Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tofu tips, tricks and recipe forTofu and Sprout soup from my Demo at Nature's Basket!


While I was demonstrating my Tofu and Sprout soup at the first of Nature’s Basket’s Savor Life series of workshops this Tuesday, I couldn’t help remembering my first experience cooking Tofu. I added it to Thai curry but was unable to get rid of that calcium flavour that tofu inherently carries. I was defeated by that seemingly harmless looking block of tofu and convinced myself that cooking tofu at home was risky business I will never attempt again. Until I tasted the Clay pot braised bean curd with chilli and mushrooms at China House. The succulent chunks of tofu, slightly crispy on the outside, meltingly soft on the inside in their caramelly spicy savoury sauce… awakened me to the potential of tofu.

A little research (thanks to the www) and I figured out where I was going wrong but before that let me run you through a primer on tofu. Called Tofu in Japanese, doufu in Chinese and bean curd in general, tofu is an ingredient that originated in China through a process that is about 5000 years old. Tofu is basically soymilk curd made by coagulating soy milk (much like cheese or paneer) in which the resulting curd is pressed into blocks. Tofu is celebrated for the health benefits it imparts; a great source of high-quality protein, rich in B-vitamins, iron and an excellent source of calcium. Research has also found that people with diets high in soy have significantly lower rates of heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer (breast, colon and prostrate) and fewer menopausal symptoms thanks to disease protecting qualities derived from "isoflavones" found in the soy based foods.

So it’s not surprising that this relative newcomer to the Indian Kitchen, that is now widely available all over the city, is used as a healthy substitute for other ingredients such as paneer in Indian dishes and cheese in Italian ones. But the fact is (and I have concluded this after much trial and error) tofu can be savored for

There are several types of Tofu available, your selection will depend on the dish you are making. Firm tofu is solid, holding up well in stir fry dishes, soups, or on the grill – good for anything that requires rigorous cooking. Soft tofu is best used in recipes that where it is added as is - oriental soups, or dishes that require minimal cooking - because it is delicate and will fall apart easily. Silken tofu is the softest option available with a creamy, custard-like product texture that works best in pureed or blended dishes like dips, dressings, sauces and desserts. Rule of thumb I use when a recipe does not specify type is to use firm Tofu.

When buying Tofu keep in mind it is perishable, so buy only as much as you need, check expiration dates and avoid damaged or puffy packets. On opening check that it is not moldy, filmy to the touch, smelling or tasting sour, sharp, or biting. Store leftover, uncooked tofu covered with fresh water and change the water daily to keep it fresh. (I freeze extras in an airtight bag or container.). Use open Tofu within
2-3 days. Freezing is another way to both store and dry out tofu (It will turn yellow but will become white again on thawing.) Freezing changes tofu's texture, toughening it and the subsequent thawing makes it more, chewy and absorbent so it soaks up marinades and sauces better. To thaw tofu quickly, microwave on a paper towel or boil for a few minutes otherwise leave out in a colander under a weight.

Cooking with tofu is easy, with little flavor of its own, like a sponge, it will pick up the flavors of whatever ingredients it is cooked with. Mash, blend, whip, grate, grind, crumble, marinate, simmer, steam, bake, broil, sauté, barbecu, fry, you can do anything you want to Tofu. The key, to cooking it right is in its handling. Drain it well, marinate it and seal in flavours before adding it to a dish

What I was doing wrong earlier was opening the packet, draining, chopping and adding it to my dish like I would paneer. What I should have been doing was discarding the liquid and draining or pressing the tofu. (To remove any residual calcium flavor, I go one step further, rinsing tofu with fresh water). Then either leave tofu to drain in a colander or wrap in a clean absorbent dish towel and weigh down for about 30 minutes. I find this method prepares tofu best for it absorbing the falvours from marinades.

Marinating tofu is the best way to flavor it. Again if a recipe instructs you to marinate tofu without specifying texture, I recommend using a regular firm or extra-firm tofu. When your marinade is thin, you need only to quickly dip the tofu in it for it to be fully absorbed but with thicker marinades you might have to leave it in for several hours or overnight for full absorption. If marinating for less than an hour, leave at room temperature turning occasionally, however for longer periods place in a tightly-covered container in the refrigerator to prevent spoilage.

Tofu acts like a sponge as I said earlier literally. Initially I would go through the time and effort of draining and marinating and still find flavors lacking after I added it to my dishes, especially soups or stocks. Because the tofu "sponge" absorbed any liquid, in this case it drastically diluted the flavours from the marinade and returning the tofu's firmness to its original state. The trick around this is to "lock-in" the flavor. Once marinated, strain out, lightly pan fry or
broil and add to dish.

I know this might sound like a lot of trouble to make an ingredient palatable but there is no excuse for eating boring food. Introduce tofu to your table, not as a fake meat or cheese but as a valued ingredient that tastes good and is good for you!

Tofu and Sprout soup
This recipe is anchored on the flavour of pure vegetables. Bits of Tofu add texture and sprouts offer healthy crunch and fortification.
Serves 4-6
Time 45 mins
1 tbsp olive oil
1 c carrot diced
1 c onion diced
1 c white gourd diced
1 tsp ginger grated
1 ½ l homemade dal, vegetable or chicken stock
2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs
1 cup sprouts
1 cup tofu diced
Sliced lemon
Over moderate heat, cook all vegetables in the olive oil until soft. Add stock, ginger, bay leaf and tofu. Bring to a boil. Taste for seasoning. Ladle into soup bowls or mugs, top with herbs, a handful of sprouts and a slice of lemon and serve.
Links and GYAN
Tofu is available all over Mumbai, Nature's Basket carries a large seection. Other recips with Tofu - Colorful marinated Tofu stir fry
For those of you that havebeen writing to say you wished you could have come,
16th Feb 2010 (Tuesday) I will be a Natures Basket Warden Road between 05:30 – 07:30 PM
20th Feb 2010 (Saturday) I will be at Natures Basket Bandra between 01:30 – 03:30 PM.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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Sincerely yours