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Family Central: Versatile Tofu

Tofu.The mere mention of the word can send a carnivore running for the hills. It has a bad rap in the meat-eating community, and for good reason.By itself, tofu is undeniably bland and boring. It does not have an appetizing texture, appearance or feel.

But….and this is a big but…tofu is the chameleon of meat substitutes. With the proper accompanying ingredients and cooking methods, tofu can “taste like chicken” – or any other flavors that one might like it to mimic. Tofu has a remarkable ability to absorb the essence of other ingredients with which it is cooked. It is also extremely versatile. Whatever dishes your family loves, tofu can be a part of them: It can be baked, deep fried, marinated, stewed, scrambled, added to soups, casseroles and dressings, stuffed into lasagnas and tacos, made into dips and mixed into smoothies.

Tofu is simply the Japanese name for soybean curd. If soybeans sound a little too “granola,” consider this: in the United States, food manufacturers put the legume in more than 60% of processed foods. If you’ve eaten anything from cereal to mayonnaise, pasta orlunchmeat, then you’ve eaten soy. Soy products are often used as an economical protein substitute in meat and poultry products to “extend,” or stretch, meats without reducing their nutritional value.

Tofu is a healthy source of protein, B vitamins, iron and calcium. Scientists have found that people who consume diets high in soy have significantly lower rates of heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer, and fewer menopausal symptoms. It’s believed that these disease-protecting qualities come from the isoflavones found in the soybean plant. Before you run out and stock your pantry full of this soy wonder, be mindful of the flip side: some research indicates that “mega-doses” of isoflavones may not be healthy, so soy is like anything else: you can have too much of a good thing and moderation is the key to enjoying this low fat and protein-rich plant.

If you’ve tried tofu before and didn’t like it, remember that it can assume myriad textures, shapes and flavors. You might have just tried it in a dish that didn’t appeal to you, so it’s worth another consideration. Look for it either in FRESH’S refrigerated vegetarian section or as a shelf-stable product in the Asian foods aisle. It varies from soft to extra firm, depending on your intended use. Attached are some recipes that should convince even staunch skeptics that a wonderful world of tofu awaits!

Blueberry-Banana Smoothie

6 oz soft silken tofu
1 medium banana
2/3 cup soy or almond milk
1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries
1 Tbs honey
2 -3 ice cubes

Drain the silken tofu to remove excess water (silken tofu has a high water content). Peel and slice the banana. Place on a baking sheet and freeze for about 15 minutes (this helps make the smoothie thicker).Blend the banana, tofu and soy milk for 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup of the blueberries and process until smooth. Add the remaining blueberries, honey and ice cubes and process again until smooth. Enjoy!

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Grilled Tofu Kabobs

2 (14 oz) pkgs extra firm tofu
2 cups marinade, see recipe below
3 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch circles
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch wedges
12 cherry tomatoes
1/2 lb mushrooms
1 cup pineapple cubes
Wood or metal skewers (if using wood skewers, soak them in hot water for 20 minutes.)

Marinade

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs soy sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp rosemary
2 tsp oregano leaves
1 Tbs honey or brown sugar
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Slice each block of tofu in half horizontally, and, in crosshatch pattern, make two slices vertically and two slices horizontally for total of 36 tofu cubes.

Place tofu in a large plastic container with a tight fitting lid. Add the marinade and let sit for 6-12 hours. While the ingredients marinate, turn the container upside down or stir every few hours so that the marinade soaks through everything inside. Heat grill or grill pan to medium heat. If using a charcoal grill, set and light fire using coals or mesquite about 30 minutes before cooking time.Alternating ingredients, thread tofu, vegetables and pineapple cubes on skewers. Place kabobs over hot coals on well-oiled grill rack. Grill, turning occasionally, for 4 to 12 minutes. Place skewers on a large platter so that each person can remove as much of each one as they want.

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Vegan Green Goddess Salad Dressing

6 oz lite firm silken tofu
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 Tbs cider vinegar
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbs tahini
2 green onions, white parts removed, chopped
1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley, packed
1 large clove garlic

Place all ingredients in blender and process until smooth.

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ABOUT VANESSA:
Vanessa and her husband Brad are former owners of Julian’s Restaurant in Tyler. While no longer involved in the restaurant business, Vanessa’s passion for healthy, savory food is stronger than ever. She enjoys sharing her enthusiasm for the culinary arts with fellow “FRESHies” as a frequent guest chef in the test kitchen. Stay tuned as she shares her practical ideas for bringing FRESH to your dinner table.