Monday, February 22, 2010


What is it about tofu that intimidates people? And why do many people assume that tofu is all vegans and vegetarians eat? True, it is a very versatile protein, and yes, we vegs eat more (probably) than most omnivores do, but it isn't always the center of our culinary and dietary universe. Beans have protein too, remember.

Having said that, I suspect most people believe the only way of eating tofu is in its bland white form, cubed, and diced into a soup or a stir-fry. And I understand when people recoil at the words "bean curd" on Chinese take-out menus (why CAN'T they say tofu, anyway? Tofu sounds much gentler and more approachable than the word curd. Would you want to eat anything with the first four letters of the word curdle in it?)

Frankly, just eating plain tofu as is would be the same as eating flour with a spoon. Why would you do this? Tofu (like flour) is the foundation on which you build a meal. And the beauty of tofu is, it soaks up all the flavours you pour into a recipe. I tell my hubby when we order Thai food that if you love it spicy, tofu is the best bet over any meat product because of its sponge-like nature to take in every drop of the sauce. (If I get to choose the last meal I eat in this life, it will be the crispy tofu with sweet basil leaves entree at one of my favorite Thai restaurants--sorry, Mom! )

I confess I have not perfected the art of cooking with tofu myself. Often I will just pan-sear tofu slices in oil then add soy sauce and let it glaze and make a tofu sandwich. I have used it in smoothies and recently I have been making tofu spinach lasagna that is out of this world. Who knew tofu (with some added ingredients) could replace ricotta cheese so well? Even my husband, a devout tofu-phobe, was astounded to learn the lasagna he ate and loved was filled with bean curd--er, tofu.
If I am to be totally honest, I must admit that even I, a vegetarian for over 5 years, vegan for several months, still find myself a little intimidated by this magical white block of protein. I have made dishes that did not turn out so well--doesn't grilled tofu steaks with pomegranate sauce sound great? I thought so, but it was blah! I never blame the tofu, though--it is usually my lack of skill to blame. Did I drain the tofu enough? Did I use the right firmness? Did I let the tofu marinate long enough? (I have failed at this one many a time, including the pomegranate recipe above, but I blame that on chronic impatience and hunger.)
I guess what I am trying to say today is PLEASE don't give up on tofu! Keep cooking with it, experimenting with it. Sooner or later you will find a recipe and a technique that will stick and you will use it over and over again. Don't let tofu-phobia keep you from enjoying delicious and nutritious meals, be they at home or at restaurants.
The Hoppy Vegan

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