Welcome to Week 2 of 5 Weeks of Flexitarian Eating. How was your first week? Were you able to have at least one meatless meal? (If you had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it counts! Yay!) This week we’re talking about tofu – a gorgeous, sometimes controversial ingredient. If you choose to consume it, you’ll add an versatile item to help you plan your meals.
Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet refers to tofu as “Veggie White Meat.” I prefer to think of tofu as tofu. Personally, I’m not interested in tofurky, chik’n or soyrizo or any sort of artificial meat for a couple reasons:
- In order to make those items taste like meat they have to have all kinds of flavorings and stabilizers added to them. Seriously, read the labels on those products and check out the laundry list of ingredients;
- Unless labelled otherwise, those products are made with GM soybeans;
- Finally, there’s some question about the effects the phytoestrogens found in soy (and other legumes and just about all of my favorite vegetables) with conclusions drawn based on which food “camp” one belongs to. All seem to agree that a woman at risk for “female problems” should play it safe especially with regard to processed varieties of soy.
- NOTE: Since I first wrote this article in 2014 the market for soy meats has really taken off. There are several brands that have a good texture and flavor PLUS they don’t use GM soy. It took some trial and error, but there are a couple brands that I like (one is Fry’s…they’re not in the US yet, but give them time.)
I’m not telling you this to discourage you from eating ORGANIC tofu in moderation, but rather to point out that many soy products you’re likely to come across are highly processed. Many processed soy foods have homemade alternatives (like spinach and tofu burgers…you can make a batch and freeze them. There’s a photo at the bottom of the page.) It’s up to you to balance convenience with your desire to limit industrial foods. When all is said and done, I would rather celebrate (organic) tofu as an ingredient in its own right, enjoy it a couple times a month, and avoid processed soy in all it’s forms as much as possible.
Tofu is incredibly versatile. You can scramble it with vegetables, create creamy, dairy free deserts and season it just about any way you’d like. That’s because it doesn’t have much flavor of its own. I haven’t tried making a dessert or sweet treat from tofu but it’s on my list to try. I like the idea of having vegan baking alternatives in my skill set.
When I first started cooking with tofu, I usually baked or stir fried it. It’s great for a quick meal like the honey and garlic tofu shown above. I really like to grill it, too. If you grill outside, cook the tofu on indirect heat. In the kitchen I use a grill pan, as demonstrated in this stir fry featuring brussels sprouts and tofu (it sounds weird, but it totally works!)
A lot of recipes recommend pressing the water out of the tofu before slicing it. This is easy to do with some towels, a plate and a weight. Others suggest freezing and thawing the tofu before slicing to give it a meaty texture.
After pressing, slice the tofu into steaks (slabs), cubes or triangles. Marinate the tofu at this point if desired. To fry the tofu a little dredge in cornstarch or tapioca flour will help give a nice crust. You can also bake or roast the tofu (dredging optional). Just place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and pop it into a 350° oven until golden and a little bit puffy. It will take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes depending on the shape and how much moisture remains in the tofu.
No matter how it’s prepared, fried or baked tofu can be stored in the fridge for use in salads, sandwiches, quick stir fries what have you.
I’ve updated the text and photos on January 6, 2018. I still haven’t made a tofu based dessert! I’ll let you know when that changes…