Friday, November 11, 2011

Friends Don't Let Friends: Not Eat Tofu

Some of my friends and family who know we are vegan ask us about tofu.  Well, I just saw this great graphic from Nasoya which gives a quick overview on "what the heck is tofu exactly?!?" and thought it did a great job.  Click here to see it BIG.

I also want to add a few bits of information.  First of all, let's get a few common misconceptions out of the way. 

1.There as has been some fear around eating soy and the implications of eating too much.  That was related to Isolated Soy Proteins (ISPs) and has been shown to be mostly groundless.  But like much modified foods, it's always best to modify your intake.  ISPs have been added to many processed foods trying to boost their healthy claims or "extending" the volume or lifespan of foods like ground beef.  They do this by creating Textured Soy Protein which is a processed food, a flour that is reconstituted, itself. 

Tofu and tempeh are whole foods made made from the soy bean.  They are not isolates and you would have to eat a TON to get any issues.  So no worries there!

2. We don't eat a ton of tofu or tempeh.  And we are probably eating less ISPs than the average SAD-eating person because we eat very few processed foods.

Now, onto the good stuff! 

But first I have a confession to make.  When I was in college I had a hippie-ish roommate for a year.  I remember she made tofu once or twice and I was skeptical/disdainful.  What a fool!  (I also had a roommate that ate hummus and I thought it looked vile.  Yep, I was pretty closed-mined about food growing up. There's a lot of stuff we never tried in spite of living in very culturally diverse Miami.  Oh well.)
So, there are two big "types" of tofu which have similar labels.  This can cause some confusion and cooking fear but don't worry. It's all good.

First is the vacuum packed silken tofu.  Being shelf stable, it's good to keep a few packs on hand.

The firmer water-packed kind is a bit more crumbly.  Since the creation process is similar think of these as a brie vs feta.

But what do you do with them, you ask, and what's with this draining process.

Well, the silken you can use straight out of the pack. As noted, this can be used for dips, spreads, baking etc.  It's also what you get in miso soup and I'll even use it for a scramble. 

The water-packed version is much sturdier and absorbable.  You can press the block between your hands when you open it to get out a good amount of the water, or you can press it using a tofu press or between two flat surfaces like cutting boards.  This allows a lot of the water out, allowing your seasonings or marinade in.  Just as people inject marinades into meats,  you're adding the flavors you want to the tofu.  (We all know the flavor comes from sauces and spices.  No surprise there!)

Then you cook.  You can stir-fry, grill, pan fry, bake, kabob, add it as a filling, etc.  Pretty much whatever you want.  And as you can see from this gallery, there are a LOT of options!

One of our first recipes with tofu is making a tofu scramble.  It's now a staple and so yummy.  I typically chop and saute an onion and a tomato but you can add peppers, jalapenos, sun-dried tomatoes, etc.  Whatever strikes your fancy.  I saute this in olive oil, some Braggs, a bit of liquid smoke and Tabasco, as well as a few drops of toasted sesame oil and salt and pepper.  Mix it up this basic recipe with herbs or whatever.

When the veggies are cooked, I add drained and crumbled tofu to the pan.  You are essentially giving the tofu time to absorb the flavors and heat up so you dont' need to leave it in there very long.  But if you need extra time, just put it on low.  You won't overcook it.
Then serve!

I'll talk about tempeh later but in the meantime, here are some additional resources.

1. Colleen Patrick-Godreau's podcast on Tofu and her one on Soy (they may take a moment to load, or you listen to them on iTunes.  Her podcast is Vegetarian Food for Thought).

2. Nasoya also has a downloadable recipe book too.

3. If you want an amazing sandwich, check out the tofu sandwich at Mellow Mushroom.  I get no mayo and they add some Daiya cheese and I'm in squishy sandwich tofu heaven.

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