Once relegated to the crunchy and ethnic fringe, tofu has moved solidly into the mainstream.

And with good reason. Not only is tofu a great low-fat alternative to meat, soy protein is heart healthy. A 1⁄2-cup serving provides nearly 20 percent of your daily protein, has fewer than 100 calories, more calcium than a cup of milk and is an excellent source of iron and copper. Unlike many meats, it has no cholesterol or saturated fat.

But how to use it as a meat replacement without disappointing carnivores? Itís easy, if you know the tricks.

The problem many people have with tofu is its texture, which can range from pudding soft to very firm. The key is selecting the right type of tofu for the dish you are making.

For recipes that call for a meat-like texture, go with fresh (water-packed) extra-firm or firm varieties, which lend themselves to sauteing, pan-frying, grilling, baking and broiling. Other varieties will tend to break apart under these conditions. Be sure to drain, rinse and pat dry before cooking.

Silken tofu has an almost custard-like texture; it is ideal for smoothies, pies, puddings and sauces. It also can be blended into dressings and dips or be substituted for mayonnaise or sour cream.

Soft tofu is similar to silken, but less smooth. Crumbled and fried with herbs and vegetables in a bit of olive oil, soft tofu makes a good stand-in for scrambled eggs.

Regardless of variety, tofu itself is rather flavorless. Luckily, it absorbs other flavors very well. Use marinades, spice coatings and flavorful sauces to add character to your dish.