Tofu a true food

Doctors, nutritionists, and food experts around the globe are telling us to eat more tofu. Its an excellent source of high-quality protein and calcium. The extra bonus is that it contains no cholesterol and is very low in calories and saturated fat. So why don’t we eat more tofu? Partly, because for too long tofu has been used as a substitute for other ingredients and partly because we don’t quite know what to do with it. Why turn tofu into a beef substitute in a burger or pass it off as ‘cheese’ in lasagne, when its delicious on its own?

The Soyabean is a truly wonderful food, it could well be described as the cow of Asia. It provides a wide variety of high-protein foods. When it’s ground with water, cooked and strained, it produces soy milk. When coagulants are added and heat is applied it can be transformed into many types of tofu.

Soy milk is a huge boon to the growing number of people who are allergic to dairy products. Many find it alleviates some of the symptoms during menopausal years.

Tofu is an important source of protein. Vegetarians and tofu enthusiasts use it to replace meat in all kinds of dishes but it is also good on it’s own.
Tofu is made from soy milk which is heated and stirred with coagulants. It solidifies into curds which are pressed to make blocks of tofu. It can be soft and silky or very firm, depending on the coagulant and the screening method.

In Asian shops and markets there are many types of tofu to be found, but the 2 main types available in Ireland are:-

Chinese-style firm Tofu – this type of tofu is firmer in texture. It looks coarse but becomes smoother when cooked. It can be marinated for a longer period and is also good fried or grilled, or used for kebabs or brochettes. It comes packed in water in sealed plastic container either in slabs or in slices. It can be frozen

Silken Tofu – both soft and firm, is more delicate and fragile than Chinese-style tofu. It’s best for miso soups, tofu salads, mock mayonnaise…. It comes in sealed boxes and keeps for months at room temperature. However, once opened it should be refrigerated and used within a few days.

Marinated Baked Tofu - there are several flavours available, some are seasoned with five-spice powder, barbecue sauce or sesame seeds. All have a chewy meaty texture and their flavour is improved if sautéed first in a little olive or sesame oil. Great to add to stir fries, Asian pasta dishes, spring rolls …

A little bit of advice when buying Tofu
A high proportion of the soya bean crop is genetically modified so check the label carefully to ensure that you are buying a non GM product.

Always check the sell-by dates and keep refrigerated. Tofu should smell mild, sweet and vaguely nutty. Once it begins to smell sour discard it because it is not good to eat.
Draining the tofu gets rid of the excess water so it can absorb marinades or fry without spluttering too much. Blot the tofu all over with paper towels. This will absorb quite a bit of the moisture but you may want to apply some weight and drain it if you plan to cook it later.
Firm Chinese-style tofu is fairly robust but you will need to be a little more gentle with silken tofu.

In many recipes, tofu is shallow or deep fried first in oil to give it a chewy texture and a most appetizing colour. It can then be marinated and used in stir fries or added to stews. Tofu can also be firmed up by simmering cubes in a pot of water or vegetable stock for about 5 minutes. Both methods make the protein firm so that the cubes of tofu will keep their shape when cooked further.
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Other Soybean products include:-

Tempeh is a high protein Indonesian soy product with a dense meaty quality, sometimes called – fakin’ bacon!
Miso is created when soy beans are fermented – this is a flavour paste that forms the basis of many soups and soy sauce.
T.V.P. – textured vegetable protein is used to replace meat with varying degrees of success.
To freeze tofu
Just cut into 1 inch cubes, drain briefly and freeze in a plastic bag. Allow to defrost and drain again before using.

If you are a loss for ideas or don’t know where to start, Deborah Madison’s book – This can’t be Tofu! Published by Broadway Books, New York.

Tofu & Vegetable Stir Fry

Serves 6

2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 fresh chilli (chopped) or
1 tsp of chilli flakes
2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
350g/12ozs FIRM TOFU
200g/7ozs mushrooms (sliced)
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large red pepper (sliced)
1 large yellow pepper (sliced)
200g/7ozs broccoli florets or cauliflower
2 spring onions
1 tbsp sesame oil
Thai fragrant rice (steamed)
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Mix the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, chilli flakes and five-spice powder together. Cut the tofu into fingers Transfer to a small pie dish, cover with the marinade and allow to soak up the flavours for 1-2 hours if possible.

Just before stir-frying, put on the rice to cook (see recipe). While the rice is resting, drain the tofu, reserve the marinade. Heat the wok, add the sunflower oil. Cook the tofu in batches until golden, transfer to a plate. Increase the heat. Add a little more oil, toss the mushrooms with salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss until fully cooked through. Add the peppers, stir and fry for a minute or two, add the broccoli florets. 

Drizzle with sesame oil, stir fry for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the tofu, chopped spring onions and the marinade. Bubble up, taste, correct the seasoning. Scatter with sesame seeds and serve immediately with Thai fragrant rice.

Foolproof Food
Thai Fragrant Rice
Serves 4-6

Thai fragrant rice is perfect for South East Asian meals. When cooked it is shiny with just a slight hint of stickiness.

340g (12floz) Thai fragrant rice, measured in a measuring jug
340ml (12floz) water

Put the rice and water into a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring to the boil, stir once cover with a tight fitting lid*, and lower the heat to the absolute minimum - use a heat diffuser mat if possible. Continue to cook on the lowest heat for 15 minutes. Do not uncover during cooking. Take off the heat, keep covered and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving. The rice will stay warm for several hours if necessary.

*It may be necessary to cover with tin foil if the lid is really not tight fitting

Aki Ishibashi’s Miso Soup

One of our Japanese students showed us how to make this delicious soup. Ingredients are available from Mr. Bell’s stall in the Cork Market or good health food and Asian shops.

Serves 4

600ml (1 pint) Dashi (see recipe)
3-4 generous tablespoons miso paste
175g (6oz) tofu, cut into 1cm ( ½ inch) cubes
1 dessertspoon wakame (dried seaweed)

1 spring onion, thinly sliced

Heat the dashi, and dissolve the miso paste by stirring it into the dashi. When it has dissolved completely, add the tofu cubes and wakame. Bring it to the boil. As soon as it starts to boil, turn off the heat. Ladle miso soup into warmed individual soup bowls and garnish with spring onion.
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Dashi (bonito fish stock)

is essential in many Japanese dishes. It provides a savoury flavour which cannot be attained by using seasoning only and it is much easier to make than meat or fish stock.
425ml ( ¾ pint) water
10cm (4 inch) piece konbu (dried kelp) 
5-7g ( ⅛ - ¼ ) dried bonito flakes

Wipe and clean konbu with a dry cloth. Do not wipe off the white powder on the surface, as that is the one element that provides a unique savoury flavour. Put the water in a saucepan and soak the konbu for 30 minutes before turning on the heat. Remove any scum that forms on the surface. When the water begins to bubble, just before boiling, take out the konbu. Do not overcook or it will become slimy and the flavour of the stock too strong. Add the bonito flakes, bring back to the boil, turn off the heat and set aside until the bonito flakes sink to the bottom. Strain through very fine muslin and discard the bonito flakes. Use fresh or freeze immediately.
Instant Dashi
Instant dashi can be found in the form of a liquid extract as well as powder. Just dissolve a liquid dashi or powdered dashi in boiling water. But the flavour is far from that of homemade dashi.

Fried Tofu and Pepper Curry with Cashews
From ‘This can’t be Tofu’ by Deborah Madison

Serves 3

1 carton firm tofu (cartons usually weigh 14-20 ozs/400-600g)
12 fl.oz (350ml) peanut oil, for frying
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 serrano chillies, minced or finely diced
1-2 teasp. Thai red curry paste
8fl.oz (225ml) coconut milk
4fl.oz (125ml) vegetable stock, chicken stock or water
3 tablesp. roasted, chopped cashews
3 tablesp. coarsely chopped coriander leaves

Drain the tofu, then wrap in a towel and press while you prepare the rest of the ingredients – pressing means allowing the excess water to drain off, this will make it easier for the tofu to absorb other liquids and seasonings. It will also help prevent spattering when frying and diluting of the sauces and dressings which are added.

Then cut the tofu into 1 inch (2.5cm) cubes. If its still moist blot with paper towels so that it won’t splatter when fried.
Heat the oil in a wok or pan. When hot enough to sizzle a crumb of tofu, add 6 or 7 pieces and fry until golden and crisp. Don’t let them brown, however. You’ll need to separate the pieces, as they tend to cling to one another. Remove when done and set on paper towels to drain. Pour all but 1 tablespoon of oil out of the wok and return the pan to the heat.
Add the onions, bell pepper and chillies and stir-fry for 1 minute. Stir in the curry paste, then add the coconut milk, stock, half teaspoon of salt and the tofu. Simmer for 2 minutes more, or until the tofu is heated through. Serve over rice or noodles, garnished with the roasted cashews and coriander.
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Iced Coffee Frappe

From ‘This Can’t be Tofu’ by Deborah Madison

Deborah says that once you start making smoothies with espresso you’ll plan to have leftover coffee. You can vary them endlessly with the additions suggested.

Serves 2

8 fl.ozs (225ml) cold strong coffee or espresso
4 fl.ozs (125ml) soy milk
2½ fl.ozs (55ml/ one-third cup) silken tofu
3 ice cubes
1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Combine everything in the blender and puree until smooth.

Variations: pinch cinnamon or nutmeg, hazelnut or almond syrup, coconut milk, a big scoop of vanilla ice-cream or frozen yogurt, a banana.

Top Tips

Feile Bia was introduced in 2001 in response to growing consumer concern about the quality and origin of ingredients of food offered when eating out. Membership of Feile Bia is on a voluntary basis and at the moment there are over 1290 members across the food sector. The programme is organised in conjunction iwht the Restaurants Association of Ireland and the Irish Hotels Federation – a new Feile Bia plaque will be now be displayed outside all participating establishments.
Winner of 2004 Bord Bia Feile Bia Award – Fiacri House Restaurant , Boulrea Knock, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, an award-winning restaurant on the borders of Tipperary, Laois and Kilkenny, won the 2004 award in the Georgina Campbell Guide. The restaurant, owned and run by Ailish and Enda Hennessy is situated on the family dairy farm and sources fresh local ingredients where possible. Ailish also runs cookery classes.
Bantry Bay Seafoods were awarded the prestigious ‘Seafood Exporter of the Year 2003’ and they also scooped the Irish Exporters Association ‘Overall Exporter of the Year Award 2003’.They were picked for the top award because of ‘their impressive penetration into a number of difficult markets, the high value it adds to Irish seafood and its innovative development of new products’.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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