Tofu is a versatile, vegetarian, go-to protein. Since tofu itself doesn’t have an overbearing flavour or much flavour at all for that matter, it easily absorbs marinades, making it adaptable for almost any cuisine. It’s also inexpensive, easy to cook and loaded with protein, which makes it a staple for most vegetarians and omnivores alike. There are so many different types of tofu out there—firm, extra firm and silken—it’s hard to know which one to use and when, not to mention what this white, spongy brick even is anyway!
Let’s start with what tofu is: Tofu is kind of like the cheese of soymilk. It’s made by curdling soy milk with a coagulant. When the curds and whey separate, it’s pressed so the water drains out and you are left with curds of tofu. The more it’s pressed, the firmer the tofu will be, and the higher the fat and protein content will be. Tofu has been a culinary staple in Asia for 2000 years and only in the last 65 years has it found its way to North America’s kitchens.
Silken tofu is incredibly soft and creamy, often reserved for desserts, sauces, dips or a substitution for eggs or yogurt in recipes. Silken tofu isn’t pressed so it contains the most amount of water making it silky, light and soft. It is so delicate that it may fall through your fingers, so handle with care! Silken tofu does come in soft, firm and extra firm, but are all light and silky.
Cocoa Silken Pudding
1 block (19 oz) silken tofu
1/4 cup raw cacao powder or Dutch pressed cocoa powder
3-4 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 Tablespoon almond milk, rice milk, soy milk or coconut milk
Pinch sea salt
- Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until creamy and smooth.
- If you are using raw cacao powder, it is quite bitter so you may need to add an extra teaspoon or Tablespoon of maple syrup to sweeten it up.
- When spooning the pudding into cups to serve, sprinkle with a pinch of coarse sea salt on top for that added salty and sweet combination.
Firm, Extra Firm and Super Firm Tofu
Firm tofus have some of the highest protein content because most of the water has been drawn out. They are best used when cubed, sliced or crumbled, and they can be stir fried, grilled, scrambled and baked. This is definitely the most commonly used tofu, especially for first-timers. But the firmer the tofu, the more challenging it is to infuse it with flavor. Top tofu chefs recommend lightly sautéing it first to crisp up the outside and then marinate it to infuse flavours. Some people recommend pressing the tofu under a heavy object (e.g. can of tomatoes) to draw out any excess water before cooking it.
Miso Maple Tofu Steaks
1 block extra firm tofu
3 teaspoons virgin coconut oil
1 Tablespoon white miso paste
2 Tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
2 teaspoons tamari
2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 Tablespoon black sesame seeds
- Take the tofu out of the package; place it on a plate or cutting board between two paper towels. Place a can of tomatoes on top of the tofu to drain excess water for about 2 minutes.
- While tofu is draining, in a bowl mix miso, water, ginger, maple syrup and tamari together.
- Heat a skillet on medium-high heat, add coconut oil and swirl around.
- Slice the tofu into rectangular “steaks” and add them to the skillet, lightly browning each side, about 1 minute per side.
- Once browned, turn heat to medium-low and add in the marinade over the tofu. If the marinade has firmed up, pour a little more warm water into the mixture and stir until loose.
- Cook on each side for about 6 minutes.
- Take off of heat and sprinkle with black sesame seeds and fresh cilantro.
This versatile, vegetarian protein also has an array of health benefits. It’s one of the few vegetarian sources that is a ‘complete’ protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids (building blocks) of protein. Tofu contains calcium, manganese, selenium, iron, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B1. All of these minerals and vitamins are important for the proper development and health of bones, blood, muscles and the overall immune system. Soy does contain phytates, which block the absorption of certain minerals; however tofu has the lowest amount of phytates than other forms such as soy protein isolate.
Soy itself is controversial due to its ability to mimic estrogen in the body and because most of it is genetically modified. This could either be positive or negative for certain women. If you do have a hormonal imbalance or are genetically predisposed to estrogenic cancers, it may be worth limiting soy consumption. Most soybeans in North America are genetically modified, so buying a non-GMO and/or organic brand is a must.
The best thing about tofu is that it is easy to experiment with. Get in the kitchen and throw it in soups, make a scramble, grill it up, roast it or bake it. If it’s your first time using tofu, just jump right in!
Tamara Green is co-founder of The Living Kitchen, and a Holistic Nutritionist and Natural Cook. She combines her knowledge of nutrition and passion for cooking good food to work with clients to create lasting changes in their lives.
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