Tofu and Tempeh and Beans, Oh My!

For 2014, many of us have taken heed the advice of physicians, celebs and athletes from all over the world to shift our plates to plants. There are many benefits to a plant-based diet. Eating less meat and more veggies is not only a prescription for good health, loading your plate with kale and lentils can help you recover faster between work-outs and put you in smaller-sized jeans. As a chef and certified Food for Life Cooking and Nutrition Instructor, I teach people how to make this change. The first questions from many of my students are: Where's the Beef? Where will we get our protein? What do I put on the plate in place of chicken or fish?? Well the obvious (to me) choices for animal protein replacements are much lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than their meaty contenders, but fill the gap quite nicely, although they seem to be mysterious and difficult to understand to the average newcomer. SO, in an attempt to demystify and make sense of these versatile and nutritious foods...Here we go; plant-based protein 101!
Lets Talk Tofu: (Toe-Foo) Tofu originated in China about 2,000 years ago and has been a staple of Asian cuisine for centuries. There are two types of tofu; Soft/Silken and Regular/Firm. Each type comes in a variety of textures and can be made from raw, sprouted or organic (which also means non-GMO) soybeans. Long story short, the beans are mashed with water, strained into a milky liquid and mixed with a coagulant to form curds, then shaped, usually into a block form. In the Midcoast we are fortunate to have a delicious, locally made tofu. Heiwa Tofu is made from 100 percent Organic (and MOFGA) soybeans and the resulting curds are Miss Muffet worthy!
Tofu gets an undeserved bad rap. Why you ask? Well, it could be the way it looks, sort of bland and pasty, but those qualities are actually the real beauty of tofu. It's the chameleon of the vegetarian world and is as easily at-home in a smooth and creamy chocolate mousse of a dessert as it is on the barbecue or in stuffed shells in place of ricotta. Tofu co-exists comfortably in many variations and takes on the flavors of its surroundings. Tofu can easily be Italian in lasagna, from the south when grilled with barbecue sauce and served alongside black-eyed peas and collard greens, or yummie as an eggless salad or breakfast scramble.
Why Eat It? Nutritionally speaking, tofu is low in fat, cholesterol free and protein rich. It contains isoflavones and other phytochemicals that studies have proven to be beneficial. It is inexpensive and available pretty much anywhere. One half-cup serving contains about 10 grams of protein.
CAUTION: watch out for tofu made from genetically modified soybeans. Tofu is not to be confused with Soy Protein Isolate, the ingredient found in many fake meats. Tofu made from sprouted, organic or at least non-GMO beans would be the best choice. If you are taking certain medications, or you have had an estrogen-receptive breast cancer, you might be best to keep your consumption of soy products to no more than two servings per day. Soybeans and their products contain phyto-estrogens, which mimic estrogen and research is still underway on this effect. Thus far, these plant chemicals have been shown to be both protective and not.
IMPORTANT TIP: Be sure to press and drain all of the liquid from the tofu block before using (unless for some reason the recipe calls for otherwise). You can do this with kitchen towels and a cast iron pan or a fancy gadget known as a tofu press. Keep in mind, some of the healthiest populations on the planet consume soybeans in the form of tofu, soy milk, tempeh, natto and just the beans. In fact, some of the healthiest populations on the planet consume beans and legumes of many types, not just soybeans.
Want to read the rest of this post? Go to Pen Bay Pilot article HERE!

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