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Don’t Poo-Poo That Versatile Tofu

Laura Carnie The Spokesman-Revie

Dear Laura: I would like to start cooking with tofu but have no ideas how it is used. I can’t find any help in my cookbook. Could you offer some ideas? Thank you. - Ann, Spokane

Dear Ann: Bean curd, more commonly referred to by its Japanese name, tofu, is a soybean product similar to a soft cheese. Its bland flavor and smooth texture adapt well to a variety of seasonings and cooking techniques.

Tofu is available in the produce section of many supermarkets, packed in water or vacuum-packed, in soft, firm and extra-firm varieties. Some are reduced-fat, although all tofu is low in saturated fat.

Choose softer tofu for soups, sauces and simmered dishes. The extra-firm variety, sometimes called Chinese-style tofu, is a better choice for frying, braising and grilling. (Vacuum-packed “silken” tofu can even be used as a dairy substitute in desserts; look in health food stores for the flavored pudding and pie filling mixes made by Mori-Nu.)

Fresh tofu is perishable and should be used within two or three days. Cover any unused fresh tofu with water and refrigerate in a covered plastic container; change water daily. When ready to use, rinse briefly under cold running water and pat dry. Cube, dice, mash or slice as needed.

These three recipes provide a sampling of tofu’s versatility:

Fried Tofu

Adapted from California Culinary Academy’s “Cooking A to Z.” The first step, pressing the tofu, may not be needed if the tofu is firm enough; do drain it thoroughly. Softer, Japanese-style tofu will have to be pressed.

7 ounces firm Chinese-style tofu

Oil for deep-frying

Drain tofu well. Wrap in a clean kitchen towel or several thicknesses of paper towel, place on a plate set in a sheet pan, and set another plate on top. Place a 1-pound weight (a 16-ounce can will do) on top plate. Let stand 30 minutes, then unwrap and drain. Tofu will exude a lot of liquid. If pressed ahead of time, wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Slice pressed tofu into squares, triangles or other shapes about 1/2 inch thick. In a wok, or other deep pan, heat oil to 350 degrees. Fry tofu pieces a few at a time, until puffy and golden brown (6 to 8 minutes). Serve with dipping sauce as a hot appetizer or use as a meat substitute in stir-fry and other combination dishes.

Yield: 4 to 6 appetizer servings.

Tofu Lasagna

1 envelope (about 1-1/2 ounces) spaghetti sauce mix

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1-3/4 cups water

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

1 pound soft tofu, mashed

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon parsley flakes

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces lasagna noodles, cooked

1/2 pound shredded mozzarella cheese (2 cups)

Prepare spaghetti sauce following package directions using tomato paste, water and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.

Meanwhile, lightly brown mushrooms with remaining 2 tablespoons oil in skillet over medium-high heat; set aside. Combine tofu, Parmesan cheese, parsley flakes, garlic and salt.

Spoon thin layer of spaghetti sauce into bottom of a shallow 8- by 12-inch baking dish. On top of this, layer 1/3 of the lasagna noodles, 1/2 of the tofu mixture, 1/2 of the mushrooms, 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese and 1/3 of the remaining sauce. Repeat. Top with remaining noodles, followed by remaining sauce sprinkled with mozzarella cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until bubbling hot. If preferred, microwave on High for 5 minutes; reduce setting to Medium and microwave 10 to 20 minutes, until lasagna is bubbling hot. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.

Yield: 8 servings.

Veggie-Tofu Stir-Fry

3/4 to 1 pound tofu (Chinese-style)

1-1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons soy sauce

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 cups thinly sliced broccoli

1 cup green pepper, cut in strips

1 (6-ounce) package frozen Chinese pea pods, thawed

1 cup thinly sliced carrots

1 cup thinly sliced onion

1 to 2 cloves garlic, sliced

1/2 cup bean sprouts

1 envelope (about 3/4 ounce) mushroom gravy mix

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Cut tofu into 1/2-inch slices; gently squeeze between paper towels to remove excess moisture. Cut in cubes. Combine 1/2 cup water and soy sauce; marinate tofu in this mixture for at least 1 hour. Drain; save marinade.

Stir-fry tofu with 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet or wok over medium-low heat until lightly browned; remove from skillet. Add remaining oil to skillet and heat over high heat. Add broccoli, green pepper, pea pods, carrots, onion and garlic; stir-fry 4 to 5 minutes. Add bean sprouts and tofu.

Combine gravy mix, remaining 1 cup water, reserved marinade and ginger; add to skillet. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until liquid thickens and vegetables are tender-crisp.

Yield: 6 servings.

Dear Laura: I am looking for a recipe for old fashioned molasses cake. Thank you. - Joe, Electric City, Wash.

Dear Joe: This is one of several molasses cake recipes in my collection. Hope it meets your expectations.

Molasses Cake

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg cup molasses

1/2 cup water

1-1/2 cups sifted flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon instant coffee

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- by 13- by 2-inch baking pan; set aside.

Cream shortening and sugar together until light. Add egg; beat well. Mix in molasses and water.

Combine all remaining ingredients stir or sift to blend. Stir into creamed mixture until well blended. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until cake tests done.

If desired, top with vanilla, brown sugar or coconut and walnut frosting while still warm.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Laura Carnie The Spokesman-Review

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