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Tofu easily absorbs new flavors through spices or marinades

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By Norm Harding, Reporter

Tofu is made from soybeans, water and a coagulant, or curdling agent. Loved in Asia for centuries, it is high in protein and calcium and has the ability to absorb new flavors, whether through spices or marinades.
For those of you who have never used it or even know what it is, tofu is considered to be a good meat substitute, as it is rich in protein. Since it has no flavor of its own, tofu can easily pick up almost any flavor that you add to it.
There are two kinds of tofu. Firm tofu (the kind sold in tubs of water) is best for marinating, grilling, baking, broiling, stir-frying and sautéing. It needs to be drained and squeezed-dried first. Silken tofu (sold in aseptic boxes) is a good substitute for yogurt or sour cream. It can be pureed to make creamy dips, soups, sauces or desserts.

Remove excess moisture
Before using tofu, place it on a board or in bowl. Lay a fresh towel on top of tofu and gently press down on the towel to remove any initial water. Remove the towel and place another fresh towel on top. Carefully place a bowl or other weight on top of the towel to press down on the tofu. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes.

Ideas for using tofu
Tofu has many different uses too, such as using in stir-fries, fillings, soups, stews, dips, salads and burgers. It can be even grilled or broiled on its own.
When using in a stir-fry, heat some peanut oil and stir fry cubed firm tofu until browned. Add some fresh vegetables and a prepared stir-fry sauce and serve with steamed rice.
Mix pureed firm tofu with some ricotta cheese, marinara sauce, spinach and dried Italian seasoning. Spoon the mixture into jumbo shells and then bake.
Drop some cubed, firm tofu into broth-based soups like miso or noodle soups or simmer cubed firm tofu along with vegetables and/or meats when making a stew. The tofu will stay firm and makes for a hearty dish.
Toss some cubed firm tofu into your next serving of salad greens. Its mild flavor will complement bitter greens and vinaigrette dressings.
Try a tofu burger. Just mash some firm tofu and combine it with eggs, seasoned dry bread crumbs, cooked rice, Dijon mustard and chopped onion. Grill or pan-fry until browned.

Breaded Tofu Parmigiana
Serve with a simple crisp green salad, angel hair pasta and garlic bread.
1 cup flour
2 eggs, whisked
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsps. dried oregano, divided
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 (12 oz.) pkg. firm tofu
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 clove garlic, minced
4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon oregano, salt and pepper. Slice tofu into 1/4 inch thick slices and press slices with paper towel to absorb moisture.
One at a time, dip tofu slices into flour, then egg mixture, and then crumb mixture, turning to coat all sides. Place slices on a cookie sheet sprayed lightly with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes each side, or until crisp on both sides.
Combine tomato sauce, basil, garlic and remaining oregano. Place a thin layer of sauce in an 8-inch square baking pan. Arrange half of the tofu slices in the pan. Spoon half of the sauce over tofu, and then another layer of tofu and then remaining sauce. Top with shredded mozzarella and remaining Parmesan. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

Black Bean Tofu Tacos
The cumin, garlic, jalapeno and onion enhance the flavor of the black beans and tofu.
1 can (15 oz.) black beans
1 cup crumbled firm tofu
1/4 tsp. cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 Spanish onion, diced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
8-inch corn tortillas
In a medium pan, sauté onion, jalapeno, garlic and cumin in olive oil. Add black beans and tofu, and simmer for 10 minutes. To assemble, heat corn tortillas in a non-stick pan, then fill with bean mixture. Top with diced tomatoes, cilantro, grated Jack cheese, diced avocado, chopped lettuce and any other trimmings of your choice.

Tofu with Stir-fried Vegetables
1 lb. tofu, drained, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 Tbsp. oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 slices fresh ginger root (not ground)
8 oz. sliced mushrooms,
1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
1 cup broccoli tips, halved
1 cup scallions, sliced
For the sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
Combine sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
Heat wok or skillet to medium-high heat. Place one tablespoon of oil in the pan, add garlic and ginger; stir-fry until browned, then remove and discard. Add cubed tofu to seasoned oil, and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes; remove tofu and set aside.
Re-heat pan with remaining oil. One at a time, add carrots, broccoli and mushrooms. Cook each vegetable for one minute before adding the next, stirring constantly. Vegetables should be tender, but crisp. Add tofu and scallions. Stir-fry another two minutes. Stir sauce briefly and then add to the pan; stir until sauce thickens. Serve as a meal over rice or as a side dish. Makes 4 servings.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.