What the heck are soy curls, you ask? Soy curls are tofu that have been extruded into strips and dried. Sounds awesome, I know, but trust me when I say that these humble little, strange-looking strips have changed the plant-based lifestyle game!
First off let me say that I am a tofu fiend. I love tofu so much that my next tattoo is going to be a little block of tofu...not joking. I eat it cold from the container before I prepare it for dinner.
One of the things I love about the way I eat is all the experimenting that I get to do. Not that I didn't experiment when I ate meat, it's more that now I have to find ways to re-create certain textures.
For those of you who have never used tofu much, you may not know that you can do different things to tofu to change the texture of it:
freezing tofu: freezing tofu and then thawing it is great to do before you soak it in a marinade. The spongy nature of tofu allows the water to freeze inside of it which when thawed creates little air pockets that can then fill with the marinade. It also changes the texture; it's more chewy.
pressing tofu: tofu is kept in water in the package so typically you will be pressing it to squeeze out any extra water. This also thickens and firms up the tofu. After pressing the tofu you can cut it into pieces, bread it, and bake it to make it crispy, or throw it in a stir-fry and it will not break apart as easily as it would if it wasn't pressed. I have heard of people shredding it but I have never tried that.
Soy curls help re-create the texture of chicken strips or pieces. Right out of the bag, soy curls are dry, long strips. Kinda curly, kinda straight. Some are broken and some are long. The broken pieces I use in things like chili or soups to re-create a ground meat texture and the long ones I use to re-create a thin, chicken tender style texture.
There are a couple of different ways to prepare them and I'll share with you my favorite ways.
I suppose the main goal of using soy curls is to rehydrate them. There are a couple of different ways to do this: you can either soak them in hot water for about 10 mins to soften them or throw them dry into soups or chillis and they rehydrate during the cooking process.
One of my favorite methods is to soak the curls in room-temperature broth for about an hour. Then I pour the curls and the broth (the curls soak up some of the broth but not much so there's still a lot of broth) into a large skillet and cook it until the broth is gone and the curls start to brown. I always make a big batch of this and then portion it into small single-serving baggies then freeze them to use whenever we want them. I add them to stir-fries, add BBQ sauce to make a pulled pork-style dish or we use them as a side dish when we have potatoes and veggies for dinner.
Here's how I season them just in case you want to try it:
One box low-sodium broth
One bag soy curls
2 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp onion powder
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
Optional: I add either kelp or dulse flakes for extra nutritional boost (has iodine that I don't get too much of because hardly use salt. It doesn't add a fishy taste, just in case you were wondering :)
Stir all together and let them soak for about an hour or whenever you can get back to them. sometimes I've let them soak for 5-6 hours and they are always totally fine.
Pour the broth and curls into a pan and turn the heat up. Let it come to a boil then turn the heat down so it simmers until the broth is gone. This will take about 20 mins or so for the broth to dissipate. After the broth is gone let the curls continue to cook, stirring often, scraping the bottom of the pan. After a while, they will firm up and brown. I like them pretty brown so I let them cook for a while. Don't leave them unattended as they get more dry, they get kinda sticky and I have to scrape the pan quite often. Once they are browned to your liking turn off the heat and either use them right away or let them cool and portion them out and freeze them.
Notes: use whatever seasonings you like! sometimes I add chili powder in if I know I'm using them for burritos or something like that. Experiment, have fun, try something different!
Coating and Baking...oohh the texture
Another favorite way to prepare them is to toss them in flour and bake them till crispy...so delicious. This style of preparation creates a chicken tender style curl (I have to admit I still struggle with not eating chicken tenders. I don't crave the meat but the crunch, the texture, and the dipping sauces. Oh, the dipping sauces. That's a whole other post! I will definitely share some of my favorite dipping sauces at some point.)
Here's how I do it:
Soak soy curls in hot water for about 10 mins or so. It doesn't take long to rehydrate them, which is so nice. After 10 mins, I pour the curls into a strainer so the hot water gets strained out. I then run them under cold water so that I can handle them without getting burned. After the cold water cools them down, I squeeze as much water out of them as I can (I take small handfuls at a time and squeeze) so they are pretty dry. Then I toss them in this dry mix which I prepared while they were soaking:
(I usually don't measure things too much when I cook so these measurements are what I think I do. Feel free to adjust to taste, add, subtract, or whatever!)
1/4 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika
some ground pepper and salt if you use it
Tip: I should note that I mix this dry stuff and put it in a jar. I then sprinkle just as much as I need to coat the curls. This way I don't waste excess, unused mix. I then keep it in a ball jar in the cupboard for next time. Saves me time too!
After the curls are coated nicely, I put them on a parchment-covered baking sheet and bake them at 375 degrees in a convection oven (or 420 degrees in a regular oven) for about 20-30 mins depending on how many I have on there and how crispy I want them. When they are done I then coat them in my favorite sauces- buffalo sauce, BBQ sauce, or honey mustard sauce (all homemade, of course). We like to make wraps with these. The curls have a great chewy, crispy texture when mixed with the sauces. Add some lettuce, onion and tomato to them and I'm in heaven :)
I tend to batch cook on my days off. I am very sensitive to salt and sugar so I pretty much never use pre-made, store-bought sauces and stuff. They are so loaded with salt and sugar that I can feel my blood pressure change and often get a headache from them. Most everything I make freezes well- even the sauces- so that is helpful.
Where can I buy these amazing little things?!
There is really only one company to buy from- talk about cornering the market! I buy them on Amazon, as with everything else in my life. Here's a link:
I have recently found these though:
These are smaller chunks of dried tofu that we recently put in chili and they were the perfect size pieces in there. Butler curls are long and thin and these were small round pieces. I like both!
So those are my two favorite ways to prepare these strange little curls. I didn't come up with these recipes originally but have adapted and adjusted them over time. I originally tried these from an amazing plant-based website and Youtube channel "Whole Foods Plant-Based Cooking Show". Check it out here: https://plantbasedcookingshow.com
Here's the original recipe for the curls that you soak in broth and cook in a pan:
Make sure to check out Jill's Youtube channel. I don't think I've ever made anything of hers that I didn't like, she's amazing.
Here's the recipe for "chicken" nuggets that I love. I adore her honey mustard recipe so I make that all the time to use on salads, wraps or dipping sauce.
Let me just say, that I am in no way an authority on anything I talk about here, lol. I am just a girl, trying to do the best I can so please don't feel you have to follow what I say to a "T". Go experiment for yourself! Check out Jill's site, learn what you can, and then make it your own!
Thanks for reading!