Called doufu in its native China, tofu was invented over two millenniums ago by a Chinese scholar and has been a very important food in Chinese cooking until today. Obtained from the milky liquid extracted from soy beans, tofu has the appearance and texture of soft cheese, but only a faint flavor of its own and somewhat tasteless. That is why it can be easily combined with other ingredients and readily absorbs the flavors of the foods with which it is cooked with.
Tofu, a Chinese food product that is cheap and easy to prepare and of amazing versatility, can be used in an endless number of ways. Its bland taste makes it suitable for use in everything from main courses to desserts, and even in beverages. You can often combine it with meat, fish, and other sea-foods. Tofu can be boiled plain, with a littl e of any flavoring. It can be fried in deep oil by whole pieces so that the outer surface will become browned. Chinese often stuff seasoned ground meat inside and then red-cook or deep fry the whole thing. Tofu can even be eaten as part of an American salad. But just plain Chinese cabbage and bean curd connotes home sweet home for the Chinese.
What makes tofu even more appealing is its nutrients content. It's high in protein and low in carbohydrate; cholesterol free and full of iron. Frequently associated with vegetarians and the health conscious, the nutritious tofu is much more digestible than beans. Chinese women have always linked tofu to beautiful complexion and smooth skin.
Tofu, usually in rectangular block, is available in bulk (the ones covered in water, is best for Chinese cooking), individually wrapped (usually vacuum sealed), as well as in dried or frozen form. Fresh tofu can be kept in the refrigerator or the freezer. The tofu will keep in the fridge for about 1 week if immersed in water that is changed every two days in a tightly sealed container.
Tofu can be safely retained on hand indefinitely by the simple expedient of freezing in your home freezer, or freezer compartment of the refrigerator. You may put one or two blocks of tofu in the freezer compartment and freeze overnight or until they become hard. When you wish to use the beancurd simply pour boiling water over and pat dry. The frozen tofu develops an unusual and interesting spongy texture which facilitate slicing into thin pieces which may be used as ingredients in soups, stews, etc.
Tofu can be found in four to five different grades of firmness and consistency. The type of dish one is preparing determines whether soft or firm tofu should be used. The firmer tofu keeps its shape better and easier to slice, are used for mock meats and stir-fries, while the softer tofu is ideal for desserts, soups and sauces.
Tofu is a ready to eat food and can be served hot or cold, cooked or uncooked. However, if you plan to eat it uncooked, take the precaution of first dipping it in boiling water to destroy the germs that sometimes collect on the surface.
Freezing makes tofu thicker and firmer; it also makes it absorb sauces and flavors more readily. Drain before freezing it.
Stinky tofu is a famous delicacy from Shanghai and smells like rotten egg. One have to learn to like it. It's said that stinky tofu smells like hell but tastes like heaven and I can't agree more to it.