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Are you a fan of soy protein? With so many variations, soy can be a delicious extra in many recipes or even the main focus for a nutrient-packed healthy meal.
Today, I’m writing about soy and sharing one of my favorite tofu recipes, because soybeans and soy foods provide high quality protein which are often overlooked in the grocery store.
Soybeans are not much of a dietary staple in the western world. But traditional soy foods, like tofu, miso and tempeh, have formed the basis of the diet in East Asia for centuries, where they’re valued not only for their versatility but also for the healthy nutrition they offer.
While all beans provide protein, soybeans top the list when it comes to protein quality. Proteins are made up of small building blocks called amino acids. Some amino acids are termed essential, which means that we have to get them from foods because our bodies can’t make them. A protein that contains all the essential amino acids is termed ‘complete’—and soy is one of the few complete proteins in the plant world.
Soybeans are low in saturated fat and, like all plant foods, are also naturally cholesterol-free. Soybeans also offer up calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and B-vitamins, along with omega-3 fats.
If you’re trying to work more plant protein into your diet, you might want to give soy a try. With so many soy products to choose from, it’s easier than ever. Here are some of the most popular forms of soy.
There are so many types of tofu that it can seem confusing. I’m afraid many westerners dismiss tofu but it can taste great, and with so many benefits it’s worth finding a few favorite types of tofu.
Silken tofu has the most moisture of all types of tofu. It has a soft, very smooth, custard-like texture and tends to fall apart easily. It also comes in different degrees of firmness, so don’t assume that all silken tofu is soft. Silken tofu is the best tofu for whipping up in the blender or food processor. Once it’s blended, silken tofu adds a smooth texture and nice protein boost to shakes, soups and sauce. Silken tofu can be turned into a healthy dessert when it’s blended with fruit, a dab of honey and a dash of cinnamon. Or you can blend it with garlic and herbs and use as a tasty dip for raw veggies.
Soft or medium tofu holds its shape a bit better than silken tofu, and it’s often mashed with a fork into a soft crumbly texture that makes a nice meat substitute in foods like pasta sauce. It’s also often used to make an ‘eggless’ egg salad by mashing with a bit of mustard and low-fat mayonnaise or with some avocado.
Firm or extra firm tofu has the meatiest texture of any tofu, which means it holds up to stir-frying, roasting or grilling. To make it even chewier and more ‘meat-like,’ some people slice it up and freeze it (which will change the color, but not affect the taste) before using in recipes.
Still not sure about soy and tofu? Try my recipe for roasted tofu. It’s great right out of the oven or with some stir-fried veggies, and it’s good cold, too. I like to put my roasted tofu spears on top of a salad for lunch, or have a few pieces with some cucumber slices for a quick snack.
– 1 package firm tofu (typically, 14 oz, 425 g)
For the marinade
– 3 tbsp light soy sauce
– 3 tbsp rice vinegar
– 1 tsp sugar or honey
– 1 tsp sesame oil
– dash ground ginger
– dash garlic powder
– dash white pepper
– Olive oil (to lightly grease the baking sheet)
– Whisk together the ingredients for the marinade in a shallow baking pan and set aside.
– Remove the tofu from the package and drain off all the water.
– Wrap the tofu block in a few paper towels or a regular clean kitchen towel, and gently press out any additional moisture.
– Cut the tofu into triangles, or ‘spears,’ and arrange in a single layer in the pan with the marinade, turning the pieces over to coat all sides.
– Cover with plastic wrap, and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. (I love this recipe because you can leave the tofu to marinate for up to 48 hours.)
When you’re ready to cook the tofu:
– Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C / Gas Mark 4
– Coat a large baking sheet with a bit of olive oil to prevent the tofu from sticking. (You can cover with pan spray instead, or line your baking sheet with parchment paper.)
– Arrange the tofu pieces in a single layer on the baking sheet, and pour any remaining marinade over the tofu pieces.
– Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, turning occasionally (and gently).
– The pieces should be firm and have a nice brown glaze.
– If you aren’t going to eat these delicious tofu spears right away, you can store in the refrigerator. This roasted tofu is delicious hot or cold.
Susan is the Sr. Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife, where she is responsible for the development of nutrition education and training materials, and is one of the primary authors of the Herbalife-sponsored blog, www.discovergoodnutrition.com. She is a Registered Dietitian and holds two Board Certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. Susan is also a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan graduated with distinction in biology from the University of Colorado, and received her master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She then completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kansas. Susan has taught extensively and developed educational programs targeted to individuals, groups and industry in her areas of expertise, including health promotion, weight management and sports nutrition.
Prior to her role at Herbalife, she was the assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, and has held appointments as adjunct professor in nutrition at Pepperdine University and as lecturer in nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Susan was a consultant to the (then) Los Angeles Raiders for six seasons, and was a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times Health Section for two years. She is a co-author of 23 research papers, 14 book chapters, and was a co-author of two books for the public: “What Color is Your Diet?” and “The L.A. Shape Diet” by Dr. David Heber, published by Harper Collins in 2001 and 2004, respectively.