Jan 9, 2013

TOFU

Hiyayakko with Ponzu Sauce
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I am not at all a vegetarian, but actually consider myself to be a carnivore. Like so many Americans, I love red meat, but at the same time I also like to eat healthy, as long as it tastes good. As I get older, and I like to think wiser, I have begun to realize the nutritional value of tofu. On its own, tofu is rather bland-tasting, and doesn't have much, or any flavor. The amazing thing is that tofu is well known for its ability to absorb new flavors, which makes it the perfect ingredient for the creative cook.

Tofu was discovered in China more than 2,000 years ago, which again shows that Western cuisine is way behind Eastern. I know this because every time I start researching a food category, it seems to have originated in the East. Fortunately the hamburger is a Western invention, but I have to tell you now that I am NOT a fan of tofu burgers, so don't even start looking for that recipe here. Instead I want to feature recipes that incorporate tofu into classic Western recipes, without sacrificing flavor.

First you need to know a little about tofu and what product to buy. Tofu is made from soymilk, which comes from soybeans, that has been curdled and pressed into flat cakes. It's a versatile food that is a great protein source, one that's low in fat, carbohydrates, and calories. Tofu is a complete protein with all the essential amino acids, it's easy to digest, cholesterol-free, and it's great for those allergic to milk or eggs.

You can buy tofu in several different forms, ranging from soft silken tofu to extra-firm tofu. Firm tofu is higher in protein and lower in water content than the softer silken tofu. Firmer varieties are better for slicing or cutting into cubes, and softer or silken tofu is better for blending. Generally, tofu comes in one pound packages equal to two cups. Tofu needs no cooking; so you can use tofu for fast meal preparation or for blended shakes and dips.

Many recipes advise wrapping the tofu with paper towels and weighting it down to squeeze out the excess water that it is packed in. Freezing tofu has a similar effect. Ice crystals form within the tofu, then the water leaks out when it thaws. The tofu then has a firmer, chewier texture and soaks up flavorings like a sponge. But it can also turn yellowish and develop prominent holes.

Although tofu is naturally low in fat, "lite" or low-fat tofu does exist. It's made with soybeans that were skinned before being boiled, ground and strained. The skin of the beans contains a large percentage of their fat. After opening a package of tofu, refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container and cover with water. Be sure to use it within two to three days. To find out more about tofu, click on this site.


Tofu Recipes:
Hiyayakko with Ponzu Sauce
This is a beautiful one-bite starter (amuse-bouche) for any Japanese meal (see photo above). Traditionally two Hiyayakko, pronounced "hee - yah -yak - koh", are served in a small saucer. This ancient Samurai tofu recipe relies on its sauce and toppings for flavor, and like the proverb "revenge is a dish best served cold", this dish must also always be served cold.
Ingredients:
1 block (14 ounces) chilled silken tofu
4 tablespoons Katsuo Mirin Furikake (a combination of roasted sesame seeds and dried shaved bonito)
2 tablespoon grated fresh or pickled red ginger (Kizami Shoga)
4 small scallions, thinly sliced into 1/16 inch circles (green part only)

Ingredients for Ponzu Sauce:
4 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
2 teaspoons sesame oil

Procedure:
Carefully remove cold tofu from container and drain on paper towels. Slice into small squares/rectangles. Keep chilled in fridge if not serving immediately. In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the ponzu sauce. Put each serving of 2 blocks of tofu in a small saucer and drizzle with the ponzu sauce mixture. Top each block with grated ginger, then scallions, then top with bonito flakes or other crunchier toppings just before serving. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings of 2 Hiyayakko each.

Note: The toppings on the recipe above is the classic recipe, however many restaurants serve a variety of toppings, so you can experiment with what you like. If you are serving guests who aren't all that used to chopsticks, then try to get the firm tofu because it is easier to pick up.

Mango Tofu Smoothie
Ingredients:
1/2 package (7 ounces) soft silken tofu, drained
1/2 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen mango slices
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup milk or soy milk

Procedure:
Place all ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. Makes 1 serving.

Tofu Hummus
Hummus is a delicious Middle Eastern and Arabic dip or spread that is made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. Adding tofu makes this popular dip even better for you.
Ingredients:
1 15 ounce can chickpeas/garbanzo beans
8 ounces tofu
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper

Procedure:
In a food processor, blend tofu, tahini, beans, and olive oil. Add remaining ingredients and blend into a creamy, smooth dip. Serve tofu hummus with fresh veggies or pita bread. Store hummus in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. Makes 2 cups.

Tofu Ricotta Cheese
Use tofu to make a cholesterol-free lower-fat ricotta cheese substitute that is dairy-free! Great for lasagna or ravioli.
Ingredients:
8 ounces firm tofu
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced shallot
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon nutritional yeast flakes*
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Procedure:
Press the tofu through a potato ricer into a large bowl. If you don’t have a potato ricer, mash the tofu with your hands until crumbly. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. It should be the consistency of ricotta cheese. Use it as a substitute for ricotta cheese. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

*Nutritional yeast is a great product. You can sprinkle it on many things for added nutrition and flavor. You can usually find nutritional yeast flakes and nutritional yeast powder side by side in the bulk food bins of Whole Foods and now in some other "conventional" grocery stores which have bulk food sections, usually near the flour. Kal and Bragg's brands are good. You can also buy nutritional yeast in health food stores, and online.

Ginger-Garlic Tofu
Ingredients:
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 package (about 14-16 ounces) firm tofu
1 green bell pepper, diced (or broccoli, kale, or any other veggie you have on hand)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ginger powder
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast* (see note in above recipe)
1/2 lime, juiced (optional)
1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
red pepper flakes, for topping
toasted sesame seeds, for topping
2 scallions, green parts thinly sliced, for topping
brown rice or soba noodles, cooked

Procedure:
Remove excess water from the tofu by wrapping it in paper towels or pressing it between two plates for a few minutes. Cut it into 1-inch cubes. Put the oil in a large, preferably nonstick, frying pan and set over high heat. When hot, add the tofu. Brown on one side for about 5 minutes and flip using tongs, and brown for an additional 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper or whatever veggie you're using and stir fry until cooked, but still crisp, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger powder and cook, stirring, for another minute. Turn down the heat slightly and add the tamari, lime juice, and brown sugar if using. Turn the heat to low, stir, and cook for another 2 minutes. Sprinkle the nutritional yeast over the top. Stir to mix and turn off the heat. Serve over rice or noodles and sprinkle with red pepper flakes, toasted sesame seeds, and sliced scallions. Makes 4 servings.

Tofu Fruit Muffins
Ingredients:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces soft silken tofu
2 eggs
3/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen (unthawed) fruit, like blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries
cooking spray

Procedure:
Preheat oven to 400˚F. In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients. In a food processor, combine tofu, eggs, honey, oil, and vanilla and process until smooth. Stir wet mixture into dry mixture just until combined (do not over mix). Fold in fruit. Spoon into muffin tins prepared with cooking spray or use paper liners. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffin comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes before removing onto a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 18 muffins.

Tofu Dark Chocolate Pudding
This is a good example of the "chameleon-like" qualities of tofu. I love chocolate, especially dark chocolate, and this pudding is not only good for you, but satisfies your chocolate "urges", for lack of a better word. You can serve this delicious dairy-free dark chocolate pudding on it’s own, freeze it for pudding pops, or spread it into a cookie crust or other pie crust for a simple chocolate pie.
Ingredients:
6 ounces semisweet or dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 pound silken tofu
3 tablespoons dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup agave nectar, brown rice syrup, or honey
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Procedure:
Place chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat and stir frequently until melted; set aside to cool slightly. Combine all ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process, pausing to scrape down sides as needed, until mixture is smooth. Transfer to an airtight container or individual serving dishes, cover, and refrigerate until chilled thoroughly, at least 30 minutes. Can be made up to 4 days ahead and stored in a refrigerated airtight container. Stir briefly before serving. Makes 4 yummy cups.
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