Also known as
Soya paneer, bean curd
Tofu has its origins in China and is often considered to be a super health food for vegetarians due to its high protein content. The fact that tofu has minimal flavour or odour often makes it an ideal ingredient in savoury or sweet dishes that contain strong, overpowering flavours. To make tofu, fresh soya beans are soaked, ground, boiled and strained. The conversion of this soy milk into tofu is obtained from a process similar to deriving cheese from milk. Soy milk undergoes a process of coagulation and the curd formed is pressed into blocks. These blocks of cheese are called Tofu. Fresh tofu can be made at home or bought processed from stores.
Place the tofu block on a chopping board and chop it into small pieces. The pieces can be finely or roughly chopped into big chunks as per the recipe requirement.
Crumble the tofu with your fingers. Proceed to disintegrate them into big or small granules as desired. Alternatively you could also place the tofu in a plastic bag and crumble the tofu roughly with the base of the palm. This could be used as stuffing for various preparations.
When tofu is made, the amount of pressing time is relative to the quantity of curds and the desired firmness; it averages around 15-20 minutes. The longer it's pressed, the more whey is released and the firmer the finished product will become. Firm tofu is the most common form. Often found packaged in the dairy section, it absorbs marinades well and can be cubed and added to green salads. Firm tofu are the most compact of the block tofus. The curds are tight and the block is noticeably squatter than all others. Its texture has the most chew, making this the tofu best suited to heartier dishes. It makes an ideal dairy-free substitution for paneer in Indian recipes. When compared to silken or soft tofu, firm tofu holds its shape well and this tofu absorbs flavours well and can be stir-fried and pan-fried as well.
On its own, fried tofu is quite simple, but when paired with dips and sauces, or marinated in soy sauce, chilli or even sesame oil, it brings out all of those flavours in an interesting way. Apart from soft tofu, all forms of tofu can be fried. The thinner the tofu slice, the crisper it is. They are mostly deep fried in vegetable, sunflower or canola oil, each type yielding a different taste and textural result, making the tofu, light and airy on the inside.
This requires grating the tofu blocks/ slabs on a hand held grater. This grated tofu is fine in texture and is used for making baked dishes like au gratin or casseroles.
Pass the tofu through a shredder and separate the thin slices into shreds with your fingers. Alternatively, you may buy packaged shredded cheese.
You may place the tofu in a slicer or slice the cheese into thin or thick slices with a sharp knife, as per the recipe requirement.
Turn the block of tofu on its side and make a series of slices. Lay the tofu on top of each other and make a series of lengthwise slices, (½ inch slices for smaller cubes, 1 inch slices for larger cubes. Make a series of ½ inch or 1 inch crosswise cuts through the cheese and it will fall away into cubes.
Cut the tofu block into thin or thick strips as per recipe requirement.
How to select
• Please check both the manufacturing and the expiry dates before buying tofu.
• Tofu is sold in bulk, or is individually wrapped, freeze dried or sold frozen.
• When buying tofu in bulk, the water must not be cloudy but instead look fresh.
• Tofu is available in firm, soft or 'silken' textures. It's also available in varying flavours like smoked, spiced or marinated.
• Irrespective of the colour of the soybean used, the tofu created from it should be pure white to pale yellow in colour.
• Inspect the tofu on all sides to ensure that it is free from any discolouration or moulds as this indicates that it is stale and not fresh.
• Tofu retains a popular spot in Asian cooking. It is consumed raw, stewed, stir-fried, in soups, as a sauce, or stuffed with filings.
• The firmer the texture of tofu the better it is when making kebabs, mock meats and other recipes that require a consistency that holds the ingredients together.
• Softer varietals of tofu are better suited for desserts, soups, shakes, and sauces.
• For vegetarians, grated tofu is used as a non-vegetarian and paneer substitute. Since the latter is high in fat when compared to tofu.
• In South East Asia, tofu is often paired with a variety of exotic ingredients and are served as part of the main course and dessert. Toppings like boiled peanuts, azuki beans, cooked oatmeal, tapioca, mung beans and a syrup flavoured with ginger or almond, all act as suitable tofu pairings.
• In the Philippines, the sweet delicacy Taho is made with fresh tofu with brown sugar syrup and sago.
How to store
Packaged tofu can be kept for a maximum of 90 days unopened in the refrigerator.
• Tofu contains high amounts of calcium, minerals and vitamin E and is low in saturated fats and is cholesterol-free.
• Isoflavones are known to mimic the female hormone; estrogen and are suitable for women who are suffering from low levels of it.
• Since tofu is a valid source of high protein, each varietal offers a varying percentage of it. Firm tofu has a protein percentage of 10.7%, Soft silken tofu at 5.3% and their fat percentage at about 2% and 1% respectively.
• Tofu must be consumed in the right dietary amount. An excess of which could also affect the body adversely.
• Modern medical research shows that tofu or soy curd can lower cholesterol levels and help in the breaking down of fats.