What with it being Thanksgiving and all, Pinterest legends like the “stuffing waffle” come to mind. Late-night Buzzfeed reads and cringeposts from Tasty, 5-Minute Crafts, and the more questionable sides of Instagram have produced a plethora of things that people have shoved on a waffle iron for clicks and screams.
Sometimes, they’re genius like the stuffing waffle. The tater tot waffle comes to mind as well. Then there’s those incredibly sad things health food blogs concoct out of lentils, nuts, Splenda, and children’s tears.
Well, have I got something LIFE-CHANGING for you: THE TOFU WAFFLE.
You read that right! TOFU! On a WAFFLE IRON!
Hear me out.
There’s a bajillion ways one can cook tofu. Bake it, bread it and fry it, throw it in a Vitamix with some cashews for a savory vegan quiche or dairy-free ersatz cheesecake, you name it, tofu can do it. But perhaps you hadn’t yet thought of just tossing it on a waffle iron because you have severe executive dysfunction and really, truly cannot be fucked to stand over a hot frying pan where the tofu slices are taking forever to cook or they’re sticking to the pan in an irksome fashion.
The waffle iron saves you ALL that hassle. In fact, you WANT to leave it on the waffle iron for a long time! Here’s why.
Waffle Irons Are Having a Moment
All kinds of winners and losers are coming out of this pandemic, yo.
Pizza is trouncing those fancy $15 salad companies. Our grandparents and great-grandparents may have lived in factory towns, but now less-populous regions are creating remote worker towns, offering up to $10,000 to relocate, with Tulsa being the latest to make this offer— even throwing in housing subsidies and other sweeteners to capture everyone from New Yorkers fed up with the rent being too damn high to Californians fleeing fires, earthquakes, and AB5. Wayfair took advantage of this mass urban exodus, while IKEA is hedging its bets on the post-vaccine urbanism boom.
Another COVID dark horse? The waffle iron.
Stuffing and tater tot waffles were already around before the pandemic, but I think the waffle iron is experiencing a glow-up that other kitchen appliances just haven’t and COVID only quadrupled its trajectory. Don’t believe me? MarketWatch says global waffle iron sales are expected to significantly rise by 2025.
Think about it.
Depending on your age, you might associate firing up a waffle iron with those leisurely Sunday breakfasts, where you’re more apt to be home and with time to spare to make something special for your family, or perhaps you have good memories of this as a kid. Me, I don’t have any family to prepare food for and when I still had a little dependent who I dearly miss, she didn’t eat human food. I remember my mother having one of those Swedish waffle irons with the heart-shaped waffles that she only took out once in a blue moon because she just complained about what a mess it made; our special Sunday breakfast entailed my dad bringing fresh bagels home. He’d get there super early to get them literally when they came out of the oven, often beating the crowds, and my adult self who’s about to move across the country really appreciates this now.
Even though I’m squarely on the older end of the Millennial cohort, apparently, younger generations are employing more “out of the box” thinking with respect to waffle makers. They’re not just using them for leisurely breakfasts instead of cramming some toast into your facehole on the way out, or having a breakfast sandwich from McDonald’s or Starbucks in the car or on the subway to school or work.
With “look at this batshit thing I can do in the kitchen” and “X with Y challenge” YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok trends that have taken off in recent years, it’s how we got serendipity like the stuffing waffle. People just decided to throw whatever they could on a waffle iron for a couple likes, and sometimes it inadvertently yielded culinary genius.
Me? I just have chronic pain and executive dysfunction coupled with a claustrophobia-inducing NYC kitchen. I used to grill tofu on a George Foreman grill when I had one, it came out pretty good. With my Peter Steele height kitchen cabinets and less counter space than a Shake Shack at rush hour, that’s a death wish. But my waffle iron is pretty light and not too dastardly to extract from the cabinet, and I figured two hot pieces of metal coming into contact should get the job done just fine.
My humble $20 Hamilton Beach waffle maker wound up EXCEEDING the George Foreman grill’s results on the second and third rounds.
Between their extreme versatility, portability, plug-and-play usage that doesn’t require gas, and being both inexpensive and fairly easy to clean? I can see why Gen Z and us lazier and/or pain-stricken Millennials are gravitating towards waffle irons. Especially in a pandemic where we vacillate between being officially sick of being stuck at home and don’t want to cook anything elaborate while we’re so overwhelmed, then also want to take advantage of not having to be anywhere by having something extravagant like waffles fresh off the iron with fresh fruit and cream at 2PM on a Tuesday. (See, us solopreneurs were WAY ahead of youse on this.)
Then if you want to use your waffle iron as a grill, all you need is some dish soap and water to scrub the plates after it cools, then towel it off.
But you might be thinking “Why should I put tofu on it? I had tofu and didn’t like it!” I’m about to blow your mind after all the lies from the anti-tofu lobby! (Wait, does that exist? I assume it was the same awful people who love fracking and hate electric vehicles.)
Why Your Efforts to Cook Tofu Tasted Like Ass
These may sound like rich words coming from someone who doesn’t like to cook much, but tofu is absolutely one of those things that people only think they hate because it wasn’t cooked right.
And it’s understandable! Tofu is an extremely versatile blank canvas that can take on SO many different glazes, dipping sauces, cooking methods, and even textures. But chances are you’ve probably had your first exposure to tofu at one of those “create your own salad” places, and it’s that soft and squishy water-packed kind that’s fresh out of the container. Even with dressing on it, it’s just GROSS!
You also ever try to just throw some tofu into a pan, and it fell apart or came out limp and rubbery?
It’s usually because of the following:
You’re using the wrong texture
You didn’t properly season or marinate the tofu
The tofu still has too much water in it
Some dishes require really sitting overnight at least
So, texture. You’ve probably seen different packages at the grocery store, like silken, medium-firm, silken-firm, firm, extra-firm, and SO FREAKING FIRM you could use it as the foundation for a house. That last one is more likely to be found in Asian grocery stores in super tight vacuum-sealed plastic packs, unlike the more common water-packed kind seen in North America.
Silken tofu is the best for things like smoothies and making soft desserts like pies or puddings. It doesn’t really hold a shape that well. Silken-firm, like the kind Mori-Nu makes which comes in these little aseptic boxes kinda like juice boxes, is great for pies like this vegan peanut butter pie because it’s incredibly soft but can hold shape a tad better than the kind best meant for smoothies. I once made that pie with standard water-packed tofu in “medium” firmness, and it came out fine after I got all the water out. But the real kicker is that the more tofu a dish calls for relative to the other ingredients, the longer you should let the flavors sit together.
You don’t have to let waffle iron tofu or other grilled tofu sit this long, but I found that letting the pie sit at least 2 days made it taste the best. First I just let it sit overnight, but the filling tasted chalky, like it was obviously tofu. The second day, I couldn’t tell the difference between this indulgent vegan peanut butter filling and something cream-based.
Now, onto the water part. With the exception of that intensely thick, ultra-drained type you can find at Asian markets, which is often compressed into four tiny cutlets, most tofu looks a lot bigger than that because it’s packed in water. That’s what gives it that soft and light texture, even if it’s the extra-firm kind.
If your tofu is falling apart in the pan, you need to really drain that water off. You can do this the slow way with the tried and true “plate press” method vegans have been relying on for decades. You get a clean plate, place the block of tofu on it, then get another clean plate to sit on top of it as if you’re making a sandwich with them. Then you place a heavy book on top and let it sit for a couple hours or overnight.
Knowing the Darwinian things bound to happen to me if I did this, and figuring this method was invented by someone who didn’t live in a kitchen where two people make it a fire hazard, I created my own method: grab a clean dish towel, the kind that’s not terry cloth, and just gently squeeze it yourself on that plate like you’re blotting a greasy slice of pizza. Don’t squish too hard or the tofu will break! I like this approach because it’s faster, gentler, and easier, and keeps just enough moisture so the inside comes out tender but the outside crisps up nicely.
Now for your seasoning.
You need some kind of glaze as tofu soaks up flavors like a sponge. No wonder you think tofu tastes godawful if you’ve only thrown it on the grill plain and unseasoned!
The possibilities are endless here. Barbeque sauce? Why not. Almond butter that’s been thinned out with some water and soy sauce, with some salt and pepper? That would also come out good. Personally, my favorite formula is just to use 2 tablespoons of oil plus 1 tablespoon of tamari sauce for every 15-oz or thereabouts package of tofu, and then whatever spices you want. Old Bay tofu with olive oil is INCREDIBLE, and I gave some more suggestions below the instructions!
Using a neutral oil isn’t as crucial here as it is in baking, unless you don’t want it to overpower the spice. Then something like vegetable, sunflower, or grapeseed oil should be fine. You’re only limited by your imagination and what you got in the pantry, so you can totally use soy sauce or liquid aminos and get similar results (I just prefer tamari sauce).
How to Make the Tofu Waffle!
Now for the part you’ve been waiting for: how to actually make waffle iron tofu!
First, you need to use extra-firm tofu for this. Medium-firm will do in a pinch, but extra-firm is your gold standard here. Adequately drain the excess water with the dish towel method, then cut your tofu into vertical slices, like so.
Since they’re going to be pressed in the waffle iron for a while, you’ll want them to be on the thicker side. The size of your waffle maker may vary, but mine’s on the small side and makes those round Belgian-style waffles that aren’t super thick, with four quadrants. I found that making three groups of three thick-ish slices, for a total of nine slices, worked great for making a total of three tofu waffles.
Now it’s up to you how far in advance you want to do this. You can do this overnight, or perhaps after breakfast so the flavors will really have time to set in by dinnertime. But after you cut up the tofu, you need to coat the pieces with your oil, tamari sauce, and spice glaze (or other marinade you’re using) and then put them in an airtight container to sit in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight. You can even just do this in a pinch right before dinner, letting the flavors sit for at least 20-30 minutes, but the taste really shines when they’ve had at least 4-5 hours to meld together.
Once you’re ready to make your tofu waffles, fire up your waffle iron and grease it with cooking spray. When it’s ready, arrange three pieces of tofu around the edges (assuming it’s the same kind of round waffle iron I’m using) since some may squoosh into the middle.
Crank the waffle iron up to 6-7, or whatever the highest setting is. When the waffle iron dings, let it sit for another 2-3 minutes or so in there. With normal waffle batter, this would be overkill and leave you with a rock-hard waffle that’s a displeasure to eat. But with tofu, this is making it wonderfully crispy.
Because it takes so long to properly grill up, you can start ravenously digging in while the second one cooks.
Here’s some suggestions for flavors!
- Zaatar Tofu: 2 tablespoons olive oil + 1 tablespoon tamari sauce + 2-3 teaspoons zaatar spice mix
- Thai Peanut Tofu: 2 tablespoons coconut oil + 1 tablespoon tamari sauce + 1 tablespoon peanut butter powder + (optional) ¼-½ teaspoon Thai red curry paste
- Mock Coconut Shrimp: 2 tablespoons coconut oil + 1 tablespoon tamari sauce + ¼ teaspoon salt + ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper + 1-2 tablespoons dessicated coconut
- Cashew Dip: 4 tablespoons cashew butter + 1 teaspoon tamari sauce + 1 tablespoon maple syrup + ¼ cup water + ⅛-¼ teaspoons chili powder, red pepper flakes, or Turkish pul biber
- Simply Seasoned Tofu: 2 tablespoons neutral oil + 1 tablespoon tamari sauce + 1-2 teaspoons Season-All or Lawry’s Seasoning Salt
You can make these as simple or complex as you want. If you just want to leave it to only some oil and tamari or soy sauce, so you can enjoy a dipping sauce? That’s what makes the waffle format EVEN BETTER.
Rachel Presser is a crazy toad lady from the Bronx who was exiled to New Jersey, spending a significant chunk of her youth where all the hideous 1970s couch covers and avocado shag carpeting went to die. Upon escaping the sea of brown and founding Sonic Toad Media, she decided to devote her time to writing from the fantastically-preserved Googie artifacts in LA and former speakeasies in Chicago, to forging new game worlds in the tea lounges of Taipei and Tokyo. She can be found at game jams, hardcore shows, vaporwave dance parties, and petting amphibians on a sensible corner loveseat.