Soy for Health

Winter 1998-1999

By Roberta Bailey

About 15 years ago, I wrote a column entitled “What is Tofu?” Tofu was just hitting the market shelf in individual, one-pound containers. Until then, it was only available at co-op storefronts or health food stores. You brought your own container and ladled out blocks of it from a 5-gallon bucket. If you lived in a rural area, you resorted to making your own soy milk, then adding a coagulant and ladling the curd into your homemade tofu press.

Today, tofu and many other soy products, including tempeh, soy milk, soy cheese and soy “meats,” are readily available in most supermarkets in all sorts of convenient, life-extending packaging. It’s virtually impossible to find the old tofu bucket. Most people know what tofu is, though reactions remain mixed.

When I started thinking about this article, I was thinking that my diet has really changed over the last 20 years, but it hasn’t. I still eat home-grown vegetables and meat, and soy products. I still know how my food was raised, and butcher my meat birds and animals with respect. What has changed is the intensity of my convictions toward food. I’ve relaxed. My acupuncturist tells me to eat a little red meat regularly, and I do. All the health studies point toward soy products lowering cholesterol and the risk of heart disease, prostate and breast cancer, as well as easing menopausal conditions and providing a good source of calcium. So I eat tofu and green soybeans, too.

If anything, I lean toward eating more soy products. As I age, I am increasingly conscious of maintaining health, of warding off cancer and easing future menopausal symptoms. People are coming to soy for personal health, not necessarily because they want to feed the world.

The arguments about the extreme and inhumane way in which most meat animals are raised still remain, but now, concerns about the biosphere and water supplies and E-coli are also factors. It still takes about 18 pounds of grain to produce a pound of beef in California, according to the Univ. of California at Davis. A Californian can save as much water per year by not eating a pound of beef as by giving up a year of daily showers.

Here are some recipes to nourish your body and your heart without making you feel like you’re sacrificing something for all the starving people in China.

Tofu and Sweet Potatoes in Pungent Nut Sauce

1/2 lb. extra firm tofu

2 medium-sized sweet potatoes or yams

1-1/2 c. peanuts or cashews, coarsely ground

4 T. cider vinegar

3 T. honey

grated rind of 1 lime

2 T.fresh lime juice

1/2 to 1 t. salt

1/2 t. crushed red pepper (to taste)

1/3 c. hot water

cornstarch for dredging

oil for sautéing

3 T. minced fresh cilantro or parsley

Cut tofu into 1-inch cubes. Scrub or peel sweet potatoes and cut them into 1/3 inch cubes. Fill a medium-sized saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the sweet potato cubes and cook until just tender (5 to 10 min.).

Combine nuts, vinegar, honey, lime rind and juice, salt and red pepper and water in a small saucepan and cook uncovered over low heat for 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside. Place the cornstarch on a large plate, and lightly dredge or coat the tofu and sweet potato cubes. Heat a medium large skillet and add T. oil. Sauté the tofu chunks until lightly brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain. Cook the sweet potato cubes in the same manner.

Arrange on a serving platter. Drizzle with sauce and garnish with cilantro or parsley. Yield 2 to 4 servings.

Tofu and Vegetable Green Curry

1 can unsweetened coconut milk (“lite” is fine)

1 to 4 t. green curry paste (available in Oriental section of supermarket)

3 c. coarsely chopped vegetables, such as broccoli, green and red pepper, baby corn, carrots, snow peas, Chinese cabbage, eggplant

1 c. stock or water

1 to 4 T. mild honey or brown sugar

1/3 c. good, light soy sauce

8 ounces firm tofu, cubed

1/2 to 1 c. loosely packed Thai basil or Italian basil

steamed jasmine rice or angel hair pasta

Pour half the coconut milk into a saucepan, add the green curry paste and stir over low heat. Add the remaining coconut milk and the vegetables. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add the stock and cook for 1 minute. Add the honey and soy sauce and cook only until the vegetables are tender-crisp. Add the tofu. Turn off the heat and add the whole basil leaves, mixing well. Serve over rice or angel hair pasta. Serves 4.

Savory Butter Beans

Butter beans or green soybeans are harvested when the soybeans have formed in the pods, but have not yet begun to dry. A quick steaming or blanching of pods makes shelling much easier.)

3 c. green soybeans (butter beans)

1 c. minced red onion

1 c. halved cherry tomatoes

1/4 c. parsley, minced

1/4 c. balsamic or cider vinegar

2 to 3 T. olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 t. Dijon mustard (optional)

1/2 t. fresh or 1/4 t. dried savory

freshly ground black pepper to taste

salt to taste

Steam the shelled soybeans for 5 minutes. Cool and transfer to a large bowl. Add the onion, tomato and parsley, toss to combine. In a cup, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, savory, salt and pepper. Pour over the vegetables, toss to combine. Allow to marinate for 20 minutes. Serves 5-6.

Tofu Burritos

3 T. olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 fresh chili, minced (for milder heat, remove seeds and ribs)

or 1/4 t. cayenne

2 c. finely chopped onion

1 red or green bell pepper, diced

1 to 2 t. cumin

1 t. coriander

1 t. chili powder

1/4 t. dried oregano

1/2 c. fresh or frozen cut corn

1-1/2 lb. firm tofu, crumbled or mashed

1/2 c. salsa

1/4 black or green olives, chopped (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

6 wheat tortillas (10-inch)


Heat the oil in the skillet and sauté the garlic, chili and onion until tender. Add the spices, corn, tofu, salsa and olives, continue to sauté 2 minutes. Season to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a baking dish. Fill each tortilla with 3/4 c. filling and roll up. Place burritos in oiled dish, cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Serve topped with salsa, if desired. Serves 4 to 6.

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