso or mitsuba, and yuzu.

2 cups cold soy milk (must contain more than 12% soy)

1 teaspoon nigari water

1. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, stir together the soy milk with the nigari water. Pour the liquid into 5 ramekins; each should hold about 3 ounces.

2. Place the ramekins in a stove-top steamer, cover and steam just until the tofu is set on top, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the heat, type of nigari and soy concentration in the milk. (It will jiggle when tapped, like crème brûlée.) Remove from heat, cool until just warm and serve. Or cool to room temperature and chill; serve within two days.

Each serving: 46 calories; 3 grams protein; 4 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 2 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 64 mg. sodium.

- See more at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/dailydish/2012/03/test-kitchen-tips-homemade-tofu.html#sthash.6Tjk9w9Z.dpuf

HOMEMADE TOFU

Total time: 15 minutes

Servings: 5 (3-ounce cup) custards

Note: Adapted from Sona's Kuniko Yagi and Meiji Tofu. Nigari water is a brine used to set the soy milk. It is available at Japanese markets. Serve with grated ginger and soy sauce, or with a chiffonade of herbs, such as shiso or mitsuba, and yuzu.

2 cups cold soy milk (must contain more than 12% soy)

1 teaspoon nigari water

1. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, stir together the soy milk with the nigari water. Pour the liquid into 5 ramekins; each should hold about 3 ounces.

2. Place the ramekins in a stove-top steamer, cover and steam just until the tofu is set on top, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the heat, type of nigari and soy concentration in the milk. (It will jiggle when tapped, like crème brûlée.) Remove from heat, cool until just warm and serve. Or cool to room temperature and chill; serve within two days.

Each serving: 46 calories; 3 grams protein; 4 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 2 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 64 mg. sodium. 

DEEP FRIED TOFU WITH DIPPING SAUCE

Total time: 25 minutes

Servings: 4 appetizer portions

Note: If you can't find fried tofu, use the firmest fresh tofu you can get. Press the tofu down, leaving something heavy (such as a cutting board stacked with your heaviest cookbooks) on top to squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes and dust lightly with cornstarch before frying.

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1 stalk green onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon red chile, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

5-7 ounces fried tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes

Vegetable oil

1. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, vinegar and sugar, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the green onion, garlic, chile and black pepper, and stir to combine. Set aside. This makes about one-third cup dipping sauce.

2. Pan-fry the cubes of tofu in a wok or medium, heavy-bottom saucepan: Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the wok or pan and heat over medium-high heat until hot. Test the oil with one cube of tofu, adjusting the heat as necessary so the cube fries quickly but does not burn. Fry the cubes in a single layer, making sure the pieces do not touch, until crisp on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes total. Repeat until all of the tofu pieces are cooked; this may need to be done in 2 batches.

3. Drain the pieces on a paper towel-lined plate.

4. Serve the fried tofu hot with the dipping sauce on the side.

Each serving: 191 calories; 9 grams protein; 7 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 15 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 762 mg. sodium.

VEGETARIAN HUNAN-STYLE TOFU

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Servings: Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as part of a multi-dish meal

Note: Relatively firm-yet-tender tofu, such as Trader Joe's, pan-fries beautifully with minimal splatter. This is not overly saucy. There should be some visible sauce but the tofu isn't swimming in it. Serve the tofu with rice. The fermented black bean stock is from Fuchsia Dunlop's "Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook."

Fermented black bean stock

4 cups water

1 tablespoon fermented black beans, unrinsed

In a small saucepan, bring the water and black beans to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Strain and use immediately or partially cover, cool and refrigerate for up to several days. This makes about 3 cups of stock, more than is needed for the remainder of the recipe; the stock will keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 1 week.

Hunan-style tofu and assembly

14 to 16 ounces firm tofu

1/4 teaspoon salt, more as needed

2 teaspoons light (regular) soy sauce

3/4 cup fermented black bean stock (or another vegetarian stock)

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 Fresno chile, cut on the diagonal into thin pieces, discarding the seeds that fall out

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 to 4 ounces fresh shiitake mushroom, trimmed and cut into ¼-inch-thick pieces

1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons fermented black beans, unrinsed

Generous ½ teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons fermented black bean stock or water

1 green onion, white and green parts, cut on the bias

3/4 teaspoon sesame oil

1/2 to 1 teaspoon chile oil

1. Cut the tofu into chunky matchboxes, each about 1½ inches by 2 inches by ½ inch. Line a plate with a dish towel or double layer of paper towels, then place the tofu on top to drain for 5 to 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the one-fourth teaspoon salt, soy sauce and black bean stock to make the seasoning liquid. Taste and season with additional salt if desired. Set this seasoning liquid with the other ingredients near the stove.

3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Blot dry the tofu, then pan-fry until golden brown and lightly crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate, leaving the oil behind.

4. Reduce the heat slightly and add the chile and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Scatter in the mushrooms along with 1 to 2 pinches of salt. Give things a turn, then splash in the rice wine and stir. After the wine evaporates, add the black beans. Continue to cook until the mushrooms have softened slightly, about 1 minute, stirring constantly.

5. Return the tofu to the skillet, gently toss to combine, then pour over the seasoning liquid. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, turning over the tofu midway. When about half of the liquid has been absorbed, stir in the cornstarch slurry. Cook, gently stirring, until the sauce thickens slightly and clings to the tofu, about 1 minute. Stir in the green onion and continue to cook just until the onion starts to wilt. Remove from heat, stir in the sesame and chile oils and transfer to a plate.

Each of 4 servings: 302 calories; 19 grams protein; 9 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 23 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 1 gram sugar; 349 mg sodium.

BASIL TOFU AND VEGETABLE SANDWICH

1/2 (12-ounce) carton extra-firm tofu

1 tablespoon minced basil

3 tablespoons minced green onions

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon crushed black pepper

12 slices whole wheat bread

12 slices tomato

6 slices red onion

3 cups shredded carrot

12 romaine leaves

3 cups alfalfa sprouts

Drain tofu and pat dry with paper towel. Mash tofu with fork in bowl. Stir in basil, green onions, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Spread 2 tablespoons tofu mixture on each of 6 slices bread. Top each with 2 tomato slices, 1 red onion slice, 1/2 cup shredded carrot, 2 romaine leaves, 1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts and 1 slice bread.

6 servings. Each serving: 202 calories; 484 mg sodium; 2 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 34 grams carbohydrates; 12 grams protein; 2.02 grams fiber.

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