Sunday, January 8, 2012

Veggieosity: Tofu and Tempeh

I'm starting a series of posts designed to be helpful references. This post is for those of you not so familiar with tofu and/or tempeh.

I'm not a fan of veggie pho-meats (other than the occasional Morning Star Farms chick'n patty when I want a quick, easy, I'm too lazy to make anything and want to eat like an 8 year old meal). But I do really like tofu and tempeh. Yes, that's what I said. I really like them. Some of it is developing a taste for them, some of it is learning which variety and brand you like best, and some of it is learning how to best prepare them. So let's take a little stroll down soy-protein lane, shall we?

If you are looking for recipes with one of these ingredients, type 'tofu' or 'tempeh' in the search box on the top right of this site, or click 'protein' under tags.

  • A Word on Tofu. I've had more than a few people tell me they think it's gross, which I actually think is odd- sorry to judge, but come on, newsflash: tofu doesn't taste like anything! It will taste like whatever you do to it, which is why I like it, and why I raise my eyebrow when people say they don't. If you've tried tofu in the past and didn't like it, perhaps texture was an issue (silken, firm, and extra firm are very different). 
  • Types of Tofu. Tofu comes in many varieties, including silken, firm, extra firm, dried, fried, sprouted, and even frozen. For your general meal items- salads, stir-frys, and most dinner recipes, you'll usally want to use extra firm tofu. I like extra firm best actually, and my favorite is extra firm tofu sprouted Sproutofu brand. If you have tried tofu and didn't like it, try extra firm tofu and follow a good recipe and preparation steps. Speaking of which...
  • Tofu Preparation. The key rule to using tofu (at least in most recipes) is making sure you drain it well. Tofu comes packaged with a lot of extra water, so in addition to draining the package, you also need to press the tofu block firmly with paper towels to remove excess water. This will allow the tofu to soak up the flavors of whatever ingredients you are using, and well-drained tofu cooks better as well. Once drained, you can continue with cubing, slicing, or crumbling the drained block of tofu and proceed with your recipe.
  • How to drain tofu: After pouring out the water from the packaging, simply place the block of tofu on top of a few paper towels. Then place a few more paper towels on top of the tofu. Press firmly until all the paper towels are wet. I usually repeat this another time with a fresh set of paper towels, and then press the sides as well, and keep pressing until the tofu doesn't seem to be releasing much water anymore.
  • Use Flavor! As I said, tofu will taste like whatever you make it with, so season or marinate it. Maple tofu, tofu in soy sauce stir-frys, tofu salad, and even simply tofu sauteed until golden brown in a little olive oil and garlic are all easy ways to inject flavor into an otherwise bland item. Remember: good tofu takes a little time. (But not as much time- or money- as meat!)
SprouTofu Brand Tofu- My current favorite!

  • A Word on Tempeh. I go through phases of whether I prefer tempeh or tofu. For a while, I hated tempeh, but, like tofu, I think it's about getting used to it and knowing what to do with it. It has a heartier, nuttier, grainier taste than tofu (actually, the two are nothing alike flavor or consistency-wise), so it's a nice change. I think tempeh works particularly well in stir-frys and with soba noodles
Some Tempeh Types amongst the pho-meat aisle
  • Types of Tempeh. My favorite tempeh is Lightlife brand flax or 3 grain. Westsoy brand tempeh is also pretty good though. Other tempeh flavors include wild rice, smoky, original soy, and garden veggie, though different brands have different types.
My (current) favorite tempeh
  • Tempeh Preparation. Um, slice it. Not much else to say... Like tofu, it can be eaten straight from the package, but it tastes better after a little cooking. For either tempeh or tofu, simply sauteing for a few minutes until lightly browned and adding it to your salad is the easiest way to enjoy it. Unlike tofu though, tempeh doesn't need pressing or draining (as you might notice by how tightly it's packaged.) 
3-grain tempeh, pre-cooked
  • An easy tempeh meal: Heat a little sesame oil in a wok, add broccoli, sliced carrots, water chestnuts, snow or sugar snap peas, baby bok choy, and cubed tempeh. Saute with soy sauce until broccoli & carrots are just tender and tempeh is browned, and serve with bean sprouts for a little crunch!

Another common vegan/vegetarian product used in many pho-meats and that can serve as a tofu or tempeh substitute is seitan. It's not made from soy, but from wheat gluten. I don't like it. It has a meaty taste, and I don't like the taste of meat. If YOU like the taste of meat, you are welcome to give it a try, but if you're a carnivore just looking to add a few meatless meals to your week, here's a helpful tip: skip it and focus on veggies! Check out my posts tagged 'vegspiration', my main course and salad tab recipes with stars by them, or sites like Finding Vegan, Choosing Raw, and Healthy Happy Life for veg recipe ideas. 


1 comment:

  1. Another helpful post and I agree with everything you said! I really do like tofu too, and I've never tried seitan because I'm afraid of the texture and I don't desire something that tastes or feels like meat. I really want to try cooking with tempeh more though, I haven't given it much of a chance!


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