Here is the raw(ish) version of the Pinoy ulam known as ampalaya con tokwa. The latter is a hearty dish that is typically stir fried with egg and served with rice. As a vegan recipe, we have made this lighter and the silken tofu brings in the creaminess from the egg, which we have omitted. If you’re a fan of ampalaya like me, this is best enjoyed as a cold appetizer, side dish, or a light lunch.
Tofu vs. Tokwa
Before becoming vegan, I thought that tofu was simply the English translation of tokwa. While this holds true, I realized it is not as cut and dried as that. There are many types of fresh tofu, and here we offer broad strokes.
Tokwa is often used to refer to the firm tofu that is fairly common and therefore the most accessible to a lot of Filipinos. Tokwa is sold in our palengke and by ambulant taho vendors, apart from the supermarket. This medium-firm tofu, while dense and solid from having been pressed to remove the moisture from the curdled soy, still contains a lot of moisture. It’s easy to impart flavor on this kind of tofu.
Then there is the extra firm or hard tofu. While also sometimes called tokwa, this is very solid and dense compared to the firm tofu, with much of the moisture pressed out. Sometimes it even has a rubbery texture. While this is the tofu that is easiest to cook with because it generally does not require pressing, it is best cooked thinly sliced or crumbled. It is so dense that flavor has a hard time penetrating this type of tofu.
Silken tofu, which is required in this recipe, is very soft and has a fine and smooth texture. Of all the different types of tofu, this one has the highest moisture content because it is made of thick rich soy milk that has been solidified. It is very delicate and therefore needs to be handled gently. Do not use other kinds of tofu for this recipe, and look for high-quality silken tofu because we are eating it raw.
Tofu Top Tips
- Look for clean taste. Whether silken, firm, or extra firm, tofu should have a fresh, clean, and subtle soybean taste. Some people like to buy directly from the taho vendor because they can taste the freshness of the tofu as similar to that of the taho.
- Avoid sourness. While desirable in some areas in Asia, tartness in tofu can be one of several things: 1) the maker is liberal with their use of coagulants, which impart a sour or bitter flavor, 2) the maker uses an inferior type of coagulant or an acid coagulant like vinegar, 3) the tofu has gone bad and spoilage has started, and lastly, 4) the maker may have used formaldehyde to preserve the tofu, which happens and is not an urban myth. Buyer beware and buy from a trusted source or suki.
- Drain excess moisture. Ninety percent of tofu is water. Thus it is important to drain excess water from silken and firm tofu, depending on the dish you are cooking. This ensures that the moisture won’t dilute the flavor, rise to the surface (when making tofu-based dips), or cause oil splatter when being deep fried. (See recipe below for the guide on removing excess moisture.)
- Avoid tofu from GMO soybeans. Genetic engineering in food is a fairly new technology, and there is still no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs. These food products are also developed to be highly tolerant of pesticides, which harm farmers and the environment. These soybeans are also designed to express insecticide within them as a form of built-in pest control!
- 1 tub of silken tofu
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp mirin
- 2 Tbsp water
- 1 to 2 Tbsp coconut sugar (depending on your preference)
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- ½ cup of burong ampalaya
- Black sesame seeds
1. Gently remove the silken tofu from the tub and drain the soaking liquid. Pat dry with a paper towel and transfer to a plate lined with more paper towels. Alternatively, place tofu in a strainer set over a bowl. Cover and set aside in the fridge for 20 minutes.
2. After 20 minutes, remove the paper towels and drain the excess moisture from the plate. Transfer the silken tofu to a shallow bowl and return to the fridge to keep it cold.
3. In a saucepan, combine the next four ingredients and cook over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and add the sesame oil. Let the sauce cool down a bit. (If you do not want to heat the sauce ingredients, you can mix everything in a blender until the sugar is dissolved.)
4. Pour the sauce over the silken tofu, and add the burong ampalaya. Garnish with black sesame seeds and serve cold.