Meatless Monday: Sink Your Teeth Into Baked Tofu

It's not always easy observing Meatless Monday, especially when your next-door neighbor, downstairs neighbor and ground-level super all appear to be frying bacon. I once claimed smoked tofu might be the new bacon (it was a Monday, by the way) and got skewered, smacked down, all kinds of rejected. I get the message: nothing, specifically not tofu, is bacon but bacon. But it's Meatless Monday — I'm powerless to cheat at this point, so I turn to the meatiest vegetarian non-meat substitute I know: baked tofu.

I don't do meat substitutes of any kind — they're packed with processed gluten and truly insane amounts of sodium on top of not tasting good. Seriously, present me with delicious fake chicken. Tell me what seitan tastes like, other than a sweaty racketball. For years I didn't think tofu had any flavor by itself, that you really had to drown it, fry it, smother it or blend it into something else altogether. I caught on to its natural characteristics when I started eating silken tofu, typically in the form of Japanese hiyayakko and discovered the method that retains tofu's mild, fresh flavor while deeply imbuing it with whatever makes it go with the rest of your meal. A good soak and bake will turn extra-firm tofu into something you can be proud to eat for lunch.

Drain a block of extra-firm tofu, then press it between clean dishtowels or several layers of paper towels weighted down with a dinner plate to remove as much of the interior moisture as possible, especially from the surface (so it crisps up). Slice lengthwise, marinate in any of the following from the list below, place on a baking sheet, brush with more marinade and bake at 350F for an hour or until all the liquid is absorbed and the tofu is thoroughly golden brown.

Another way is to grill or sear the tofu, but baking really helps the marinade sink in. You can slice it into strips or cubes for pasta, a salad or a sandwich; however, I just kind of go in on the whole hunk like it was a chicken leg, and it's very nearly as satisfying. Watch my next door neighbor roast a chicken for dinner tonight. Those walls are so permeable.

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