Plant Based Eating Guide: All About Tofu

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Matar tofu

I have a lot of friends who ask me about how to start eating less processed, plant based meals at home. So I wanted to start a series of cooking guides in order to demystify the process. Plant based eating doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. I see a lot of people who maybe are not prepared and decide to take the plunge but end of being hungry or not get enough nutrients. Figuring out what to eat can be daunting – especially if you’re a busy person! You don’t have to shop at expensive grocery stores to go plant based. You also don’t have to go 100% plant based right away. Gradually swapping out animal products makes sense so that you don’t waste food or have to bring home 10 bags of groceries on one day! I wanted to start with tofu. Tofu is widely available these days. It’s made from soybean curd and used in quite a few Asian dishes. Tofu does not necessarily need to be cooked and can be eaten straight out of the package but is flavorless. It also comes in different forms: silken, firm, extra firm, high protein, sprouted, etc. The softer, silken kinds can be found in the Asian pantry aisle (not refrigerated) and are used for things like smoothies, quiches, sauces, and cheesecakes. Silken tofu can can be put in a blender because it doesn’t hold its shape. Firm tofu is great for crumbling. It can be used as a substitute for scrambled eggs. Extra firm tofu will hold its shape and is good for grilling, pan frying, stir frying, deep frying, and baking. High protein tofu is very dense and packs more grams of protein per serving (it is not typically stored in water so you won’t need to press it). Sprouted tofu is made with sprouted soybeans – one manufacturer states it is “easier to digest”. I haven’t noticed much difference between it and regular tofu. Because fresh tofu comes packaged in water, it is water laden. This can make cooking it tricky and may slow down the process. This is why fresh tofu should be “pressed” before using. By this, I mean allowing the water to seep out using a clean towel. Simply wrap the tofu in a clean kitchen towel and allow it to sit in a colander to drain. Some people will place a heavy object over it to squeeze more water out. You only need to press tofu for about 10 minutes. After pressing it, you can slice firm/extra firm tofu into “steaks”, cube it, or crumble it before cooking. Deep fried tofu is delicious but it’s, of cours,e much higher in fat. I don’t deep fry anything so if you’d like to use this method, I would recommend a high heat friendly oil such as peanut oil or canola oil. You can achieve the same crispiness of deep frying by cutting your tofu into 1″ cubes, brushing it or spraying it with oil, and baking it on a baking sheet at 425F for about 30 minutes. Make sure to flip it halfway through baking. You can also crumble tofu with a fork or with your hands to make a breakfast scramble. Crumbled tofu can be pan fried in some oil for a high protein breakfast. Tofu “steaks” can be marinated and grilled. Just cut the tofu in half lengthwise and marinate it for a few hours prior to grilling. Stir frying tofu in a pan takes a lot of time. The tofu will eventually brown and become crispy but you’ll have to use a lot of oil. Using a wok makes this a little quicker since the wok will be much hotter than a regular saute pan. My favorite brand of tofu is by Phoenix Bean (aka Jenny’s tofu). This Chicago based company makes high quality, non-gmo tofu that has a distinct taste vs. other brands of tofu. You can also buy marinated, baked tofu that is ready to eat at places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Chipotle has a delicious meat alternative protein called “sofritas” that is made with tofu. I think it’s important make sure your tofu is non-gmo and organic. It’s also important to note that soy products such as tofu contain weak, plant based estrogens known as phytoestrogens. Studies on the health effects of phytoestrogens do not suggest that it is harmful to most people but this is controversial. How soy consumption affects an individual’s health depends on their personal health history, age, gender, how much soy is consumed, and what type of soy is consumed. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about adding tofu into your diet. Generally, very processed soy does not have the same health benefits as less processed soy such as tofu. Beware of meat substitute foods such as soy “chicken” tenders that are high in protein but very processed. I prefer to keep my consumption of these types of foods at a minimum because a plant based diet that is high in processed foods is much less healthy than a plant based diet that is minimally processed. I usually incorporate tofu into my diet several times a week. Tofu is high in protein, low in carbohydrates, and lower in fat and calories vs. meat protein. Tofu is a great source of iron and calcium. Tofu also contains a good amount of omega 3’s. Below are some of my favorite tofu recipes to get you started!

Matar Tofu

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This dish uses extra firm cubed tofu that is baked.

Tofu Chorizo Breakfast Tacos

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These tacos use crumbled firm tofu.

Quinoa Fried Rice with Tofu and Vegetables (with video)

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This recipe uses stir fried tofu cubes.

Spicy Peanut Soba Noodles with Crispy Tofu

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Soba Noodles with Tofu

Red Curry with Tofu and Vegetables

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Red Curry Tofu

Bourbon Spiked Vanilla Pudding (vegan)

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Vanilla Pudding Made with silken tofu.

Potato and Kale Tart (vegan, gluten free)

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Potato and Kale Tart Made with silken tofu

 

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Matar Tofu

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The holidays are over and winter is here to stay for the next few months. January is not an exciting time for produce in Chicago. I tend to make things from pantry ingredients more: soup, curry, casseroles. I also roast a lot of vegetables this time of year. Indian food is great for a quick weeknight dinner on cold nights. It’s spicy, tasty, filling, and easy to make. Matar paneer is a classic North Indian, tomato based curry made with peas and paneer – homemade dairy cheese. I grew up loving this dish but found that tofu is the perfect vegan substitute for the homemade paneer cheese. The tofu adds a lot of protein to this healthy meal. I use organic frozen peas which are delicious and don’t even need to be thawed out prior to making this dish. This is a simple recipe that really requires only one pot. Jasmine rice or Naan bread are the perfect accompaniment for this dish. I’ve recently discovered Trader Joe’s frozen Naan bread which is delicious and very authentic tasting. If you like really firm tofu, I recommend using high protein tofu or baking cubed, extra firm tofu in the oven at 420F for about 20 minutes on a baking sheet. You can toss it in canola oil or coconut oil and about a 1/4 tsp of salt before baking. This dish tends to get more flavorful with time. I like to make it one day prior to serving so that the spices can get absorbed by the tofu and settle into the sauce. It also makes an excellent, high protein desk lunch! If you make Matar Tofu make sure to take a picture and tag @thefriendlyepicurean on Facebook and Instagram or pin the recipe on Pinterest!

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Matar Tofu

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 16 oz extra firm tofu, drained of excess moisture and cubed into 1 inch pieces
  • 1, 16oz bag frozen peas
  • 1, 28oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 green chili pepper, minced
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbs fresh chopped cilantro
  • 1.5 tbs canola oil
  • Jasmine rice or Naan bread to serve

Directions

Heat oil on medium heat in a large sauce pan. Add onions and cook for about 7 to 8 minutes or until golden brown. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, and turmeric and cook for about 3-4 minutes or until garlic is fragrant. Add ginger and chili pepper and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes and reduce heat. Let simmer for about 5 minutes. Add green peas, tofu, garam masala, and salt and simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir in coconut cream and simmer for 5 more minutes. Top with fresh cilantro and serve while hot. Serve with Jasmine rice or Naan bread. May store in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.

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Penne with Roasted Butternut Squash, Sage, and Ricotta

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Butternut squash with sage is one of my favorite vegetable and herb combinations. I love butternut squash soup with sage and wanted to capture that flavor in a hearty pasta dish. Fresh sage has an unforgettable scent, unique flavor, and velvety texture. This is an easy, crowd pleasing recipe that will warm you up on a cold winter day. The vegan ricotta makes it extra creamy and rich and the pine nuts add flavor and crunch. Roasted butternut squash is soft and will stick to your pasta a little to add some additional texture. The lemon juice adds bright acidity that ties this dish together. This pasta is fragrant and colorful with the orange squash and green sage. It’s also hearty and very flavorful. It’s kid friendly as well. The key to making delicious pasta is not overcooking it. Typically around 8-10 minutes is perfect for al dente pasta. Removing it from the heat immediately after cooking helps to keep it from cooking any further. The pasta water contains starch from the pasta and will provide a smooth, silky texture to the pasta if you add a little of it after cooking. I usually save about 2-4 tbs of the pasta water to add in while I am adding the sauce or vegetables. You can salt your pasta water to make your pasta more salty from the inside out or wait until the end to season the entire dish.  This pasta would go beautifully with a kale salad or sauteed spinach. It also pairs well with white wine such as Viognier or Chardonnay. This is festive, easy, vegan recipe is great for the holidays! If you make it, make sure to take a picture and tag @thefriendlyepicurean on Instagram and Facebook or pin the recipe on Pinterest. Happy holidays!

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Penne with Roasted Butternut Squash, Sage, and Ricotta

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 4 cups uncooked penne pasta
  • 2 lbs cubed butternut squash (about 1/2 inch cubes)
  • 1/2 cup vegan ricotta cheese (such as Kite Hill brand)
  • 1 cup sage, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 2 tbs olive oil, divided
  • olive oil spray
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 420F. Spray two baking sheets with olive oil spray. Toss butternut squash with 1 tbs olive and spread in a single layer on baking sheets. Roast for about 30 minutes, flipping squash with a spatula halfway through cooking time. Squash should be fork tender but not browned. Cook penne in a large pot of boiling water for about 8 minutes. Save about 2 tbs of the pasta water. Drain pasta immediately and set aside. Next, heat 1 tbs olive oil on medium heat in a medium-large Dutch oven or saucepan. Add garlic and cook for about 3-4 minutes. Add chopped sage and saute for another 3-4 minutes. Add pine nuts and the roasted butternut squash and turn heat off. Add cooked pasta, 2 tbs pasta water, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and vegan ricotta cheese and stir to combine well. Add more salt and pepper to taste, if desired. May store in the fridge for up to 5 days.

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Vegan Broccoli and “Cheese” Soup

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What could be cozier on a cold fall or winter day than a bowl of hot broccoli and cheese soup? I love broccoli and cheese soup so naturally, I had to come up with a plant based version to make at home. You can put on your favorite sweater, PJs, and socks and enjoy it all winter long! I’ve been teaching a wellness class for the medical students this year and we’ve been talking a lot about how to manage stress and something called “Hygge”. Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) is the Danish term for cozy and warm moments. Making a comfortable, special, cozy nest to feel supported and decrease stress is a well known part of Danish culture. Creating Hygge time for yourself is a great way to manage your own stress and anxiety. It’s all about self love. Comfort food can really go along with this concept. Whether it’s chili, fries, mac and cheese, or broccoli and cheese soup – comfort food definitely can be stress reducing at times. Exercise, mindfulness, and meditation are also a big part of stress reduction for me.

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The nutritional yeast in this recipe is high in B vitamins that you can’t get elsewhere on a vegan diet. It also adds the cheesy flavor and protein to this dish. Broccoli is high in fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Both of these main ingredients make this soup nutritious, filling, and really delicious. Garlic bread, a baked potato, or salad all go really well with it. You will need either a food processor or a blender to make the cheese sauce and to puree the soup. The cheese sauce can also be made ahead to save on time. Make sure you take a picture and tag @thefriendlyepicurean on Instagram or Facebook if you make this recipe or Pin it on Pinterest! Hope you get some Hygge moments in this month!


Vegan Broccoli and Cheese Soup

  • Servings: about 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 5 cups broccoli florets (1, 12oz bag)
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 medium sized carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of paprika
  • pinch of crushed red pepper
  • croutons (optional, for garnish)
  • For the cheese sauce:
  • 1 medium sized carrot, peeled
  • 1 medium sized potato, peeled
  • 1/2 tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbs nutritional yeast
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups almond milk
  • 2 tbs almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Directions

First make the cheese sauce: Boil potato and carrot in a small saucepan until they are soft all the way through. Drain water and set aside. In a small saute pan, saute shallot in in olive oil for about 3 to 4 minutes on medium heat. Next, add garlic and saute for about 2 more minutes. Add almond flour, almond milk, nutritional yeast, and salt and whisk until smooth. Heat mixture until just boiling. Remove from heat and carefully transfer to a food processor or blender along with boiled carrot and potato. Blend mixture until smooth. Makes about 2 cups of cheese sauce. Next, heat onion on medium heat in a medium sized Dutch oven or saucepan until translucent – about 5-6 minutes. Next heat garlic and carrots for about 3-4 minutes. Add broccoli and saute for about 4 minutes. Add broth and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes on low heat until broccoli is soft all the way through. You can remove 1/2 a cup of small broccoli florets to add back in after pureeing, if desired. Add black pepper, paprika, nutmeg, and crushed red pepper. Add cheese sauce and lemon juice and stir. Let simmer for another 5 minutes. Puree in pot with an immersion blender or transfer carefully to a blender and puree in 2 batches. Puree for only about 1-2 minutes for a chunky texture or longer for a smooth and creamy texture. Top with croutons and reserved broccoli florets and serve while hot. Makes approximately 5 cups.

Nutrition Information:

  • Approximate Calories per 1 Cup: 135 cal

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Three Bean Vegan Chili

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It’s been a while since I’ve made classic chili. This one really hits the spot! It’s got a variety of beans and bold, spicy flavor. It’s really quick to make and will please a crowd. This cozy dish is great for a weeknight dinner or even for a tail gate or game night. Most of the ingredients are probably already in your pantry. The cilantro and lime make it taste really fresh and bright. Chili is just really satisfying when it’s cold outside. This one goes really well with cornbread or tortilla strips. It’s also fantastic on its own or served on top of fries or a vegan hot dog.

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This is a great recipe to make if you’re looking for a way to get some extra plant based protein. The three different varieties of beans are also a great source of fiber. I like adding vegan beef crumbles for the texture but you can leave them out if you’re not a fan or substitute with a cup of cooked quinoa instead. This chili is super delicious with my cheesy vegan nachos recipe. Just pour the chili on top for a scrumptious appetizer. This spicy, rich chili really warmed me up. If you make it, make sure you take a picture and tag @thefriendlyepicurean on Instagram or Facebook or Pin the recipe on Pinterest.

Three Bean Vegan Chili

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1, 15 oz can of black beans
  • 1, 15 oz can of pinto beans
  • 1, 15 oz can of kidney beans
  • 2, 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes (such as Muir Glen brand)
  • 2 Tofurkey sausages, crumbled (or 1, 10 oz. package of vegan beef crumble such as Beyond Meat brand)
  • 1.5 tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (or substitute 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes)
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (or 2 cups water)
  • 2 tbs chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt plus more to taste
  • lime wedges, for serving (optional)
  • 3 tbs chopped fresh cilantro, for serving (optional)
  • 1, 12 oz. package of vegan sour cream, for serving (optional)

Directions

Heat olive oil in a medium-large Dutch oven or large sauce pan on medium heat. Add onions and saute for about 5-6 minutes or until translucent. Add garlic and cumin and saute for another 3-4 minutes. Add red bell pepper, jalapeno, and vegan crumbles and cook for about 5 minutes or until vegan beef crumbles are heated through. Next, add diced tomatoes, chili powder, paprika, and salt and cook for about 4 minutes. Add the beans and cook for another 4-5 minutes. Finally, add vegetable broth and simmer for about 20 minutes. Some the liquid will be absorbed and chili will thicken. Season with more salt to taste, if desired. Serve with lime wedges, chopped cilantro, and vegan sour cream. May store in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Nutrition Information:

  • Approximate calories per 1/6 of chili recipe: 336 cal
  • Approximate protein per 1/6 of chili recipe: 22 grams

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Spicy Peanut Soba Noodles with Crispy Tofu

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Restaurant quality Asian food isn’t always easy to reproduce at home. I much prefer take out for certain things like (vegan) sushi rolls, dumplings, and spring rolls because they never turn out the same when I try to make them. Sometimes I crave spicy Asian food but don’t want to order in because of how unhealthy restaurant food can be. Making certain Asian food at home doesn’t have to be complicated; there are some advantages such as being able to control the amount of fat and the quality of the ingredients you put in. You can prepare this peanut sauce ahead of time and keep it in the fridge for over a week. It can also be used as a dipping sauce for tofu or spring rolls. The combination of peanut sauce, jalapeno, and lime is just so delicious and crave-worthy! Soba noodles are soft and have a slightly different taste vs. spaghetti or vermicelli. They contain buckwheat which gives them an interesting flavor. They cook in just 4 minutes. You can get soba noodles at most groceries stores now – they’re not hard to find, but you can always substitute any other noodles as well. If you’re gluten free, gluten free rice noodles would be great in this recipe. Be careful not to overcook your noodles as they will stick together and break.

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Flavorful raw ingredients come together to make this spicy, delicious dish!

Noodles are a great comfort food when it’s cold out. This recipe in particular is well balanced with plenty of protein, color, spice, and freshness. The leftovers make a great desk lunch the next day too! I prefer to bake my tofu to get it nice and crispy with brown edges. This is a much easier and healthier way to cook tofu and uses much less oil vs. pan frying. Tofu takes a long time to brown on the stove top unless you are deep frying it. Feel free to add more vegetables to this recipe – broccoli florets, carrots, or even bok choy would be delicious additions. I used fresh, grated ginger because it’s more fragrant and spicy than ground ginger but you can always substitute with ground ginger if needed. I definitely recommend freshly squeezed lime juice for this one – it adds so much tangy flavor and balances out the spice with acid. I used Mirin or slightly sweet Japanese rice wine to make the peanut sauce but you can add an extra tablespoon of agave syrup if you don’t have Mirin. If you make these spicy noodles let me know by posting a picture and tagging @thefriendlyepicurean on Instagram or Facebook or Pin the recipe on Pinterest! img_7321

Spicy Peanut Soba Noodles with Crispy Tofu

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

  • 1, 14oz package of extra firm tofu
  • 6 oz soba noodles
  • 2 tbs chopped green onions + 1 tbs for garnish
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • olive oil spray
  • 1/4 cup crushed peanuts (for garnish)
  • For the peanut sauce:
  • juice of one lime
  • 1/4 cup creamy natural peanut butter
  • 2 tbs soy sauce (or tamari)
  • 2 tbs Mirin (rice wine)
  • 1 tbs sesame oil
  • 1 tbs rice vinegar
  • 1 tbs agave syrup
  • 2 tbs water

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease a baking sheet with olive oil spray and set aside. Wrap tofu in a clean dish towel for 10 minutes until excess water is absorbed. Cut tofu into 1″ cubes and place on baking sheet. Spray with olive oil spray and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes – flip tofu halfway through baking time. Boil water for the soba noodles in a medium sized pot. Cook soba noodles in boiling water for 4 minutes. Drain noodles and rinse with cold water. Set noodles aside. Next, prepare the peanut sauce. Whisk together lime juice, peanut butter, soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, rice vinegar, agave syrup, and water until well combined. Heat olive oil in a high walled saute pan on medium heat. Add garlic, jalapeno, and ginger and saute for about 3 to 4 minutes. Next, saute red pepper for about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and add cooked soba noodles and baked tofu. Stir in peanut sauce, making sure all the noodles are coated with sauce. Top with crushed peanuts and green onion and serve while hot. May store in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Nutrition Information:

  • Approximate calories per 1/4 of noodles: 496 cal

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