Today we are going to make a few really easy, delicious recipes using tofu – one of my favorite high-protein, plant-based foods. While tofu is enjoyed daily in many Asian countries, it doesn’t make its way into American kitchens that often. That’s too bad, because tofu is a very versatile, high-protein food that also contains healthy fats, powerful phytonutrients and calcium.
I remember the first time I tried tofu – this was back in the ‘70s, in Woodstock, NY, so there was a bit of tofu around – and I just tried a plain chunk of it while my sister was preparing to add it to a meal she was making. I remember thinking it could use some ketchup – because tofu by itself is pretty mildly flavored– but the meal my sister made with it was delicious.
Since then, I’ve enjoyed tofu in a huge variety of dishes, and I am always impressed with how versatile this simple, nutritious food can be – if you know what to do with it!
Tofu is made from soybeans that are soaked, ground up and cooked in water to make rich, nutritious soymilk. The protein and water components of the soymilk are then separated – just like when dairy milk is separated into curds and whey to make cheese. The soy is then pressed to remove some of the water, and tofu is what results from that process.
The first tofu dish we’ll make is Tofu with Basil, Mint and Tomatoes, an adaptation of a recipe from a favorite cookbook of mine, Seductions of Rice, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. This is one of many quick meals I make with tofu and is absolutely best made in late summer, when juicy, ripe tomatoes are available at the Farmers Market and in backyard gardens.
Another way to enjoy tofu is to blend it into sauces, dressings, soups, smoothies and desserts. Choose silken tofu for these types of recipes because it blends easily and has a rich, creamy texture. Click the link below for the Cocoa-Berry Soy Smoothie recipe.
There are lots of conflicting diet recommendations regarding soy foods like tofu. Some sources consider soy a super-food that we should eat every day, while others post soy on their top ten list of foods to never, ever eat. In reality, big, well-designed studies with whole soy foods have repeatedly demonstrated health benefits from eating as little as ½ cup of tofu or 1 cup of soy milk a day. These studies found that soy consumption can reduce the risk of lung, prostate, and even breast cancer, as well as improving survival from these cancers. It’s important to note that studies showing benefit from soy used whole soy foods – tofu, tempeh or soymilk – and not processed soy, which has names like isolated soy protein, soy isoflavones or texturized vegetable protein. Processed soy protein is commonly found in protein drinks and bars, protein powders, high-protein cereals, meat-like substances including some vegetarian meat substitutes, and other processed foods. This type of soy hasn’t been shown to benefit health in any way and I recommend avoiding processed soy.
There is also concern that soy might interfere with thyroid hormone function, but recent research suggests that eating whole soy foods 2 or 3 times a week will not affect thyroid function or medication, as long as you don’t eat soy right after you take your thyroid medication. Since most people take thyroid hormone in the morning, so you wouldn’t want to have soy at breakfast.
If you have questions about soy, be sure to ask your physician about whether or not it would be a good food for you. I hope this helps you to venture out and try a little tofu someday soon. Until next time, enjoy some soy and we’ll see you soon!