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What are these Wacky Vegan Foods?

by Robert Cheeke, Vegan Bodybuilder, February 28th, 2004

Tofu - Tofu, or bean curd, is sort of like a cheese: Milk made from soybeans is hardened into blocks with a mineral salt. (Note: Tofu that's hardened with calcium sulfate or calcium chloride will supply the most calcium to your diet.) Plain tofu doesn't taste like much to most people (although some love it right out of the package!), but tofu picks up the flavor of whatever you mix it with. You can use it to make so many great things. Different types of tofu work best in certain types of recipes: Extra-firm and firm styles of tofu are great cubed in stir-fries, stews, and potpies, or sliced, marinated, and baked for sandwiches. You can even grill it at your next barbeque. (You can make firm tofu even firmer by wrapping it in a towel and pressing all the water out of it. You can make it chewier and "meatier" by freezing it and then thawing it. It's good this way crumbled into chile.) Soft and silken styles of tofu are perfect ingredients in dressings, desserts, and fruit smoothies. You can also substitute tofu for eggs in some baked goods.

Tofu is rich in protein, iron, and calcium. It also contains a fair amount of fat, but this wont' be a problem if you balance your diet with veggies and grains. You can also buy reduced-fat tofu.

Tempeh - Tempeh, a staple food in Indonesia, is even stranger-looking than tofu. It looks like a little cake of soybeans that have been glued together. Actually, tempeh is made by fermenting soybeans with a friendly bacteria that basically weaves the beans together. Like tofu, tempeh soaks up the flavor of whatever you season it with. You can make a quick tempeh sandwich: Slice tempeh into patties and saute in oil or water, soy sauce, garlic, and seasoning (try curry powder). Also good for shish kebabs, in stews or stir-fries.

Soymilk - Soymilk is a fun beverage to try. It comes in lots of flavors, like vanilla, chocolate, and carob. Even the plain flavor is sweeter than dairy milk, so if you're looking for a soymilk that tastes the most like dairy milk, pick the plain flavor in one of the "light" varieties. Flavors vary from brand to brand, so experiment. Also, read the labels and choose a soymilk that's low-fat and fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

You can also use soymilk any way you would cow's milk: over cereal, in baked goods (it helps them rise a little bit), or just by the glass. Note: While you're sampling the soymilks, don't overlook other dairy-milk alternatives. You'll find rice milk, almond milk, and others at your natural food store too.

Soy Cheese - Use soy cheese however you would regular cheese. Soy cheese comes in many varieties, such as cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and jalepeno jack. Also look for reduced-fat varieties (some soy cheeses contain quite a bit of fat). Some soy cheeses are vegan and others contain casein, an animal product so check for the "vegan" label on the package.

Miso - (pronounced MEE-soh): A salty, fermented paste made from soybeans and grains, miso comes in many varieties. It has been referred to as the beef bouillon of vegetarian cooking because it adds such rich flavoring to soup stocks, sauces, gravies, and spreads. Dark-colored miso is much stronger-tasting than the lighter-colored varieties, which are actually quite mild and sweet.

Tamari - (pronounced ta-MAR-ee): A naturally brewed soy sauce, with a special salty/sweet/savory flavor. Try a splash over vegetables and rice.

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) - Not a very friendly name, but a really cool food. TVP is made from soy flour that has had the oil removed. It comes fry in tiny granules, flakes, and chunks, and when you add boiling water, it turns very meat-like. You could substitute TVP for meat in things like chili and tacos and fool your friends. You can find TVP in natural food stores and some mainstream food stores.

Seitan (pronounced SAY-tan) - Another weird name for another wild food. Seitan is also called "wheat meat" and that's exactly what it is: a meat-like food made from wheat flour kneaded with water, rolled into a roast shape, and boiled. Depending on how it's sliced and seasoned, it can take the place of chicken, beef, even barbequed ribs. In fact, some vegetarians think it's too meat-like, but if you taste it, you'll see that it really has its own subtle flavor. You can buy chunks of seitan bottled in seasoned broth, frozen seitan formed and seasoned, or as a dry mix to cook up yourself. You can also make it from acratch, but it takes several hours.

Sea Vegetables - Sea vegetables are loaded with nutrients, including calcium, iron, and potassium. Choose from: arame, dulse, hijiki, kombu and wakame, and also nori, which is what's wrapped around rice and vegetables to make vegetarian sushi. Yes, it's seaweed. But seaweed really isn't all that strange. It's found in many ice cream products, including fast-food milkshakes. And, as humor columnist Cecil Adams put it, "Every McDonald's hamburger contains pieces of - brace yourself - dead cow. So let's not get hung up on a little seaweed."

Nutritional Yeast - Not the same kind of yeast you would use to make bread rise. Nutritional yeast comes in flake form and has a golden color and sort of cheesy taste. It's really good sprinkled over popcorn, pasta, and other dishes, and it can be made into gravy and sauces. Note: One brand of fortified nutritional yeast, Red Star T6635, contains vitamin B-12 but other nutritional yeasts and brewer's yeasts do not).

Egg Replacer - If you want to give up eggs but not baking, you can use powdered egg replacer for the eggs in your cakes, cookies, and muffins. Buy something called ENER-G Egg Replacer in natural food stores. It's made from potato starch, tapioca flour, and other ingredients.

Information courtesy of "A Teen's Guide to Going Vegetarian" by Judy Krizmanic