I think every vegetarian remembers their last piece of meat. Mine was Thanksgiving Day 1993. Home from college for the holiday, that turkey was my personal last (carnivorous) supper.
However, my first taste of tofu? Not so celebratory. I honestly have no idea when it was, not if it was before I went cold turkey off meat (pun completely intended) or sometime after. I only know that over the nearly 18 years since I have sworn off anything with eyes, it has taken me nearly half that long to master cooking tofu.
This doesn’t surprise me in the least. After all, I was the first vegetarian I knew in a meat-and-potatoes family. Did I mention my dad hunted? Tofu was totally foreign to me, a product limited to the rare health food store or a Chinese restaurant menu where it was called “bean curd.” Ew.
But over the years, like many women who trade college cafeteria lines for kitchens of their own, I began to explore the art of cooking. My first vegetarian cookbook, gifted and inscribed by my favorite aunt, was Beyond the Moon. With it, Author Ginny Callan introduced me to cooking with that strange, custard-like block of white stuff.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve taken more than my fair share of tofu mockery over the years, even if in good fun, and ruined more than a few meals along the way. But the truth is, I think (ok, enter the rare optimist in me) that if people were more familiar with it, the mockery would disappear with the mystery. Or so I can hope.
Pass the Tofu, Please
Thanks to Wikipedia, About.com and my own personal experience for these basic facts:
- Tofu is made with a process similar to cheese. A coagulant is added to soy milk and the resulting curds are pressed into soft white blocks.
- It is thought to have originated in ancient China and then spread to other parts of Asia, including Japan, Korea, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
- It has very little flavor, but perfectly absorbs the flavor of whatever it is cooked with. For this reason, it can be used in both savory and sweet dishes, and is perfect for marinating and seasoning.
- It comes in a variety of textures, including silken (great for smoothies and sauces), and firm or extra-firm (ideal for soups, stir-frys, curries, and grilling).
- Gently pressing the firmer varieties of tofu helps to expel the water, making it more suitable to absorb other flavors.
- Non-silken tofu freezes well and, once thawed, takes on a spongy texture that makes it ideal for crumbling.
- It is low in calories, fat and sodium, and high in protein, iron, calcium and B vitamins.
Now that you’re armed with all you probably ever wanted to know (hey, I’m being hopeful here), there’s only one thing left to do: get cooking! For starters, replace the beef or chicken in your next stir-fry or try this Quick and Easy Thai curry. For a more adventurous experience, tackle these Tofu Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce.
By the time Thanksgiving day rolls around, you may just be willing to go cold turkey on meat. Or not. But at least you’ll remember your first taste of tofu, and with any luck, it won’t take you years to master cooking.
My Favorite Tofu Recipes