Tofu is one of the foods you can include in your WIC food package. Not many of our clients use it, and some have never heard of it. Let's talk about what tofu is and how you can incorporate it into your diet.
First, what is tofu?
Tofu is made by processing soy milk into a curd. It is packaged in blocks and stored in water. Tofu is a great source of protein. In fact, it is considered a "complete protein", which means that it includes all of the essential amino acids your body needs. Not all protein sources are complete, so this makes tofu an excellent choice as part of your diet, and it is usually a staple for people who are vegetarian or vegan.
*Tofu is also a good source of calcium, so if you want to try it on your WIC food package, it will replace some of the milk, yogurt, or cheese you currently get.
What does tofu taste like?
Plain tofu is very bland, almost watery. This is great because it will absorb the flavors of the foods you are cooking it with, so it blends in well with any dish. For example, adding silken tofu to a smoothie or a pudding will give it a fuller texture, but it won't give it a strange flavor. Instead, it will take on the flavor of the pudding or smoothie you're making. Firm tofu can be a great meat substitute for salads or stir-fries. You simply need to marinate it or toast it in a skillet with the flavorings of your choice.
Are there different kinds of tofu?
Yes! Tofu comes in different levels of firmness, ranging from "silken" to "extra firm". Some tofu even comes already prepared with flavoring, but most of the time you will find it in plain blocks stored in water. Depending on how you plan to use it, you may want to choose certain kinds of tofu. If you just want to break open a package and eat it as a snack, or if you want to add prepared tofu to a salad or dish without having to flavor it yourself, you may want to choose the prepared kind. But if you want to make dishes like smoothies, stir-fry, scrambled tofu, etc, the plain kind in the big blocks may be better.
*The tofu available on the WIC food package is only the plain kind in blocks, not the prepared kind.
How do I use the different kinds of tofu?
Silken: smoothies, puddings, sauces, creams, a base for soups
Soft or Medium: vegan "ricotta cheese", scrambled tofu
Frim or Extra Firm: stir fry, baked tofu, cubes or strips for salads, cubes for soups
Your WIC food package allows you to purchase tofu with different firmness. Select the kind you want to buy based on the recipes in which you plan to use it.
How do I prepare tofu?
Tofu is stored in water. Silken and soft tofu do not need to be pressed since they break apart so easily. However, firm and extra firm versions need to have the water pressed out of them. This allows the tofu to better absorb the flavors of the food you are cooking with, and helps give it a more meaty texture.
Here is how to press tofu:
Line a plate with a layer of paper towel.
Cut a slit in the top of the tofu package and drain the water into the sink.
Open the rest of the tofu packaging and remove the block of tofu, placing it on the plate with the paper towel.
Cover the tofu with another layer of paper towel and place another plate on top of it.
Take some cookbooks or something moderately heavy and place that on top of the plates.
Let the tofu sit for about 10 minutes while the water soaks into the paper towel.
Replace the wet paper towel with a fresh layer and press for about 10 more minutes.
Slice or cut the tofu into chunks. You can now flavor it however you like and use it in many different recipes.
*See the link at the end of this post for some awesome tofu preparation tips and tons of recipes!
Tofu sounds interesting! Now what?
It can take some experimentation to find how you like to use tofu, and what flavorings work best for it. If you're interested in giving it a try, talk to your WIC nutritionist. They can update your food package to include a block or two per month so you can test it out. The tofu does replace some of your dairy products - either the milk, yogurt, or cheese, and you can always take it out at a later date if it isn't really your thing.
Here is a link to a website with 50 tofu recipes for beginners, and tons of great tips for how to use tofu. You'll find information about which kinds of tofu are best for which dishes, pointers for preparing it, information on how to store leftovers, etc.