OUR guests for dinner were gazing sadly at each other with the look that implies, ``Dear, we will have our meat and potatoes tomorrow. Let's be brave and survive this tofu dish today.'' But they were soon pleasantly surprised. My husband and I are getting used to such reactions as we try to dispel myths and jokes about this wholesome food with recipes adapted to the American palate. When first encountered at the local supermarket, the cream-colored, bland-tasting, custardlike food in a plastic container, vacuumed packed in water, might leave the grocery shopper wondering why anyone would ever buy it. But statistics show a gradual acceptance.
According to Peter Golbitz, editor of Soya Newsletter for Soyatech Inc., sales grew 20 to 30 percent per year in the late '70s and early '80s. The sales rate has since maintained a steady 5 to 10 percent growth per year, probably due to over 200 new retail soy-based products that came out in 1987.
The mild-mannered appearance of tofu, a soy bean curd, may have put off a few customers, but with a little preparation its versatility, food value, and low cost shouldn't be overlooked.
It can be substituted for meat in many dishes, and it's super at soaking up the flavor of sauces and spices. Mixes are available to quickly create the tofu equivalent of hamburgers, scrambled eggs, and noodle or rice dishes. If a really fast meal is desired, just plop some diced pieces into soup, and then heat and serve.
A point to remember is that tofu sits in water that needs changing every day after a package has been opened. This keeps it fresh. If one day is missed, that's OK, but once there is a sour smell and slimy feel, it has spoiled and should be tossed out. Unopened packages have a reliable freshness date stamped on them as long as they're kept refrigerated.
Also, to extract liquid from the bean curd for a firmer texture, frying in a little oil or butter is my chosen route. It can also be patted with paper towels or pressed to get rid of excess moisture.
Pressing is the most time-consuming method. I've done it - once. The tofu, cut into four equal slices, is placed on a dishcloth covering a cutting board. This is tilted at a slant by putting a little something under one side of the board. Another dishcloth is placed on top. Then an additional board is put on top of that, and a weight (such as a heavy book) up to five pounds presiding over all. Leave 20 minutes to a hour, depending on desired firmness.
Here are some of my favorite tofu recipes: Zucchini Tofu Lasagna 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes 1 103/4-ounce can tomato soup 1 29-ounce can tomato pur'ee 1 12-ounce can tomato paste 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon oregano 1 teaspoon basil 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1 bay leaf 2 tablespoons butter 1 yellow onion, diced 2 cups zucchini, diced 1 garlic clove, minced 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped 2 4-ounce cans mushrooms 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 16-ounce packages firm tofu 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, optional 1 egg 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese 4 cups grated mozzarella cheese 12 lasagna noodles
In a bowl, chop canned tomatoes into bite-size pieces and pour them with the can's juice into 4-quart saucepan. Stir in soup, pur'ee, and paste; then salt, oregano, basil, pepper, and bay leaf. Heat slowly.
In large frying pan melt butter and cook garlic, onion, and zucchini 3 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Add to sauce; then add parsley and mushrooms.
Mash tofu and mix with Worcestershire, egg, and Parmesan cheese in medium-sized bowl. With olive oil in frying pan, cook tofu mixture over medium heat, about 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Drain off excess liquid.
Prepare lasagna noodles by package instructions. Grease bottom of 13-by-19-inch rectangular pan and place 4 noodles, slightly overlapping. Scatter evenly half of tofu mixture over noodles. Cover with layer of sauce. Sprinkle on 1/3 of cheese.
Repeat layer of noodles, tofu, sauce, and cheese. Remove bay leaf from sauce. Finish with noodle layer, small amount of sauce, and sprinkling of mozzarella.
Bake 20 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees F.
Simmer; cover remaining sauce while lasagna is baking.
Serves 8, topped with extra sauce. Sweet and Sour Tofu 1 pound firm tofu 4 tablespoons butter 1 yellow onion, peeled, chopped 1 carrot, thinly sliced 1 stalk celery, 1/4-inch slices 1 bell pepper, sliced 1 20-ounce can of pineapple chunks (reserve liquid) 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 cup pineapple juice from can of chunks 1/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup cider vinegar 1/2 cup water 1 teaspoon soy sauce 1/4 cup ketchup 2 cups cooked rice
Cut tofu into 4 equal parts. Fry in 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat until lightly golden on all sides. Drain off excess water.
Cut pieces in half again, then in half diagonally to form triangles. Set aside.
With remaining butter, cook onion, carrot, and celery over medium heat, stirring until onion is soft. Add bell pepper and pineapple, and simmer covered.
In saucepan, combine cornstarch and pineapple juice; blend until smooth. Add sugar, vinegar, water, and soy sauce.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Add ketchup. Cook until heated.
Add tofu to vegetables. Heat over low for a minute or two. Pour on sauce. Serves 4 over rice. Spinach Tofu Casserole 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach 1/3 cup lightly salted boiling water 1/2 cup diced onion 1 16-ounce package soft tofu, drained 1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder 1/4 cup melted butter 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
Combine spinach and onion with boiling water in saucepan over medium heat. Separate spinach with fork until completely thawed. Stir in soft tofu until lumps are bite-size.
Add flour, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Stir until thoroughly blended and tofu is now now pea-size.
Pour into ungreased 9-by-9-inch pan. Combine bread crumbs and melted butter, and spread evenly on tofu mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees F. 30 to 40 minutes until crumbs are crisp.