The pro-soy camp just doesn’t get it.
Share your true feelings with your tofu-loving friends, and they tend to get a little weepy for poor you who has never had it properly prepared. They speak glowingly of tofu’s chameleon-like ability to shape shift and meld with the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with, as if there is that one magical combination that will open your eyes and taste buds to tofu’s glories. They’re missing the point.
Love it or hate it, tofu is all about texture.
Tofu is basically a waterlogged sponge of nothingness that has always had an uphill battle to win favor with flavor-driven American palates. We appreciate texture, but in a secondary role, balancing and completing a dish. When we are wowed by a texture, it tends to be crispy-crunchy or fat-based and creamy— the textures associated with European-style luxury foods.
Texture plays a different role in Asian delicacies, where its importance can even outweigh flavor. There are some Euro-Asian cross-overs, like the prized luxury of fatty fish that drives the appreciation of sushi, but the texture of many Asian delicacies can be a turn-off to Western palates.
In Chinese cooking, the sea cucumber, jellyfish and pig’s ears are appreciated for their gelatinous and crunchy texture, even though they have almost no flavor themselves. Dried sharks’ fin and bird’s nest soup, which is made from the saliva-based nest of the cave swift, are both appreciated for their soft, goopy, jelly-like texture. Japanese cuisine has natto, in which soybeans are left to ferment until they develop spider-web like strands of a mucousy substance that hangs from each bean. Okra is cooked to its most gelatinous, and tororo, a type of Japanese yam, is made into a slimy paste.
It would be easy to dismiss tofu entirely. If it’s an acquired taste based on its consistency, and you don’t care for the consistency, then why bother?
There are good reasons to learn to love tofu: it’s loaded with protein, iron, calcium, and B-vitamins; it’s low in fat, cholesterol-free, and low sodium. It’s cheap, long-lasting, and can make your Meatless Mondays a heartier affair.
I hate to say it, but I suppose this brings us back to poor you who has never had it properly prepared.
Fortunately, there are plenty of places to turn for help.
The Cook’s Thesaurus has a good illustrated overview of commercially available soy products.
May’s Machete has a pragmatic post titled How To Make Tofu (So It Doesn’t Suck).
Changing the Texture of Tofu will teach you just that, from Vegan Cooking with Love.