Exploring Tofu: Origins and Recipes
The first time I ever LOOKED at a piece of tofu was when I bought a package to prepare for my daughter. She had recently become a vegetarian and, being a good supportive mom, I wanted to ensure that she was (still) eating a healthy, balanced diet.
That block of tofu looked ugly, smelled worse (to my uninitiated nose), and felt disgusting. Honestly, that initial prod with an index finger was almost my first and last time touching the stuff.
But then I donned my big-girl bloomers and got busy researching "what to do with tofu." I found that I wasn't alone in my apprehension of the jiggly white block sitting on my kitchen counter. Even then, there were almost 64 million hits on Google.
What Is Tofu?
Tofu (also called bean curd) is a cheese-like product made from curdled soy milk. I know, that definition sounds “questionable,” (as in who would ever be brave or foolhardy enough to eat THAT?!), but tofu is one of the most widely used soybean products in the world . . . and it's been around for centuries.
Tofu (Allegedly) Originated in China
It's thought that tofu “happened” 2,000 years ago in China. This part of our tale is called the “Accidental Coagulation Theory.” As the story goes, someone seasoned soybean soup with unrefined sea salt, which contains magnesium chloride, a natural coagulant (a coagulant is a substance that separates milk into curds and whey, like cottage cheese).
Then It Went to Japan
During the Nara period (the time in Japanese history before Kyoto was established as the capitol city), Japanese priests went to China to study Buddhism. There they learned of "doufu," a protein-rich bean curd favored by Buddhists who followed a strict vegetarian diet. "Doufu" became "tofu" in the language of Japan.
But tofu did not remain a simple meal of devout priests. In time, it became popular among the samurai and the royal class. And then it went mainstream. The cookbook Tofu Hyakuchin, published in 1782, was a best seller.
And Then to the Rest of the World
Domingo Fernandez de Navarrete was a Spanish missionary. In 1646, he and 27 fellow priests left Spain for the Philippines, arriving at their destination on June 23, 1648.
Upon his arrival in Manila, Navarrete began to teach theology at the Dominican University of St. Thomas. But the personal call to work as a missionary brought him to change the direction of his life. In 1657, he left with a group of fellow brothers to preach and teach in China. He learned the language and worked briefly in the Fujian province. A backlash against mission efforts erupted in 1665, and Navarrete, forbidden to preach, was reduced to writing to spread the word of salvation.
But even this was not an easy course. After much trial and angst, he returned to Rome in 1673, with various factions of the diocese in turmoil—the Jesuits on one side, and the Dominicans and Franciscans on the other.
It was during this time that Navarrate's book Tratados historicos, politicos, ethicos, y religiosos de la monarchia de China was published in Madrid. The focus was (of course) on religion, but in this publication, he happened to describe how tofu was made.
Navarrete's book was translated into English and republished in 1704.
And Then . . . ?
According to soyinfocenter.com:
- Tofu was first produced (non-commercial) in France by Paillieux in 1880.
- Hirata & Co started to make tofu in San Francisco in 1895.
- The first Westerner who produced tofu on a commercial scale was T.A. Van Gundy in 1929 when he started the company La Sierra Industries in California.
And now, I give you the recipes. In the words of Paul Harvey, here's "the rest of the story."
Tofu Recipes Featured in This Article
- Scrambled t.
- Baked t.
- Broccoli quiche
- Braised t. in caramel sauce
- T. "meatballs"
Soft or Silken (Japanese) Tofu
- T. pumpkin pie
- Creamy mushroom linguine
Extra Firm Tofu
You might be wondering why someone would want to cook tofu so that it looks and tastes like scrambled eggs. Some people do have an egg allergy or, if vegan, shun all animal products (not just meat).
When she was a freshman in college, my younger daughter (who was already a vegetarian) decided to try a vegan diet for a while. Honestly, this tofu scramble substitute is pretty darn good.
Baked tofu contains all of the charms that raw straight-out-of-the-package tofu lacks. Instead of appearing white and flabby, it is bronzed and toned (think Hasselhoff Baywatch, circa 1989). It's smokey, savory, and crisp.
If you are new at preparing tofu, this might be a good place to start. This easy baked tofu from Kalynskitchen.com as great in a green salad, as a substitute for the "meat" in a meat-and-potatoes meal, or tossed in soup in place of croutons.
Broccoli Quiche With Tofu
This was one of my first forays into cooking with tofu; my family (even Mr. Carb Diva) loved it.
Equipment and Supplies You Will Need
- wet and dry measuring cups
- measuring spoons
- food processor
- plastic wrap
- rolling pin
- 9-inch pie plate
- aluminum foil or parchment paper
- pie weights, dried beans, or dry uncooked rice
- sharp knife
- large saute pan
- saucepan with a steamer basket insert
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons ice water
- Non-stick cooking spray
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 pound broccoli
- 1 pound firm tofu, drained
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat oven to 425˚F. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to combine. Stir together oil and water; slowly pour through feed tube with food processor running until dough forms.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 10 times. Form into a small flat disk; wrap in plastic wrap and chill 20 minutes. After the dough is chilled, roll into a 12-inch circle on lightly floured surface.
- Gently ease into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 10 minutes. Use a fork to lightly prick the bottom of the pastry. Take a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper and press it into the pie plate, gently pushing it right up against the pastry. Fill the sheet of foil or parchment paper with pie weights, dried beans, or even uncooked rice to hold it in place. This weight helps the pie dough hold its shape. Bake the pie pastry for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Reduce oven temperature to 400˚F. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the 2 teaspoons olive oil; swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Cook the onion and garlic in the oil until softened—about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Place the broccoli pieces in a steamer basket; steam over simmering water until very tender, about 8–10 minutes. Add to onion mixture and set aside.
- In blender or food processor, puree the tofu and remaining ingredients (milk through ground black pepper) until smooth. Add the broccoli and onion and process until smooth. Pour into pre-baked crust; bake for 35–40 minutes or until quiche is set. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Braised Tofu in Caramel Sauce (Tau Hu Kho)
This recipe is sweet and salty with just a hint of heat from fresh ginger. This braised tofu idea first appeared in Sunset Magazine in March 2002.
My family loves to have these with spaghetti sauce or with teriyaki over rice.
- 1 pound firm tofu, mashed
- 1/2 cup wheat germ
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoons pepper
- 1/4 teaspoons oregano
- Preheat oven to 350˚F.
- Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
- Form into 1 1/2 inch balls. Arrange in well-oiled baking pan.
- Bake at 350˚F about 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes to brown evenly.
Soft or Silken (Japanese) Tofu
Tofu Pumpkin Pie
- 1 can (16 ounces) pureed pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 package (10-12 ounces) soft tofu, processed in a blender until smooth
- 1 9-inch unbaked pie shell
- Preheat oven to 425˚F.
- Cream the pumpkin and sugar together. Add salt, spices, and processed tofu; mix thoroughly.
- Pour mixture into pie shell and bake for 15 minutes. Lower heat to 350˚F. and bake for another 40 minutes.
- Chill and serve.
Michael Kitson is a 23-year-old Londoner who is a "food-obsessed, dog-loving, photography nerd." And he is a vegan. A vegan with amazing photographs of indulgent foods, foods like this creamy mushroom linguine that are so rich-tasting and creamy you'll never miss the dairy.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Linda Lum