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Tofu Power!

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Tofu, is there anything you can’t do?

In a dark and steamy room in Indonesia’s tofu heartland three men sweat over bubbling cauldrons, churning creamy beancurd with wooden paddles before draining it by hand and slicing it into silky cubes.

Tofu has been cooked this way for generations but today, innovative villagers on Java island are producing something extra from the simple soybean – cheap, renewable energy, piped directly into their homes.

Around 150 small tofu businesses in Kalisari village, many run from the family home, are benefiting from a pioneering green scheme that converts wastewater from their production floors into a clean-burning biogas.

Where families once relied on sporadic deliveries of tanked gas or wood for stoves, tofu producers like Waroh can access this cleaner fuel anytime with the flick of a switch.

“The advantages are huge, because we produce the gas with waste,” Waroh, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP as he boiled tea over a steady blue flame coming from his kitchen stove.

Experts say harnessing power from unconventional sources like tofu holds enormous potential in Indonesia, a vast energy-hungry nation heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

There’s another benefit too because large-scale tofu production is pretty gross:

The Kalisari project has also helped to reduce damage caused to the local environment from tofu production.

Thousands of litres of waste water drained from raw tofu was once pumped daily from factories around the village into nearby rivers, befouling waterways and contaminating rice fields downstream.

“The environment here was very polluted,” Kalisari local government head Aziz Masruri told AFP, gesturing to a river fringed by wooden tofu workshops. “It stank, and it was affecting our agriculture.”

Things have steadily improved since the cloudy, foul-smelling liquid was diverted from rivers to large blue tanks, where it’s transformed into biogas. Farmers have reported better rice yields, while the river is clearer and less smelly, Masruri said.

I suppose this doesn’t really deal with the long-term water depletion, but is certainly better in the short-term.

Also, tofu is just a great food. I swear, people who don’t like it think that it is just eaten plain. Do you eat plain pasta or rice? Unlikely. It’s really at its best paired with pork, but obviously it’s a great meat substitute too, though I think ideally paired with something else kind of meaty like eggplants or a hearty mushroom.

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  • Denverite

    My understanding is that the jury is still out as to whether tofu is fairly unhealthy (due to the isoflavones). I say this as someone who likes tofu and ate it yesterday. But I’d be wary of a tofu-heavy diet.

    • Does anyone have a truly tofu-heavy diet?

      • The Temporary Name

        Lots of vegans I know really lean on it.

        • Captain Oblivious

          That could be a calorie-watching thing. Most beans and legumes have about 3x the calories of an equivalent amount (by volume) of tofu.

          Of course, that’s assuming they don’t add any oil to it during cooking.

      • Denverite

        Fair point.

        And lord knows that other protein sources have their problems. Red meat is really bad for your colon, chicken has antibiotic issues, and fish carries a mercury contamination risk.

        But tofu isn’t a wonder protein. It does have the potential of screwing with your hormone levels in a way that isn’t good. (And again, I like tofu!)

        • Snuff curry

          I hope I haven’t swallowed a granola/pseudoscience myth, but folk on anti-estrogen meds and/or hormonal therapy shouldn’t eat soy, yes?

          • Denverite

            This is my understanding. Not a doctor.

            [ETA: I think there is a difference between fermented soy products (like soy sauce) and non-fermented.]

      • Japanese people? (E.g., between 1.5 and 3 servings a day, I understand, though that may including some fermented soy products, up to half).

        • The Dark God of Time

          I’ll take tofu any day over a diet of Japanese people. They’re so thin and crunchy, and don’t have much nutritive value.

          • Godzilla

            Actually you might be surprised…

            • tsam

              I hear they’re excellent BBQed.

              • Dennis Orphen

                You’re a people person!

          • Bill Murray

            you need to try Sumo. Which is a restaurant not far from my work

  • Snuff curry

    I like it, but it’s not health food, it’s just food.

    Ultra firm stuff cubed and cold marinated with ginger, lemongrass, fish sauce, pulverized cilantro stem, garlic, brown or palm or some kind of sugar, et al. Dried off. Dry pan toasted. Tossed with charred veg and a nutbutter-heavy dressing of some kind blitzed with dried chiles and a lot of lime. Also, Kenji knows how to do crispy right (with cornstarch!).

    • Yeah, that sounds tasty.

    • Linnaeus

      I do like stir-fried tofu. There’s a place near me that does it really well.

      • I have found that tofu works well in Pad Thai. It doesn’t have much flavor of its own, but it sure absorbs sauces very well.

        • elm

          Tofu Pad Thai is superior to any other Pad Thai. Tofu Pad See Ew is also awesom.

          • tsam

            Now hold on just a dern minute there. Chicken rules Pad Thai. That’s an immutable law. Tofu is a good substitute for herbivores, but let’s not get all crazy now.

            • elm

              Nope. I’m a carnivore and love me some chicken in thai dishes. But chicken in pad thai imparts its flavor into the dish, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but the flavor of pad thai is the closest thing to perfection humanity knows and so you want the milder tofu that simply absorbs the flavor rather than adding to it.

              • tsam

                Then again, a well made peanut sauce is a thing of beauty on pretty much anything, as far as I’m concerned. I LOVE that stuff.

                Also, I’m deathly allergic to eggs, which pad thai usually has, so when I order it without eggs, I’m likely not sharing the same experience you are.

    • sharculese

      After listening to K L-A on Judge John Hodgeman this week, The Food Lab is definitely what my dad is getting for Father’s Day this year.

    • DrDick

      That sounds good. Even as a confirmed meat eater, I like tofu. Even by itself it has a pleasant, mild flavor and, as others have said, soaks up the flavors of whatever it is cooked with. I also like the texture, which has nice mouth feel.

  • I consume tofu now and again (generally in Chinese food), but an old friend detests it, possibly without ever having sampled the delicacy. “I won’t eat anything,” she says, “that looks as though it came out of a sore.”

    So there’s that.

    • Snuff curry

      Is she one of those people who watches blackhead-extraction videos? I’ve never made the connection between tofu and congealed pus, but the thought doesn’t really put me off.

      • I’ve known her for forty years, and I know her reasonably well, but “watches blackhead-extraction videos” has never in all that time come up between us as a topic of conversation. I’m going to try to keep things that way.

        • Snuff curry

          Spoilsport.

    • tsam

      but an old friend detests it, possibly without ever having sampled the delicacy.

      I’m pretty sure there are lots of people who bought into the anti-tofu BS that was going around when it first got popularized here as a meat substitute. (80s?). I remember it being a go-to joke for less creative comedians for quite a while.

      • Origami Isopod

        That was part of the whole “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” phenomenon, right? Not that Bruce Feirstein himself necessarily raged about tofu, but it was part of the cultural milieu, white guys whining about all these “exotic” “new” foodstuffs that “real” men didn’t eat? There were some comedians who had the same complaints about yogurt, too.

  • I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian and I find it goes very well with eggs (in nasi goreng and the like).

  • wjts

    I swear, people who don’t like it think that it is just eaten plain.

    Never had it plain, but I also can’t say I’ve ever had a tofu-based dish that I really liked.

    • Denverite

      Deep fried tofu with a sweet and spicy sauce is delicious. Like really good eggs. But a better texture.

      • DrDick

        Deep fried tofu with almost anything is wonderful!

  • Just_Dropping_By

    Do you eat plain pasta or rice?

    Yes, normally. (And good quality rice should always be eaten plain, IMHO, since it’s delicious all by itself.) I dislike tofu because of the texture/consistency, not the flavor.

    • Well, which sort? Silken? Firm? Is it fried?

      Tofu has lots of textures.

    • wjts

      I usually cook my rice with chicken bouillon, sautéed onions, salt, and paprika and then toss a bunch of peas on top to steam. Goes well with pretty much anything, but especially chicken or fish.

      • DrDick

        I sometimes add flavorings, but mostly cook it plain with minimal salt. The key is to use good quality rice, which is quite flavorful. I especially like Basmati, Thai jasmine, and calrose, each of which has a different flavor and texture.

        • sparks

          I like mixing up the types of rice I use myself, though I use more jasmine than basmati. Good thing calrose is dirt cheap here, cheaper than everyday long grain.

    • DrDick

      Agree about the rice, and extend that to other whole grains, but like the texture of tofu.

  • Over 50 yrs. ago my mother would make sukiyaki w/ tofu cubes (I think she had to go to a Japanese market to get the stuff); once cooked w/ a mess of beef strips & who knows what kind of sauce/broth the cubes were pretty good.

    Can’t say I’ve had any in the intervening 50 yrs., however, & after this:

    three men sweat over bubbling cauldrons

    I doubt I will.

    • JustRuss

      Thanks so much for pointing that out. I’ve been off red meat for a couple months, you’re narrowing my options.

      • Man, you think people sweat any less when picking vegetables?

        • Judas Peckerwood

          Or hacking dead animals apart? Speaking as someone who has done quite a bit of that.

  • Hells Littlest Angel

    Tofu to me is what eggs were to Miss Edie. I could eat it every day — steamed, sautéed, deep-fried, baked, even cold slices dressed with soy sauce and ground sesame — and sometimes I do.

    For those who don’t like the taste or texture, try microwaving it until most of the water drains out of it.

  • Hells Littlest Angel

    I guess ProgressiveLiberal doesn’t come around any more? Now there’s someone who could have schooled us on the virtues of tofu.

  • prufrock

    I think ideally paired with something else kind of meaty like eggplants…

    Eggplant is disgusting, no matter how it is prepared.

    That is all.

    • Incorrect! Counterrevolutionary rightist! Eggplant is the vegetable of the Revolution!

      • sparks

        Holy hell, I agree with Erik!

      • prufrock

        Then the revolution will not be televised digested.

      • If eggplant is the food of the revolution, I am going to have to sit this one out and wait for a revolution where I get to eat food that tastes good.

        • wjts

          Yeah. I’ve tried to like eggplant, I feel like I should like eggplant… but I don’t. It’s kind of gross.

    • Snuff curry

      I mean, I disagree that eggplant is irredeemably gross (I think roasted and puréed it makes a good base for soups and dips and the like, it develops a better texture when smoked, and I like deep-frying little chunks to finish off rice dishes), but there’s nothing remotely meaty to me about a sponge (of the never-having-lived variety).

    • Rob in CT

      Seconded. Texture.

      • Origami Isopod

        I don’t care for the texture or the taste.

    • cleek

      i only like it in baingan bharta, where it’s cooked into oblivion and ends up being barely more than a sauce thickener. or baba ghannouj, which is easily mistaken for hummus.

      in other words: fix the texture problem by cooking or pureeing all the texture out of it.

      • Ok, baba ghannouj is pretty good, but what if we eat food that doesn’t need quite so much effort to turn into a tasty dish?

        • Dennis Orphen

          Breed, raise, slaughter and dress an animal sometime.

    • georgekaplan

      Someone says the obvious thing. I’ve tried to turn eggplant into edible food a few times now, never with success. Why bother when zucchini exists?

      • prufrock

        Zucchini and squash, sliced thin and cooked in a little bit of lemon butter sauce.

        Sublime!

    • Aubergine

      I am recusing myself from this thread.

    • tsam

      I have had a vegetarian lasagna with eggplant as a meat substitute (I think that’s why it was there) and it was amazing.

      • wjts

        My preferred lasagna meat substitute is spinach.

        • Dennis Orphen

          Lasagne can have both. Beware of false choices.

    • bexley

      Ok now I get why fdb thinks you lot are objectively despicable. What are you guys doing to aubergine to make it taste bad.

  • matt regan

    With eggplants! Always with eggplants! Is greatest. Also with beet. Only one beet.

  • calling all toasters

    Also, tofu is just a great food.

    Maybe if you drown it in ketchup.

  • ajay

    I suppose this doesn’t really deal with the long-term water depletion

    The what now? Kalisari is in central Java. Most of the area’s covered in tropical forest or rice field and they get 4000mm of rain a year – it’s four times wetter than Seattle.

    I suspect that “water depletion” isn’t high on their list of worries. It’s probably further down the list than “floods”.

    • Latverian Diplomat

      In addition, I presume that once whatever fermentation is producing the biogas is over, the (cleaner) water still goes into the river.

      So it’s no different than before in terms of water consumption. They just added an extra step.

  • Aaron Morrow

    Whatever Chipotle does to turn tofu into “sofritas” tastes delicious.

  • mutterc

    My favorite tofu application: high-protein chocolate pie, via Good Eats. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/moo-less-chocolate-pie-recipe.html

  • YosemiteSemite

    “Also, tofu is just a great food.” That sounds like an escapee from an episode of Portlandia. The whole paragraph just begs for the treatment — some “meaty” foods like “eggplants or a hearty mushroom.” Do you think Fred Armisen will be able to do you justice?

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