Tofu, Stir up a Healthy Meal

The use of tofu in cooking has become more and more popular in recent years, not just for vegetarians but also for a population that is growing to be more health-conscious. And some just love it because of its ability to soak up the flavors of spices and sauces of a dish.

Tofu, or bean curd, is made by adding a coagulant to soy milk - the liquid extracted from boiled and crushed soy beans. It is usually made into blocks about two-inches deep. The bean curd, called "doufu" in China, is often offered in water-packed barrels. It should be refrigerated immediately after being purchased and used within a week.

Tofu is an excellent source of protein with a low fat content (hovering around 5 %). It's fantastic in soups, layered with minced pork or steamed with sauce. One of the most famous representatives of tofu dishes in Chinese culinary is Ma-Po Tofu. The fiery Sichuan dish with silky delicate chunks of tofu infused with the flavor of pork is named for the pockmarked (po) wife (ma) who supposedly invented it at her husband's restaurant. It is a classic tofu dish known for its tingling ma la (Chinese phrase that means "spicy-numb") heat. This dish is best served with steamed white rice.

Besides Ma-Po Tofu, there are many other kinds of tofu and ways of preparing it in Chinese culinary:

DEEP-FRIED: firmer, pressed tofu is deep-fried in very hot oil until its crisp outside and soft inside. This has an almost nutty flavour and can be refrigerated for weeks. The squares can be cut up and added to broth or braised dishes.

BEAN CURD SKIN: the skin forms top of the vats of boiling soy milk, which is lifted off and dried. The skin has the highest percentage of protein of all soy products. It is used as a meat substitute in Chinese vegetarian plates. They are often added to braised dishes.

TOFU CUSTARD: also known as "Douhua"in China, it is served often as a dessert, doused in sugar syrup that is tinged with almond flavour. The custard can be stored for up to three days in a covered container.