Tofu Finally Gets Some Respect

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A show of hands, please. Who here loves tofu? Anyone … anyone?

Tofu, also known as bean curd — which, let's remember, is coagulated soy milk pressed into a soft block — is a food many of us have learned to accept. Low in calories and packed with protein, iron and other nutrients, it's undeniably healthy and is a staple of vegetarians and diet-aware eaters.

Still, flavorless and bland and with a consistency that can be hard to pin down, tofu is a food few of us truly adore. "It's not likely that tofu will become anyone's favorite food; this we know," is how Mark Bittman began his defense of tofu in The New York Times last week.

However, he argued, "With meat substitutes and even alternative animal protein like bugs surging in popularity … it's time to re-evaluate and finally embrace the original plant-based mock meat."

The veteran food writer made a plea for "using tofu in ways that really play up its strengths and make it … a substitute that doesn’t feel like a compromise but simply another way of doing things."

Certainly, tofu is nothing if not flexible. Its demerits — the aforementioned blandness and elusive texture — are also its chief strengths. It's a stir-fry sine qua non, sure, but it's also versatile enough to be used in a variety of dishes and cuisines.

Here are a few internationally inspired Food Network Kitchen recipes that may propel you to cook with tofu — and eat it — not with reluctance, but with relish:

Yealang Smith of Throwdown Catering's Barbequed Tofu, Jeff Mauro's Crispy Szechuan-Style Eggplant and Tofu or Giada De Laurentiis' Grilled Herbed Tofu with Avocado Cream may also help convince you that Mark Bittman's contention is correct: Tofu's time has come.

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