Even tofu's most ardent opponents now sing its praises. What's behind the new attitude? They've discovered more than tofu's healthful attributes -- they've learned tricks for making it tasty, too.
Tofu is basically a soy milk cheese. Dried soybeans are soaked in water, ground into a thick puree, and cooked. This mixture is then separated into okara (soy pulp) and soy milk. Calcium sulfate is added to the soy milk as a natural coagulant. Once the milk has curdled, the curds are separated from the whey -- much like cheese -- strained, and pressed into cubes. For silken varieties, the curds are poured directly into containers and allowed to set.
Offering more than just protein, tofu is also abundant in iron, zinc, and many B vitamins. Because calcium sulfate is used to make tofu, it is rich in calcium and an excellent source of this vital mineral for those who have difficulty digesting milk products. Although tofu contains none of the fiber found in soybeans, it also lacks the indigestible sugars that cause gas.
No matter how beneficial tofu is, though, it must taste good for your family to eat it. And it can, if you learn a few secrets for preparing it. As a cook, consider tofu a blank slate, a building block of flavor. By itself, tofu is bland, custardlike, smooth, and white. But it absorbs the flavors and colors of the ingredients it's prepared with and can transform itself into virtually anything. Intense spices and richly seasoned sauces and marinades bring out its best.
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