I must warn you: this entry has no knitting content whatsoever. Although the subject (tofu) is treated with the same amount of enthusiasm as a sock knitter feels after discovering Judy’s magic cast on.
What is tofu? The really short answer: tofu is made from soy. There are a few steps in the process, but soy beans are the original source.
In Finnish you may also come across the term soijajuusto, “soy cheese”. In spite of this translation, tofu is not really a replacement for cheese (there are other products for that), but an alternative for meat.
There are two varieties of tofu sold generally, firm and soft (also called “silken“). The brand I use a lot is the Finnish Soya (homepage here). They sell both unseasoned and seasoned firm tofu, plus silken tofu with the name pehmeä – mjuk tofu.
Tofu is widely available at least where I live. Even Alepa usually has some, with larger supermarkets carrying multiple varieties and brands. Check near the cheese section.
Firm tofu has a significant amount of protein (about 16g/100g) and not too much fat (8-10g). Silken tofu has less protein (6-8g), so I tend not to use it as the main ingredient in my cooking.
Tofu by itself is pretty tasteless, but can with seasoning be adapted almost endlessly. The firm variety I mostly use fried, in savoury dishes. Silken tofu is good in pie fillings, sauces and even in baking -I’ve used it in chocolate pancakes, for example.
Here are a few examples of how I use tofu:
This picture was taken around Christmas, in case you can’t guess from all the red. It’s spaghetti with tofu in sesame sauce, made from a recipe in Puputytön juhlakirja (Finnish vegan cook book) that has become a household staple.
(A fun fact that surprises most people: sesame seeds have a high amount of calcium. 100g has 975mg, more than the adult’s recommended daily intake (600mg*). Of course one doesn’t eat 100g in one meal, but I use small amounts here and there, and bigger quantities occasionally -like in the sesame sauce.)
This is Satay Tofu with a bulgur salad. The Satay, or peanut, “sauce” (this one’s pretty thick) is my own version. The bulgur salad is based on a recipe in Viiden tähden vegaani (another Finnish book), but I substituted couscous with bulgur (which also adds protein and fiber to the meal).
Finally, an example of my typical weekend breakfast. The basic idea is just that, basic -fry some tofu, add some vegetables our whatever’s in the fridge, season, and eat. My favourite version is probably frozen peas, onion and corn. The picture shows tofu and left-over peas and tomatoes, with nutritional yeast sprinkled on top. (That, by the way, is one of the vegan substitutes for cheese. See wikipedia article here or a vegan blogger’s post here. In Helsinki the best places to find it are Ruohonjuuri, Punnitse & Säästä, Ekolo and general health food stores.)
As you can see, in all of these examples the tofu has been fried. This is both fast and easy, but here are the basics:
-First dry the tofu! I generally first press it with my hands over the sink and then wrap it in kitchen paper. Once the extra moisture is out, I cut it into cubes or slices, depending on the recipe. You can also put tofu in the freezer -it changes the texture a bit but makes it even more easier to fry.
-After drying, I either fry the tofu at once or let it marinate in a sauce for a while.
-If you’re frying just the tofu, use a hot pan. The tofu should get a nice golden colour.
For more recipes, my two favourite sources have already been mentioned – Viiden tähden vegaani and Puputytön juhlakirja. There’s also one focused exclusively on tofu: Tofukeittokirja by Marianne Kiskola and Sanna Miettunen. I rarely use English-language sources nowadays, but Vegan Yum Yum has pretty good recipes in the archives. In Finnish my fave is Chocochili. Other vegan blogs are for example Pidempi korsi and kasvis.fi.
*Kasvisruutukokki (WSOY 2003), page 30.