New year, new you — time for tofu?
The holiday season is waning, and the time for New Year’s resolutions is approaching. Perhaps for 2016 you have resolved to eat less meat. There are many reasons that make this a prudent decision – better for your health, better for your wallet and better for the planet.
Tofu is a staple for meatless menus. Forget its hippie connotations still hanging on from the 1960s. Tofu, or bean curd, is a versatile protein that can become anything you want it to be. Made from soybeans by a process similar to making cheese, tofu is known for its chameleon-like quality, allowing it to absorb new flavors through spices and marinades.
Many people are put off by the texture and color of tofu, which in its original state is white and spongy. No one, however, eats tofu straight from the box. One trick is to fry it. Frying tofu gives it a golden color and the “bite” that is often missed in meatless meals.
One of my husband’s favorite dishes is sweet and sour tofu. Although Asian in origin, its flavors are familiar to the American palate. If you buy ready-fried tofu (available at the Food Mart next to the Penn Street Market), the preparation comes together as fast as it takes to slice up a few vegetables. If you fry your own, don’t omit the pressing step. With the water squeezed out, it fries much faster.
With its multitude of colors, sweet and sour tofu has a stunning visual appeal that will attract even the most tofu-phobic eaters.
Sweet and Sour Tofu
1 package extra firm tofu, drained and pressed for one hour, or one package of fried tofu
Vegetable oil for frying
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 sweet red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
11/2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons plus 3/4 cup stock or water
3 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash or to taste cayenne pepper
Dash black pepper
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 quarter-size slice of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
Cut the tofu block horizontally in three pieces. Cut each horizontal piece into 6 pieces. In all, you will have 18 pieces.
In a wok or frying pan, heat about 1-inch-deep oil over a high flame. When hot, add the tofu pieces and fry until golden brown. Place in a 250-degree oven to keep warm.
Cut the carrot, red and green peppers, and scallions into thin julienne strips about 11/2 inches long. Set aside.
Mix the cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of the stock in a small cup. Combine the 3/4 cup stock, vinegar, sugar, ketchup, soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper in a bowl.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil. When hot, put in the garlic and ginger. When the garlic begins to brown, add the vinegar mixture and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture and cook until the sauce thickens.
When ready to serve, stir fry the prepared vegetables in 2 tablespoons oil over a medium-high flame for 3 minutes, sprinkling them with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Heat the prepared sauce.
Transfer the fried bean curd to a serving dish. Spread the vegetables over the bean curd and top with the sauce. Serve with Chinese-style rice.
Note: If you plan to eat tofu frequently, you might want to invest in a tofu press. They are available from online retailers such as Amazon.com.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.