Sunday, May 11, 2008

Do you tofu? I do.

string beans and tofu in Thai peanut butter sauce

Tofu. Is there another food so misunderstood, so unjustly maligned?

Some people don't simply dislike tofu, they hate it. Why? Here's my theory about tofu antipathy: It's not the taste (there isn't any; it takes on the flavors of other ingredients), or the texture (there are many different ones to choose from), or the price (it's not expensive).

It's because of Tofurky.

Tofurky is a mock-turkey eaten as a vegetarian alternative to turkey. Look at it. Does that look like turkey to you? I mean, it actually comes in a box.

Of course, with a little creativity, you could make it look more like a turkey.

I guess it's not only Tofurky, though; it's all those meat wanna-be tofu products that have ruined it for tofu. What's the point of tofu sausage or tofu bacon? They aren't fooling anyone.

These imposters have made it too easy to poke fun at tofu and dismiss it as "weird." It's not. It's good. Really. And good for you too. Tofu is rich in calcium, protein, iron, and isoflavones, which may help prevent osteoporosis as well as preserve already osteoporotic bones.

If you're a tofu newbie, then check out Kalyn's article, "Tackling Tofu." Then try her Stir Fried Tofu with Scallions, Garlic, Ginger and Soy Sauce, which she submitted to my Beautiful Bones event that runs through May 31st. Ever humble, Kalyn gives Mark Bittman too much credit -- she clearly has the tofu touch.

Here's some help with understanding tofu:

  1. Firm tofu (and extra-firm) is dense and holds less water than other types, so it's ideal for sauteing and grilling because it maintains its shape. Usually you have to place the tofu between two sheets of paper towels and place a heavy object like a pan on top to squeeze the water out. Most extra firm tofu, however, has so little water that just patting it dry is sufficient. Try it in salads, sandwiches, and stir-fries.
  2. Soft tofu is great for blending. Use it in soups, dressing, or sauces.
  3. Silken tofu has a soft, creamy texture and also works well in blended dishes such as purees and desserts such as puddings.
trader joe's tofu

My favorite brand, Trader Joe’s Super Firm Extra High Protein Organic Tofu, has a whopping 14 grams of soy protein and only 100 calories per serving. I really love it with string beans and Thai peanut butter sauce, which is faster to make than ordering take-out. That's why I'm sending it to a new blogger friend, the delightful Rita of Mochachocolata-Rita for her Chinese Take-Out Party. The longest part is the rice, but you could make it ahead of time, use a quick cooking rice, or even make it the microwave. The rest of the meal takes about 15 minutes.

string beans and tofu in Thai peanut butter sauce

String Beans and Tofu with Thai Peanut Butter Sauce

Makes 4 servings
Print recipe only here.

3/4 pound string beans, cleaned and trimmed
12 ounces extra-firm tofu, sliced into strips
1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 cups lite coconut milk
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon hot curry powder
1 Thai chili, minced (with or without seeds--you decide)
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
salt, to taste

1 tablespoon chopped unsalted, roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon toasted unsweetened shredded coconut, optional
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, optional

2 cups cooked brown rice

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook string beans for two minutes. Drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and retain their vibrant green color. After 1-2 minutes, drain and pat dry. Set aside.

To cook tofu, add 1 teaspoon sesame oil to a large non-stick skillet. Add tofu and saute over medium-high for 7-10 minutes, or until lightly golden and crispy.

To make the sauce, combine all ingredients in a bowl, and whisk until nearly smooth (the pb is chunky, after all).

In a medium pot, add the peanut butter sauce and cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until bubbly. Lower the heat, and continue cooking until sauce begins to thicken. Add the cooked string beans to the skillet with the tofu, then pour the sauce on top. Mix well and cook over a low heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the sauce clings to the tofu and vegetables.

Serve over brown rice, and top with chopped peanuts. Garnish with toasted shredded coconut and fresh cilantro, if desired.

Check out these tantalizing tofu dishes:
Here are two calcium-rich recipes you might like:

Breakfast Egg Sandwich with Avocado and Chipotle-Mayo

Sicilian Sardine and Broccoli Rabe Pasta

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Note: Many women are concerned about eating tofu or other soy products for fear that the isoflavones, which can mimic the action of natural estrogens, might lead to cancer. This is complicated. There is no conclusive evidence that shows soy causes cancer. In fact some studies have suggested that soy may reduce a women's risk for some cancers, such as ovarian, while others have suggested a diet very high in soy may increase a woman's risk for some cancers, such as breast cancer. If you have concerns about soy, especially if you have/have had breast cancer or are on hormone replacement therapy, then you should discuss it with your doctor.

photo credit: gaia online