Yes, it has an image problem. But like that other much-maligned hippie staple, the Birkenstock, tofu has staying power for a reason. It's miraculous stuff. In fact, its perceived weakness -- as a tasteless sponge -- is its greatest strength. Tofu absorbs and amplifies other ingredients, transforming dishes as disparate as a riff on Mexican scrambled eggs, a banh mi sandwich, even the humble lemon square. As for the shoes? Talk to us once you've actually tried them on.
Like cheese, tofu is made by curdling milk -- in this case, residual liquid from cooked, ground soybeans. The curds are then pressed into blocks, with textures ranging from soft to extra firm. Whatever the consistency, drain the tofu first so it will better absorb seasonings. To press: Arrange pieces on a towel-lined plate, top with another towel and plate, and weight with cans for 20 minutes.
Our fallback for high-heat preparations, these dense blocks hold up well to pan-searing, frying, and grilling. The concentrated texture means more protein per ounce.
This tender option is sturdy enough for simmering, braising, and baking but will crumble with too much handling. (To firm it up, try pressing longer.)
The custard-like texture results from its not having been separated from the whey. Delicate and creamy, it's best suited to purees like soups and smoothies and desserts. Silken, the softest kind, absorbs less flavor than the firmer varieties.
The Joy of Soy
Tofu has roughly 10 grams of protein per 1/2 cup and an impressive nutritional profile: minimal calories, lots of fiber, and some of the same minerals (iron, zinc) as meats, albeit in smaller amounts. A 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that incorporating soy into the diet can lower cholesterol. Steer clear of tofu sold in open bins, and if you're wary of genetically modified foods, opt for organic -- 94 percent of all U.S. soybean crops have been biologically engineered.
Since 2001, when studies linked isoflavones (the estrogen-like chemicals found in plant foods) in soy to breast-cancer-cell growth in animals, people have questioned tofu's good-for-you cred. Bottom line: It is healthy--eaten in moderation. "You want to avoid concentrated soy products and supplements with loaded isoflavone levels," says Dr. Adam Bernstein, a director for the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Up to four 3-oz servings of such whole soy foods as tofu, edamame, and soy milk per week, he says, is safe.
Got leftover tofu? It will keep, refrigerated, for up to a week. Store it in a container of water, and replace water every other day for freshness. You can also freeze tofu. Drain it first, then transfer to a glass container.