Not Just for Vegetarians

Tofu has important health benefits for those who don't eat meat, but its unique ability to absorb flavor makes it a delicious option for adventurous carnivores as well.

Tofu, a Chinese invention that dates back 3,500 years, is a primary ingredient in Chinese diets, but it was the Japanese who cemented its standing in Western cuisine. Tofu is made from soybeans and is considered an important source of protein, calcium, iron, and minerals. Its contribution is especially important to vegetarians and those whose diets are lean on meat.

In China, fresh tofu is available in every village and neighborhood. A local artisan creates it in a praocess that is reminiscent of cheese making: He soaks soybeans in water, then cooks, grinds, and strains them. He boils the strained milk, cools it, and adds a special mineral to enable the soy to coagulate. After soft lumps form ("tofu flowers" ), he strains the contents of the pot through a special cloth. The soybean solids that remain in the cloth become tofu.

Most of the soybeans grown in the United States are the product of genetic engineering, but it is possible to get organic tofu whose high nutritional value is guaranteed (genetically modified tofu will have the letters GMO on the package ).

Tofu has a damp, slippery texture and its anemic taste lacks any dominant flavor. In fact, that is its great advantage, beyond its nutritional value. Tofu has the remarkable ability to absorb the flavors of the sauces in which it marinates.

Tofu comes in three consistencies: "Silken" tofu is smooth and delicate tasting; "soft" tofu is suitable for stir-frying and cooking in sauces; and "regular" tofu is good for frying and broiling in the oven.

Once a package of tofu is opened, it should be kept in a container with water in the fridge. Change the water daily to preserve freshness.

Black tofu with bok choy Ingredients (3-4 servings )

300 grams organic tofu (1 package )

1/2 cup sweet soy sauce or teriyaki sauce

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

50 grams butter

4 shallots, diced

1 red hot pepper, sliced into thin rings

4 olive cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon (12 grams ) chopped ginger

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon black peppercorns ground in a mortar and pestle or a spice mill

5 scallions (minus the bulbs ), cut into 4-centimeter-long pieces

200 grams bok choy

2 tablespoons butter, olive or coconut oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce


Cut the tofu into 2-centimeter cubes. Absorb the moisture with a paper towel. Transfer to a deep dish. Mix with 1/2 cup of sweet soy sauce and marinate from 2 hours to overnight.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Place breadcrumbs on a dish and season with black pepper. Take the tofu cubes out of the marinade (save the marinade ) and roll them in the breadcrumbs.

Transfer the tofu cubes to an oven dish lined with baking paper, and roast for 30 minutes. Give the tofu a stir every 10 minutes. Heat the leftover breadcrumbs for 10 minutes in a dry frying pan, stirring all the while, for use later on.

Blanch the bok choy, whole, in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and set aside in a bowl of cold water.

Heat up a wok with butter and fry the shallots, red hot pepper, garlic, and ginger for 10 minutes on a medium-low fire, stirring constantly. Add soy sauce, sugar, black pepper, and the marinade. Bring to a boil. Add the tofu and scallions. Cook for 1 minute, giving the contents a light toss to let the tofu coating absorb all of the sauce. Transfer to a dish.

In the same wok, heat butter and soy sauce, and stir-fry the strained bok choy until softened. Add tofu, reheat and serve with the toasted breadcrumbs.