The lowdown on tofu and tempeh

Mention tofu to some people and they instantly say they don’t like it. I bet half of these people just haven’t tasted a good recipe with tofu. As someone who has not eaten meat or chicken in about 30 years, tofu has always been part of my diet.  I use it in soups, salads, stir fries, salad dressings and sometimes in dessert. It can be confusing because there are so many types of regular and organic tofu; silken, soft, medium firm, firm, extra firm and now you can buy sprouted tofu. Choosing which type of tofu is ultimately based on your recipe and preference. First and foremost it is important to choose organic so that you don’t eat genetically modified soybeans.

Here are more tips:

Soft or silken tofu  have the highest moisture content. This type of tofu is best used in soups, sauces, salad dressings, smoothies and desserts like pudding. Health food stores sell this type of tofu in the refrigerated section of the store. They also usually carry a shelf-stable version sold in a box in the Asian section of the store.  My family doesn’t like this type. Grocery stores usually sell tofu in the refrigerated deli section or with the organic dairy products.

 Medium firm, firm or extra firm tofu can be used interchangeably depending on personal preference. My daughter likes medium firm while I prefer extra firm so I sometimes buy both. These are best used in stews or stir fries where you need the tofu to hold its shape.

Sprouted – made from sprouted soy beans, comes in different textures.

You can also buy tofu that comes flavoured with smoke, teriyaki or mango. Visit an Asian grocery store and you’ll see tofu in bulk, floating in a jug of water or packaged like puffs or balls. We liked the puffed tofu balls in Pad Thai. They taste great. If you see these give them a try. You can store them in the freezer until you are ready to eat them.

Some chefs recommend using a press to remove excess water from medium-firm, firm and extra-firm tofu so that it can absorb more flavour during cooking.  To press the tofu without using a tofu press, take a plate and line it with paper towels then place the tofu block on the paper towels. Put another layer of paper towels on top of the tofu, place a cutting board on top and weigh it down with heavy books or cans for an hour. You can also freeze the tofu and once it is defrosted squeeze out the water with your hands. Freezing tofu changes its texture and makes it more crumbly. Either way both procedures will allow the tofu to absorb more flavour.

Tofu is bland so seasoning it is important. The best flavour is achieved by marinating it for a few hours. Add some honey or maple syrup to the marinade to help the tofu get crispy while it cooks. My favourite marinade includes tamari, garlic, ginger and honey. I try to let the tofu marinate overnight. If this is not possible give it at least an hour.

More recently I have added tempeh to my repertoire of vegetarian proteins. Tempeh is a fermented form of tofu that originated in Indonesia. It can be marinated and cooked the same way as tofu but does not require pressing.

While tempeh is also made from soybeans, it has a different texture and is more nutritious than tofu as it is less processed and contains more fibre and protein. Its texture is very firm and it has a deep earthy flavour that becomes more pronounced as it ages. Season tempeh as you would tofu.

Do you have any favourite tofu or tempeh recipes? Let me know.

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Comments (1)

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    Kendall Swenson

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    This is a really great breakdown, thank you! I never understood what tempeh was until now

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