Summary: while tofu is extremely popular in Asian dishes, Western Europe struggles to understand its concept. Here I unveil some of the basic information about a dish that I came to love.
What is Tofu? Why is it good for you?
It is a vegetarian, “meat alternative”, plant based dish that is most popular in Asia. Fresh tofu is made out of soy beans by coagulating soy milk. Coagulation is a vital step in its production and it is achieved with the use of coagulants. The two types of coagulants are salts and acids. Tofu is produced out of soy beans, however some of the producers use pre-made soy milk for their tofu production.
- Good source of protein
- Low calorie product
- Contains all eight essential amino acids
- Excellent source of iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc and Vitamin B1
- Contains high amount of minerals such as manganese, selenium and phosphorous
Today we easily find a wide variety in Eastern and also in Western markets. In general all these products belong to two general categories; the healthier and most important category is fresh tofu that is made directly from soy beans. The second option is the processed tofu that is made out of fresh tofu. Here are the top varieties used for both savory and sweet dishes:
- Extra firm
- Extra soft
In general the two distinctive colors of tofu are white and yellowish creme color. The difference in its color is ultimately effected by the protein composition and variety of the soy bean. The color can be adjusted by reducing the isoflavone content and by that, changing the pH value of the soy milk. In the processed tofu due to the higher levels of protein and salt content the color is lighter and the has a more dense and firmer quality.
I believe many people looses interest in tofu when it is not prepared properly. It gets compared to meat in its function and while meat has a distinctive flavor, tofu on its own tastes much more flavorless. How it is actually prepared as a dish makes a difference in the flavoring. In general tofu in Asia has a distinctive bean flavor while at other parts of the World, such as in North America this flavor is indeed more bland. This difference in taste comes from the production method. Hot grinding of the soy beans produces more beany flavor, while the cold grind reduces this flavor and the outcome is a more tasteless product.
The appearance of tofu dishes and the actual production method was first recorded during the Chinese Han dynasty over 2000 years ago. This food culture quickly spread around various parts of Asia such as Vietnam, Korea and Japan, most likely along the travels of Buddhist monks. These vegetarian monks recognized it as a valuable source of protein that could easily be implemented in their plant-based diet.
Cooking with tofu:
Cooking with tofu is not difficult at all, although many shy away from it. I suggest for beginners to buy a dried variety that can be easily sliced and handled as a vegetable. Here is a simple method to add it to all kinds of different dishes:
- Dry the tofu on a clean paper towel
- Slice tofu is equal size slabs (you can also Julienne them by cutting them in to thin slices)
- Marinade the tofu and let it sit in a covered bowl in the fridge for at least 30minutes to an hour (the more time you keep the tofu in the fridge, the more flavorful it will be at the end)
- Heat your preferred cooking oil to medium heat in nonstick skillet or even better in a wok
- Combine vegetables and your marinated tofu in a pan.
- Fry until the vegetables soften a bit and the tofu has a bit of color.
- Serve and eat while it is warm. Although re-heating it is possible, I always find it best to it when it is freshly made.
Here is another delicious recipe that works really well with the dried variety: Healthy & vegetable-packed, Asian inspired, chicken noodle