To a meat and potatoes eater, the idea of tofu might be foreign, scary and disturbing. Life without burgers? Might as well have life without water.
According to a recently released study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, about 1 in 200 young people will explore vegetarianism.
“There are some key nutrients that vegetarians need to be a little bit more aware of to make sure they get those in on a daily basis,” said Patricia Partain, a registered dietitian at Memorial Hospital.
“Any legumes are an excellent source of proteins to take the place of meat,” said Ms. Partain, noting that soy products, such as tofu, can have favorable effects on low-density lipids, or “bad cholesterol,” which can plague meat eaters.
High in protein, with zero cholesterol and almost no saturated fat, tofu can be a healthy addition to any diet — omnivore, carnivore or herbivore.
That’s right; it’s not just for vegetarians.
But what exactly is tofu?
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a soft, cheese-like food made by curdling fresh hot soymilk with a coagulant. Soymilk itself is derived from soybeans.
Yum, right? No words get the mouth watering like “curdling” and “coagulant.” And milk from a bean?
But once you get past the inherent — let’s face it — weirdness of tofu, you’ve got a high-protein, cholesterol-free food that’s about as versatile as it gets. What other food can be used both as a meat substitute and to make a cheesecake?
Charlie Loomis, food service director at Greenlife Grocery, has spent the last six years focused on vegetarian cooking and food preparation.
“I know how to cook tofu,” he said.
One of the benefits of tofu, he said, is that it acts as a sponge, absorbing any flavor.
Mr. Loomis recommends cooking tofu, rather than consuming it raw. Plain tofu has a bland taste, similar to cold, hard-boiled egg whites.
It also can be cooked in a variety of ways, he said, from searing to “naughty” deep-frying.
One of Mr. Loomis’ preferred ways to prepare tofu is to sauté squares covered in cornstarch in sesame oil, then serve it with a chili ginger sauce over rice and broccoli.
Tofu has its roots in China and is considered a staple in Asian cuisine. Its usability, however, is not limited to Eastern foods.
Village Market, a vegetarian specialty store in Collegedale, offers a tofu-based eggless egg salad, among other prepared foods incorporating soy. Mr. Loomis enjoys a Southwestern-style barbecue tofu he created, as well as a cheesy Tuscan-style tofu.
Spiced Carrot Blondies
Preparation time: 15 minutes; cooking time: 45 minutes.
Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
11⁄4 cups sugar
2⁄3 cup silken tofu
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
3⁄4 cup vanilla soymilk
3 cups shredded carrots (about 4 large)
1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts
1⁄2 cup golden raisins
Heat oven to 350 F. Mist a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
Sift flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder and salt together into large bowl. Add the sugar and stir with a whisk.
In a blender, combine tofu, oil and vanilla soymilk, and process until smooth. Pour liquid into dry ingredients, and stir until combined. Add carrots, walnuts and raisins, and stir well. The mixture will be thick and sticky.
Transfer mixture to prepared baking pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven, cool and cut into squares. Top with Coconut Frosting, if desired.
Makes 24 squares.
Blend 14 ounces soft tofu in food processor two minutes; add 1⁄2 cup pure maple syrup and 1 teaspoon coconut extract, and blend until smooth.
Stir in 2 cups dried unsweetened coconut flakes. Frost cake, or store up to one day in refrigerator.
Note: Frosting recipe altered for thickness.
From Nasoya tofu products
Maple-Glazed Tofu With Spaghetti Squash
For the squash:
1 (4-pound) spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon brown sugar
For the glaze:
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon apple cider
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1⁄2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 teaspoon cold water
For the tofu:
1 (14-ounce) package extra-firm tofu, drained and patted dry
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Heat oven to 350 F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Brush both halves with the butter, and sprinkle with brown sugar. Place pieces, cut sides down, on a baking sheet and roast until fork-tender, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a skillet, combine the broth, syrup, cider, soy sauce, lemon juice and garlic. Boil for 5 minutes, then whisk in the cornstarch and cook, whisking constantly, until the glaze thickens, 1 to 2 minutes more. Set aside.
Slice the tofu into 1⁄2-inch-thick slabs. Then use a knife or a cookie cutter to create cubes or playful shapes. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the tofu, and sear until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes a side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.
Scoop the squash strands out and into bowls. Top with the tofu, drizzle on the glaze, and serve.
Makes 6 servings.
— Cookie Magazine, December 2006
Stir-Fried Smoky Bacon With Smoked Tofu
1 (7-inch) piece smoked Chinese bacon (about 1⁄4 pound), rind removed and discarded
2 tablespoons peanut oil
3⁄4 pound smoked tofu, cut into 1-inch squares about 1⁄3-inch thick
10 dried chilies, such as árbol, stemmed and seeded, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
10 Chinese garlic chives or scallions, green parts only, cut into 1-inch pieces
Put the bacon into a steamer basket set over a pot of simmering water. Cover and steam until the bacon firms up, about 7 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a plate and let cool. Cut the bacon crosswise into 1⁄3-inch pieces and set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Add the bacon, and stir-fry until it has just begun to release a little of its fat, about 30 seconds. Add the tofu, and stir-fry until it is just golden brown, 2–3 minutes. Push the bacon and the tofu up the sides of the wok as much as you can, forming a space in the bottom of the wok for the oil to pool. Add the chilies, and stir-fry them briefly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Mix the ingredients in the wok together, add the chives and the soy sauce to taste, and stir-fry until the chives are just crisp-tender, about 30 seconds.
Charlie Loomis says he likes to serve this with steamed kale and mashed potato.
1 block organic tofu
2 tablespoons organic cream cheese
1 tablespoon chopped scallions
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons parmesan cheese, divided
π cup flour
∏ cup panko bread crumbs
1 cup Lucini brand marinara
Replace the liquid that the tofu is packaged in with fresh water. When ready to use, pat the tofu dry and let it rest on a plate for at least 10 minutes. Pat it dry again. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut tofu in half lengthwise so that you are left with 2 rectangular cutlets. Then cut each of those in half lengthwise to make 4 pieces. Insert the tip of a paring knife into the side of the tofu and slice a 3-inch pocket for stuffing.
Mix together the cream cheese, scallions, garlic, salt and 2 tablespoons of parmesan. Stuff 1⁄4 of the mixture into each piece of tofu.
Dredge the tofu in flour, making sure to cover the stuffed pocket. Lightly beat the egg, and dredge the tofu in this. Then dredge in the bread crumbs.
Heat a sauté pan over medium heat for about a minute with about π” of olive oil, and lightly sauté the tofu until it is golden brown. Flip and do the same on the other side.
Move the tofu to a sheet pan and cover with marinara and the remaining parmesan cheese, and bake for 10 minutes.
— Charlie Loomis, Greenlife Grocery
Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...