Mom's Tofu Salad

I love tofu. Love it, love it, love it. And as an enthusiastic member of the pro-tofu camp,  I just don't understand why some people dislike the stuff so much, they can't help but roll their eyes at the very mention of the word. Where does this tofu-hatred come from? I mean, we're not talking about something that's bitter or fishy or stinky or objectionable in any obvious way, really. It's bland, true, but possesses a remarkable ability to soak up whatever flavors we choose to throw in the pot (or salad bowl) with it.

I blame tofurkey, tofu dogs, tofu chicken-flavored ham rolls—and every other effort to turn soybean curd into something it's not—for tofu's undeserved bad reputation. Just because you can mold it into various shapes and inject it with, um,  faux meat flavorings, doesn't mean you should. When you treat something as little more than a pale meat substitute, is it any wonder that it comes up short? Let's be clear: tofu does not make a credible hot dog. Sure, you can slap it on the grill, slather it with mustard, and wrap it in a bun—but don't expect it to taste good.

All ranting aside, I say let tofu be tofu. Embrace its jiggly texture and creamy bite. Jazz it up with bright, bold flavors. Served cold, it is a delicious summertime treat—light and refreshing, yet substantial too. This simple summery salad, a recipe my mom's been making for years, features tuna, spicy watercress, and a yummy sesame-garlic dressing; I hope you'll agree with me that it's a excellent start in restoring tofu's good name.


1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped

Combine ingredients in a large glass measuring cup. Microwave for about 45 seconds to cook garlic a bit. Let cool. Whisk to blend ingredients before using.

1 1-pound tub Japanese-style "regular" (medium) tofu*
1 can tuna
1 bunch watercress, roughly chopped

Drain tofu well on a few layers of paper towels. Drain tuna. Cut tofu into 1-inch cubes. Arrange tofu on serving plate, scatter tuna on the tofu, and top with watercress. Spoon dressing over the salad (begin with about half, and add more to taste).

*Don't use the (icky) shelf-stable vacuum-packed tofu—use the kind that comes in a tub.

Susan of Food Blogga is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging this week—check her site Sunday for the roundup!

Categories: Main Dishes, Salads, Vegetables, Fish and Shellfish, Japanese and Japanese American Recipes
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  • 7/10/2007 7:46 PM Karen wrote:
    I love tofu, too. But I'm the lone bean curd lover in my house. I always keep a tub on hand, and THIS is what I'm making for lunch tomorrow...thanks.
  • 7/11/2007 5:27 AM Claire Walter wrote:
    As I read your rhetorical question pondering why people hate tofu, I found myself nodding. As I read your speculation (tofurkey, etc.), I nodded some more. I'm traveling right now but totally plan to prepare that salad when I get home.
  • 7/11/2007 1:49 PM Yvo wrote:
    *grimace* Hahahaha. I like tofu but only in certain forms. Fried- yum. Sweet in a light syrup, hot (Chinese style?), delicious. Tofu skin stuffed with rice - inari - ooh I'm there. I don't know. Honestly it was as a kid I didn't like it, avoided it, and now I don't really encounter it much, but it sounds like I like it...
    1. 7/11/2007 8:01 PM Sarah Kiino wrote:

      Hi Karen--I'm so sorry to hear you're the lone tofu lover in your home. Of course, that does mean more for you . . .

      Hi Claire--Yeah, I admit that I've never tasted the nasty stuff myself, but from what I hear, it's pretty bad. And it just doesn't sound the least bit appealing. I hope you like the salad!

      Hi Yvo--I love inari too! We used to call them footballs. Another preparation of tofu that's really good is mapo dofu--just try not to like it!

      1. 7/16/2007 12:42 PM Yvo wrote:
        Sarah - mapo dofu is Chinese, right? My friends are always amazed that I've never had it. Well, it's spicy, which neatly explains it- my mom didn't make spicy stuff much as a kid because I wouldn't eat it. I still have yet to try it because I'm still trying to build tolerance to spicy... but I admit being interested after hearing EVERYONE rave about it. Hehe. Maybe next time
        1. 7/16/2007 6:18 PM Sarah Kiino wrote:

          Hi Yvo--Yes, mapo dofu is a Chinese dish of super-soft tofu with ground pork in a sauce that can be really spicy. Wonderful over rice.

  • 7/12/2007 9:49 AM Patricia Scarpin wrote:
    Sarah, I've only had tofu once and I must confess I didn't like it - maybe it was the way it was prepared/served.
    I'll give it another try after reading your post!
    1. 7/15/2007 12:21 AM Sarah Kiino wrote:

      Hi Patricia--Just remember, since is bland on its own, it's all about the seasoning. It also comes in a host of varieties and textures, so if you didn't care for one type, it's worth giving others a try.

  • 7/13/2007 1:32 PM mom wrote:
    Hi, Sarah ......

    I JUST made the tofu salad the other day. It was very, very hot here so the tofu salad was the perfect meal. Had some leftover wild salmon so I used that instead of tuna. And I didn't have any watercress and used arugula instead. Made some rice cakes and it was very satisfying .... Hugs, mom
    1. 7/15/2007 12:20 AM Sarah Kiino wrote:
      Hi Mom--that sounds great! This is one of our favorite summer recipes.
  • 7/14/2007 1:55 AM MeltingWok wrote:
    Me too !! Sooo many varieties to explore. Chinese five spiced tofu, Japanese egg tofu, soft tofu, firm tofu, tofu-fa, tofu skin, tofu wrap, tofu sheet, tofu sticks, tofu anything, endless possibilities
  • 7/14/2007 1:51 PM Susan from Food Blogga wrote:
    Well said, Sarah! I LOVE tofu and am mystified by so many people's revulsion toward it. I agree that the tofurkey et al meat substitutions have tarnished tofu's reputation. I eat tofu almost daily and find its versatility unmatched. Thanks for a great WHB entry!
    1. 7/14/2007 8:26 PM Sarah Kiino wrote:

      Hi MeltingWok--That's so true. One of my favorite types is the stinky Chinese fermented tofu--I like to eat it mixed up in my rice (though the smell sends Brian running in the opposite direction).

      Hi Susan--I'm glad you agree--and thanks for hosting Weekend Herb Blogging!

  • 7/15/2007 9:22 AM Michelle wrote:
    Sounds like the perfect summer dinner. Will definitely try it soon.
  • 7/16/2007 10:16 AM Simona wrote:
    I like your 'let tofu be tofu' and totally agree with the statement. I have to admit I have never made anything with fresh tofu. Until yesterday that would have been true of grilled tofu as well, but last night I made a salad with some of it and quinoa. Your recipe may just be the inspiration to look for fresh tofu the next time I go grocery shopping.
  • 7/16/2007 10:22 AM Kalyn wrote:
    Oh I love the sound of this. I'm not a tofu-hater at all, but I admit I rarely cook with it. This sounds like something I'd love though. Saving the recipe right now!
    1. 7/16/2007 6:16 PM Sarah Kiino wrote:

      Hi Michelle--It does make a good light dinner on a hot night. Hope you enjoy it!

      Hi Simona--Your salad sounds yummy too! Tofu can often be found in the produce section of the grocery store or, of course, at a Japanese store if you have any near you.

      Hi Kalyn--I hope you do love it!

  • 7/17/2007 7:57 PM Bon Vivant wrote:
    For a short time there was a tofu restaurant in Bev Hills (a branch of a famous restaraunt in Japan) and it was wonderful. Many people hated the idea of paying $100 per person for tofu but it was truly delicious. The $10K toilets were fun too.

    I was just having a discussion with someone from China and I mentioned that as an Italian I can't understand why people put pineapple on their pizzas. She mentioned that it really bugged her about how tofu was always turned into something else like hotdogs, burgers, etc. I realized that I hate that stuff and really love tofu in it's minimalist form - the simpler the better.
    1. 7/19/2007 10:20 PM Sarah Kiino wrote:
      Hi Bon Vivant--I think that's true--I love tofu for what it is, and like to stick with traditional flavors.
  • 7/24/2007 12:53 PM YO wrote:
    Hi Sarah! We moved to Hawaii from Seattle and are loving the adventure of finding LIGHTER local food, much as we love the regular kind too. The tofu salad is great; we use a variation of it for our office potlucks; fine-chopped Roma tomatoes add a nice flavor. I was searching for the dressing recipe as I have a hankering for watercress and tofu and found your website; thank you!
    I don't get the tofu-avoiders either; I can eat it right out of the package, even the shelf-stable kind. I add tofu cubes to many stirfry dishes after marinating in shoyu and ginger and garlic. Great protein load for us too, especially if you're watching meat intake and getting tired of beans. I explain it to folks as really large curd cottage cheese and have gotten others to try it that way. Whatever works...Yummmmmmmmmmm
    1. 7/25/2007 6:19 PM Sarah Kiino wrote:
      Hi Yo--

      I love the idea of the chopped tomato--it would make the salad extra pretty. And I'll have to try your "large-curd cottage cheese" description on the next person I meet who doesn't like tofu! (Hopefully they won't be cottage cheese haters too.)
  • 11/8/2007 10:35 PM Kae wrote:
    I'm not a usual tofu eater, but due to some financial problems lately, I resorted to tofu (its somewhat cheap aorund here, bought a lot and didn't know what to do with it!). I made a variation of your recipe (no sesame oil, tuna, or watercress) using red wine vinegar in place of the sesame oil, and its amazing! Your recipe definetly restored my interest in tofu, thanks!
    1. 11/11/2007 2:05 PM Sarah Kiino wrote:
      Hi Kae--if you are eating a lot of tofu, perhaps you'd  also like to give my mapo dofu recipe a try. The Szechuan peppercorns are purely optional--you could also use a little extra dried chile or even black pepper. Thanks for your comment!
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