A Tofu Primer


Whenever people find out I’m vegetarian, the discussion inevitably veers toward tofu. There are a surprising number of people to whom tofu is a complete mystery.  To others it’s a dietary staple.  But since I’m asked questions about tofu so very, very often and since it’s vacation time and nobody’s around the blogosphere much anyway, I figured it was time to produce a short, but comprehensive guide to tofu that I, or any of you, can conveniently whip out the next time the subject of tofu comes up. There will be time (space) for Qs & As at the end of this post.

Tofu Myths & Facts

  •  Not every vegetarian eats tofu. (This will shock and amaze people since some seem to believe that’s ALL we eat).
  • Not everyone who eats tofu is vegetarian.
  • Tofu is not made from rendered pork fat or the milk of some exotic Asian animal. No animals were harmed, milked or otherwise called upon to produce tofu.
  • Tofu is made from soy beans. It’s basically curdled soy milk. That’s why you may sometimes see it referred to as bean curd.
  • Yes, raw tofu might look unappetizing

  • But so does raw meat.

  • Not many people eat large slabs of raw tofu.
  • Yes, raw tofu has little flavour and a yucky texture.
  • But so does raw meat
  • Tofu is high in protein and those all-important isoflavones, and low in fat, cholestrol and calories

 What to do with Tofu

 Tofu comes in 3 basic consistencies – firm, soft and silken.  The silken is good for sauces, dips and desserts, the soft good for stir-frying (especially when it’s been frozen, then thawed), and the firm is good for a zillion things.

There are lots of great tofu recipes on the internet and in books devoted entirely to cooking with tofu. If anyone would like to share their favorite tofu recipe here, please feel free.

 Here’s one of our favorites:

 Tofu Alfredo Pesto Sauce

 1 package, soft tofu

1-2 cloves garlic

Bunch of fresh basil

½ tsp. sea salt

Pine nuts and/or parmesan cheese optional

Throw everything into a blender and whiz together. Warm up briefly and pour over fettuccine pasta or whatever or whomever you want. You can decorate it with veggies and stuff, too, if you want.


Qs & As

Post your probing and compelling tofu questions to the comments page and I will answer them here.

Q: Why do non-vegetarians feel such revulsion for tofu? (Tania)

A: People are often afraid of things they don’t understand, Tania. It’s white and wobbly and it has no identifiable source. Omnivores are accustomed to knowing exactly what form their food formerly had. They are intimately acquainted with how their beef lived, what it consumed, how it was slaughtered and butchered and came to be the delectable item they have on their plates. The lifespan of tofu is a bit sketchy and therefore repulsive.

Q: What was the last tofu dish you made? (Me)

A: Funny you should ask, but we had tofu today.  The daughter has been wanting “small bits of food piled on top of each other” for a while. She sees these sorts of dishes on cooking shows and magazines all the time and thinks they’re glamorous, so instead of taking her out to an expensive restaurant, I thought I’d surprise her with this wee pile of food.  Honey garlic tofu on a bed of jasmine rice, topped with broccoli, baby carrots, blueberries and a tamari glaze.

Q:  Is tofu really the wonder food they say it is? Over the years I’ve heard it can cure everything from menopause to cancer, which seems a little extreme. (Jazz)

A: This reminds me of the old UP NaBloPoMo days.  I don’t know that tofu can “cure” things per se, but it does have many health benefits: it lowers cholesterol, contains healthy omega-3 fats and antioxidents (including selenium) which may help prevent heart disease and some types of cancer.  The phytoestrogens, specifically the isoflavones, genistein and diadzein in tofu act like estrogens in the body which may help with an easier menopause and may also prevent certain types of cancer.  Word is that women in countries where tofu is a staple food, do not experience any of the problems commonly associated with menopause.


23 responses to “A Tofu Primer

  1. Looking forward to trying that recipe out!
    As a mostly vegetarian (I’ve fallen off the wagon the last week or so) myself, I’m always amazed at the repulsion non-vegetarians feel towards tofu. They don’t realize they can eat everything we do … they just eat meat as well.

    I wonder why that is?

  2. mmmmm, i love tofu.

    tofu adobo:

    1 cup vinegar
    1 cup soy sauce
    1 cup water
    lots of garlic
    block of tofu
    instant rice

    Sauté tofu with garlic (I used the jar stuff, about 1 tsp.)
    Add three cups liquid ingredients, bring to a boil
    Add 3 cups of intant brown rice, cook according to instructions

    And voilà! Yummy dinner. Some people (my husband) cuts the vinegar a little bit and adds more water instead.

    i look forward to seeing more recipes!

  3. Tofu is one of the most versatile of foods (like yoghourt) that can have almost anything done to it. And needs anything done to it to make it palatable. But I love it. I am not vegetarian anymore but I’ll add it to chili or a stirfry.

    I’m currently into lime and curry as a mixture and a new recipe that has become a favourite:

    Pat tofu dry and cut into cubes and saute for about 6 minutes in a little canola oil
    Mix together 2T lime juice, 1T fish sauce or soy sauce, and 1/4 tsp of chili sauce or curry paste

    Cook some basmati rice
    Add some cucumber, green onion, red pepper and the sauteed tofu to the rice in a large bowl

    Drizzle the lime sauce over all and mix
    Garnish with coriander or parsley or mint or whatever

  4. I’m into tofu the same way I was into “To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything”. After five minutes of it, I had to stop because it was making me ill.
    Tofo = To Wong Foo. Same result.

  5. Totally off topic, but I just gotta ask you, Zoop: Was that you I saw swing dancing on Sparks Street on Canada Day, wearing socks in your Birkenstocks?

    Okay, I’ll get back on topic: There’s a store not far from Sparks Street that sells tofu; and I saw a street meat vendor selling veggie burgers.

  6. I love Chuch’s (a vegetarian Thai place) tofu satay…

    Just thining of it makes my mouth water.

    And I’m not a vegetarian. It’s just plain delicious.

  7. Meanie – that sounds really easy and usual — that’s a lot of vinegar. Do you use just plain white vinegar or something exotic? (again, that’s a lot of vinegar.) Does it turn out sort of salady? I’m trying to imagine the taste of the finished product.

    Violetsky – That sounds delish! Can’t go wrong with lime and curry.

    JB – Seriously? Tofu makes you ill? As in some sort of bean allergy or what?

    Bob – Not totally off-topic, just the last post’s topic and no it wasn’t me. I never dance in Birkenstocks. There are a lot of stores that sell tofu. You can buy tofu in any grocery store and yes even vegetarians can get side-of-the-road food now if they want — veggie burgers and veggie dogs. Wah-hoo, eh? Sorry, I can’t bring myself to eat stuff from a cart.

    Jazz – We have Sacred Garden veggie Thai place. It’s ever so lovely. All the best vegetarian food is ethnic because most other cultures have a fabulous diet not based around meat. Next time I’m in Montreal, I’m checking out Chuch’s

  8. Tofu’s OK. I like it fine, but wouldn’t go out of my way to make it at home. Except if I could get a good recipe for hot and sour soup. That’s the one dish I looooove tofu in. Mmmm. Too bad it’s too hot for some today. You wouldn’t happen to have a recipe for that, would you?

    I tried tempeh (sp?) once, at the urging of a friend, but was underwhelmed.

  9. Alison – I’m with you on the tempeh, though I’ve had some that wasn’t too bad. Here’s an easy recipe for Hot & Sour Tofu Soup

    Freeze 1 block of medium tofu, thaw out and squeeze out all the water (You can use it without freezing first, but it takes on a lovely chewy texture when it’s been frozen and thawed) Cut into bite-sized pieces and sautee in a bit of oil until slightly browned. Set aside.
    Heat 2 Tbs oil in large pan on medium heat. Add 2 large red peppers sliced into thin strips and one bunch of green onions cut into 1 inch pieces. Stir fry for about 3 minutes. Add 4 cups of stock and 2 Tbs soy sauce. Bring to boil and simmer for about 5 minutes.
    Meanwhile, mix together 2 tsp, red wine vinegar, about ½ tsp chili pepper flakes (more or less), dash of salt, dash of black pepper, 2 Tsp of cornstarch or arrowroot or other thickener, 3 Tsp water, 1 tsp sesame oil. Blend until nice and smooth. Add to soup along with a handful of snow peas and/or any other veggies you like (water chestnuts??) and the tofu. Let bubble and thicken

  10. Yes. It’s some kind of digestive issue. That’s all I’m prepared to reveal, which is already more than you wanted to know.

  11. This was very interesting. Have not had much tofu and you make some very good points and arguments involving meat. I am trying to cut down on the amount of meat I eat and this may just be the thing that helps me get their quicker. Problem is, I like meat! But I want to cut back on my intake for various reasons.

    Good good read XUP!

  12. I love tofu. we have it all the time at our house, especially since we’ve been eating significantly less meat over the last several months. The sushi place near us also serves a steamed fresh tofu with rice and a little sauce to go on top. It’s one of my favorite things.

    All these recipes are great…I’m gonna have to try them, one by one.

  13. I love tofu and eat it often. I’m not a “vegetarian” but I eat more and more fish, veggies and grains than red meat. I think if more people gave tofu a chance it would be a different story but then again, it has to be well prepared to be good.

    It’s all a matter of choice. It would never cross my mind to call a vegetarian a freak 🙂

  14. Great read!! Love your approach in the comparison of tofu and meat. I can’t wait to make the Tofu Alfredo Pesto Sauce. We grow basil and make regular pesto every year. It’s going to be fun to add tofu to it. Thanks!

  15. JB – Interesting. Much depends on how tofu is prepared and whether or not you have organice tofu (soybeans are high on the GM foods list otherwise). Do you have problems with other legumes? Sometimes cooking tofu with ginger or sea vegetables helps digest it better.

    Hunter – I used to like meat, too — especially fall-off-the-bone BBQ beef ribs. But, sometimes there are more compelling reasons NOT to do something than TO do something.

    Linsey – The honey-garlic is the one we probably have the most. I use firm tofu, pat it dry, cut it up in whatever sized pieces and brown them in a pan with a bit of oil. Then I mix up about a cup of water with some sliced ginger, 3 or 4 whole garlic cloves, a T. of tamari or soy sauce, a T of honey and a bit of salt and dump it all on the tofu in the pan. Cover and let simmer very slowly until all the liquid is gone and there’s a bit of a glaze on the tofu. Enjoy!!

    UA – I think a lot of people’s first tofu experiences are pretty horrible (much like many people’s first sexual experiences), but you can’t let that put you off forever. You need to find the right tofu and the preparation has to be good — only then can tofu be fully enjoyed.

    Dee – It’s fun because you have a plate of creamy delicious noodles and sauce with no creamy-related guilt!!

    Cedar – You make a valid point. On the other hand, animals are our friends and I don’t eat my friends. Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best analogy I could have made for you.

  16. Next time your’re in Montreal let me know. We’ll check it out together. I almost always get the satay and their tofu spring roll for lucnch, since they sell them at a small supermarket near where I work.

  17. Oh, here’s a question:

    Is tofu really the wonder food they say it is? Over the years I’ve heard it can cure everything from menopause to cancer, which seems a little extreme.

  18. the rice absorbs the liquid, making it not so salad-like, and the water neutralizes the vinegar, though, i think i mentioned that my husband likes ratio of 3/4 cup vinegar and 1 1/4 cup water to cut the vinegar a bit.

  19. Bob – You’re a laugh riot.

    Jazz – I will. We’re hoping to get there for at least a day sometime in August.

    Hunter – It’s like quitting smoking. You just have to decide to do it and then take one day at a time.

    Meanie – Ya, I reckoned that’s what would happen. I’m definitely going to try it some time. I’m very curious to see how it tastes.