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Today: Tofu (yep, tofu!) like you've never seen it before.
Here's a fun party trick: Put out a platter of jewel-shaped pieces of this fudge, and make people standing nearby guess what's in it. Oh what pretty little candies, they'll think -- maybe they have a little rosewater or some cinnamon? (Nope.)
If these people are adept at on-the-spot taste tests, a bite will reveal cardamom, a faint nuttiness, something creamy. They will not guess that you have also grated in a block of tofu. You'll get them so good!
But they won't mind, and you won't feel like Jessica Seinfeld, because the fudge is perfect just like this: sweet but not too sweet; swept through with cardamom (without its sometimes overbearing froufrou soapiness); nubbled with bits of ground cashew; sticky and a little bouncy, with the addictive springiness of mochi or a nice, high-class gummy.
The recipe comes from Asian Tofu, Andrea Nguyen's meticulously researched cookbook (and a former Piglet contender!) that shows us all the ways tofu can behave as an ingredient, not just a one-for-one substitute in stir-fries and scrambles.
More: A vegan alternative to scrambled eggs (+ tempeh bacon).
Nguyen was hunting for Indian tofu treatments for the book -- there wasn't much published on the subject. But in Kavitha Reddy's The Indian Soy Cookbook, she found a technique she hadn't seen before. "East and Southeast Asian cooks may squeeze, press, and freeze tofu to manipulate its texture," Nguyen says. "But shredding it was brilliant."
When you pass tofu through a fine grater, its wobbly mass breaks down and becomes almost feathery, so it can thread in with other ingredients, adding moisture and structure without taking over. From here, it can be used in the place of grated paneer, which Nguyen folds into Indian-spiced chickpea crepes, or in Moosewood's tofu burgers. Just note that it won't actually melt. ("I tried grated tofu on pizza and it was disgusting," Nguyen told me.)
In this recipe, the tofu is used as a substitute for the cooked-down milk in traditional kaju barfi, which shaves off cook time and makes an easier-to-work-with confection that doesn't need to be kneaded or rolled out.
To make it, you stir a heap of shredded tofu into a pan of ground cashews, cardamom, and sweetened condensed milk (to bind the mix), and cook it all down just until it pulls away from the sides of the pan. Then, you'll spread it in a thin layer, and sprinkle pistachios on top. Once it sets, you can cut it into whatever shapes you fancy.
It's true that we can appreciate tofu in sweets for the same reasons we value it in vegetarian and vegan cooking -- tofu, by nature, will inject protein and all sorts of other healthful traits wherever it goes (and temper the sugar too). But more important than that, it makes a lovely end product, and does so more quickly and simply than your average barfi recipe.
The fudge keeps and travels well, and can even be frozen, making it a smart make-ahead treat to keep around for the holidays. In a season when many of us are already suffering from buttery cookie overload, it's a no-bake sweet with a lighter footprint and, therefore, an especially welcome edible gift. Dare to be the only person gifting tofu candy. Like other sticky, spiced Indian sweets, it's best served with tea.
Recipe adapted slightly from Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, Cook it at Home (Ten Speed Press, 2012)
Makes 36 small pieces
Photos by Mark Weinberg
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