It may be time to try tofu


Although once only found in Asian food markets, this seemingly bland food can miraculously take on the flavor of its surrounding ingredients making it a highly versatile as well as highly nutritious part of a healthy diet. Tofu can now be found in your local supermarkets throughout the year.

Discovered over 2000 years ago by the Chinese, tofu is sometimes called “the cheese of Asia,” because of its physical resemblance to a block of farmer’s cheese. Tofu is made from soybeans that are soaked, mashed, cooked and filtered to produce soy milk. The milk is then curdled using a coagulant or jelling compound like magnesium chloride or calcium sulfate. The curds are pressed into blocks as the whey drains off.

Tofu is a highly nutritious, protein-rich food that is fortified with calcium and B vitamins. It is low in calories with a 4-ounce serving yielding only 86 calories.

Tofu is very perishable and should be refrigerated for no more than 1 week. It can be frozen up to 3 months, however, the texture will be changed, making it chewier.

Tofu can be sliced, diced, or mashed and used in a variety of dishes including stir fries, soups, casseroles, salads, sandwiches, salad dressings and sauces. While tofu itself has very little flavor or smell, it absorbs the flavors of the foods it is cooked with.

To prepare, drain water-packed tofu before using and press between paper towels to remove excess water. Put it in a bowl, cover and let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes. Firmer tofu works better for stir fries and grilling. Soft tofu works well in soup.

Sources: N.C. Department of Health and Human Services

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Food Lover’s Companion

Tofu Stuffed Pasta Shells

15 uncooked jumbo pasta shells

1 ½ cups firm silken tofu

3 tablespoons grated Romano cheese, divided

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1 can (14 ½ ounces) Italian diced tomatoes, drained

1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce

¼ cup dry red wine or vegetable broth

½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Cook pasta shells according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a blender, combine the tofu, 2 tablespoons Romano cheese and garlic. Cover and process until smooth. Add 1 tablespoon of water if mixture is too thick. Add spinach; process until blended. Drain shells. Stuff with tofu mixture.

In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, tomato sauce and wine or broth. Spread about ½ cup sauce in an 11×7-inch baking dish, coated with nonstick spray. Arrange shells over sauce. Top with remaining sauce.

Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Uncover. Sprinkle with mozzarella and remaining Romano cheese. Bake 10 minutes longer or until shells are heated through and cheese is melted.

Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached at sandra_cain@ncsu.edu or 910-862-4591.

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