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The Pantry

We’re making a statement, putting the idea out there and calling an end to tofu being pushed to the side-lines. The much-maligned ingredient is all too often dismissed as being sad, soggy and downright bland. And yet treated the right way, it’s a perfect pillowy-white vehicle for flavour, with a pleasing texture to boot. So listen up: now really is the time for bean curd to shine and to help it on its way, consider this an ode (with a couple of supporting recipes) to healthy, budget-friendly, wonderfully versatile, ultimately forgiving tofu.

First produced in China over 2000 years ago, tofu found its way to Korea and Japan in the eighth century AD. Although stories vary as to how it was first made, the method for doing so is simple: fresh soy milk is boiled with a coagulant such as salt or acid which causes the milk proteins to curdle and bind together. These curds are then pressed to remove the excess liquid (whey) and consequently form a soft yet cohesive solid. Tofu remains a staple in Asian cooking today and is a popular meat or fish replacement for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet, yet there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be embraced by all.

When it comes to doing so, the health credentials of this ingredient are worth noting. It provides iron and calcium, as well as a host of other minerals and micronutrients, is a good source of protein and contains all eight essential amino acid. What’s not to like?

For those who have previously been put off by the texture of tofu, the key to enjoyment lies not only in the type of bean curd you choose, but in the way you prepare it. Silken tofu is, as the name suggests, softer and smoother than firm tofu and tends to be made from pure unpressed curds. It has a smooth, delicate, almost velvety texture, which some people find troublesome when eaten as is. Blend to a puree though and it takes on a thick creaminess that’s ideal for using to make smoothies, dressings and sauces as well as fillings for puddings and pies.

Bouncy pressed tofu or firm tofu tends to be sold in blocks and is far more robust due to a greater amount of excess water being removed. Even then it’s well worth pressing again at home as the recipe below suggest; this helps the tofu to maintain its shape, gives it a pleasingly chewy texture and, perhaps most importantly of all, allows the bean curd to act like sponge, drinking up and absorbing every bit of flavour that’s sent its way.

Once pressed and marinated, the fun begins. Firm tofu can be seared in a griddle pan or on a barbecue grill, baked in the oven, used to add a protein element to curries, sauces and stews or tossed in cornflour and fried over a high heat until a gorgeous crisp exterior shell develops (see recipe below).

Rub with olive oil and roast them whole, whip with honey, mash until light and airy, cut into wedges, hack into chunks, slice into wispy, paper thin chips or blend to make silky smooth soup: there’s certainly no shortage of delicious options when it comes to cooking with sweet potatoes. What’s more, the root vegetable really seems to suit the cooler – but by no means cold – weather in the region at this time of year, lending an effortlessly autumnal nod to all manner of dishes without ever feeling too heavy or hearty.

Despite their name, these tubers aren’t botanically related to regular potatoes and are actually part of the morning glory family. They come in myriad colours, ranging from yellow to creamy white and purple, as well as the vibrant copper-skinned variety that we’re all probably most familiar with.

As well as being energy-rich and an excellent source of beta-carotene (which is converted into vitamin A and essential for good skin and eye health), sweet potatoes are full of antioxidants and have a low glycemic index, meaning they release energy slowly over a sustained period of time, thus preventing peaks in blood sugar levels and the dreaded sugar rush and subsequent slump.

When you’re selecting sweet potatoes opt for medium-sized tubers over excessively large ones and choose those that feel heavy for their size. Keep a keen eye out for unblemished skin and avoid any with bruises, soft spots or that are starting to sprout. Handle them gently as despite their robust appearance they damage easily and store as you would regular potatoes, in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight.

It’s hard to resist the lure of a piping hot baked sweet potato with crunchy salt-speckled skin that releases a hiss of steam when sliced into and reveals soft, fluffy flesh within. Not only are they delicious just like that (with a generous slick of butter, of course), this cooking method lends itself well to myriad dishes – both sweet and savoury – as the recipes that follow show. There’s a science behind baking them slowly in the oven too: heat causes an enzyme present in sweet potatoes to break the starch down into maltose (or malt sugar). The longer you cook the potato for the more time the enzyme has to act on the starch and the sweeter the end result.

Mashed sweet potatoes topped with a quivering blanket of marshmallows grilled until singed a gorgeous nut-brown is a classic Thanksgiving dish that will happily sit alongside the roast turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, green beans and gravy on the 23rd November. Even if you’re still not quite convinced, it’s well worth putting your preconceptions aside and trying this recipe out. The cookies meanwhile require no real preamble or hard sell: they’re crisp and chewy in all the right places and boast little nuggets of dark chocolate and nuts hidden within.


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