Tofu. White. Bland. Gelatinous. Gross, right?
No, not really. It’s actually extremely delicious and versatile if you know what you’re doing with it.
In my work as a health coach and cooking teacher, I’ve come across a few people with tofu phobia. I think it comes from not knowing exactly what it is. Tofu is sort of like cheese made with soymilk rather than cows’ milk. It’s made by curdling fresh soymilk with a coagulant, such as nigari, calcium sulfate lemon juice or vinegar. Tofu originated in China, probably sometime between 179 – 122 B.C. , and it was introduced to the people of Japan and Korea sometime in the 700s. It has a soft, subtle flavor, and picks up the tastes of the spices and sauces it’s cooked with.
Silken tofu is sold in shelf-stable aseptic packages and works well in dips, shakes and mousses. I once topped cupcakes with an incredible chocolate mousse frosting and served it to my tofu-phobic coworkers who raved about how delicious my baked good were. After they licked up every last morsel I told them that the main ingredient was tofu and they were all stunned. I hope I made tofu believers out of them that day.
Firm, extra firm and super firm tofu are all the firm tofu category, and usually come packed in water and need to be refrigerated. Firm tofu usually needs to be drained before it’s cooked. There are fancy tofu presses on the market, but you don’t really need one to prepare it. If you know you’re going to make tofu later on, you can take it out of the package, wrap it in a kitchen towel and put it back in the fridge. The towel will soak up all of the water. If you forgot to do that, you can wrap it in a towel and place a heavy object on top of it, such as a cast iron skillet. Honestly, I don’t notice too much for a difference between the firm and extra firm varieties. This type of tofu is extremely versatile though. I fluff it up in my food processor along with lemon juice, garlic and spices to make creamy ricotta “cheese”, mash it and scramble it for breakfast in the way I used to do with eggs in my pre-vegan days, slice it and stir-fry it with veggies for dinner, and chop it up to add to curries and stews. Super firm tofu is… well… super firm. In the summertime I like to cube it, marinate it and grill it on the barbecue, as it holds up to being grilled better than extra firm does. I also like to slice it, fry it, and have on a an English muffin, the way some people might eat eggs.
Freezing and Baking Tofu
Freezing tofu is a great way to give it a slightly “meaty” texture. Simply place entire the package in your freezer, then it freeze completely and, thaw it in your fridge or on the counter. Then you can crumble it and add to tomato sauce to make a vegan bolognese, mix it with sauce and spices to make sloppy joes or mix with mayo and spices to make a tasty tofu-tuna salad.
Baked tofu is also readily available in most grocery stores, and it can be eating right out of the package. I like to slice it and make it into a sandwich or cube it to add it to salads. Baked tofu is also a good choice for slow cooker meals because it can stand up to prolonged cooking without falling apart the way other varieties might.
Being relatively low in calories and high in protein, tofu is a really good option for vegans, but it’s not required eating when you follow a vegan diet. And, yes, omnivores can eat it too! Tofu is also high in calcium, magnesium and iron. There has been a lot of hubbub in the nutrition world as to whether or not soy is healthy. The truth is that most of the studies that show soy being harmful are funding by the meat industry and are done using isolated soy protein, which is as far from the soybean as you can get. There have been plenty of studies that soy the benefits of soy, and epidemiological studies have found that soy protein may reduce the risk for cancers including breast, lung, colon and prostate. Soy protein has also been shown to be useful for warding off heart disease due because it has been known to lower cholesterol and enhance coronary artery function. Asian cultures who have been consuming soy for thousands of years have lower instances of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s. And despite any urban legends you may have heard, eating tofu will not cause men to grow breasts.
Tofu can be used to recreate just about any egg type dish, and here’s one of my favorites – tofu frittata.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 1 zucchini, diced
- 6-8 crimini mushrooms, chopped
- 1 package firm or extra firm tofu
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1/2 cup non-dairy milk
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/4 teaspoon tumeric
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
- sea salt
- 1 tomato, diced
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 1/4 cup kalamata olives, chopped
- Preheat oven to 375 and lightly grease a small casserole dish.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes, until it softens. Add the mushrooms and zucchini and cook for about 5 more minutes, until the vegetables become soft. Season with a little salt and pepper.
- In a food processor, mix together the tofu, non-dairy milk, nutritional yeast, cornstarch, basil, turmeric, cumin, 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, a few pinches of black pepper and the red pepper flakes, if you’re using them. Process until smooth.
- Fold the vegetables into the tofu mixture and spread into the casserole dish. Top with the chopped tomato, scallions and olives.
- Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until the frittata is firm and golden brown.
- Slice and serve!
This makes 4 servings if you’re not very hungry, and two servings if you are. Double the recipe for more people.