Seasonal Chef: Tofu

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Tofu, that strange spongy white block found at nearly any grocery store or produce stand in America. What exactly is it? We hear stories told that it’s and ingredient for the “vegans and vegetarians.” Yes, that would be true. We also hear stories that it has “no flavor and an odd texture.” Yes, that would also be true. It’s one of those ingredients that precipitates the “ick” factor. Yes, that certainly would be true in my case. So of course you are thinking: Then why bother?

Personally I am game for just about any ingredient, at least once, maybe twice. You can’t be a chef and not taste things, end of story. You can certainly not make things after that, but you should at least try to taste most ingredients. So here I am with tofu. I know it’s good for me, but the tasteless, spongey texture is just so darn unappealing. That said, I was ready to dive in and try it again. I emailed my fellow Small Bites blogger  Jodie Diegnan who writes the column I Eat Plantsto collaborate with me on tofu this week. Being out resident vegan i knew she would have  lots to great ideas for this ingredient. The recipe I created this is not vegan, its vegetarian, as I used milk and parmesan cheese; but it certainly can be “veganized.”

Let’s talk tofu first: There are many health benefits from come from eating tofu. It’s high in protein, calcium and vitamin E, helps lower bad cholesterol and helps fights the symptoms of menopause. Gram for gram you do have to eat a whole lot more tofu to equal that of red meat, however, you are lowering your risk of heart disease and cholesterol by doing so. Our vegan and vegetarian friends know this, of course, and use other great ingredients to balance it all out. There is a lot of great information on the web to that end.

Tofu ranges in various texture from soft to firm and comes packed in water. It should have essentially no smell at all and be bright white in color. It can be kept for some time in the fridge, but the water should be changed daily, unless in a sealed package. Tofu can be used as is, tossed in shakes or blended into a dip. Keep in mind it essentially has no flavor, so you have to add seasoning. Marinades and spices are a good thing, and not even needed for a long time. Tofu is like a sponge and will soak up all that goodness quickly.

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This sauce is pretty simple to make. I sautéed a little red onion and garlic first, then tossed in the tofu and sautéed that too.

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Then broke it up a little before the real puree.

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As I mentioned, tofu is essentially flavorless so you need to add add add …

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I’ve been hanging on to an interesting spice blend from Spice Revolution that I got from Linsday at the Pleasantville Farmers Market a few weeks ago. It’s a blend of dehydrated red and green bell pepper. It adds a nice zing, without extra heat. To finish: a little lemon zest to brighten it all up.

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Click this link: to see my Tofu Pasta Sauce. I used it with spinach pasta, which looked really gorgeous, but you can use it with plain pasta as well. Perhaps under some beautifully grilled vegetables or fish. My advice: give tofu another look, the next time you are at the store .. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how versatile, and easy to cook with, it is.

Tomorrow, check out Jodie’s column for even more on this great healthy ingredient!

Buon Appetito.

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About Author

Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She's an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmers, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog, which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on Facebook (Bella Cucina Maria), Twitter (Bellacucinam) and Pinterest (Bellacucinam).

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