Tofu, sometimes called bean curd, is a soft, cheese-like food made by curdling fresh hot soymilk with a coagulant. An average serving of tofu is low in calories and sodium and robust in protein and provides some iron, calcium, and certain B vitamins. Tofu can be used in place of meat or dairy products in recipes, and there are also many recipes developed specifically with tofu as a central ingredient. Marinating tofu before cooking it — in, for example, a mixture of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, fresh garlic, grated fresh ginger, and a pinch of red pepper flakes — adds flavor, and sauteing chunks or slices of tofu in a small amount of olive or canola oil gives it a pleasantly crusty texture.
There are several varieties of tofu. Which to choose depends on the type of dish you’re preparing.
Extra-firm or firm tofu. When using tofu in place of chicken or meat in a recipe, choose extra-firm or firm tofu. These varieties hold together well and can be sauteed, stir-fried, baked, broiled, or grilled. Some people prefer to squeeze out some of the water in firm tofu before cooking it. To do this, place the tofu (either the whole block or slices) between two layers of paper towel, and place a heavy object (such as a plate) on top of it. Let stand for about 30 minutes.
Medium-firm tofu. When making “scrambled tofu” or using tofu in place of cottage or ricotta cheese in recipes, choose medium-firm tofu.
Soft tofu. For miso soup, soft tofu is traditionally used. It also makes a good substitute for cottage or ricotta cheese, and it can be blended into smoothies and pudding-like desserts.
Silken tofu. The texture of silken tofu resembles custard. When pureed, it can be used as the base of soups, creamy salad dressings, puddings, and sauces. It is sometimes used as an egg substitute in baked goods.
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