Tofu, also known by the term ‘bean curd’, is a soy-like substance created from fried soy beans. The soy bean is one of the sole vegetables which can boast being completely full of protein; this gives it the title of ‘boneless meat’. Because it contains many essential nutrients, some of these being vitamins A,B,D,E, omega-3 oilds, amino acids, calcium, phosphorus, iron and potassium, it is highly recommended by health experts. Also, due to the fact that tofu contains no traces of unhealthy fats, it is very good for weight loss.
In ancient times, monks and priests who were vegetarian ate tofu regularly. Because it could be cooked in a variety of ways and was very affordable, the commoners also began to use tofu in their cooking, often in the place of meat. Today, it is still is very popular use, especially by vegetarians, because it opens up a whole new array of possibilities in the kitchen.
Tofu comes in many different forms. Whatever the way, it is still created from the same basic ingredient – soy bean. When these beans are soaked, pureed and boiled with water, they give off a milk-like liquid from which tofu can be made. Below are some of the varieties of tofu you can find:
Soft Tofu/ Soft Bean Curd
This form of tofu, as indicated by its name, is soft and smooth. Known as the ‘silken tofu’, which is the ‘kinugoshi tofu’ in Japanese, this tofu is created by pouring the coagulated milky liquid from the soy bean through a strainer. It is settled without pressing, which leaves it in a mushy state.
It is stored in squares floating on water; this is to keep it moist and soft. The Chinese use it in a dish known as ‘spicy mapo tofu’, or in a wide variety of healthy soups. It is also steamed and eaten plain next to another item, or is ‘pre-fried’ with a browner skin than just regular soft tofu.
This form of tofu, known in Chinese as “dougan”, has a tougher consistency and does not fall apart as easily as soft tofu. Because it can retain its shape, it has become a food for seasoning, and many spices are sometimes added when it is still in a single block.
This tofu is made by placing the soy curds inside a wooden tub lined with cloth, and pressed heavily until they are condensed into square shapes which are easier to pack and distribute.
Firm tofu is used in many dishes in Chinese cuisine. One of the most popular ways to cook it is by stir-frying. They are fried to a golden brown and become crunchy on the outside. These make great toppings for salads because they are tasty and crunchy. Firm tofu is often found in a braised form, where it is marinated in spices and soy sauce and cooked.
Fried Beancurd Puffs
These deep-fried forms of tofu, known in Chinese as “dou bu”, are crunchy and golden on the outside, but still retain a bouncy, white consistency on the inside. When you bite into a beancurd puff, it will be chewy but flavorful.
Fried beancurd puffs are a common ingredient in “bak kut teh”, a type of healthy Chinese soup – this is because they absorb the soup and become extremely flavorful. Because of their air-filled nature, they can also contain fillings such as meat or fish paste – this stuffed beancurd puffs are known as “niang-dou fu”.
Dried Beancurd Sheets, Skin and Sticks
Tofu sheets are created from the skin of the hot soybean milk; after the milk is boiled, the heat is turned off and the fluid is left to stand until the skin forms. When it is solid enough to pick up, it is removed and made into beancurd skin. By itself, this skin possesses a flavor that is creamy and nutty, but is rather tasteless.
Sheets of tofu can be used for many things. One of the most popular is called “fuzhu” in Chinese, and is commonly found in sweet soup appetizers. This sheet is soft and fluid. “Doufu pi”, on the other hand, is harder because it comes already fried. It is also larger, and so it is used to wrap vegetables, meat and seafood. These make delicious savory items such as the famous ‘Hokkien Prawn Roll”.
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