Tasty Tofu and Tomatoes

One of the advantages of being the youngest in the family was that I was doted on by all manner of aunties, uncles and cousins.

One of the biggest drawbacks, though, was that by the time I was born, all but one of my grand-parents had already passed away.

My mother’s mother was still alive when I was a toddler. But by that time, she was quite advanced in age, bed-ridden, and being cared for by another of her daughters. Worse, my grandmother spoke no English. And I spoke no Cantonese.

I would run into her bedroom to say hello, as best I could. She would respond in Chinese, as she lay in bed. If my Mom or aunt were not present to translate, I would have no idea what she had just said. I’d smile meekly, and just nod, not knowing what else to do.

So, when I hear folks talk nostalgically about the wonderful food their grandmother cooked for them when they were growing up, I get wistful, because I never had that magical experience.

Which is why “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook (Sasquatch Book) touches my heart so. It was written by my friend, Patricia Tanumihardja, who grew up in Singapore and now lives on the Monterey Peninsula.

Pat interviewed and cooked with Asian grandmothers, mothers and aunts to create this book of 130 recipes for home-style dishes that might otherwise have never been written down and might have faded away from memory.

Dishes such as this super simple, “Deep-Fried Tofu Simmered with Tomatoes,” that’s perfect on a harried weeknight.

You take deep-fried tofu, which you can buy ready-to-use at Asian markets, and layer the rectangles in a skillet with wedges of fresh tomato. Pour a mixture of fish sauce and sugar over it all. Sprinkle on some chopped green onions. Then, let it cook on the stovetop for about 15 minutes, until the tomatoes start to break down. That’s it.

What you get is a protein-packed, nourishing dish that’s sweet, tangy and salty, in no time at all.

Feel free to improvise with the dish, too. You can add meat, if you like. I added some fresh asparagus spears because I had some on hand. While the recipe calls for deep-fried tofu, I actually experimented with fried tofu pouches instead, which I bought at a Japanese market. They’re typically used to make inari-zushi, those little fried tofu pockets stuffed with rice that’s been seasoned with rice wine vinegar. While deep-fried tofu is crispy on the outside, and dense and creamy inside, the tofu pouches are much thinner, and almost all crispy, spongy exterior.

I don’t know if either of my grandmothers ever a dish like this. But I’m glad someone’s grandmother did, so that we can all savor it now.

Deep-Fried Tofu Simmered with Tomatoes

(Serves 4 to 6 as part of a multi-course, family-style meal)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 (12-ounce) package deep-fried tofu (try to find a package with eighteen 1- by 2-inch rectangular pieces) OR 16-18 fried tofu pouches

1 1/2 pounds (about 4 medium) tomatoes, cut into 8 wedges

1 bunch asparagus, tough ends trimmed off, and stalks cut into 3-inch lengths (optional)

1/4 cup fish sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

2 green onions, green parts only, chopped

Coat bottom of a large nonstick skillet with oil. Arrange tofu pieces side-by-side in a single layer. Wedge tomatoes in wherever you can around the tofu. If you have to pile the tomatoes on top of the tofu to form a second layer, that’s OK, too. Scatter asparagus over the top, if using.

In a small bowl, mix fish sauce and sugar together. Pour over tofu and tomatoes in the skillet. Sprinkle green onions over the top. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until tomatoes soften and their juices are released, 10 to 15 minutes. The skins also will start to peel away from the flesh. Serve hot with freshly steamed rice.

Adapted from a recipe by Lan Tran, published in “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook”

More: “Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce”

More: A Visit to Hodo Soy Beanery, Oakland’s Organic Tofu Producer

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  • That is an interesting dish! I’ve never had tofu pouches, but I’m sure they taste wonderful with the tomatoes.



  • Must be really tasty with the fish sauce! I like deep-fried tofu pouches, they just soak up all those yummy gravy.

  • Oage-san with fresh tomatoes is a really tempting recipe! Normal tofu is fine, but I love fried-tofu more because it gives a depth of flavour and volume. Thanks for sharing!

    BTW, Nori (dried seaweed sheet)on toast with soy was originally developed in the downtown area of Tokyo, whose local product was nori. I’ve rarey seen people eating it these days, but the taste is good nostalgically ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Those tofu pouches look much more puffy and absorbent than the already sweetly-sauced ones I buy in cans. Will definitely seek those out and try this tasty-sounding dish! Thanks, Carolyn ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I didn’t grow up eating my grandparents’ food either because my mom’s parents lived in Hong Kong and we lived in Hawaii, and my dad’s father died before I was born and my grandmother died when I was in grade school. So I know what you mean about memories of home-cooked meals. I look at my nephews and nieces and envy them that they get to eat my mom’s food.

  • I’ve never seen tofu like this, i really like the look of it’s texture and would love to try it if I ever see it in my neck of the woods (which is in the absolute boonies LOL).

  • I love the idea of this, and the Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook. I would have never though to put tomatoes with tofu, but then I had a Vietnamese dish that involved tofu in a tomato sauce, probably from French influence, that I thought was quite good and it opened my eyes.

  • I think it’s fun to be youngest but with some disadvantages. I was, too….well pampered but never learned to cook. Was so stressed when I got married…a long journey in learning to cook. LOve your tofu dish. have not tried that huge tofu puff in my cooking yet. Must try one of these days. Don’t think I have seen this in the Chinese shop…a small one only ๐Ÿ™ Your dish looks very healthy and delicious. I like it.

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  • wonderful commentary and thanks for letting us know of this book!

  • This looks delish – as does the warm tofu dish. My kids LOVE tofu and I’m always looking for more ways to prepare it. I’m going to seek out these tofu pouches in Japantown. I think the kids will enjoy this dish. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • This looks amazing, yummy and healthy. Great combo. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • There used to be a Thai restaurant over in Herndon, VA that made fried tofu with tomato, onion, and garlic. I never would’ve thought to order it, an Indian woman who worked with me suggested I try it. Delicious!!! Unfortunately it got dropped from the menu when new owners came. Not sure how close this comes.

  • Keith: Oooh, that version sounds good, too. Just shows how well tofu and tomatoes go together, huh?

  • What a great summer dish. The taste neutrality of Tofu just lends itself to flavors of all kinds. I didn’t realize you could buy ready-to-use deep fried tofu. I’ll have to hunt it down in my market. Add a little ginger, garlic and chili? ๐Ÿ™‚

  • ah, memories. ๐Ÿ™‚
    i’ll be honest–deep-fried is just about the only way you’ll get me to eat tofu. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Sounds delicious. Tomatoes seem like an unusual ingredient here but I have to say they sound good!

  • What a lovely tofu dish! I love tofu and this recipe is very tempting. Beautiful photos!

  • Recently, I have been adding tomatoes in almost every dish I cook and I can tell you, I love it! Not only tangy, tomato is known to have an unami-factor…adding unexplained savoriness in dishes. So I know this dish can be tasty.

    Wooo hooo….Patricia grew up in Singapore?…..hmmmm….I’m more curious now ๐Ÿ˜€

    *goes google….AGAIN*

  • Pat is an Indonesian but grew up in Singapore. Her mom has an Indonesian restaurant/catering biz in Seattle:

    I’ve tried her recipes too. They’re yummy and the stories behind every recipe is very thoughtful.

  • I’ve never used deep fried tofu, so now I have to look for it! Sounds delicious with the fish sauce, and the asparagus is a great addition.

  • This dish is very intruiging & very interesting too!

    I have never tasted deep fried tofu,..it jsut looks so tasty!

  • What an interesting dish! I’ve never tried tofu fried before, but I like the idea. I know what you mean about grandparents. I was too young to know my grandparents before they passed, and I was a young adult when both my parents passed…you always wonder “what if” don’t you?

  • now that’s a good combo. i would love to put a bit of that spicy aioli sauce on there too.

  • I love the package for the tofu, o is an honorific and so is the suffix -san. The japanese do love their tofu! My grandmother would simmer those fried packets for a day before draining them and filling them with the seasoned rice. Inarisushi was her specialty… I just got the Asian Grandmother’s cookbook last week and loved reading the profiles and stories, haven’t tried any dishes but this looks great.

  • I’d seen this cookbook, and had been intrigued but had not had the opportunity to dig into it. Now you have me inspired to go back, if for nothing else but to see what other tasty recipes it produces. This tofu and tomatoes sounds like a real winner.

  • Can I use the “red rocks” from the supermarket? Or canned tomatoes? Of course, home grown tomatoes are best, but I don’t have any at the moment and am anxious to try this recipe.

  • Cindy: You can use either, though, the canned ones might have more flavor than the supermarket ones at this time of year. Hope you enjoy the dish!

  • Hi Carolyn,

    Sorry this is so late in coming but thank you for sharing my cookbook and this yummy recipe with your blog readers! It’s a great recipe even for non-tofu lovers. I love how you’ve added your own touches–that’s what homecooking is about. I, like you, never knew my grandmothers so working on this project was an amazing experience. I now have several surrogate grandmothers!

  • This looks like another quick and tasty dish!

  • I love the way you prepared this with the asparagus and tomato…so fresh!
    Sounds like a truly lovely cookbook

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