If you are vegetarian, vegan or just want to cut down on your meat intake, tofu can be part of your healthy diet. Tofu is made from fermented soya beans. It is rich in protein, iron, fiber and calcium. In addition, it contains all essential amino acids and other important minerals and vitamins.
Tofu also contains isoflavones — plant estrogens that are beneficial to human health. It was once thought that isoflavones in soy foods could increase the risk for breast cancer due to their hormonal effect. However, recent studies show the opposite.
Research indicates that soy has more of a protective effect against breast, digestive, and prostate cancers. According to the Mayo Clinic, one or two servings per day of whole-soy foods such as tofu, edamame or soy milk, does not contain enough isoflavones to increase the risk of breast cancer or other diseases that affect the thyroid or uterus of postmenopausal women.
On the other hand, soy or isoflavone supplements (pills) should be avoided, particularly among women at risk of breast cancer or with a history of the disease. Should you want to change your diet or have health issues, speak to your doctor or health professional on how whole-soy foods, including tofu, can affect your health. Some oncologists advise their patients with certain types of breast cancer not to consume soy foods or take isoflavone supplements, particularly if they have never consumed soy products or isoflavone compounds prior to their diagnosis.
As an alternative to meat, I eat tofu occasionally, but not as often as other plant-based protein foods, such as beans, quinoa, peas or lentils. Personally, I find tofu very filling and can’t eat a lot of it in one sitting. After having tofu for a few consecutive meals, I won’t crave it for a while (but that’s just me).
Nevertheless, when I cook with it, it has to absorb the flavours, either from a marinade, sauce, soup or stir-fry. In order for those flavours to get in, it is essential to press the tofu for at least 15 minutes before marinating, frying or baking it in the oven (see the procedure below for pressing).
Here is a recipe that I made this week with a block of tofu. To obtain a crispy texture and lots of flavour, there are different ways to prepare and cook it and this is one that worked well for me.
Crispy tasty tofu
Serves 2 to 4
- One block of extra firm tofu: 230 grams or 8 ounces
- ¼ cup soya or tamari sauce, reduced sodium; naturally brewed
- 3 tablespoons (tbsp) rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp vegetable -or- canola oil
- 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger -or- ½ teaspoon powdered ginger
- 1 garlic clove, pressed
- ¼ teaspoon hot red pepper paste -or- cayenne pepper
- Option: Roasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top
1. Drain the water from the package and rinse the tofu block under cold running water. Press it down with your palms and a towel a few times to dry. If your tofu block is very thick, slice it in two lengthwise. It should be about 2 cm (0.8 inch) thick.
2. Pressing the tofu. This part is essential: Press the tofu block for at least 15 minutes to reduce the moisture in order to obtain (1) better texture and (2) allow those flavours to get in. I usually press it anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes. Some people prefer to cube the tofu prior to pressing, but I don’t see any difference and go straight into pressing the block.
Place the tofu block on a hard surface like a chopping board covered with a teatowel or paper towel. Place another towel on top of the tofu. Then place heavy objects on top, like a chopping board topped with a pan and/or a heavy book. I used a chopping board, a pan and a kettle weight. Half way through, you can change the top paper towel.
3. While the tofu is being squeezed, make your marinade sauce. Handmix in a small bowl the soya/tamari sauce, rice vinegar, maple syrup, sesame and veggie oils, ginger, garlic and red pepper paste or cayenne. Set aside.
4. After the tofu has pressed for at least 15 minutes, slice it in cubes. Place the cubes in a shallow container and pour the marinade over them. Cover with a lid and let the cubes marinate for 1 hour or overnight in fridge. I usually let it sit overnight.
5. Heat up 1 or 2 tablespoons (not more) of veggie oil in a cast iron or non-stick frying pan. Reduce the heat to medium-high (or a little lower if need be) and add the tofu cubes, one at a time, without the marinade sauce. Do not toss or shake the cubes around! Be gentle and patient and let the cubes fry for about 3 minutes on one side. Then, with a spatula, spoon or cooking tweezers, gently turn them over, one at a time, and let them fry on the other side for another 3 minutes or so and repeat this until they are all fried. Some will be a little more fried than others, but in all, frying should generally take about 12 minutes.
6. When the cubes have browned, pour in half or a few tablespoons of the marinade sauce (NOT ALL OF IT). With the heat still on, gently toss and roll the cubes (you can sprinkle some sesame seeds on top) until all of the sauce is absorbed and the cubes are caramalized.
7. Transfer the cubes to a plate or bowl and serve as is or with a drizzle of heated leftover marinade sauce on top. Tastes great accompanied with rice, noodles, veggies. I like to heat up the remaining marinade sauce in the microwave and mix it into the cooked rice or noodles. This will give you a nice flavourful meal high in plant-based proteins and other goodies.
8. You can refridgerate leftover tofu cubes in a sealed container. They taste great heated or cold the next day and the day after that. Enjoy!