by Ellie Rockoff
As a long time non-red meat eater, I have encountered my fair share of unsupportive and flippant comments about my choice to consume tofu. “That doesn’t look like meat.” “How does that have protein in it?” “The texture seems weird.” “Where does the flavor come from?” And don’t forget the classic peer-pressure-infused line, “C’mon Ellie, just eat a burger like the rest of us, it tastes good.” Despite my meat-loving critics, I stand by my love of tofu and I know their words come merely from inexperience, which is why I’m here to provide the ultimate tofu crash course.
Tofu is often compared with its meat counterparts as not being a properly nutritious substitute. The truth is that the soya protein has nine essential amino acids, is a better source of iron, calcium, fiber, zinc and magnesium than chicken, is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than meat, and is safer for your heart than red meat (which is known to contribute to clogged arteries). If the numerous list of personal health benefits is not enough to convince you, consider the environmental impact. Beef production is harmful to the planet — research suggests that beef farms take up 30% of the world’s land, emit roughly 10% of anthropogenic greenhouse gasses through methane, and require copious amounts of water and vegetation to nourish the cows enough to produce viable meat.
While most are not aware of the facts behind meat that may increase the appeal of tofu, many can attest to claiming that tofu is “bland” and “cannot compare to meat’s flavor.” Through much trial and error, I have discovered that tofu is one of the most versatile ingredients in any pantry. It is tofu’s innate blandness that makes it the perfect base for any cuisine. In my kitchen, my most common tofu base preparation is as follows:
- Slice a tofu block (extra firm holds its shape best) into thinner layers, and press out the excess water in between towels and press with heavy objects. Leave it pressed for as long as possible before you begin cooking – this process is what gives tofu the perfect pan-seared, fried, or baked crisp.
- Once pressed, cut into bite-sized cubes and toss evenly in cornstarch. This ingredient gives tofu the crunch similar to french fries or chicken tenders. This is also the time to coat your blocks in whatever dry seasoning you prefer.
- In the oven at 425 degrees F or a hot pan with 1 tbsp of avocado oil ( it has a higher smoke point than olive oil) cook the tofu until golden brown– it won’t take long.
My personal favorite is to include tofu in Asian fare. Pictured below are a few of my go to recipes.
These dishes pass the test on the pickiest of meat-eaters, even my own family of carnivores. If my burger-obsessed younger brother can admit that his tofu doesn’t taste like tofu, then there is hope for all who scoff at its legitimacy in the culinary space. Next time you are grocery shopping or out to eat, challenge yourself to try something with tofu. Your health and our environment will thank you.