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A vegetable lasagna with tofu.
A vegetable lasagna with tofu.

In case you hadn’t heard, tofu isn’t just for squares.

It’s for tostadas, cheesecake, cupcakes and salads. And it’s a choice among a growing number of Americans looking for healthy alternatives to meat and dairy products.

“As recently as 10-15 years ago, the only way you could use tofu was in stir-fry,” says Cheryl Sullivan, instructor in clinical nutrition at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, and a former registered dietitian with the Illinois Center For Soy Foods, Urbana, Ill. “Now we’ve figured out how to cook it in a way Americans can eat it and not think it is weird.”

Tofu’s texture can range from extra firm to silken, allowing it to blend in to an ever-growing array of culinary dishes.

“It plays an obvious, starring role in dishes like stir fries and barbeque tofu sandwiches,” says Sullivan. “But it can also go unnoticed in dishes like creamy coconut pie or raspberry fruit dip.”

“There’s definitely a growing interest,” says Noelle Ito, director of community philanthropy at Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy and former spokesperson for the now defunct Los Angeles Tofu Festival. “I think people are starting to realize that they should eat healthier and that tofu is not just a bland dish.”

Take, for example, the festival’s first ever alcoholic drink: The tofu margarita.

“There were some people who came just for that,” says Ito. “They ran out of it.”

For those who want to give tofu a try, there’s no fear of it going away soon. More and more restaurants offer tofu on the menu, while Whole Foods and other supermarkets are offering refrigerated tofu for you to cook at home. But before you go shopping, take Sullivan’s advice.

“People get confused when they go to the market when they see firm, extra firm and soft tofu,” she says. “If you want to grill it, get the firmest tofu. If you’re going to crumble it up, firmness isn’t the biggest deal.”

For those willing to give tofu a taste, Sullivan offers the following two recipes and one piece of advice.

“The key to tofu is being open,” she says.

Vegetarian Lasagna

2 jars (26 oz. each) of prepared spaghetti sauce

1 lb. lasagna noodles, uncooked

1 lb. tofu, mashed

4 cups part-skim mozzarella cheese

1 cup water

grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cover bottom of baking pan 9” x 13” baking pan with portion of sauce. Put a layer of uncooked lasagna noodles on top of sauce. Add another layer of sauce on top of noodles, then a layer of tofu and then a layer of cheese. Continue layering noodles, sauce, tofu, and cheese, ending with cheese.

Pour the water around the edges of the lasagna in the baking pan. (The water will be absorbed by the noodles as the lasagna bakes.)

Cover with foil and bake at 350º F for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until noodles are tender. Uncover and bake for an additional 15 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.

Let the lasagna stand for 10 minutes before cutting and serving. If desired, sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Note: Vegetables may be added to the sauce. Fat content can be reduced by replacing some of the cheese with fat-free mozzarella or with soy cheese.

© CTW Features