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Learning to love, eat and prepare tofu

"Now today class we are going to be trying some meat substitutes. Firstly we have some tofu. I'm going to give each of you a small cube of plain tofu along with a cracker for you to try it with". 

This was actually a scene from my high school Home Economics class. This was possible the first experience of tofu for everyone in the class and no one rated that plain tofu and cracker very highly. No wonder! If this is how tofu is sold to teenagers while they're in education no wonder so many adults turn their nose up at it. 

Tofu, by itself, is bland and tasteless and not even the most militant vegan would sit and much on a plain block of it. What tofu is amazing for is 1) nutrients and 2) soaking up the flavours of what is accompanying it. You don't eat it plain. Ever. You also get doszones of variants making it an incredibly versatile food (do you know of any other foods that can be turned into a cheesecake and used alongside vegetables in a curry?). 

However, even once you get passed the negative reputation of tofu it can still be difficult to understand what you're meant to do with it because, well, when you open the packet it's still a white tasteless block of bean curd. It's what you do with it that counts. 

I'm not even entirely sure what I'm doing with it half the time, and I'm certainly not going to get a job as a tofu chef any time soon. I'm probably not even qualified enough to write this post. But I've learnt a few things over the years - even if it's still only a few things....

Buy the right tofu for the recipe

Firm and silken tofu - great for salads or miso soups

Head to the tofu section of any shop and it can be a bit daunting knowing what tofu to get started with. When you're shopping for tofu it's best to know what you're planning to do with it first. Below I've rounded up some of descriptions you might see on tofu boxes and given a quick example of what you might do with it: 

Silken tofu - This has a much creamier texture and one of the best descriptions I've ever heard has been its like using full-fat milk as opposed to skimmed milk. The extra firm types can be used as cubes in soup (such as miso soup), but the softer varieties are perfect in dips and puddings, for example a vegan chcolate mouse. The medium varieties are perfect for cheesecake.

Regular tofu -  This also comes in various forms of  'firmness' depending on what you want to use it for, but with a less creamy texture. The softer varieties are perfect for using in scrambled tofu - a substitute for scrambled eggs. The firmer kinds can be used in stir-fries and the pan-fried tofu recipes you see on the internet. The medium variety is good for scrambled tofu and for cubes in soups. 

Tofu puffs - this is the tofu you'll typically find in my cupboard. they're fantastic for stir-fries. You can also deep-fry them. See my previous recipe for tofu puffs in action!

Know where to shop for the best tofu

Tofu has raised in popularity and supermarkets are more regularly stocking it than they used to. However, for a much larger variety head to a Chinese or Asian supermarket. You'll find all the different kinds here.

Something to keep in mind with tofu: while it's popular in vegan circles, it has been commonly used in Asian cuisine for years. Health food stores and vegans have been guilty of appropriating it and driving the price up. So not only do ethnic food shops offer more choice, it's also a more socially conscious way to shop.

Start off with some easy recipes

If the idea of making a cheesecake from tofu sounds daunting - I hear you. I'm still yet to attempt one myself so I'm not going to suggest anyone else prepares one. Tofu is however very versatille and recipes do exist for those of us who aren't professional chefs. Below are some really simple recipes to get your started before moving up to tofu-mastery.

Scrambled tofu - take a packet of (drained, high-quality) medium tofu, place in a pan and start stirring. Eventually it will break up and begin to resemble scrambled eggs. Make sure you add plenty of oil. PErsonally, I also like to throw in tomatoes, chilli flakes, and some sliced peppers.

Stir fry - the easiest type of tofu for beginners to use in a stir-fry is tofu puffs. Look out your favourite vegetables and sauces, then  start cooking as you usually would. However along the way add the puffs and wait until they wilt slightly (to check if they're ready cut one open - the liquid should soak through). Here's my friend's recipe for you to try.

Vegetable & tofu skewers - at your next BBQ (or just regular afternoon) try this super-super easy party food. Take a long skewer and load it with your favourite vegetables - but in between add in some firm non-silken tofu. Then grill (or place on the BBQ).

Have it cooked by a professional chef

If  the idea of Googling your nearest Chinese supermarket, hoping you're picking the right kind of tofu, draining it and then having to decide what recipe to start off with sounds look too much effort for a food you're not even sure you'll like, just head to a restaurant. Wagamamas have several tofu dishes, and if you're in Glasgow Nippon Kitchen has some beautiful Japanese curries. Mono also do a lovely vegan cheesecake.

If after trying the professionally made stuff you're still not keen, then it's maybe not worth the effort. If however you discover your love it and want to use it more, get yourself down to your nearest Chinese supermarket and start experimenting,

And let me know if you ever make than cheesecake - I might pop round for cuppa. 

morag | mo adore
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