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Many people equate vegetarian meals with tofu. You know, that tasteless blob made from soybeans that looks like it could caulk a tub. I understand. When I was in Tokyo, it seemed many of the meals had something white, soft and resembling the eyes of blind frogs in one section of the bento tray. I poked at them with the end of my chopstick to see if they would squeak. By the third day I was desperate for a Subways. I’ve also had tofu in an American restaurant that seemed to be not much more than cubed pieces fried until the outside was crisp, but the inside still resembled boiled egg whites.

And yet, this blog post is about the possibility of introducing tofu into your family’s menus occasionally. Before you click out, consider,

The Foundation for Integrated Medicine lists some compelling reasons:
* reduces risk of heart disease
* lowers levels of cholesterol
* improves bone density and reduces risk of fractures
* decreases the incidence of breast cancer and lung cancer

Not only is tofu good for us (I know, that’s like the worse recommendation to try something new), but it’s also more economical than meat. I bought soybeans once and tried to make my own tofu. After hours of invested confusion, tangles of cheesecloth and a host of pots and dishes to wash, I decided I would just buy it. For more information, here’s a brief tutorial about the difference between silken tofu and regular tofu.

But let’s move on—how to actually use it if you’re not Japanese and willing to eat it like a custard gelatin.

First of all, don’t tell your family it’s tofu. Say it’s made from beans (soybeans).

Secondly, do this:
1. As soon as you pull it from your eco-friendly, cloth shopping bag (mandatory accessory when purchasing tofu), put it in the freezer.
2. The day before you decide to use it, switch it to the fridge to thaw. This process changes the texture of the tofu.
3. Drain the tofu and then place the soft block in a clean towel, gather up the ends and squeeze the water out by twisting the towel.
4. Crumble the tofu into a bowl.

This can now be used several ways.
Tacos: sauté onions and garlic in olive oil, add tofu crumbles and brown (slightly). Add taco seasoning and a touch of water and cook until well flavored. Place in taco shells on top of refried beans and top with other fillings of choice.
Spaghetti / Shepherd’s Pie: Again sauté onions and garlic in olive oil. Add tofu crumbles and brown. Add favorite sauce; serve over pasta with cheese. Or use as a base for Shepherd’s Pie by adding cooked carrots and green beans or uncooked peas. Spread in a baking pan. Top with a thick layer of mashed potatoes and finally, shredded cheese. Bake until warmed through.
Sandwich Spread: To one pound of crumbled tofu, add ¼ C. mayonnaise, 3 T. nutritional yeast, 2 T. almond or peanut butter, 2 T. sweet pickle relish, 2 T. minced onions, 1 clove garlic, pressed, 1 T. Dijon mustard, 2 T. tamari, and a dash of cayenne. Mix and serve on toast with lettuce and fresh tomato slices.
Veggie Loaf: Tofu makes a great binder, replacing eggs and adding more protein. Try the recipe below.

Tofu Sunflower Loaf from Arrowhead Mills Cookbook

1 lb. firm tofu (frozen, thawed, and pressed in towel)
1 C. sunflower seeds
1 C. whole grain bread crumbs
½ C. firmly chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 eggs
1 tsp. salt free seasoning
2 T. tamari (or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos)
¼ C. grated Parmesan cheese

Crumble the tofu into a large bowl. Coarsely grind the seeds in a food processor. Add the seeds and all remaining ingredients to the tofu. Mix well, using your hands if necessary. Pack the mixture into a well-oiled loaf pan, pressing firmly so that it holds together. Bake at 350º for 30-40 minutes or until firm and brown. Top with tomato sauce or a spicy peanut sauce.

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