Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How to Eat Soy and Like It!

First off, this isn't a comprehensive guide to soy foods. I am just relaying some experiences I've had with soy products in the hopes that it will help you if you'd like to try cooking them yourself.

If you've tried to cook with tofu and didn't like it, chances are it was you, not the tofu. (No offense and all, but it's easy to screw it up.) It was the way you prepared it, seasoned (or didn't season) it or bought the wrong type for the application you were trying it in. Tofu is not terrible. There was a time when I thought it was. But tofu, it wasn't you, it was me.

If you are a tofu newbie or have tried and failed to cook it properly, I suggest you first try dishes at restaurants. They know what they're doing (hopefully) so you'll know it wasn't your tofu skills if you don't like it. You will notice that their tofu is usually NOT bright white and is usually has much more texture than tofu straight from the box. From this we infer that they must work some magic on it to create the lovely chewy, brown skin, tender (but not dripping wet) innards and delicious flavors that can be found. How do we create that ourselves? We will soon find out!

If you've shopped for tofu, you know there are at least a couple of different types available. Each type is good for different types of dishes. The main categories available in most grocery stores are:

Silken tofu- great for blending into a smoothie to add protein or mixing half and half with sour cream and seasonings to make a low-fat dip!

Soft/Medium tofu-Excellent for crumbling into pasta dishes and casseroles.

Firm/Extra-Firm tofu-The best for keeping its shape in stir fry or when baked as slices.

Stir-Fry and other ideas for Firm and Extra Firm

Number one rule-you cannot just plop the tofu out of the package, cut it up and add it to your stir-fry, you will be grossed out and disappointed. Half of tofu cooking is actually tofu preparation.

If your tofu comes packed in water, you will need to drain that water off and press the tofu to remove even more water. Place the block of tofu between a couple of paper towels and put it into a colander. Put a small plate or saucer over the tofu and weight it down with a can or two of veggies or soup. Leave this set-up in the sink or over a bowl to drain for at least 15 minutes. Then you're ready to cut!

I like my tofu cut into small pieces because it gives more surface area to get crispy and delicious. Larger pieces will result in crispy outsides and tender, juicy insides so go with what you like.

Coat the pieces in cornstarch. Just toss them in a plastic baggie with a few tablespoons of the stuff to complete cover.

Then fry the pieces in a non-stick skillet with a tiny bit of olive or vegetable oil over medium high heat. Don't move it around too much, leave the pieces to cook on one side for a good long time, then flip them all to a new side to create a great crust.

When my tofu is just about done, I like to scoot it over to one side and cook some other veggies in the same skillet. This keeps the tofu warm. One of my favorite things to do with crispy tofu is make a wrap sandwich so I cooked up some onions here.

Then I plop it all onto a burrito and add whatever I have in the fridge, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, mushrooms, sour cream, salad dressings, and salsa are all ideas. Tofu prepared in this way can also be stir-fried with veggies and served over rice!

To add even more flavor to the tofu, you can marinate it before cooking. Tofu, like a sponge, soaks up whatever flavor you put with it. The easiest way it to used a bottled marinade made for meat! But you can also throw together some soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, etc and make your own. Marinated tofu can be fried like above, baked, grilled, so many options!

Another trick to try with tofu is to freeze it! Freezing tofu changes the texture and makes it more crumbly. This "ground meat" texture makes it great for adding to casseroles and such where you don't want identifiable triangle or square shapes in your food. Ok, it's great for when you're trying to "hide" it in things. :)

Soft Tofu Ideas

Soft tofu fits in excellent with Italian food! It's a great substitute for Ricotta cheese but you can't substitute it for ALL the cheese because you still need something with flavor. I love making stuffed shells (when I have spare time on my hands), ha ha) and half cheese (ricotta, parmesan and mozzerella mix), half mashed soft tofu works out great.

Silken tofu is great for using in smoothies! (Soft tofu works too but you might have to blend it a bit more to work the lumps out.) You can either make non-dairy smoothies with just tofu, fruit and flavorings or slip some tofu into your yogurt smoothie to get the soy benefits without too much difference in taste.

Other Soy Products

There are a lot of "fake meat" type products out there, some soy based and some not. These are great substitutes with lower fat! I love crumble-type products for adding to casseroles, spaghetti sauces and tacos. Soy flour can be a great addition to baked goods that adds protein and soy isoflavones. But you can't make baked goods with only soy flour because it contained no gluten. I can usually substitute soy flour for about 10-20% of the white flour in recipes. But here's a tip, when using soy flour in cookie dough, do not eat the dough raw, it tastes terrible! Soy flour is used in a TON of manufactured foods so why not try it in your own kitchen! It's great for thickening sauces and gravy, and I've read that in fried foods, like doughnuts, soy flour reduces the amount of fat that is absorbed by the dough.

I'm no soy expert but being vegetarian I am always trying to sneak more protein into my diet. (I should really try to sneak more iron in too, maybe I'll do some research and write about that too!) I hope this has helped those of you who have limited experience with Tofu and other products like it. And while I'm in the kitchen, I'll show you my new cabinet hardware!
My dear, sweet husband spend most of one afternoon removing the handle and two hinges from each door and replacing them with these fun nickel ones we both like! Here's the before picture:


  1. Wonderful, Jenna! I am still slightly 'meh, I'll try soon' about cooking with tofu - I fear turning out food that tastes like ... plastic. But you're right about the sneaking protein into a vegetarian diet. Thanks for the tips :) Got any for tempeh?

  2. Mmm, Tempeh! One of my favorites, right after Seitan. Because of it's great texture, I like tempeh in sandwiches mainly, either in pattie form like a burger or crumbled in a tuna salad-ish concoction. I had a really unfortunate tempeh dish at a "modern fine dining" place here in town that was a giant pile of mashed yams with completely flavorless tempeh on top. It looked like they plopped the whole brick directly out of the package and onto the pile of mash with no effort to season it at all. There were fried something (more yams?) on top for garnish but that did not help!

  3. You mention stuffed shells. I make a mean tofu manicotti, probably just about the same thing :)

    Thanks for the tips and thanks for sharing with BPOTW!

  4. I'm visiting from BPOTW. :)

    Although we're not veggies, my husband and i are total soy addicts! Or were when we could get our hands on it. LOL We used to use the soy "meat" for tacos as a regular meal. Yves in the fridge section is very tasty and has a slightly nicer texture than teh crumble from the freezer.

    I had never thought of using tofu for tacos but those look tres tasty! I might have to find some soy and try that. Thanks! :)

  5. I use soy vegetable protien a lot but have not gotten into tofu too much, my husband does not enjoy the texture. I am always looking for ways to cook healthier

  6. I love seeing your new handles. Earlier tonight, I made a stir fry with some vegetables and was thinking I should add some tofu next time so good timing on your post. Thanks for all the tips and info! I've eaten it in a restaurant but never cooked with it. The idea of marinating it sounds good.

  7. Nice work on the kitchen! It's fun to have something different going on in a place where we spend so much time! Thanks for the tofu tips! I would like to sign on as a follower of your blog, but have not seen any button to do that! Where is it??

  8. Great post, Jenna! For some reason, I've never used cornstarch with the tofu. Brilliant, I'll do that next time to try for extra browning/crisping. I knew I had my most successful tofu cooking ever a few weeks ago when my tofu hating father ate the tofu in my roasted vegetables & tofu. (I'd told him what it was so he could pick it out!)

  9. hmmm...you certainly make the tofu look more appetizing, but I can't say I'm convinced just yet. One of these days I may try it again. I do, however, love your new kitchen cabinet handles, Jenna!

  10. Thanks for the great tips. I had heard that too much soy can reduce calcium uptake, which is worrisome to me. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

  11. Hi, this is my first visit here. Have you tried edamame? I buy them frozen and you just nuke them. Salt and eat like a snack, don't eat the shells. Quite a yummy way to eat your soy, but I don't know how the nutrients compare to tofu.

  12. That looks pretty darned good. We like tofu for breakfast: 1/2 block soft tofu, 8oz soy milk or coconut milk, and a squeeze of maple syrup or honey in the blender. Then a scoop of protein powder (we prefer vanilla flavored whey protein), and a big handful of frozen strawberries...or blueberries...

    It's more than just a smoothie; the consistency is like a milkshake and the taste is out of this world.