I am going to try to convince you to eat tofu. And once you stop making that scrunchy “Ewww!” face, we can move on. Quit shaking your head, and just hear me out.
If I told you there was a food that, in just a half-cup, could provide 10 grams of protein, 25 percent of required daily calcium, 11 percent of daily iron and only 1 gram of carbohydrates in just 88 calories, you would jump at it, right?
Especially if I told you it is similar to chicken in that it takes on the flavors of whatever you cook it in.
OK, for the handful of people still reading, let's move on to some history.
Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing out the curds into blocks. There are many varieties, but the one I almost always use is the extra-firm because it is easier to cook with. Tofu is a mainstay in Asian cuisine, originating in China more than 2,000 years ago. It is prepared many ways, including stewed, stir-fried, boiled in soups or mixed into sauces.
I had only one patient who shared my tofu appreciation, and she was from Japan.
The whole idea of the following recipe is to disguise the soybean curd by integrating it into a complex dish. Even if you don't like it, you can eat the dish’s other ingredients.
The tofu part is the easiest: Cut it up and put it in the sauce at the end. That's it. The rest of the dish takes about 30 minutes to prepare.
The meatballs are the most technically challenging part. Try to use freshly ground meat, whether pork, turkey, veal or beef. Once you’re ready to start the sauce, make sure you have all the ingredients at hand so you can stir-fry quickly.
This recipe feeds four, with each serving containing about 350 calories and 30 grams of protein.
• ½ pound ground meat (pork, veal, turkey or beef)
• ¼ cup bread crumbs
• 1 egg
• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
• 2 green onions, finely chopped, divided
• ½ cup oyster sauce
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• ½ teaspoon roasted sesame oil
• 2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
• 2 teaspoons ginger, minced
• ½ tablespoon chili bean paste
• 1 cup of chicken stock
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 1½ tablespoons rice wine
• 1 tablespoon cornstarch
• 1 cup broccoli florets
• 1 cup snap pea pods
• 1 cup of extra-firm tofu, cubed
In a medium mixing bowl, combine ground meat, bread crumbs, egg, Worcestershire sauce and one green onion. Using your hands, mix well and make small meatballs, no bigger than a large marble. Put them in the freezer for 10 minutes. This firms them up and makes mixing them with the thick oyster sauce a lot easier.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Again with your hands, gently mix the meatballs with the oyster sauce. Place them on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
While they bake, boil 3 cups of water in a medium pot. Drop in the broccoli and snap peas and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Strain and set aside vegetables.
In a wok or large frying pan, add the olive and sesame oils. When hot, add the second green onion, garlic and ginger and stir-fry on high heat for about 1 minute.
Turn down to medium heat and add the chili bean paste, chicken stock, soy sauce and rice wine. Stir the cornstarch into about ¼ cup of cold water, and add the mixture to pan. Simmer for another 1 to 2 minutes, until sauce thickens.
Add the broccoli, snap peas, meatballs and, last, the tofu. Continue to simmer for another 1 to 2 minutes, gently stirring so as not to break the tofu.
Serve over white or brown rice.
Dr. Joseph McPhee is a bariatric surgeon in Lancaster General Health’s Healthy Weight Management Center. His column, “The Surgeon’s Kitchen,” appears weekly in the Sunday Food pages. Do you have questions or comments for Dr. McPhee? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.