I admit to being a late arrival on the tofu train. For years I thought of it as flavorless, texture-free blocks of protein. It wasn't until one of my sons became a vegetarian and I decided to cut back on the amount of meat in my diet that I decided to look a little more closely at this popular ingredient.

Although tofu (compressed soybean curds) has been popular in Asian cuisine for thousands of years, people from all over the world enjoy it today. In the United States, tofu can be found in almost every grocery store, typically in the produce or global sections, and in many forms, from dried to fresh and soft to extra firm.

While tofu is served in an endless number of ways, for the uninitiated, this week's recipe for Soy Honey-Glazed Crispy Tofu With Broccoli and Carrots makes a delicious first impression.

Transforming tofu from soft and jiggly to shatteringly crispy can be tricky. There are a multitude of recipes, but I have found that most lead to chewy, not necessarily crispy, tofu. The method I've had the most success with comes from award-winning cookbook author J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

He starts by pressing the slices of tofu between layers of paper towels to extract as much liquid as possible. The tofu is then coated in a loose batter made from cornstarch, flour, water and vodka before being pan-fried. While vodka may sound like a strange ingredient in a batter, it's familiar territory for many pie bakers.

Vodka doesn't encourage gluten development the way that water or other liquids do, so when you need to incorporate moisture into a flour-based dough but want that dough to remain tender, as you do with pie dough, vodka can be a helpful addition.

The same concept applies to the batter in this recipe. It needs to have a loose consistency to ensure that the tofu will be light and crispy, and adding vodka thins it out without activating the gluten.

Once battered, the tofu is pan-fried to a deep golden brown. This takes several minutes, but letting the tofu cook long enough in the hot oil allows the coating to dehydrate properly, giving it the desired crunch.

To inject flavor into the dish, a simple sauce with complex flavors is made with soy sauce, honey, ginger, garlic and a touch of cornstarch, which gives it just enough viscosity to coat the tofu, along with stir-fried broccoli and carrots.

Although the tofu does get extra crispy after it's pan-fried, it will lose a little bit of that texture once it's tossed with the sauce, so I like to save that step until just before serving.

Soy Honey-Glazed Crispy Tofu With Broccoli and Carrots

Serves 4.

Drying the tofu thoroughly and coating with a light batter before pan-frying is the key to getting it extra crispy before tossing with a simple soy-honey glaze and stir-fried vegetables. Recipe from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, adapted by Meredith Deeds.

• 1 (12-oz.) block extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2- by 2- by 1-inch slabs

• 1/4 c. low-sodium soy sauce

• 2 tbsp. honey

• 2 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar

• 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

• 1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh ginger

• 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

• 1/3 c. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch, divided

• 1/3 c. flour

• 1/2 tsp. baking powder

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 1/3 c. cold water

• 1/3 c. vodka

• Vegetable oil

• 12 oz. broccoli, cut into small florets

• 2 medium carrots, thinly sliced

• 1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds


Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Arrange the tofu slabs on the towels in a single layer and top with more layers of paper towels. Place another baking sheet on top and press down gently. Let the tofu continue to drain on the paper towels for 15 minutes, changing out the paper towels with fresh ones halfway through.

Whisk together the soy sauce, honey, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon cornstarch in a small bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/3 cup cornstarch, flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk in the cold water and the vodka. The mixture should be thin, but not watery. Add the tofu and gently toss to thoroughly coat.

Heat a 1/4-inch of oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add half of the tofu, letting the excess batter drip off each piece as it's lowered into the skillet. Cook, undisturbed, until very crisp and dark golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Place the tofu on a rack to drain. Repeat with remaining half of the tofu. Drain all but 1 tablespoon oil from the skillet.

Return skillet to high heat and add broccoli and carrots. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned and crisp-tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add soy sauce mixture and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring, until glaze is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 1 to 2 minutes. Just before serving, add tofu back to pan and gently stir to coat.

Divide tofu and vegetables among plates. Sprinkle sesame seeds over the top. Serve immediately with rice, if desired.

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at meredithdeeds@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram ­at @meredithdeeds.