Next time you are cooking a vegetarian meal and want to experiment, reach out for a block of tofu and you will be amazed at its versatility and adaptability, says Fareeda Kanga
Tofu or beancurd is no longer a rarefied Chinese ingredient but is now available in most mainstream supermarkets across the country. Often substituted by Indian housewives as an “exotic paneer” or in vegetarian Chinese dishes, tofu has multifarious uses, and is brimming with health benefits too.
For starters, it is widely acknowledged as a leading source of protein for vegetarians and is made from yellow soya beans, which are soaked, ground, mixed with water and cooked briefly after being solidified.
Tofu can also be made by curdling fresh soya milk, pressing it into a solid block and then cooling it — in much the same way that traditional dairy cheese is made by curdling and solidifying milk. The liquid (whey) is discarded, and the curds are pressed to form a cohesive bond.
Beancurd is available in two forms — as firm cakes like a block of paneer or in a softer version called silken tofu. This version works well in soups, whilst the solid version is used in stir frying, braising and poaching. Given its neutral taste and range of consistency, tofu has an amazing ability to work with almost all types of flavours and foods.
My quest for an authentic tofu meal led me to Atlantis The Palm Dubai. Here at this ultra luxe resort, the Chinese Restaurant, Yuan is noted for its famed tofu dishes and A-listers from Jackie Chan to Kim Kardashian are known to flock here to savour specialities, which include mouth-watering tofu treats.
ALL ABOUT THE ORIGIN
No prizes for guessing, tofu originated in China. Legend has it that it was discovered about 2,000 years ago by a Chinese cook who accidentally curdled soy milk when he added nigari seaweed. It made its way to Japan in the eighth century, under the name okabe. Its modern name did not emerge until 1,400. By the 1960s,when healthy eating was in vogue in Western nations it found its way there. Since that time, countless research has demonstrated the many benefits that soya and tofu can provide.
COOKING WITH TOFU SELECTION & STORAGE
When buying fresh tofu remember these tips
“High-quality tofu will appear milky white or light yellow and slightly shiny. Sub-quality tofu will appear dark red. Poor quality tofu will appear dark gray, dark yellow or reddish brown,” says executive chef at Yuan.
Always pick a tofu block that is moderately hard, flexible and has a delicate texture, a uniform structure and no impurities. Sub-quality tofu block is more complete. The texture is slightly rough, and not delicate. It will have poor flexibility, yellow liquid exudation, and sticky surface. Poor quality tofu block is not complete, rough and loose. It is fragile, inelastic, has impurities, a sticky surface and will mostly be washed with water.
If the tofu you select has a beany aroma or a bad smell, please discard it.
After you purchase tofu, you must immerse it in water immediately and place it in the freezer. Remove it before you need to cook. Cook it within four hours to keep it fresh.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF TOFU
A great source of amino acids, iron, calcium and other micro-nutrients.
“Tofu is iron-rich and has plenty of calcium and minerals like phosphorous. Vitamin B1, copper and zinc. Research shows that a reasonable amount of tofu consumption can keep heart disease and cancer at bay,” says Ami Parekh, a nutritionist and dietician.
Soya protein (from which tofu is derived) is believed to help lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL). Additionally, tofu contains phytoestrogens called isoflavones — a group of chemicals found in plant foods. They have a similar structure to the female hormone oestrogen and therefore mimic the action of oestrogen produced by the body. They naturally bind to oestrogen receptor sites in human cells including breast cells — potentially reducing the risk of breast cancer.
Cantonese-style Steamed Tofu
80 gm ham
250 gm tofu
90 ml supreme soy sauce
10 ml cooking oil
120 gm Chinese Shiitake mushrooms
Soak 120 gm Chinese Shiitake mushrooms and slices in measurements of 3 cm x 5 cm.
Slice 80 gm ham into 3 cm x 5 cm
Take 250 gm tofu, cut it into thick slices in size of 3 cm x 5 cm
Add Tofu with ham and mushroom slices in a dish, covered with lotus leaves and steam for two to three minutes.
Add 90 ml supreme soy sauce, 10 ml cooking oil,
Garnish with spring onions. Your dish is ready to be served.
Herbal Soy Broth tofu
300 gm hard tofu
Peanut oil to fry
2,000 ml chicken soup pot
10 gm bay leaves
10 gm cinnamon
5 gm cumin
50 gm onions
20 gm ginger
50 gm salt
1,000 ml soy sauce
500 gm rock sugar
Take 300 gm hard tofu, cut it into 5 cm long square block sizes.
Dry tofu completely with a towel.
Pour peanut oil, deep-fry till golden brown.
In about four minutes, drain oil. Repeat above steps till tofu is fried.
Take a 2,000 ml chicken soup pot and put bay leaves, cinnamon, onion, ginger, salt, soy sauce and rock sugar.
Boil soup for 10 minutes.
Add tofu blocks and cover broth, allow it to simmer for 10 minutes.
Turn off heat after 10 minutes. Remove tofu, dry and cut into thick pieces, place it on a serving plate.
Soba Noodles with Tofu
8 ounces Soba noodles
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup diced tofu
1 tbsp each ginger and garlic minced
1 tbsp soya sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
Pinch of salt and sugar
2 tbsp sesame oil
A few stalks of spring onion
Chilli flakes as per spice levels
Combine all liquid ingredients together - stock, soya sauce, vinegar, salt and sugar in a bowl. Combine ginger, garlic as well as chilli flakes in another bowl.
Bowl noodles and toss with a little sesame oil.
Heat a pan or wok, add oil and tofu.
Stir-fry one to two minutes, until it begins to color, and remove to a plate. Add remaining oil and garlic, ginger and chilli. Stir-fry for around 10 seconds.
Stir-fry the light parts of the scallions for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the noodles, tofu and the stock mixture. Reduce heat to medium and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the dark green part of the scallions, stir-fry for another 30 seconds to a minute, until well combined, and serve.