Tofu has a reputation as a bland food that many people 'think' they don’t like.

But this veganuary you might want to give it another try. It derives from the soybean which is boiled, mashed, strained and pressed into a block of curd much as cheese is. There are several textures of plain white tofu: from silken through to soft, medium, firm and extra firm. It's available smoked as well as basil and tomato flavoured, and can be used in savoury or sweet dishes. In Japan they serve it thick and creamy, almost like double cream with a mild beany taste, for breakfast. In Kyoto last year I went for a set 'temple' meal where every dish used tofu differently and deliciously.

Think of it as a flavour sponge that is also high protein and low fat.

Ham & High: Mapo tofuMapo tofu (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)

Mapo tofu (serves 5)

Mapo tofu is delicious and easy to make. It comes from the Sichuan province of China; the tongue numbing qualities of sichuan pepper are a vital ingredient. While it is often served with meat, this is a shiitake mushroom version. For this you will need soft tofu ideally, but it is soaked in hot salty water for 15 minutes prior to cooking.

- 400 g box of soft tofu not silken
- 5 soaked dried shiitake mushrooms, diced, keep water
- 1 red bell pepper, finely sliced
- 400 g fresh shiitake mushroom, sliced thinly
- 400 ml vegetable stock
- 1 thumb fresh ginger, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 4 tbsps groundnut or vegetable oil
- 3 tbsp fermented bean paste
- 1 or 2 small red chillies, minced or a spoonful of Chinese chilli paste
- 1 tsp heaped sichuan peppercorns, finely ground
- 2 tbsps soy or tamari sauce
- 2 tbsp cornflour in 3 tbsps water, mixed into a slurry
- 4 spring onions, finely sliced
- large pinch fresh coriander leaves


Prepare the tofu by cutting it into one inch cubes and soaking it in hot but not boiling salted water. Drain after 15 minutes.

Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms, covering them in boiling water. Leave until soft, then dice the mushrooms. Retain the mushroom soaking water and add to the vegetable stock water.

Prepare the other ingredients so they are ready to stir-fry: red bell pepper, fresh mushrooms, ginger, garlic.

Using a wok or deep frying pan, add the oil and heat to frying temperature. Add the bell peppers,fry for a couple of minutes, then add fermented bean paste, chilli paste or chillies, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sichuan pepper.

Add the mushroom/vegetable broth and simmer on high for a couple of minutes.

Carefully add the cubes of tofu, taking care not to break them too much.
Add the cornflour slurry, stirring for a couple of minutes.

Serve with rice or noodles, garnishing with spring onions or chives and or coriander leaves.

Ham & High: Agedashi tofuAgedashi tofu (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)

Agedashi Tofu (serves 5)

This is a Japanese pescatarian/vegan dish, depending on whether the broth or 'dashi' includes bonito flakes (a kind of fermented tuna) It's subtle in flavour: essentially all about the texture, the soft insides of the tofu cubes with the crispy outsides and the salty broth. It's rather like tofu tempura.


- 400 g soft tofu
- 5 tbsp cornflour
- 300 ml dashi broth
- 2 tbsp mirin (Japanese sweet wine)
- 3 tbsp soy/tamari sauce
- 3 spring onions, finely chopped
- 1 tsp Togarashi (Japanese seven spice)
- vegetable or groundnut oil for deep frying
- 5 inches Daikon radish, finely sliced on a mandoline. optional


Prepare the sauce by mixing the dashi, mirin and soy sauce. Set aside.

Slice the spring onions.

First wrap your tofu in a clean tea towel or kitchen paper and place a weight on top. Leave for 15 minutes. Then cut it into 1 or 2 inch squares.

Sprinkle a plate with cornflour and dip each side of the tofu square with the flour.

Heat up a deep fryer or deep frying pan with oil to 180Cº

Once the outside of the tofu/cornflour looks crispy and starts to float, drain it on some kitchen paper.

Place 3 cubes in a small bowl and pour the broth mixture around the tofu.

Sprinkle with spring onion and togarashi spice. Plus the daikon if you have it.

Serve immediately.