Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tofu: Not as scary as it sounds...

In my effort to change our eating habits, I have befriended an ingredient previously looked upon as totally gross. I've tried tofu several times before, many years ago, but I never enjoyed it. Now that I've done some research and experimented with this strange food I've come to actually like it. If you've ever had a discussion about tofu with a tofu-eating friend, they no doubt told you that tofu tastes like whatever you cook it with. Well, that's a true statement. Tofu alone is quite bland and for someone who tends to eat very strong flavors, it's like eating unflavored marshmallows. But for me, it's not just the lack of flavor. It's the texture that makes me go, Eww!

The gross factor, I guess, comes partly from the name and partly from the texture. The word, TOFU, looks and sounds like either a word I'd get soap in my mouth for saying or the latest clothing line from a hip hop artist. The texture reminds me of those molded desserts where the Jello is mixed with whipped cream and that's one of those foods that everyone seems to love, but me.

My tricks to eating tofu are to extract as much water as possible, over season it and always use the firm or extra firm for meals. Desserts, like cheesecake, can be successfully made with the soft or silken tofu but I have yet to cowgirl-up to that.

Making tofu requires a process similar to cheese making but no dairy is involved. The soy beans are crushed and heated, separating the liquid (soy milk) from the solids (curds) and then the curds are pressed tightly together into blocks of tofu. The only thing added to the bean curd when making tofu is Nigari. Nigari is the powder form of magnesium chloride that results from removing the sodium chloride and evaporating the water from seawater. Nigari is used because of its natural ability to make everything jell together.

Tofu is a great meat alternative for anyone on a vegetarian, vegan or dairy free diet due to the high quality protein, calcium (from the Nigari) and B vitamins it contains. Tofu has zero cholesterol and is low in sodium and calories. I'd like to share a recipe that even tofu haters will like. It's a variation on my sweet and tangy homemade BBQ sauce but with a bit of Asian flair and a much faster cooking time.

Sweet and Tangy Tofu

8 ounces firm or extra firm tofu
4 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 Tablespoons ketchup
2 Tablespoons brown sugar (I use dark)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce (or regular chili sauce)
1 dash cayenne (optional)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 Tablespoon sesame seeds
2 green onions, sliced
2 cups hot cooked rice (I prefer short grain brown rice)

Start your rice cooking per package instructions on the stove or in a rice cooker. Line a small plate with a double layer of folded paper towels. Lay the block of tofu on the paper towels and cover with more folded paper towels. Place another plate on top and weigh it down with a heavy skillet or a heavy canned food item. This squeezes out the excess water in the tofu. Let it sit while you prepare the sauce. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, dry mustard, cider vinegar, chili sauce and cayenne. Set aside. Slice the tofu into 1/4 inch thick slices and then cut those slices into squares about 1-inch in size. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the tofu slices a couple minutes on each side so they are a golden brown. Remove to a plate and set aside. To the pan, add the garlic and cook just until it's fragrant but not burned. Pour in the sauce ingredients and the sesame seeds; cook and stir a couple minutes or until it begins to thicken. Return the tofu slices to the pan and stir gently to coat. Serve over hot rice and sprinkle with green onion slices.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves 4

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TinksTreats by Lorilyn Tenney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License