Tofu, a white, soft soy food. It is a curd of soy milk like cheese from animal milk. Protein in soy milk coagulates to form a curd by Nigari sea salt residue after crystallization or mineral salts like magnesium, while cheese does so by rennet enzymes in a calf stomach or acid. They look alike but differ in nutritional values or uses due to the origins, plant or animal. Tofu was never heard of even among food science professionals until the early 1970s except for the Zen macrobiotics followers who converted to vegetarians in the late 60s. Today tofu can be a new potential food or ingredient benefiting taste, health and business if one knows more about its cooking info or recipes.

According to culinary-food history records, tofu was innovated in Huainan, Anhui Province, China, between the 9th and 10th century. Tofu has been a major protein source in omnivorous, rice eating regions all over Asia. You will see tofu at Chinese and Japanese food stores here in our market. Generally speaking Chinese tofu is more firm, which is good for cooking with. The Japanese ones, on the other hand, are soft, good for eating fresh or cooking less, though the one from Okinawa is firm, closer to the Chinese. We buy tofu in plastic, square containers, which are often placed in an open, cold case in a deli or Asian food section. In addition to fresh ones, tofu has dozens of allied products. China has developed a large wheel-style like a cheese wheel for cutting to sell, noodle tofu dried, knotted one dried, book-shaped semi-dried square one and fermented one sufu, smells awful but tastes splendid. Many of them are cooked in the Chinese style of “oil and fire” cooking. The Japanese have a couple of unique ones: naturally freeze-dried Koya tofu or brick-like block Rokujo tofu, hardened by salting-drying, and shaved to flakes for use like aged/smoked bonito flakes limited supply, though. Both in China and Japan, a sliced fresh tofu is deep-fried to make Agedashi tofu, which can be used to put many things inside. When sushi rice is put inside, it becomes Inari sushi. The latest innovation is tofu-Konnyaku mannan noodle, which is a good diet item for sukiyaki or noodle salads. I spotted a health conscious, heavy-structured person buying it at a Vons store.

Tofu can be eaten simply by pouring soy sauce probably with a little bit of ground ginger or aged/smoked bonito flakes, cold or warm. It has been the most convenient, nutritious dish for eating cooked rice on the Japanese tables for many centuries. Here in our market, you encounter tofu in a small diced shape, in miso soup, which may be the only one chance to eat tofu. Most urban supermarkets carry it but many individuals do not buy it because they have no idea of how to eat it, except for Asians. Many chefs do not use it because of having little idea of how to present it. Remember tofu or soy protein was mixed in ground beef to reduce fat contents and also price some time ago, though it soon evaporated into air. If you are not old enough to remember it, I remind you of a fact that tofu is a good ingredient to replace animal fats without changing much of the taste or texture and can be a new, healthy, exotic item to diversify your cooking or eating. Tofu can be used for new attractive appetizers, particularly when the nutrition values are often recommended to be posted at restaurants. The appetizers or side dishes of tofu rather than major entree dishes, I recommend. From a classic cooking book of A Hundred, Unique Tofu Recipes published in 1782, includes recipes that are highly recommended to try for today’s market. The first one: a BBQ tofu skewed by green fresh bamboo sticks, brushed with soy sauce, miso-sake sauce and sea urchin Uni sauce, which is easy to simulate. Tofu should be kept pressed to remove excess water in preparation. The second one: Tofu mashed by a food processor is mixed with egg white, Kuzu or corn starch, Surimi fish paste, sticky yam or even mashed Edamame, and then steamed or boiled into shapes. Another interesting tofu recipe is cheese-style miso tofu. A water drained tofu by pressing overnight is pickled in miso paste. It looks like cheese, and has texture like cheese with miso flavor. Good with sake or beer. Most of you creative chefs would envision such culinary processes. You can play more with tofu for something creative, not only for new taste but also business.

Last April at a traditional tofu restaurant near Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, I bumped into four nice looking ladies from Boston while I enjoyed an all-tofu course dinner, of course, with sake. They appeared to have also enjoyed the special tofu dishes. One thing about tofu: it is so light that it does not stay long or heavy in the stomach. Stop by at a fast food restaurant on the way back to fill your empty stomach, is a frequent joke after tofu dishes. Whether those ladies did or did not, I had no way to know. To me a good midnight snack gave a peaceful sleep that night.