Tofu! Even most carnivores have heard about this soya-based staple vegan food. It’s an absolute classic, and it’s the cornerstone of many a good mock meat dish and more. It comes in a wide range of different styles and textures, from firm and chewy to super soft tofu that’s perfect for cheesecakes.
Far too often it gets a bad rap – people say it’s bland and plain, but to those people we say: would you just eat a cold hunk of raw, uncooked, unseasoned animal flesh and expect it to be scoring big on flavour and texture? No, you wouldn’t, so if you think tofu is bland then you just haven’t given it the basic care and attention in preparation and cooking that it deserves. If omnivore chefs like Jamie Oliver are raving about tofu, then you’ve got no reason to think that it’s a flavourless consolation prize for the righteous…
It’s just a curd to me
Tofu is bean curd. It’s made by coagulating soya milk and pressing the curds that you’re left with into blocks. Coagulating is essentially a process of curdling using either salts, or acids like vinegar or lemon juice. Different coagulants will produce tofu of differing firmness and texture. Calcium sulphate is the most commonly used coagulant, and it produces a tender tofu that’s popular in Chinese cooking.
Where does it come from?
Tofu originated in China, and there a few theories on how exactly it came about. One theory is that the ancient Chinese applied the milk-curdling practices of the East Indians or Mongolians to soya milk. Another theory says it was invented as early as 164BC by a prince of the Han Dynasty, but the evidence from that period is pretty scarce so nobody can be sure as to the truth of that claim. The other popular theory is that it was more of an accidental discovery, that boiled and ground soya beans were mixed with an impure sea salt containing calcium and magnesium that would’ve caused the process of curdling.
Why should I eat it?
Tofu is a good source of protein that’s completely cholesterol free and extremely low in saturated fat. One hundred grams of the stuff will provide you with about a third of your daily recommended allowance of calcium and iron, and that serving size only contains about seventy-five calories! There’s also some potassium and magnesium in there as a little added bonus. Aside from the nutritional plus points, you should eat tofu because it’s an incredibly diverse and delicious addition to a huge list of dishes, and it’s the star of many a meal too!
Where can I get it?
Even though seitan and tempeh can still be relatively hard to find outside of vegan shops and health food stores, tofu seems to be much more widely available. Chances are you’ll find it in at least a couple of forms in your nearest supermarket. You can buy pre-packed marinated chunks of it, or get blocks of it sitting in sealed packs with water to ensure lasting freshness. If you’re a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of dealing with it in its raw versatile state, then try some flavoured steaks or tofu wieners for a good introduction to the possibilities of tofu.
What on earth should I do with it?
Don’t make the mistake of eating tofu straight out of the packet having done nothing to add flavour to it – it’s not disgusting, it just a bit bland in this simple and untouched form. One of the simplest ways to inject some flavour into your tofu is to use a marinade – you can even buy one if you don’t want to make your own. Press the moisture out of your tofu by wrapping it in kitchen roll or a clean tea towel. One of the easiest things to do is stack up a selection of your heavy hardback cookbooks on top of your wrapped tofu. Make sure they’re not going to topple, and leave the weight to do the work. Once pressed, the tofu can take on liquid and this is how you impart flavour. Sit your tofu in marinade and leave it (preferably overnight) to drink in all the flavourful liquid. Once you’re happy that the tofu has taken on enough marinade, fry it, bake it, or barbecue it to get the desired texture. There are loads of different marinades you can try, and different cooking methods achieve different textures.
If you’re sat there scratching your head, thinking ‘I’ve no idea how to make this gelatinous white curd taste delicious’ then fear not! We’ve got a top ten list of the best ways to flavour and prepare tofu (you can view this in Issue 8 of the magazine), and you needn’t be a Michelin star chef to get to grips with them.