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Tofu Doesn't Have to Be Yucky

Disguise it, change its texture, and you might even fool Godzilla

Does the very mention of tofu have you running to the nearest fast-food restaurant for a rare, juicy burger? Are the bland taste, spongy texture, and putty color a turnoff?

The key to making tofu appetizing is to change the consistency, disguise it, and spice it up.

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When I became a vegetarian almost 15 years ago, my idea of a healthy meal was simply to add sliced zucchini to a bowl of ramen noodles.

And while some folks actually prefer tofu right out of the package, I have to admit a genuine dislike for the stuff. But once I did some research into tofu (and its parent, the humble soybean), I found that freezing it to change its soggy texture, and then marinating, made a world of difference.

Although tofu has been a staple in parts of Asia for more than 2,000 years, it wasn't common in the United States until the 1970s. Even in the hip '90s, tofu still suffers from an image problem. Many people seem to think it's just for vegetarians or hippies.

One company at the forefront of the soy revolution is White Wave Inc., based in Boulder, Colo. The president of the company, Steve Demos, started his tofu business 20 years ago, making his product in a bucket and delivering it locally in a little red wagon.

The variety of soy products available to the consumer has grown phenomenally in the last several years: soy yogurt, soy milk, soy ice cream, tofu turkey and pastrami, tofu mayonnaise and salad dressing, soy flour, vegetarian Sloppy Joes and philly steak, soy cheese, tofu dogs, and tofu burgers.

Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made from soybeans, water, and a natural, calcium-based coagulant.

Soybeans are one of the most useful crops in the agriculture industry. According to the "Book of Tofu," by Bill Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, soybeans produce over 33 percent more protein from an acre of land than any other known crop.

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Although there are more than 100 culinary products made from soybeans, tofu is the most commonly used. It can be bought in several textures, including silken, soft, firm, and extra firm.

To use store-bought tofu, try wrapping it in paper towels and pressing it between two flat surfaces with a light weight. After 15 or 20 minutes, most of the water will have drained, and the tofu is ready to use.

However, my favorite way to use tofu is to freeze and thaw it. (Freezing tofu for at least a week, drastically transforms its consistency, giving it a more chewy "beefy" texture.)

Freezing also changes it to a more pleasant golden color. After you thaw and press the water from the tofu, it becomes similar in texture to a sponge and will quickly soak up marinades and sauces.

Instead of pressing out the water gently between two flat surfaces, you can actually squeeze the water out of the tofu. Then squeeze the marinade into the tofu, preferably with your hands.

Tofu can be frozen in the container in which it's purchased (water and all), for up to five months. You can marinate tofu for an hour or less at room temperature.

I make Tofu Taco Meat and freeze it to use in various dishes throughout the week. We have it in tacos, burritos, chili, spaghetti, and taco salad. Friends and family no longer stop at McDonald's on the way to our house.

How to Lure the McDonald's Crowd to Your Dinner Table

BarbeCued Tofu

Freeze 2 pounds of firm tofu for at least several days, thaw, squeeze out moisture, and cut into 1/2- by- 3-inch slices. Place slices in a single layer in a large baking dish.


3 tablespoons peanut butter

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon paprika

1 crushed clove garlic

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

Mix together in a bowl and stir until smooth. Pour over tofu strips and squeeze in as evenly as possible, turning the slices to coat all sides. Marinate for one hour.

While it is marinating, prepare Barbecue Sauce, below.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake the tofu for 25 minutes; turn the pieces over and bake for an additional 25 minutes.

Pour barbeque sauce over all the pieces and bake 15 more minutes.

Serve over rice.

Barbecue Sauce:

In a large pan, saut together until onions are transparent:

2 tablespoons oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Stir in:

2-1/2 cups tomato sauce

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon molasses

1/2 cup yellow mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon allspice

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (to taste)

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about an hour.

Add and simmer 10 to 15 minutes more:

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Spicy Peanut Tofu

Freeze 1 pound of firm tofu for at least several days, thaw, squeeze out, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Place tofu in a large baking dish.

Saut together until onions are transparent:

2 tablespoons oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanuts

3 cloves garlic, crushed

Stir in:

1 6-oz. can tomato paste

1/3 cup peanut butter

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup hot water

1/4 cup sesame oil

1/4 cup apple juice

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger root

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour one cup of sauce over tofu cubes and squeeze in well (reserving the remaining sauce).

Marinate for one hour.

Bake tofu at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve tofu over rice, topped with remaining sauce.


Freeze 1 pound of firm tofu for at least several days, thaw, squeeze out and break into bite-sized pieces.

Saut, preferably in a cast-iron skillet (until onions are transparent):

1 tablespoon oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

While the above is cooking, mix together well in a medium bowl:

1/3 cup peanut butter

2 tablespoons onion powder (optional)

2 tablespoons cumin powder

4 tablespoons chili powder

dash cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

Add tofu to the above bowl and squeeze in well (it works best if you do this with your hands).

Add the tofu mixture to the pan with the onions and cook over low heat until the tofu is browned, about 30 minutes.

Use in place of ground beef in tacos, burritos, chili, taco salad, Sloppy Joes, etc.

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