Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Let’s Talk Tofu

Poor tofu, butt of so many jokes and victim of so many misconceptions. I’m convinced that many people who say they don’t like tofu simply don’t understand it. So I’d like to properly introduce you, because once you really know tofu, there’s a good chance you’ll love it.

Tofu, a.k.a. bean curd, is made from soybeans. It’s a valued part of many vegetarians’ diets because it is high in protein and because it can enhance so many kinds of dishes. Plain tofu doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own – and that’s what makes it so versatile. The magic lies in knowing how to use it.

The first thing you need to know is that plain tofu comes in two main types – silken tofu, sometimes called Japanese style tofu, and regular or "Chinese" style tofu.

Silken tofu has a soft and silky-smooth texture. It is most useful in recipes where it will be blended. It makes a great base for a savory party dip; and it is equally at home as a main ingredient in a sweet dessert mousse. It comes in aseptic packages, like little bricks, which last for months without refrigeration.

Regular tofu is generally found refrigerated, floating in water-filled packages. It is the type to choose when you want more texture in your final dish – say, if you’re going to marinate it and thread it with veggies on a skewer for a cookout, or season and broil it as a cutlet.
Choosing the wrong tofu for the task can lead to disappointment. Say you use regular tofu for a dish that is going to be blended – it probably won’t get as smooth as it should, and you’ll end up with a grainy chocolate mousse pie. Or if you try to put silken tofu on a skewer, it’s likely to end up falling into the coals at your cookout.

Both types come in a range of firmnesses – from soft to extra-firm. Choose the firmness that matches your intended use. (I usually just buy the firm or extra-firm varieties. The firmness seems to be less important than choosing the right tofu type, silken or regular.) And low-fat varieties are now available. They seem to work just as well as the full-fat kinds.

When you open package of tofu, drain off any liquid before proceeding with your recipe. If you have any left, store it in fresh water in the refrigerator. Many sources recommend that you change the water every day to help keep the tofu fresh. But even if you do that, try to use it up quickly. It doesn't tend to keep for long once the package is open.

When you go shopping for tofu, you’ll also find that natural-foods stores carry a tremendous variety of tofu that has already been flavored and prepared so that it is ready to eat straight from the package. We’ll talk about those later – it’s the plain tofu I wanted to introduce today. Here’s a quick recipe to get you started:

Onion Dip
1 package silken tofu (Mori Nu is the brand most often available here.)
1 envelope dry Lipton (or other) onion soup mix. (Lipton’s mix is vegan, according to an extensive list from PETA of name-brand vegan products at http://www.petakids.com/accvegan.html)

Crumble tofu into a blender and blend until smooth.
Add dry soup; blend just enough to mix thoroughly.
Enjoy with chips, veggie sticks, etc.

This is tasty with just the two ingredients. If you want to get fancy, add a tablespoon of lemon juice for extra twang, and/or a tablespoon or two of oil for extra richness. For people who want to consume fewer animal products, blended silken tofu (without the onion soup added, but with a bit of lemon juice, salt and oil) can replace sour cream or mayonnaise in many dishes.


At 9/19/2006 10:42 AM, Blogger Countess said...

Thanks for the tofu onion dip recipe - that is something I have sorely missed since I turned vegan about 3 years ago. And a big thanks for this blog! I moved from Hollywood to the teensy town of Mount Airy (very veggie unfriendly, though otherwise very friendly) and am still trying to find my veggie bearings. I was very excited when I saw your blog!! I actually drove all the way to Roanoke (100 miles) to eat at Tong's Thai (extremely yummy and lots of tofu)!

At 9/19/2006 4:52 PM, Blogger Andy said...

Been a tofu eater (and lover) for about 15 years now so I've heard all the "tastes like sponge" and "be kind to the soybean" jokes. Here's a tip for buying tofu: check out your local asian grocery where you can find fresh tofu in huge 6 pound blocks for around $5!! You probably won't use it all right away so you'll want to drain and freeze recipe-sized chunks for use later but it will save you a ton of money! The previously forzen chunks are great for pan frying or grilling recipies but not very good for the blended items as it tends to get very firm and chewy. Lastly, most asian restaurants serve fried tofu in prepared dishes but are happy to substitute the much healthier steamed version upon request.

At 9/22/2006 8:56 PM, Blogger Julie said...

GiGi, Andy, thank you both for your comments! Hopefully I will make it to Tong's Thai one day soon – it sounds delicious. And what a great idea to ask for steamed tofu instead of fried. For someone who eats out a lot, it's important to look for ways to make it healthier.


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