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Tofu Dishes

Tofu DishesWhat is that?

To diners unfamiliar with the vegetarian world of bean-based and meat replacement items, tofu can seem foreign, intimidating, and downright scary. Spongy, bizarre, and devoid of color or flavor it its uncooked state, tofu is not an item typically considered appetizing by the Western palate (would you like to sit down to a plate of what essentially appeared to be Styrofoam?). However, when prepared properly, tofu can be a delicate and flavorful meal item with a variety of healthful offerings.

Tofu itself is a product of the versatile legume the soybean. It is the name we have given bean curd, a mass of protein and oil given off by curdled soy milk (sounds tasty, doesn't it?), and only one of the various forms that soy beans have taken in world cuisine. Domesticated and utilized in Northern China over 3,000 years ago, soybeans have since enjoyed a myriad of uses in Eastern cooking. Within the last century and a half, Western culture has adopted them not as a staple of our own cuisine, but in industry, using them to feed livestock, create oils, and produce industrial materials. It has only been relatively recently that soybeans have grown in popularity as additions to mainstream cooking, due largely in part to a better understanding of the healthy properties of this humble bean.

Tofu comes in a staggering number of varieties. Generally whitish-grey in color, the consistency and shape are where most of these variations occur. Textures range from silken, which is too soft to be cut and is generally eaten with a spoon, all the way up to extra-firm, which can be cut with a knife and handled similarly to meat. It can be baked, smoked, fried, toasted, fermented, pickled, eaten from the package, or processed further to resemble familiar animal products.

How healthy is it?

Beans in general are nutritional powerhouses, delivering solid doses of plant-based protein, iron, B vitamins, fiber, folic acid, and antioxidants with comparatively low amounts of fat.
Soybeans offer almost double the protein of other bean varieties, as well as a healthy amount of amino acids and fiber. They also possess several compounds that may offer additional health benefits, namely phytoestrogens and saponins. These compounds are still controversial in the nutrition world, as research is young and varied. Phytoestrogens have shown promise in preventing bone loss and slowing the progression of certain cancers. However, its hormone-like effects within the human body may worsen other hormone influenced cancers, like breast cancer; more research needs to be done before a conclusion can be reached.

Saponins are chemicals that can bind to cholesterol in the human body and make it less easy to absorb, potentially lowering blood cholesterol. This may in part explain why some studies show nations with a diet high in soybeans have lower national rates of heart disease. Again, while preliminary research is promising, more must be done to determine how beneficial this finding ultimately will be for humans; some recent results have raised questions over whether the health claims surrounding soybeans are valid or not. While they have yet to be determined as a cure-all "wonderbean", soybeans and their products do offer the health-minded eater a great source of heart-healthy protein with little fat or saturated fat.

Why should I eat it, and how can I use it?

For dieters looking to incorporate legumes into their meals, or to maintain a healthy intake of protein while avoiding the fats associated with beef and other meats, tofu is a particularly good substitute and/or addition to meals. Available in strips, blocks, sheets, shreds, and noodles, all of assorted size, it is a surprisingly versatile item; variations in texture and density make it easier to tailor to specific menus and palates. In addition, tofu's neutral base easily absorbs the tastes and aromas of spices, making it easy to flavor. Tofu goes especially well in Thai and Indian curry dishes, whose rich and aromatic spices are easily absorbed and distributed throughout the item (noodles and rectangular blocks work well in this instance).

The vegetarian lifestyle also fully embraces tofu as an all-purpose stand in for meat and animal based products; cultures that practice vegetarianism for religious reasons have artfully mastered this practice, and can be looked to for both demonstration and inspiration. Tofu based versions of cheese, cold-cuts, bacon, chicken tenders, burgers, ice cream, and other assorted animal products are now widely available in Western supermarkets.

Using tofu as a tasty part of a healthy diet only takes trial and error.  Extra-firm tofu can be layered and baked in casserole dishes, or fried quickly and tossed in with stews, curries, salads, and rice dishes. Noodles and strips are wonderful additions to soups, and silken tofu can be thrown in a blender with ice, fresh fruit, honey, and fruit juice for a nutrient-dense smoothie. You can also try marinating or battering the blocks before cooking for additional flavor; ginger, coconut milk, toasted coconut, soy sauce, and spice blends are good options. Do your research - flip through Asian and vegetarian cookbooks to find fool-proof recipes from tofu masters, and visit vegetarian/vegan restaurants to discover dishes popular with the masses. And remember than not all varieties will be good to you specifically; open-mindedness and creativity are key in enjoying any food.--------------------------------------If you are a business owner get listed at Best Food Site, part of Localwin Network.
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