‘What is tofu?’ asked the till operator at the supermarket yesterday. Other shoppers around me looked up as if I was about to demystify the plot line to Lost. ‘It’s the curds of soya milk and looks like a wobbly block of white cheese’ I replied. ‘Hmmmm’, she said, none the wiser. ‘It’s completely flavourless’, I continued, ‘so is used in many ways for cooking’. I gave the example of scrambled eggs – mix some turmeric, cumin, paprika with a small amount of water then add it to a pan with the tofu, mash it all up and voila, vegan scrambled eggs. ‘Oh right, but isn’t soya the reason the Amazon is being cut-down?’…
This must be, or at least it is what I find to be, the biggest misconception about tofu and soya. Here’s the only fact you need to know about soya – 90% of soya grown in the Amazon rainforest is for animal feed (not tofu). The British government will attempt to mitigate their responsibility and tell us they only import a very small percentage of beef from Brazil (home to 60% of Amazon rainforest), and whilst this is true, animal feed for British cows does come from the Amazon. Placing the UK at the crime scene. It’s why Greenpeace launched a campaign last year, asking Tesco to reduce the amount of meat it sells by 50% by 2050. This might sound a lot but along with cutting down rainforest to rear the cattle and grow the food to feed the cattle, the cattle themselves add climate heating methane into the atmosphere when they burp.
When soya isn’t being fed to animals (!), it takes many forms for us to eat. We’ve already mentioned tofu but there’s also tempeh, soya milk, miso, soy sauce and edamame – green soya beans. The reason so many vegans replace meat with tofu is because it’s a complete protein, much like meat, it contains all nine essential amino acids. As does quinoa. The firmer the tofu the more protein it contains.
As well as protein, tofu gives us thiamine (healthy nervous system), riboflavin (energy production), niacin (digestive system), vitamin B-6 (red blood cell production), choline (liver function), manganese (bone health), and selenium (metabolism).
But what the hell do you do with tofu? It’s widely thought of as boring because it has virtually no flavour. Think of it as a blank canvas to slap some flavour onto. Not all tofu is created equal though – silken tofu is good for scrambled ‘egg’ and desserts, whereas ‘firm’ and ‘extra firm’ tofu holds its structure, so good for cubing and using in stir-fries and curries.
Here’s a few easy recipes to get you cooking like a tofu master:
One of the reasons it took me so long to switch to a plant-based diet was eggs, especially scrambled egg. Scrambled egg on toast was my weekend treat, how else would I celebrate having time to cook breakfast on a Saturday and lounge around in my PJs?? If you can relate then, you’re welcome – because this is the next best thing to scrambled egg. I like mine with fried mushrooms and wilted spinach, on toast with a sprinkling of seeds.
Don’t be put-off by the lengthy ingredients list of this one – I reckon you’ve got most it in your cupboard. And the vegan tzatziki dip can easily be subbed for hummus, mayo, or salad cream. You will need pitta breads which tend to come in packs of six so why not cook a batch of tofu to eat throughout the week – that’s lunch sorted.
Who doesn’t love a mid-week chili – no skill required, throw in whatever you like, spinach on the turn? Throw it in. Mushrooms a bit slimy? No problem. Leftover bell pepper? Chop it up and in it goes. The same applies to the firm tofu in this recipe, simply crumble it in and add your spices.
I don’t know about you but I have very little time to spend in the kitchen so I love a one-pot wonder. A handy tip is to double the ingredients to make enough for two night’s dinner, saving you even more time. A curry, much like a chili is easy to adapt to whatever you have in the fridge – sweet potato, courgette, kale, runner beans. Use it or lose it – no-one feels good throwing away food that’s gone off in the fridge.
Long gone are the days when plant-based eating meant a desolate life of mung beans and hemp. There isn’t much you can’t recreate with some simple know-how, and of course Pinterest! This dessert only needs three simple ingredients and five minutes of your time – bish bash bosh, chocolate fix done!