Diced, mashed or crumbled, you'll love this versatile Chinese food
"Have a mouth as sharp as a dagger but a heart soft as tofu" (Chinese Proverb)
Tofu has an image problem in the west. Even chefs will sometimes claim it lacks flavor. And it's true that the custard-like white substance doesn't look very appetizing. But despite its critics, tofu has a lot going for it.
What is Tofu?:
Also known as soybean curd, (tofu is the Japanese name for soybean curd; the Chinese name is doufu) tofu is made from soybeans, water, and a coagulant such as calcium or maganesium, in a process that has a great deal in common with making cheese.
Nutritionally speaking, tofu is high in calcium, iron and B vitamins, but low in fat and sodium. Tofu is a excellent source of protein, not only for vegetarians, but also for individuals who have trouble digesting meat, or suffer from medical conditions such as chronic heartburn. And if that isn't enough, tofu has been credited with offering protection against diseases such as cancer and osteoporosis.
How Does Tofu Taste?:
Of course, that does leave the not so small matter of flavor. There is no question that, served alone, tofu tastes rather bland. But tofu is not meant to be eaten alone. The beauty of tofu is that it absorbs the flavors of the food it is cooked with. (Picture a large white sponge and you've got the basic idea).
Types of Tofu:
There are two types of tofu: regular and silken. Regular tofu comes in a variety of textures, from firm to extra firm tofus, which are fairly dense and solid, to soft tofu, which is more jello-like. Originating in Japan and made through a process that has more in common with making yogurt than cheese, silken tofu has a creamy, custard-like texture. It also comes in varying degrees of firmness.
Which Tofu to Use?:
When it comes to regular tofu, the firmer tofus are recommended for stir-fries and grilling, while soft tofu works well in soups. Normally, a recipe will specify which type of tofu to use - if not, it's safest to stick with medium firmness.
Silken tofu is great for blended dishes like pudding, dressings, and purees. A recipe will nearly always state when silken tofu is required.
Shopping for Tofu:
In regular supermarkets, tofu is usually located in the refrigeration case of the produce section. The firmer tofus generally come in brick packages, while softer dessert tofus come in plastic containers. (Less frequently, tofu may be found in aseptically packaged containers that don't require refrigeration in other sections of the store).
In Asian markets, Chinese tofu may be sold in plastic containers or loose in bins filled with water.
Like any perishable product, you need to check the package of tofu for an expiry date. (If the tofu hasn't reached its expiry date but still smells sour, throw it out or return to the store for a refund). Also, depending on the type of packaging, the tofu may need to be refrigerated immediately. Either way, once you've opened it, cover the leftover tofu with water and store it in the refrigerator, being sure to change the water daily. (If possible, use distilled instead of regular tap water). The tofu should last for up to a week.
Draining and Marinating Tofu:
before cooking increases its capacity to absorb other flavors, making for a tastier dish.
Another way to increase the tofu's flavor is to marinate it. For best results, use extra firm tofu that has been drained. The longer the tofu is marinated, the more flavorful the result. After marinating, you can fry the tofu, bake it, or add it to a soup or salad. If not using immediately, store marinated tofu in a sealed container in the refrigerator, and use within 3 - 4 days.
Freezing tofu gives it a more meaty texture. The regular to extra firm tofus are better for freezing, as the softer tofus do not hold their shape as well. To add even extra firmness to the tofu, drain it before freezing. Frozen tofu will last for at least three, and up to five, months.
If you live near an Asian market, try the Chinese-style tofu packaged in water. It is softer than Japanese tofus, but still firm enough to hold its shape during cooking.