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Released June 5, 2003

Spice up your life
TOFU OFFERS SEVERAL BENEFITS

LONG BEACH -- Tofu, a staple of Japanese and Chinese cuisine, is now gaining acceptance in American kitchens because of its high nutritional value, low cost and flavor adaptability.

Go ahead, spice up your life and reap the benefits of tofu.

Tofu is made by processing soybeans into milk, which is then coagulated. The curds are then placed in a perforated mold that is lined with cloth and pressed with a weight to remove the liquid. The result is a soft, creamy white substance similar to cheese.

Tofu is easy to digest, very high in protein, with very little fat and sodium and no cholesterol. Tofu is an ancient foodstuff, probably created in China during the second century A.D. It was introduced to Japan by Buddhist priests during the eighth century and was discovered by western travelers during the 17th century.

Today, Japanese tofu is said to be the finest, perhaps because of the superiority of the soybeans grown in the Yamato region, near the city of Kyoto. Tofu is a key element of Japanese cuisine because of its natural flavor and texture and it is used in a variety of ways. Chinese cuisine uses it as an additive, not as a principal ingredient. Tofu may be eaten fresh, added to soup, broth or noodle dishes, tossed in cold salads, grilled, deep fried or sautéed. Its flavor is bland, but it readily absorbs flavors from other ingredients.

There are two types of tofu widely available: cotton and silk. Cotton tofu is the most common. Its texture is firm with an irregular surface caused by the weave of the cotton fabric it is wrapped in for pressing. Silk tofu has a silk smooth appearance and texture, and a somewhat more delicate flavor. Unlike cotton tofu, the water has not been pressed out of the silk tofu. Consequently, silk tofu should not be cooked at high temperature, or for a long time, as it will fall apart easily. The use of either type in most recipes is simply a matter of personal preference.

Fresh tofu is usually packaged in water. It should be refrigerated and kept in water until used. If the water is drained and changed daily, the tofu should last for one week. Tofu can be frozen for up to three months. Freezing will change its texture however, making it slightly chewier.

Soybeans have found their way into a variety of items we find on our grocers= shelves. From soymilk to fresh soybeans known as AEdamame@ to the Japanese, these versatile little beans are also ground into flour and made into paste. One reason for this versatility is that the bean itself is hard to digest, so they are usually processed into sauces or into tofu. Many imitation meat dishes, which are the basis of Buddhist vegetarian food, are based on the numerous forms of bean curd. Bring a little something different to the dinner table next time and spice up your life. Treat yourself and your family to a meal that includes tofu -- a multipurpose, healthy alternative to meat. Try the following tofu recipes and be daring.

SAVORY VEGETABLES AND TOFU

1 lb. medium firm tofu
cooking sauce
2 t. salt
1 lb. broccoli, green beans or carrots
4 c. water
1 t. each salt and sugar
2 quarter size slices fresh ginger, crushed
1 T. each salad oil and dry sherry
4 T. salad oil
1/4 lb. mushrooms, quartered
1 t. dry sherry
2 t. sugar

Place tofu in a colander and let drain for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare cooking sauce and set aside. Cut tofu in domino shaped pieces, and place between paper towels, gently pressing out excess water. Sprinkle with half a teaspoon of salt and set aside. If you use broccoli, cut off the flowerets and slash stems. Peel the thick stalks and thinly slice. If you use green beans, remove the ends and strings, cutting them into two inch long slanting slices. If you use carrots, cut them into quarter inch thick slanting slices.

In a three quart pan over medium heat, place water, the one teaspoon each of salt and sugar, ginger and the one tablespoon each of oil and sherry. Bring to a simmer.

Heat two tablespoons of the salad oil in a wide frying pan over high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring until golden. Add sherry and the half a teaspoon of sugar and cook until liquid evaporates; remove mushrooms and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining two tablespoons of oil. Add tofu and cook until flecked with brown (about three minutes on each side). Return mushrooms to the pan. Stir cooking sauce, pouring into the pan and cook, stirring gently, until sauce bubbles and thickens. Keep hot. Bring seasoned water to a boil. Drop in vegetables. Cook until crisp tender (about four minutes). Drain and then discard ginger. To serve, arrange vegetables around edges of a serving platter. Pour tofu mixture into the center.
Cooking Sauce:
In a bowl, blend 2 c. vegetable stock (or broth), 2 T. soy sauce, 1 T. sherry, 1 t. sugar, 2 t. cornstarch, and 1/4 t. sesame oil.

SPINACH AND TOFU SOUP

3-inch block fresh tofu
2 bunch spinach
3 c. chicken stock
1 T. light soy sauce
salt and ground black pepper
Cut the tofu into 12 small pieces, each about one fourth of an inch thick. Wash the spinach leaves and cut them into small pieces. Bring the stock to a rolling boil in a wok. Add the tofu and soy sauce. Bring it back to a boil and simmer for about two minutes. Add the spinach and simmer for another minute. Skim the surface to make it clear, then adjust the seasoning and serve immediately.

CRAB AND TOFU DUMPLINGS

2 c. white crabmeat
2 c. firm tofu
1 egg yolk
2 T. rice flour or wheat flour
2 T. finely chopped green onion, green part only
3/4 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
2 t. light soy sauce
salt
oil for frying
2 oz. daikon radish, very finely shredded
Dipping Sauce:
2 c. vegetable broth
1 T. sugar

Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the crabmeat. Press the tofu through a fine sieve with the back of a tablespoon. Combine the tofu and the crabmeat in a bowl. Add the egg yolk, rice or wheat flour, scallion, ginger and soy sauce. Season to taste with the salt. Combine all to form a light paste.

To make the dipping sauce, combine the broth, sugar and soy sauce in a serving bowl. Line a tray with paper towels. Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, shape the crab and tofu mixture into thumb-size pieces. Fry in batches of three at a time for one to two minutes. Drain on the paper towels and serve with the sauce and daikon.

Chef Pam Lewis is lead instructor of the Southern Miss Gulf Coast Culinary Arts Academy. For information on the Southern MissGC Culinary Arts Academy, call (228) 214 3240. For recipe and story requests, culinary questions or comments, e-mail Chef Pam at pamela.lewis@usm.edu or write to her at

Chef Pam Lewis, Culinary Arts Academy
The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast
730 East Beach Blvd.
Long Beach, MS 39560
Spice up your life - tofu

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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM

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