Readers, meet tofu. Tofu, meet readers.

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Welcome to Tofu 101: a guide to the what, why and how of all things tofu. Class is now in session!

What

Tofu is made similar to cheese, and starts with extracting soy milk from ground, cooked soybeans. The soy milk is heated and salt is added to separate it into curds and whey. After the whey is drained from the curds, the curds are pressed together and presto – you’ve got tofu!

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The more the tofu is pressed, the firmer it becomes. The most common varieties you’ll see in your grocery store include soft or silken, firm and extra firm.

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Silken tofu is great for adding to smoothies or scrambling like eggs, while firm or extra firm (my fave) is best for using in everyday dishes.

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Why

Tofu is a great source of protein for those looking for a meat alternative, and it’s also high in calcium, iron and contains no cholesterol. Furthermore, it’s inexpensive (I generally pay $2 a block, which yields 4-5 servings) which means it plays nice with a budget.

Plus, it’s so versatile! Cooking tofu is very similar to cooking chicken, and there are a number of different ways you can use it. Try tofu:

The nutrition and versatility is great, but the TASTE is what I really love. Tofu is like a sponge – it soaks up all the flavors you cook it with. You can quickly toss it with a sauce just before cooking, or let it soak up all the flavors of the dish you’re using it in.

I also really like eating tofu raw, adding it to cold salads and such. It’s got this mild, almost plant-like flavor. I know that sounds weird – but it’s good!

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What I’m sure you really want to know though is, what’s the texture like? Well, if you’re using extra firm tofu, I’d say it’s like…hmmm…really, really thick & firm jello?! It doesn’t disintegrate like jello, but I suppose it’s the same firmness.

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Now, I use a tofu press to press out even more of the water my extra firm tofu comes packed in, just to get it that much more firm, but it’s totally not necessary. You can eat it right out of the package.

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How

Like I said, cooking tofu is not at all unlike cooking chicken, or really any other meat for that matter. Here’s how I made tonight’s dinner of Sautéed Asian Broccoli Tofu!

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Ingredients:

1/2 block extra firm tofu, pressed

2 cups broccoli, steamed

2 servings rice sticks, cooked & drained

Wok oil

Chopped peanuts

Sauce:

Soy sauce, water, rice vinegar, ~1 Tablespoon peanut butter, ~2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce, sesame oil, agave nectar, ground ginger and garlic powder. Microwave for 20 seconds, taste and adjust seasonings accordingly. (Sorry, I didn’t measure!)

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Directions:

1. Press tofu block in tofu press for 30 minutes, or up to 12 hours.

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2. Drain water from the top of the press and lay tofu block on a cutting board.

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3. Cut tofu block into 6 slabs. Separate into 2 sets of 3 slabs and make 3 more vertical cuts to make 9 sticks (18 sticks total.)

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3. Cut across the sticks to make 1 inch cubes.

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4. Heat ~2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

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5. Sauté tofu cubes until lightly browned, ~3-4 minutes.

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6. Add steamed broccoli, cooked rice noodles and sauce into the skillet, then toss to coat.

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7. Top with chopped peanuts and enjoy!

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See? Not hard or scary at all!

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The tofu gets a wonderful, golden brown crust from the quick sauté, and blends so well with the chewy rice sticks. Plus that sauce totally drenches the broccoli, so you get a burst of flavor whenever you bite down. Love that!!

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I know you want to know if husband’s eat tofu too. The answer is…sometimes.

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Ben will eat tofu when he can’t tell it’s tofu, such as crumbled on top of Thai Tofu Pizza or when combined with baked beans in BBQ Tofu Nachos. I think it’s all in his head…I think he’d agree. ;)

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Honestly, I can’t tell you what possessed me to try tofu for the first time. I was just as skeptical as some of you may be. It looks weird, I thought. It probably tastes even weirder, I’d say to myself. I’m so glad I gave it a shot though, because it’s become an IGE kitchen staple and I just adore it!

A click on any of the links under “Why” up top will lead you to a tofu recipe, but here are some more of my faves!

Class dismissed! ;)

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Do you like tofu? What are some of your favorite ways to enjoy it?