Choosing and preparing tofu

Tofu Miso soup

A versatile choice for any meal

Low in calories and packed with protein, tofu can be a nutritious addition to many recipes. Because tofu takes on the flavors of other ingredients, it is delicious in sweet or savory dishes.

Tofu is made by adding a curdling agent to the liquid from cooked and strained soybeans. Traditionally, the curdling agent used to make tofu is nigari, a compound found in ocean water, magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) or calcium sulfate (gypsum), a naturally occurring mineral.

The curds are then pressed into a solid block and water is pressed out of the curd to determine the final texture.

Firm and extra-firm tofu are dense and solid and hold up well in stir-frys, soups or on the grill.

Soft tofu is good for soups and making dips or spreads, where a smoother texture is desirable and the recipe calls for blending, mashing or puréeing.

Silken tofu is made by a slightly different process, using a cornstarch derivative called glucono lactone. It creates a creamy, custard-like product that works well in puréed dishes or baking.

Nutrition information

Tofu is cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat, calories and sodium, and a good source of B vitamins and minerals. Generally, the firmer the tofu, the higher the protein, calcium, iron and fat content. Tofu has virtually no fiber.

Previous claims that soy foods may reduce the risk of heart disease appear to be unfounded. In 2006, the American Heart Association cancelled its endorsement of soy foods, declaring soy has little effect on cholesterol and is not likely to prevent heart disease.

Many nutritionists advise consumers to pay attention to the quality and quantity of soy in their diet. Traditional Asian cultures provide a healthful model, consuming tofu in small amounts.

Choose organic tofu to avoid consuming genetically engineered soy; 92 percent of the U.S. soybean crop is now genetically engineered.

Storing tofu

Tofu should be stored in the refrigerator at all times. Once the package is open, leftover tofu should be rinsed and covered with fresh water and a bit of salt. Change the water daily and use the tofu within a week.

As with any perishable food, check the “best used by” date on the package. Tofu that turns “pinkish” is spoiled and should be thrown out.

Tofu can be frozen for several months without losing nutrient value. Tofu that has been frozen and thawed has a spongy texture that soaks up marinades and is great for grilling, or can be shredded for stews or chili.

Preparing tofu

Stir-fry dishes

Dice firm tofu into 1-inch cubes. Use it plain or marinate, then sauté with vegetables such as garlic, ginger root, onions, mushrooms, peppers, asparagus, snow peas, carrots or broccoli. Season with soy sauce and toasted sesame oil.

Scrambled

Crumble soft or firm tofu, sprinkle with turmeric powder if desired for a golden glow, and sauté in oil. Capers, peppers, onions and mushrooms are nice enhancements. Optional seasonings include Dijon mustard, oregano, marjoram, salt, cayenne or fresh cilantro.

Soups

Dice soft or silken tofu and add to chicken or vegetable soup, or miso broth. Soft or silken tofu also may be puréed in a blender or food processor with a portion of cooked vegetables, then added back for a “dairy-free” cream soup.

Sandwiches

Mash or crumble plain tofu and mix with mustard, pickle relish, mayonnaise, minced onions and celery for an “eggless” salad sandwich. Blend crumbled tofu half and half with dry veggie burger or falafel mixes for tofu burgers.

Sliced plain tofu can be pan-browned quickly with oil and soy sauce and used in a sandwich. Try plain fresh tofu (similar to fresh mozzarella) on whole-wheat bread, spread with good mustard and/or mayonnaise, plus tomato, avocado, lettuce and onions for a delicious, meat-free sandwich.

Grilling

You’ll get best results with water-packed firm or shrink-wrapped, extra-firm tofu. Cut in 1/2-inch slabs or into 1-inch cubes. Marinate in refrigerator for 20 minutes to all day. Skewer cubes with mushrooms, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and onions.

Desserts, sauces and smoothies

Silken tofu is best for achieving velvety smooth texture. For an instant, delicious mousse or pudding, whip equal amounts of very ripe banana and silken tofu in a blender with a bit of sweetener, vanilla and (optional) a spoon or two of lemon juice to protect colors and enhance flavors.

Or, blend tofu with cocoa or carob powder, maple syrup and vanilla, almond or mint extract. You also may add fresh or frozen berries. Both can be thinned for a smoothie or fruit salad dressing.

For more recipes using soy or tofu, please visit our recipes section.

Blocks of tofu

Preparation tip

If a firmer tofu texture is desired, put tofu on a plate with another plate on top for 5 to 20 minutes. This gently expels extra liquid, making it especially good for marinating.

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