East meets West in tofuland
Foodie and food writer Karen Albright Lin, whose husband Wen was born in Taiwan, has become an expert on the foods of Asia and their uses. She shares these observations and snippets of advice about tofu.
If cooks in the East can amaze with egg creations, imagine what they can do with tofu. For the uninitiated, this remarkable food is the protein-packed child of boiled soybeans. It is a high-calcium low-fat food. Its affordability in Asia beats even the ubiquitous chicken. In fact it joins gluten as a popular meat substitute for vegetarians and those with light wallets
Tofu takes many forms. Americans have experienced silken soft cubes of soybean curd if they’ve tried Japanese Miso soup. The medical community has come to believe that, combined with fish, tofu may be the reason Japanese can boast the longest average lifespan.
Every form of tofu is a marvel. One meat-like product has been pressed and baked in flavors such as five-spice powder to a density approximating chicken. Tofu of any variety, silken or firm, can be cubed, dressed with sesame oil, chopped green onions, and salt or soy sauce for a cool, healthy side dish.
The tofu lobby propagates the notion that tofu takes on the flavor of anything it is combined with. It’s a nit-pick, but it would be more accurate to say that its subtle taste disappears in the flavors around it.
Don’t be fooled into thinking tofu is only for Asians or health food groupies. It has gradually made its way into mainstream Western recipes. An example: cholesterol-conscious cooks substitute an equal measurement of soft tofu for half the cream cheese in a cheesecake without sacrificing flavor.
Though Asians appreciate the understated peasant miracle food, respect for the substitution factor doesn’t work in reverse. There is a Lin sister, I shall not name, teased constantly for making chicken taste like tofu. I’m so fond of the versatile white stuff I would feel flattered if it were me, but I understand it isn’t meant to be a compliment.
After my thorough education in tofu, I pass on this suggestion to all cooks: fear not the blobby white stuff, for it is the cream of the soybean that rises to the top.