SunOpta Food and Grains
But beyond health, soy is extremely versatile.
“Take the lowly soybean and from it make
dried or roasted soybeans, purées, pastes,
soups. Then, there is fermented soy and soy
milk. There’s also curded or coagulated soy,
which is tofu. It’s a miracle plant,” Koetke says.
Whether it’s firm, soft or silken tofu,
there are innumerable ways to use it. The
important thing is to flavor it well, says
Julie Hasson, co-owner of Native Bowl
food cart in Portland, Ore. She serves five
types of fusion rice bowls. All but one uses
With all the soybeans that grow in the
U.S., it may seem surprising that only a
fraction are grown as edamame. It has to
do with the nature of the product, says
Kate Leavitt, director of international sales
and marketing for SunOpta Grains and
Foods Group, Hope, Minn., one of the
largest producers of edamame in the U.S.
While chefs like the idea of supporting local
growers, versus using edamame from China,
there’s no doubt that Chinese edamame
is much cheaper. After all, the product
originated in China, and the Chinese have
had more time to develop varieties and build
supplies. U.S. growers haven’t been at it
nearly as long, Leavitt says.
The soybeans grown all across the U.S.
are not food-grade soybeans. Beans used
for edamame must have certain flavor
characteristics, be high in sugar, and have
a large seed pod that won’t shatter easily.
It takes 12 years to create a suitable
variety. “As the American consumer has
developed a taste for this type of soybean,
it takes Mother Nature several years,
through cross-breeding,” Leavitt says.
Additionally, a variety that might work in
one growing zone won’t work in another
zone, so further variety development
is necessary, which takes more time
and money. “It takes demand from the
consumer and a willingness to pay the
price,” Leavitt says.
But an even bigger challenge is that
edamame has a five-day harvest window.
It must be harvested at a maturity level
suitable for edamame, which is before
full maturity. During the harvest window,
if there’s any inclement weather, such as
rain, it can’t be harvested. In that case, the
edamame crop is lost, but the beans can
continue to reach full maturity and can be
harvested later as soybeans for boiling or
for use for soy milk. “But it’s not the most
economical variety,” Leavitt says.
She especially likes to work with extra-firm tofu. She cooks it on a hot griddle
with a lot of seasoning, but no salt at the
beginning. Poultry seasoning works well,
as does sage, rosemary and white and
black pepper. “You can do Indian spices.
Tofu will absorb anything well,” Hasson
says. Once the tofu is nicely browned, she
adds soy sauce, which caramelizes on the
griddle. She adds a lot of garlic.
Hasson has written six cookbooks, the
most recent, Vegan Diner: Classic Comfort
Food for the Body & Soul (Running Press
Book Publishers, 2011).
Scott Hunnel, CEC, executive chef for
Orlando, Fla., Walt Disney World’s Victoria
& Albert’s, has visited tofu-making
operations in Japan, leading to a greater
respect for the item so underutilized in
the U.S. One popular dish at Victoria &
Albert’s features a bamboo rice blend
made of garbanzo beans, barley, wheat
berries, soybeans and bamboo rice. The
server then takes a sake/soy-marinated
king salmon, prepares it tableside on a
475°F Himalayan salt rock, and lays it on
top of the bamboo rice blend. For guests
who don’t want salmon, the restaurant will
marinate firm tofu in the sake/soy mixture
and add it to masago (puffed rice).
For a soft tofu side dish, Hunnel makes
a sauce of ginger, garlic and plum wine
reduction with some soy sauce, simmers
it gently and strains it. He pours it over
fresh warm tofu in a small dish, with a
little ponzu sauce drizzled over the top.
Tofu needs more flavor added than when
preparing meat, Hasson says. “Tofu can be
easily under-flavored. It needs a punch.” Her
choice flavor enhancer is nutritional yeast
flakes. For one application, she adds the
flakes to a marinade of soy sauce, water and
either sage, rosemary or poultry seasoning
and garlic. The marinade will keep in the
refrigerator for about a week. Besides
adding depth of flavor, the nutritional yeast
flakes are high in protein and B vitamins.
Koetke sees even more versatility with tofu
in the flavored tofu products now available.
You can purchase already-seasoned tofu
with Mexican, Italian or Asian flavor profiles.
For Italian dishes, consider making a
tomato sauce and cubes of Italian dressing-marinated tofu. It could be used as vegetarian
pasta sauce, or combine it with a meat sauce.
The fastest-growing restaurant consumer
segment is non meat eaters, and the trick
is to make vegetarian food interesting,
says George Formaro, chef/partner of