INVITE YOUR friends in for a meal of tofu, and nine times out of ten they'll turn thumbs down. Tofu's got that bland, self-righteous flavor that makes health-conscious eaters endure it and makes epicureans say no thanks.
But tell your friends you're serving cheese-filled crescents, moussaka or dumplings florentine, stuffed potatoes or broccoli crunch, banana cream pie or chocolate mocha fondue--all of which just happen to have a little tofu in them--and you'll find that you've still got company for dinner.
Or so Jana Crutchfield has discovered. An overnight tofu aficionado, she went from total tofu ignorance last fall to the point where she can now honestly say, "I never have anybody in without serving tofu."
Tofu has become a way of life for Crutchfield. She approaches it with an entrepreneurial passion. Trained in finance and marketing with a BA in Economics and an MBA from U-Va., she is surrounded by big business ventures. Her father is a land developer in Charlottesville; her husband Bill runs the Crutchfield Corp., a nationwide mail-order consumer electronics business. Now tofu has become her business venture.
She first became aware of tofu's possibilities when she saw what it did for an overweight friend. "My husband and I went to Japan in October, but I didn't particularly care for the tofu there," says Crutchfield. "I couldn't imagine trying to import the concept. But when we got home we visited a friend we hadn't seen in three months. He had never been that much overweight, but we were amazed. He had lost 30 pounds since we last saw him. I asked how he did it, and he said that he and his wife had done nothing but introduce tofu into their daily meals."
Jana Crutchfield doesn't need to diet. Tall and slender, the 29-year old's interest in tofu's low-cal possibilities arises primarily from the market potential she sees for middle-of-the-road, home-style, American recipes using tofu. She's not interested in making tofu commercially; she's happy to buy it at the local supermarket. When Kemmons Wilson, octogenarian founder of Holiday Inns, lunched with her and her husband last spring, however, her enthusiasm for tofu was so contagious that he was ready to set her up in a tofu product business. But for now, she's concentrating on marketing her ideas about how to use tofu, and she hired six test cooks to whisk up more than 200 recipes for a cookbook called "Tofu: Not Just for the Health of It!"
"All the other books are so hippy-ish or so technical," says Crutchfield. "You couldn't get my mother, for example, to pick up one of them and be interested in it. She would read the first paragraph and put it down. I wanted to write a book as straightforward as possible that would appeal to the average person."
Impatient with slow reponses from New York publishers, Crutchfield published her cookbook on her own. The handsome cover makes a statement loud and clear. On the front, our stereotype of tofu: lacquered rice bowl, chopsticks, soybeans, naked chunks of white soy curd. On the back, Jana's revisionist view of tofu: blended into chocolate dip, with luscious fresh fruit waiting to be bathed in it.
Familiar recipes jump out at the reader, not the clunky casseroles one expects from tofu, but guacamole, garlic dip, corn bread, cheddar cheese soup, manicotti, cannelloni, pancakes, french toast, carrot cake, biscuits. Once you've tried a few of Crutchfield's recipes, you begin to see the secret of using tofu that she has put into practice: put it in a blender, and tofu can stand in for many higher-calorie, higher-cholesterol ingredients such as cheese, butter, mayonnaise, cream, sour cream or eggs.
Not that Jana Crutchfield banishes those ingredients from her cuisine. She just supplements them with tofu, and claims that by doing so she is cutting calories and cholesterol while maintaining flavor. Some of her desserts may indeed include more sugar than health-conscious cooks would want to use. "I lost nine or 10 pounds while we were writing these recipes," says Crutchfield, "but I gained them all back while we did the dessert section."
Crutchfield encourages home experimentation. She offers a table of equivalencies in the back of the book, since tofu often changes the texture of a familiar recipe. In particular, it appears that tofu does not congeal as solidly in cooking as many of the everyday ingredients for which one might substitute it, thus making recipes turn out soupier than expected. Adding more absorbent ingredients like flour or bread crumbs and cutting back on liquids seems to alleviate the problem. The idea is sound, and the tastes that result are surprising. You'll soon hear the compliment that makes Jana Crutchfield happiest:
"This doesn't taste like tofu at all."
"Tofu: Not Just for the Health of It" is available for sale at Bloomingdale's, B. Dalton, the Book Annex in Georgetown, Dupont Circle and Alexandria; at Mother Nature's in McLean; at Cornucopia in Reston; and at Cash Grocery, Ampersand Books and Gilpin House in Alexandria. It can also be purchased by mail directly from: Jana, 2 Crutchfield Park, Charlottesville, Va. 22906, for $6.95 plus $1.50 for postage and handling, and 4 percent Virginia sales tax if you are a Virginia resident. MOUSSAKA (8 servings) Tomato sauce: 2 tablespoons butter 1 1/4 cup finely chopped onion 3 1/2 cups mashed tofu 2 cloves garlic, mashed 1 teaspoon dried oregano 2 teaspoons dried basil 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon salt Dash of pepper 2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce For the eggplant: 2 eggplants Pinch salt 1/2 cup melted butter Cream sauce: 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons flour 1/2 teaspoon salt Dash pepper 2 cups milk 1/2 cup tofu, creamed in blender or food processor For assembly: 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
Saute' onions, tofu and garlic in 2 tablespoons butter for about 10 minutes, until golden brown. Add herbs, spices and tomato sauce. Bring to boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
Halve unpared eggplants lengthwise. Slice crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick pieces shaped like half-moons. Arrange the eggplant slices in the bottom of a broiler pan. Sprinkle with salt, then brush lightly with melted butter. Broil 4 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
To make the cream sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in flour, salt and pepper. Add the milk gradually. Bring to a boil, stirring until mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Beat in creamed tofu and set aside.
Assemble the casserole by layering eggplant slices, overlapping slightly, in lightly oiled casserole. Sprinkle this layer with 2 tablespoons each of parmesan and cheddar cheese.
Stir the breadcrumbs into the tomato sauce and spoon some over the eggplant and cheese. Sprinkle more cheese over sauce. Continue to layer: eggplant, cheese, tomato sauce, cheese, until all eggplant is used, leaving about 1/2 cup of tomato sauce. Pour cream sauce over casserole and sprinkle remaining tomato sauce on top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown on top. Slip casserole under broiler to crisp top. Cool slightly before serving. TOFU PANCAKES (Makes 10 to 12 small pancakes)
3/4 cup milk
1 cup mashed tofu
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
Put milk, egg, tofu, oil and salt into blender or food processor. Blend until mixture is smooth and creamy. Add flours and blend again thoroughly. Spoon batter onto oiled hot griddle. Batter will be very thick, and pancakes will taste better if you use spoon to spread batter thin on griddle as you pour it. Flip and brown. BANANA TOFU SMOOTHIE (Makes about 1 cup) 1/4 cup tofu 1 small banana 1 tablespoon honey 1/2 cup plain yogurt 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Blend together until smooth. Serve garnished with cinnamon if desired. TOFU BANANA CREAM PIE (Makes a 9-inch pie) 2 to 3 ripe bananas, plus 1 sliced banana for garnish 2 teaspoons vanilla 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1/2 cup vegetable oil 1 cup sugar (or less to taste) 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup tofu 9-inch baked pie shell
Blend all ingredients for pie filling until creamy and smooth. Pour mixture into prebaked, cooled pie shell. Chill in freezer for 3 hours or more. Garnish with sliced banana on top at serving, if desired. TOFU BISCUITS (Makes 12) 2 cups unbleached flour or whole-wheat flour or a combination of both 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1/2 cup ice water 1/2 cup tofu
Place flour, baking powder and salt in bowl and mix gently with fork. Stir oil in with fork until consistency becomes crumbly. Blend water and tofu together in blender or food processor. Add tofu mixture to flour mixture and blend to make dough.
Work dough by kneading on floured surface, about 2 minutes. Roll out to 1/2 inch thick and cut into rounds. Place on greased baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. TOFU GARLIC DIP (Makes 1 1/3 cups) 1 cup tofu 3 tablespoons safflower oil 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon honey 4 cloves garlic 2 minced scallions
Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Serve with chips and raw vegetables. TOFU CRESCENTS (Makes 12 hors d'oeuvres) 1 cup flour 1 cup tofu 1 teaspoon salt Cheese, cocktail onions, pitted olives and anchovies or other filling Vegetable oil, enough for deep frying
Blend ingredients in food processor or blender. Roll dough out on floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into 2 1/2-inch rounds and place square of cheese, cocktail onion, pitted olive, anchovy, some combination thereof, roquefort walnut filling (see recipe below), or other chosen filling in center of round. Fold round in half and pinch edges. Deep-fry until golden brown. ROQUEFORT WALNUT FILLING FOR CRESCENTS (Enough for 12 hors d'oeuvres) 2 ounces roquefort cheese 2 tablespoons sour cream 1/4 cup cottage cheese 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Blend cheeses together until smooth. Stir in nuts until evenly distributed. VENETIAN FETTUCINE (4 servings) 8-ounce package fettucine noodles 4 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup diced scallions 3/4 cup diced green pepper 1 cup sliced mushrooms 2/3 cup chicken stock 1 1/2 cups tofu 3/4 cup heavy cream 1/2 cup parmesan cheese Dash salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
Cook noodles in boiling water until just done, rinse, drain and set aside in large serving bowl.
Saute' scallions and green peppers briefly in butter. Add mushrooms and saute' a little longer until they are slightly tender, about 3 minutes.
Blend chicken stock, tofu and cream until creamy. Pour mixture in with vegetables and heat through, stirring often. Pour over noodles, add parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and tarragon. Toss briskly and serve.