Some foods, based simply on the specific configuration of nutrients they contain, are heralded as important cornerstones in healthy lifestyles.

One such significant food — especially for women — is the soybean. Soy is one of the best sources of isoflavones. And many researchers report that these plant-based chemicals, similar in structure to estrogen, have been found to reduce some of the more unbearable aspects of menopause, such as hot flashes and mood swings. Isoflavones are also being credited with helping our bodies ward off osteoporosis, stroke, heart disease and breast cancer.

One of the easiest ways to boost soy consumption is by eating tofu.

We've often heard the lament: "It's so blah!"

And yet, that’s exactly what I LOVE about tofu. Its blandness means it adapts to so many dishes. The first step is to drain and press it, because tofu contains an amazing amount of liquid. And once that liquid has been removed, the tofu will be receptive to whatever marinade or sauce it comes in touch with.

PRESSING TOFU: Remove the block of tofu from its packaging, drain off the liquid, and wrap the block in a clean, lint-free towel, several layers of cheese cloth, or several layers of paper towels. Place the wrapped tofu between 2 cutting boards or plates, and place something heavy on top (books, pot of water, etc). Press the tofu for about 30 minutes to extract the excess moisture. If I have the energy and enthusiasm for the process, then I’ll actually unwrap the toweling and start with fresh, dry towels, just to extract as much moisture as possible.

WHAT ABOUT FREEZING TOFU: One trick for removing a huge amount of the liquid in tofu is to freeze it for a day or two. When thawed, the liquid practically flows away from the block. But the texture will be altered also, making the tofu firmer and somewhat spongy or crumbly. If your goal is a chewy dish — like grilling slices of tofu for a burger or sandwich — then this approach is just the ticket. But for the most part, I skip the freezer treatment, preferring the creamier texture.

 

Jan’s Favorite Hot and Sour Soup

Serves 8

7 cups homemade or canned chicken broth

½ cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 cup chopped green onions (all the white and half the green portions of about 6 onions)

1 (14- or 16-ounce) block firm or extra-firm tofu, drained well, pressed and sliced into ½-inch-by-¼-inch julienne strips

10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and sliced into thin shreds (see Note)

3 eggs, lightly beaten

In a large pot, combine the broth, vinegar, soy sauce, green onions, tofu and mushrooms (along with their soaking liquid). Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the temperature to medium-low, and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 15 minutes to give the flavors a chance to merge and develop. Adjust the seasonings, adding additional vinegar or soy sauce, if desired.

Just before serving, bring the soup back to a slow boil. While stirring the soup, slowly drizzle in the beaten eggs. They will cook quite quickly in the hot broth and blossom out into feathery strips and bits. Serve immediately.

VARIATION: For a spicier soup, stir in 1 to 2 teaspoons hot chile-garlic paste and a dash of sesame oil.

NOTE ON DRIED SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS: Usually available in the Asian food section of most supermarkets or in a well stocked bulk food department. Soak the mushrooms in about 2 cups of hot water until they are rehydrated, about an hour.

 

Singapore Noodles with Crispy Tofu

Makes 4 servings.

8 ounces rice vermicelli noodles (also called “rice sticks”)

4 green onions

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 pound extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed; cut into 1-inch cubes (you could opt for “super firm” or “extra, extra firm” and omit the pressing)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon sriracha

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

2 tablespoons Madras curry powder

½ teaspoon turmeric

3 cloves fresh garlic, minced

2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger root

1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips

3 cups shredded Napa cabbage

¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then remove from heat. Add the noodles and soak until they are softened, as directed on the package. Drain the noodles in a strainer and rinse with cold water; set aside.

Separate the white portion from the dark green portions of the green onions. Finely chop the white portions; cut the green parts into 1-inch strips; set aside.

Once the tofu has been drained, pressed and cut into cubes, place them in a bowl and sprinkle the cornstarch over the top, gently tossing until the cubes are coated. Lightly season with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the tofu cubes and cook until evenly browned on multiple sides, which will take about 10 minutes of cooking and flipping; remove tofu to a paper towel-lined plate; set aside

Meanwhile, prepare the stir-fry sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha, vinegar, curry powder, turmeric, garlic and ginger; set aside.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the white portion of the green onions and bell pepper (and any other vegetables/meat/fish from the “Options” below. Stir-fry for 2 minutes, just until the peppers are slightly softened (and the optional meat/fish are cooked; see below). Add the Napa cabbage and continue to stir-fry until it is just beginning to wilt, which will only take a few seconds. Add the noodles, the reserved tofu, and the stir-fry sauce and cook briefly to heat the noodles through. Add the cilantro and the green portions of the onions.

Remove from heat and serve.

Options: After browning the cubes of tofu, saute about ¼ pound of raw (peeled and deveined) shrimp, barbecue pork, and/or thin slices of tender, raw beef. Additional vegetables to add would include matchstick carrots, celery and onions.

 

Teriyaki Tofu Burgers

Makes about 8 burgers.

1½ pounds firm or extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed

½ cup soy sauce

½ cup water

¼ cup dry sherry, white wine, or apple, pineapple, or white grape juice

1/3 cup maple syrup or granulated sugar

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 clove garlic, crushed

Cut the drained and pressed tofu into ¼-inch-thick slices. In a small saucepan, mix together the soy sauce, water, sherry, syrup, ginger and garlic. Simmer over high heat for a few minutes until cooked through. Lay the tofu slices in a shallow container, and pour the sauce over them. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or up to a week, turning the slices occasionally so they absorb the marinade evenly. Grill or broil the slices, or pan-fry in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until browned on both sides. Makes about 8 burgers.

— Recipe from "Soyfoods - Cooking for a Positive Menopause," by Bryanna Clark Grogan.

 

Best-Ever Tofu Burgers

2 pounds medium-firm or firm tofu, frozen at least 48 hours

Marinade:

1½ cups water

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

2 tablespoons ketchup

2 teaspoons Marmite, yeast extract, or dark miso

¼ teaspoon each: garlic granules, dried oregano, dried basil, and onion powder

2 teaspoons Kitchen Bouquet or other gravy browner (optional)

Thaw the tofu. Cut each pound block into 3 thick slices and drain.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix all the marinade ingredients. Place the tofu slices in a single layer in a shallow pan, and pour the marinade over the slices. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for several hours or days.

Just before serving, saute the slices in a nonstick skillet or lightly oiled, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until browned on both sides. Serve on buns with all the trimmings.

— Recipe from "Soyfoods - Cooking for a Positive Menopause," by Bryanna Clark Grogan.

 

— Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.