Tofu

I find it odd that in our modern, multicultural world, tofu still gets shit on by general society. I blame insecure straight men, frankly. Grown-up frat boys who can only measure their worth by the size and girth of their meat. But tofu is good stuff, and I say this as a committed omnivore who keeps half a pig in his friend's upright* freezer.

I'm not going to do what a lot of people do in this situation, and discuss tofu's history, its subtle flavor, or its versatility. No, I'm going to go to the root of tofu's derision. As a meat substitute. You know what? We could use a few more meat substitutes in this world.

Because as much as I love meat, I also know that in this country, we eat a lot of meat that we can't even fucking TASTE. And if I could provide you, in this space, with a single mantra that would lead to healthier eating, more environmentally aware eating, and overall happier eating, it's this. Don't eat it if you can't taste it. When I go to Chipotle, I don't get sour cream on my burrito. I like sour cream. Sour cream is good. But with everything else going on in there, I cannot taste the sour cream. So I don't eat it.

Again, we eat a lot of meat we can't taste, and we eat a lot of meat in foods where, even if we can taste the meat, the taste of the meat isn't relevant. I mean, go to Subway some time and order three subs. One with turkey, one with chicken, and one with nothing. Then pile pepper jack cheese, vegetables, dressing, and one of their sauces on it. Those three sandwiches won't taste exactly the same, but they'll taste within, oh, a good five percent of each other.

Same with tofu. Tofu has a mild flavor that mainly carries the spices and sauces you cook it with. Just like the chicken in your chicken fried rice, or the steak in your steak soft taco supreme, or the fish in a fish stick. So why can't that protein be tofu? It's just an issue of texture, and you can make tofu into a lot of different textures. And if you can't get the texture you want, you could always get over it and eat the tofu anyway.

Obviously, the key here is using tofu as a substitute for generic meat. That's one of the reasons it's useful in Asian dishes - in a lot of your basic stir-fry preparations, the flavor of the meat, or the specific flavor of the meat, is a secondary or tertiary component of the flavor profile. There's sauce, there's spice, there's vegetables, there's rice or noodles, t here's all kinds of stuff going on that doesn't rely on chicken flavor or beef flavor or pork flavor the way roast chicken, a good burger, or bacon does. Get the texture the way you like it, get over your preconceptions, and you can start saving some money, saving some colon, and saving some planet.

Generally, when I buy tofu, I buy firm, extra firm, or baked. The softer textures have their uses, but not in the kinds of dishes I tend to make. Baked tofu is the most accessible to tofu-haters, as it's very firm, and usually infused with flavor already. But it's also the most expensive, and the most difficult to impose your own flavors on.

* Apparently.

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Tofu haters

I have a theory that many of the people who say they hate tofu have just never had it prepared properly.  I knew one guy who said he tried it and hated it, and then I found out that he'd been served it plain and uncooked.  I pressed some tofu, marinated it in olive oil and soy sauce, then stir-fried it in a grill wok along with some vegetables and chopped onions.  He loved it.
The rest of the people who say they hate tofu have never actually eaten it, they've only heard the jokes about it.
 

Tofu haters

Or even worse, they've heard the jokes and read that urban legend email that right-wingers sent around saying tofu causes your testosterone level to drop, making meat-eating he-men into panty-waists. What a joke.
 

Meat you can't taste! Excellent!

"we eat a lot of meat that we can't even fucking TASTE"
This might be the single most important sentence in food writing this century...

Meat Analogues

Amen.
 
We don't eat a lot of meat around here any more, and when we do, it's usually fish or chicken. However, I can't eat tofu for health reasons--unfermented soy does bad-ass things to my happy hormones. The meat analogues of importance around here are tempah (fermented soy), seitan, and quorn. It's the same dealio with those--they require additional prep to make delish. But then, so do a lot of meats.  Why people do not get this is beyone me.
 
Oh, that's right: there is a huge proportion of people who can't cook. And it gets worse all the time, despite the online evidence to the contrary.

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