Tofu is one of the best sources of protein for a vegetarian diet. One East Asian proverb refers to it as "meat without a bone" Tofu is high in vitamins and minerals, and low in calories and saturated fats. Made from soybeans, tofu becomes a complimentary protein when combined with grains such as rice. On top of all this, tofu is inexpensive and versatile. Its neutral flavor lends itself to countless methods of preparation.
Some of the commonly available soybean products are:
• Silken tofu: Use for desserts (lightly steamed, with maple syrup or honey), in dressings as a thickener (emulsifier), and for spreads in place of mayonnaise.
• Firm or extra-firm tofu: Use scrambled, in stir-frys, burritos, tostadas, and chili; cubed for brochettes, soups, and curries; cut into slices ("cutlets"), breaded and fried, or marinated and then grilled, baked, or smoked.
• Miso, white or red: Use in soups, dressings, marinades, sauces to accompany tofu, and vegetables.
• Tempeh: A fermented soybean cake with a firm, chunky texture, tempeh can be used in much the same way as extra-firm tofu.
• Soy milk: Use in almost any recipe that calls for milk. The final product will not be as rich as when made with milk.
There are also many processed tofu products available in markets, often designed to imitate a meat or dairy product: tofu mozzarella, tofu pepperoni, and tofu hot dogs, to name a few.
Some techniques for using tofu:
• Try freezing firm or extra-firm tofu, thawing, squeezing dry, and mashing. Use for chili, in burritos, or casseroles. The freezing-thawing process transforms the texture into a ground beef—like texture.
• I prefer extra-firm tofu because it is sturdy and versatile. Drain it, squeeze out as much moisture as possible, then cut into slabs, or "cutlets " Press each slab with paper towels until very little moisture comes out, then lay out on more paper towels sprinkled lightly with kosher salt, then sprinkle the tofu again with kosher salt, add another layer of paper towels, and let sit 5 to 10 minutes. For a really dry tofu, put a baking pan on top and weight the tofu for another 10 minutes. This process dries, firms, and seasons the tofu, and works for most of the ways I like to prepare it.
• For some recipes I cut tofu into cubes, salt it, spread it out on an oiled baking pan, then bake it for about 20 minutes at 300°. This dries it out and produces a "skin," which makes the tofu sturdier when combined with a sauce.
• Edamame, or soybeans in the pod, are an easy, healthful snack food with a rich, nutty flavor. Look for them in the freezer section of the market, and boil (right from the freezer) 4 to 6 minutes. Toss lightly with kosher salt after cooking, then cool.