Growing up, tofu was not actually food, it was just this weird concept I had heard about, probably from someone in California. And what I heard was that it was something hippies used to make awful meat substitutes instead of just eating yummy meat. My first couple of experiences trying it as an adult were unfortunately along those lines and only reinforced that impression.
Eventually I did get to eat some tasty Asian tofu dishes which salvaged its reputation somewhat. I still thought of it as something that was used in a dish in place of meat, however, either for health, cost, or philosophical reasons. The concept of a non-vegetarian tofu dish seemed like an oxymoron.
That perception changed a couple of years ago when we got the cookbook Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen. In several recipes from the book, tofu is used as an accompaniment to meat instead of a replacement and the results are excellent. One example is Qe nqaij qaib xyaw taum paj (which is Hmong, but would also make an excellent cryptogram) or “Tofu Chicken Meatballs in Lemongrass Broth.” This is to be read as “Tofu and chicken”, not Tofu “chicken” (though in our house it’s usually tofu and ground turkey, just not Tofurkey). The dish is great – tasty, filling, healthy, and relatively easy to make.
Another example from the book that has become a staple for us is Ma Po Dou Fu or “Spicy Tofu with Beef and Sichuan Peppercorn.” Again, we tend to substitute ground turkey for the beef. Finally, this past week my wife found a recipe online for “Silken Tofu with Spicy Sausage.” The first batch was polished off in record time and a second batch was made, and finished, immediately thereafter.
We do make a number of purely vegetarian tofu dishes as well, including a delicious Korean banchan that requires considerable willpower not to scarf it all down in one sitting, but the meat/tofu combination dishes hold a special place on our household menu.