Weekly Roundup: Let’s Talk Tofu

Tofu gets a bad wrap.  Take the New York Times’ hilarious article “Do You Tofu?” for example, in which the author refers to tofu as,

  • “Cold and uncooked…squeaky, with the texture and disposition of a particularly upbeat sponge.  In the mouth, it’s so darn watery and perky, it feels as though it will clean the enamel off your teeth, suck all the saliva from your mouth and then bounce right out onto the street to do some more good somewhere else.  And it’s almost beige, the second least appetizing color for food.  (Blue is first.)”

Ouch.  I guess I’m lucky because as a girl with Asian parents who are also vegetarian, my introduction to tofu came as soon as my front teeth did. Eaten cold with a spoon and kimchi, pan-fried with a bit of soy sauce and toasted sesame seeds, stirred into soups of every texture and spice…it’s all familiar territory to me with a deeply nostalgic flavor.

However, if you’re just now coming around to the idea of nibbling off the corner of a block of the wiggly stuff, the apprehension you might be feeling is understandable.  The quote above was right about a few things—tofu does have funny and slightly frightening springy and damp disposition despite its impassive white exterior.  And the flavor profile of tofu by its cold and lonesome is…muted, if not indiscernible. 

Here comes the but…

…but with that being said, there has to be a reason why tofu has the ranking of “staple food” in so many cuisines.  Yes, according to Whole Foods, it brags 18.3% of the daily value for protein and 34% of the daily value for iron.  Yes, it’s a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, manganese, calcium, and lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) levels by as much as 35-40%.  Yes, tofu is a health-promoting powerhouse.  But what about the taste?  Because when it comes down to you and your dinner, taste is what matters most, right?

Well, the NYT article author moves on to say this about tofu:

  • “Surprisingly, tofu’s rubbery, squeaky chromosomes vanish when you sauté it…the outsides crisp pleasantly and the insides relax and gush.  Because tofu takes on whatever flavor it’s cooked in.”

And, as all Weekly Roundups go, we have recipes to prove it.

From Life and Health: Simple Tofu Recipes for the Tofu Novice

Tofu-Basil Ricotta: This is an amazing, completely plant-based filling for stuffed shells, manicotti, lasagna, and even pizza!

Pan-Fried Tofu: This is the tofu recipe I had most often as a kid.  It takes about three minutes to make, from tofu slab to table, and has the versatility to complement the top of a salad, the meaty portion of a sandwich, and even on its own as a side dish.

Caramelized Korean Tofu: Being of Korean descent like Sharon Cho, the author of this recipe, this recipe is familiar and dear to my heart.

Asian Tofu Fajitas: We first tasted these fajitas at a friend's housewarming party.  Meghan McKinney, the author of this recipe, served them to us on perfectly warmed corn tortillas and a little scoop of brown rice.  Needless to say, they were a hit.

Tofu Fried Rice: A 15-minute dish using rice and the ingredients you have on hand (I hope you have ½ a block of firm tofu in your fridge). 

From elsewhere on the web: Recipes for the Tofu Foodie

Making Tofu via The Japanese Food Report: “There's nothing like fresh, handmade Japanese “silken” tofu (called kinugoshi in Japanese). Coaxed from just soybeans, water, and nigari, a coagulant derived from seawater, it's a quintessential expression of Japanese cuisine — the idea of finessing something so sublime from a few simple elements. I first tasted the real deal at the workshop of a traditional tofu maker in Kyoto I visited one morning before sunrise. With a lovely custard-like texture, delicate natural sweetness and seductive fresh soybean flavor, their tofu had as much to do with the stuff sold in supermarkets as a beautiful farmstead ricotta does with a tub of Polly-O.”

Tofu & Walnut Stuffed Mushrooms via Epicurious: “Chef Nadine Barner, who kept Gwyneth Paltrow looking fab with a macrobiotic regimen (a diet of mostly grains and vegetables), has served these tasty morsels at private parties hosted by the actress.”

Ma Po Tofu via The Kitchn:  “I tasted a fiery dish with silky, delicate chunks of tofu utterly infused with the flavor of pork, ginger, and peppercorns. I was hooked – what was this? It was ma po tofu (or mapo doufu) – a classic Szechuan dish known for its tingling ma la heat.”

Pistachio Crusted Tofu Salad via Sprouted Kitchen: “Tofu is not exactly the beauty queen of vegetarian protien sources, but her possibilities are endless. It's skin deep, my friends. I've eaten my fair share of tofu, but have never crusted it as follows, so this was a learning experience. If you cover a bland bean cake with all of these flavors and give it a crunchy crust, this fall-ish salad will suprise you. Farmers markets are brimming with greens, so shop well and even the lettuce will contribute to the flavor here.”  

Mini Peanut Butter Cups in a Jar via Oh She Glows: “Imagine a cross between a peanut butter cup and a chocolate peanut butter torte, with a healthy, vegan twist. This is it!”

Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding via Mark Bittman of the New York Times: “The texture of the pudding, which must be made with silken tofu, is almost unbelievably good. The silken tofu packed in aseptic boxes yields a slightly better texture than that packed in tubs. I have no doubt that if you make your own tofu, or buy it from an artisan, you could improve the texture even further.”

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Sarah Yoo

Sarah Yoo is the associate director of Life & Health but wears a few dozen hats as other this-and-thats, as is the norm in non-profit work. Her favorite part about working at Life & Health is meeting the people that Life & Health content has helped. Ultimately, Sarah dreams of doing humanitarian work in a developing country with her family.

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