Gone Vegan

Lindsay Hutton discovers the politics and pragmatics behind a meat and dairy-free diet.

Often when talking to carnies about my vegetarianism/veganism, one of the first topics thrust upon the discussion is widespread hatred for tofu. I get it. A lot of people’s first introduction to tofu is likely a nefarious one. Tofu is one of those things you learn to cook properly, but it’s a breeze once you figure out a few basic principles of preparing the stuff. 

First off, let me get something out of the way. These past few years have seen some health “journalists” take aim at tofu. As such, a lot of supposed health risks of the stuff have been entirely overblown; much of it is downright incorrect. Let me assure you, that a diet including a reasonable amount of tofu isn’t going to give you cancer, and to the fellas, won’t make you grow breasts. Both Health Canada and the Federal Drug Administration in the US have given it an a-okay. In fact, a lot of studies show that tofu has a wealth of health benefits, including lowering bad cholesterol and reducing one’s propensity toward heart disease.  At the end of the day, we see a lot of lifelong vegetarians with far lower rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease than omnivores. 

So exactly what is tofu? Most of us know it’s derived from soybeans, which is correct. Essentially it’s coagulated soymilk, then its curds are pressed into blocks, or other various shapes. Most tofu contains about 10% protein by weight, and is also high in iron. These days, we often see it fortified with calcium and vitamin B12. Important to note that it’s important to buy local, organic tofu. A lot of the meatless entrees with “fake meat” you see in the grocery store likely include soy or tofu. 

Like anything else, much of the tofu we see on grocer’s shelves are made with genetically modified seeds and hewn from problematic farming practices. However, tofu’s still relatively inexpensive – a block of good tofu (Liberty Tofu is a good, widely available option) isn’t likely to run you more than $3. 

There are several different kinds of tofu. Silken tofu is very soft, and is often whipped into smoothies or soups and is a common ingredient in vegan baking. Firm tofu is a little more versatile, and can be baked, fried, or sautéed. It’s mostly the latter I’ll work with in this article. 

(Random tofu tip: After you break open a package of firm tofu, make sure you store any extra in water – otherwise it renders the dreaded and noxious Tofu Slime within a couple of days!)

Tofu, in and of itself, doesn’t taste like much. It takes on the flavour of what it’s cooked with; the key is to get the texture right so this will happen properly. Here are a few tips to get you going on a tofu-positive culinary experience: 

1. Tofu makes a great protein for Asian-inspired dishes, and is likely one’s first introduction to it. Just lopping off chunks of the stuff right out of its packaging and tossing it into a wok isn’t likely to taste all that wonderful. A good tip is to toss the block into the freezer until it’s frozen, and then let it thaw. This changes the texture a little, making it more absorbent of flavour.  

2. Slice the tofu into 2-centimetre slices. Lay the slices out on a clean rag or dish towel, sprinkle them with a little kosher salt, wrap the tofu in the towel, then let it sit for about 10 minutes. Give then a bit of a press to take out some of the moisture. 

3. Preheat your oven to about 325 degrees, lay down some parchment or foil (spray the foil with some nonstick spray or thin coating of cooking oil) on a pan. Place the slices on the pan, and bake for about 15 minutes. This will firm up the tofu and make it sturdier to use when marinated or added into casseroles or pan-frys. (If you’ve got a toaster oven, perfect – it’s a little less of a hydro or gas suck using one of these.)

4. What you end up with is similar in texture to the yummy soy strips that cost an arm and a leg in grocery store. Cut slices these into cubes or strips, and season or marinate to your own taste. 

5. With marinating, usually letting it soak for about a half-an-hour suffices. After marinating, you can return the tofu to the oven (on a pan with foil and nonstick spray at 350 degrees for another 10 minutes), or toss it in a pan. I use this method to make anything from Vegan Country Captain (the recipe is on this blog!), soups, “B”LT’s or a quick and dirty stir-fry.