The ‘cheese’ of Asia

by Lauren Petr
Contributor and Registered Dietician 
for Plumgood Food

The February beef crisis, where the USDA recalled 142 million pounds of beef, prompted me to cut back my meat intake and add more vegetarian meals to my diet. Challenged to create a delicious vegetarian meal last Friday, I purchased tofu thinking I knew enough about the ingredient to throw something together. After a taste-less dinner, and my boyfriend vowing to NEVER eat tofu again, I decided I could probably stand to do some thorough research about how to properly fix tofu before I continued with my vegetarian cooking. Here’s what I discovered.

Although a dietary staple in Asia, tofu is not a typical ingredient in American cuisine and, in fact, many Americans run from tofu despite its versatility and superior nutrition profile. Made from soybean curd, tofu has a soft, cheese-like consistency that acts like a sponge by soaking up any flavor it is paired with. Tofu is created by curdling fresh hot soymilk, which is then pressed into a solid brick form and packaged. Interestingly, it is very multitalented - it can be pureed, sautéed, grilled or even deep-fried (I’m picturing tofu French fries). Crumble it into chili, cube it and toss into casseroles and soups, or blend it with cocoa and sugar for a pretty tasty chocolate pie filling.

Tofu’s superior nutrition profile comes from the high-quality protein it provides along with ample amounts of B vitamins and iron – terrific for vegans, vegetarians, and those of us just trying to eat less meat. When enriched with calcium, tofu can even be an excellent source of this bone-building mineral. While 50 percent of its calories are from fat, tofu is low in saturated fat and sodium and free from cholesterol.

So, now that you too understand a little bit more about cooking with tofu, here’s how to shop for this nutritional ingredient:

  1. Silken Tofu – A super smooth tofu that is very soft and blends well - try using in place of cream cheese for dips or cheesecakes.
  2. Soft Tofu – Soft, yet still with shape, this type of tofu is great for salads, soups and casseroles. For a crumbly texture, freeze overnight, thaw, and then toss into stir-fries or chili.
  3. Firm Tofu – More dense and solid then the previous two due to its low water content, this tofu holds shape well and is needed in dishes that require tofu to be sautéed or grilled.
  4. Extra Firm Tofu – Even denser than firm tofu, this type is perfect sliced into cutlets, marinated, and then either baked or grilled.

What did I finally try cooking? For my second attempt with tofu, I made a delicious and healthy Autumn Vegetable Tofu Bake that I served alongside steamed brown rice. Was it good?  My boyfriend would say so, but he’s got his mouth full of tofu.

Lauren Petr, Plumgood Food’s registered dietician, answers questions about diet and nutrition for all Plumgood customers, free of charge. Lauren also can develop personalized meal and dietary plans for individual customers for an added fee. For more information, visit or contact Lauren at or (615) 248-4448 ext. 102.

Autumn Vegetable & Tofu Bake
Serves 6

  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 3 red potatoes, cubed
  • 2 cups winter squash (butternut, acorn), cubed
  • 1 lb. extra-firm tofu, cubed
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or minced
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • Salt & black pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Coat a large baking dish with cooking spray or oil and set aside.
  2. Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Transfer the ingredients to the baking dish, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 45 minutes.
  4. Remove foil, stir, and bake, uncovered, for another 15 minutes.
  5. Serve alone or alongside steamed brown rice. Enjoy!
Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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