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Tofu Revealed

To a lot of people, tofu is a mystery. They don't know what it's made of, what it tastes like, or how to cook it.

But Doc Willoughby, executive editor of Gourmet magazine, came on "The Early Show" Tuesday to help solve the mystery of this diverse food.

What is tofu, exactly?

Tofu, also known as soybean curd, is a soft, cheese-like food made by curdling fresh hot soymilk with a coagulant, according to Soyfoods.com. Traditionally, the curdling agent used to make tofu is nigari, a compound found in natural ocean water, or calcium sulfate, a naturally occurring mineral. Curds also can be produced by acidic foods like lemon juice or vinegar. The curds then are generally pressed into a solid block.

Tofu was first used in China around 200 B.C. Although the discovery of the process for making tofu is lost to the ages, Chinese legend has it that the first batch of tofu was created by accident. A Chinese cook added nigari to flavor a batch of pureéd, cooked soybeans; the nigari produced the curd that we know today as tofu.

In recipes, tofu acts like a sponge and has the miraculous ability to soak up any flavor that is added to it. Crumble it into a pot of spicy chili sauce and it tastes like chili. Blend it with cocoa and sweetener and it becomes a double for chocolate cream pie filling. Cubes of firm tofu can be added to any casserole or soup.

For more information on tofu, click here.

MENU:

Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce
Pan Fried Tofu with Romano-Bean and Herb Salad
Chocolate Tofu Cheesecake

RECIPES:

Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce

Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:
1 (14- to 18-oz) package soft tofu (not silken)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped scallion
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted (see Tips) and crushed with side of a heavy knife
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon coarse Korean hot red-pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sugar

METHOD:
Carefully rinse tofu, then cover with cold water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then keep warm, covered, over very low heat.
Meanwhile, mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt. Stir together with remaining ingredients (except tofu).

Just before serving, carefully lift tofu from saucepan with a large spatula and drain on paper towels. Gently pat dry, then transfer to a small plate. Spoon some sauce over tofu and serve warm. Serve remaining sauce on the side.

Panfried Tofu with Romano-Bean and Herb Salad

Serves 6

INGREDIENTS:

2 (14-oz) packages soft tofu (not silken)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (preferably Hellmann's)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 medium shallot, minced (2 Tbsp)
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons drained capers, chopped
1 1/2 lb Romano beans or green beans, trimmed
5 ounces wild or baby arugula (6 packed cups)
1/3 cup tarragon leaves
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 large eggs

METHOD:
Cut each tofu block lengthwise into 3 equal pieces. Drain on paper towels.
Whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice, and mustard. Stir in shallot, parsley, and capers, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve 1/4 cup dressing for serving.

Cook beans, uncovered, in well-salted boiling water until crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath to stop cooking, then drain well. Transfer to a bowl and toss with dressing (excluding 1/4 cup reserved dressing for serving). Gently toss with arugula and tarragon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Meanwhile, lightly beat eggs in a medium bowl. Pat tofu dry and season both sides with 1/2 tsp salt (total). Coat tofu with egg, letting excess drip off, then fry, turning once, until golden and heated through, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain briefly on paper towels, then serve with salad and reserved dressing.

Chocolate Tofu Cheesecake

Serves 12

INGREDIENTS:

FOR CRUST
1 1/4 cups ground chocolate graham cracker crumbs from 9 (4 3/4 by 2 1/4-inch) chocolate graham crackers
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons vegetable spread, melted and cooled

FOR FILLING
2 (1 lb) Silken tofu
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 (8 ounce) containers soy cream cheese
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt

FOR FUDGE SAUCE
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
8 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped

Special equipment: 9-inch spring-form pan with removable bottom

METHOD:
MAKE CRUST:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Oil bottom and sides of springform pan. Stir together all crust ingredients until combined. Press over bottom and 1-inch up side of pan. Bake until set, 10 to 12 minutes, then cool.

Cook sugar in a small heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring slowly with a fork, until melted and pale golden. Cook caramel without stirring, swirling pan, until deep golden. Remove from heat and carefully add water (mixture will vigorously steam and caramel will harden). Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until caramel is dissolved. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate until smooth.

MAKE FILLING:
Puree tofu and cocoa in a food processor until smooth. Beat soy cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy, add tofu puree, vanilla, salt and chocolate mixture and beat on low speed until incorporated. Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 1 hour, or until top of cake is shiny but center is still slightly wobbly when pan is gently shaken. Turn oven off and leave cake in oven for one more hour.

Run a knife around top edge of cake to loosen and cool completely in spring-form pan on a rack. (Cake will continue to set as it cools.) Chill cake, loosely covered, at least 6 hours. Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate. Can be brought to room temperature before serving.