Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fried Tofu // Incorporating Soy in Your Child's Life

Transitioning to a plant-based diet was very difficult for my kids. At first. Especially for my oldest, Essie.

Another one of the unforeseen negative side affects of trying low carb, was that I had trained her palate to enjoy meat, cheese, heavy cream, eggs, and salmon in particular.

It was hard for her. She struggled. In one week I had completely changed her menu. No eggs for breakfast, meat and cheese for lunch, and hot dogs for an afternoon snack. No salmon for dinner.

Looking back on that I shake my head. Literally. What a SAD menu. Where were the whole grains? The fruit, vegetables, raw nuts, beans? No where to be found.

What a tragedy.

But unlike dramatic plays, this tragedy has a happy ending. Or beginning. Depending on which way you look at it.

It's called tofu. Soy. If prepared and presented the right way, kids love. Of course, I try with every meal to incorporate as many nutrient-dense foods as possible for my children, but soy foods really help them get the calories they need. I do not use soy as a replacement for other nutrient dense foods, but rather, in addition to them -- as a side.

The first time Essie tried crispy tofu, I saw the gears turning in her head. Excitement. And I could see that she decided that this eating veg thing wasn't so crazy after all. She could do it. Enjoy it.

So, I thought I would write about some of our favorite soy foods. (See my and Dr. Joel Fuhrman's opinion on whole soy foods, here.)

Starting with the basics. Soy milk. My children's favorite non-dairy milk, it is creamy, a little bit fatty, higher in calories than almond milk, and delicious.

Organic, unsweetened, enriched with calcium, vitamins A and D, and a good source of Vitamin B12. (All vegans need supplementation with vitamin B12.) They love it poured all over their breakfast oatmeal, cereal, or Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal. They also drink it straight out of a cup, with their meals, or use it for dunking cookies.

Next would have to be soy yogurt. I'm tellin' ya we are all addicted to this stuff. I have tried other yogurts -- almond, coconut, etc, and they cannot compete with the flavor or texture.

I hope you get a chance to go to Trader Joe's and try soy yogurt like this. For $2.49 per large container, it's affordable and every week I buy about 4-5 of these. Seriously. Addicted. It contains live probiotic cultures; helpful for the digestive system. This yogurt sells fast at TJ's so go during the week, especially in the morning to make sure you get some. Just a little trick I learned. It's always gone on a Saturday evening.

If you don't have a Trader Joe's, Whole Foods Market also carries Silk Soy Live! yogurt, large container for about the same price. I don't find it to be as tasty as TJ's yogurt, but remember that you can always add some sugar or other flavorings (maybe some fruit jam?) to yogurt to make it tastier.

We eat it as a snack, and I also use it to replace oil in my baked goods (use half the amount than oil). Because it contains fat, and is quite thick, I think it tastes much better as an oil replacement than applesauce does. Kids need fat. I am convinced. They want it, crave it, love it.

Essie had first tried crispy tofu at a restaurant. They deep fry it. Wow. Is this stuff good! I am working on going to a Thai Diner and asking to buy their deep fried tofu (sounds terrible, I know, but kids need fat) directly from them. No way am I buying a deep fryer.

Until then (I'll let you know how that turns out) I love using pre-baked, organic, seasoned tofu. Trader Joe's sells three different flavors; BBQ, Savory, and Teriyaki. I am sure other health food stores carry similar products. I just haven't looked because we are happy with TJ's.

What I do: open a package of pre-baked, seasoned tofu, and slice them into cubes or bite-size slabs. I try to maximize the surface area so that it can get toasted well and become pretty crispy. Get a nonstick skillet, and pre-heat to medium-high heat. Throw cubes in the skillet without any oil, and brown on both sides. Makes it crispy and warm. Serve with ketchup, BBQ sauce, ranch dressing, or their favorite sauce. My kids love this, and clamor over who gets the last piece.

For Sandwiches: Take a block of pre-baked, seasoned tofu, and either chop it fine with a knife or pulse it in the food processor until fine. Immediately press it into hummus that has been spread over some whole grain bread. The tofu loses moistness if you wait too long, and doesn't stick in the hummus as well. Spread a second slice of bread with hummus, and put the two pieces together to form a sandwich. I try to press/compact as much tofu in the sandwich as possible.

I also love using the Teriyaki tofu in our VERY favorite Thai Noodle dish.

Kids love ice cream, creamy treats. I mostly make banana ice cream for them in my food processor, but I also buy soy ice cream, and soy ice cream novelties.

One of their favorite treats is chocolate milk. Pictured is the almond chocolate milk because it was in my fridge, but soy chocolate milk is also commonly sold (even at Wal-Mart!) and is very delicious!

Not every child enjoys meatless hot dogs. I don't think they taste fantastic. But for some reason, my kids really like them. It helps to have them on hand for immediate snacks. Just follow the directions on the back of the package for the best results in preparation.

Tofurky, a sliced deli meat, is also available (pictured at the very top). I do think that this stuff actually tastes good. Pair it with mayo or some hummus your kids like, and you have a sandwich. Or, if you are like Samuel, you munch on it plain. Samuel and Megan love it. It is a more refined food, so I do avoid serving it to them, and strongly prefer to serve them organic tofu.

Sprouted organic tofu. Or sprouted organic tempeh (another tofu product). Fried my way. The Dreena Burton way. Yummy!

What I do: Remove tofu from package, and carefully pat/press dry with paper towels. Cut into cubes, and marinate for 20 minutes. Toss in corn starch. Fry in 3 tablespoons of oil on high heat. Serve with ketchup.

(If you marinate the tofu/tempeh for 15 minutes or less.)

Pan-Fried Tempt-eh! Or Tofu!
By Dreena Burton, from "Eat, Drink, & Be Vegan."

Makes 5-6 servings as a side dish or nibbler, or 3-4 servings as an entree.
Wheat Free
Gluten Free if you use tofu and corn starch

Note from Ashlee: Although this recipe is for tempeh, my children find both tofu and tempeh very appetizing. I have tried baking my tofu with seasonings and my kids and I do not enjoy it. They like it crispy (because there is so much oil, I try not to eat this!). These are a great replacement for the chicken nugget, when served with ketchup or other dipping sauce. See Dreena's note below, for tips on using tofu in this recipe.


1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar (for tofu, use balsamic or red wine vinegar!)
1 1/2 tablespoons tamari (soy sauce)
1 package (8-oz/227-g) tempeh, or 1/2 package (15-oz) extra-firm tofu, patted/pressed dry with paper towels.
3-4 tablespoons cornstarch (or arrowroot, but I found arrowroot to be gummy when fried)
3 tablespoon coconut or olive oil
lemon wedges, for serving (optional, I never add this part)


In a large, shallow dish, mix vinegar and tamari. On a cutting board, cut tempeh about 1/2 x 3 1/2-in (1x9-cm) slices. Add tempeh to vinegar-tamari mixture to marinate, turning slices to absorb marinade on both sides. If possible, allow tempeh to marinate for 20 minutes or more in the refrigerator.

In a large dish, spread cornstarch (or arrowroot powder). Dip each tempeh slice in cornstarch, gently tapping to remove any clumps (some areas will have a thicker layer of cornstarch, this is okay.) In a small to medium size non-stick frying pan on high, heat oil. Add tempeh slices and fry on one side for 4-6 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Flip over and cook for 4-5 minutes until crispy, adding more oil if needed. Flip again if needed. Remove and serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon wedge (for adults) or with a favorite dipping sure to eat them while still hot.

Note from Dreena: You can substitute tempeh with tofu (I DO!) in this recipe: use 1 pkg (12-oz/350-g) fresh extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/4-1/2 inch thick squares and press between paper towels to remove excess moisture, then marinate it as you would the tempeh (using 2 tbsp Tamari).

This is so good, even my normally "tempeh averse" husband loves it. I originally created the recipe using tofu, which is an excellent variation. Either way, this Tempt-eh! is a little crispy, a little tender, and a whole lot delicious. This appetizer can also be served in an entree with noodles or a whole grain.

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