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Cooking for One: Hung up on soy? Get over it

Thursday, May 10, 2001

By Marlene Parrish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The latest news is that eating more soy foods may stave off Alzheimer's disease. The previous good news was that eating more soy may reduce the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Terrific.

But that vague, raspy noise you hear is the sound of hordes of health-conscious people wringing their hands, baffled about how they might add soy to their daily meals. Even though they'd like to, most people don't have a clue about how to eat more soy. They're not even sure what it is.

Soy officially shucked its hippie "health food" image back when you thought bell-bottoms were cool. Although it's been upstream to the mainstream, young people without hippie hangups started integrating soy products into their menus long ago. But the general (read older) population firmly believes the commonly held notion that they are stuck with eating only, yuk, tofu.

What they are unaware of is that soy, like wheat, eggs and milk, is both a product and an ingredient.

You, the solo cook, are in an excellent position to enjoy foods made with soy products. With only yourself to please in any way you choose, you can experiment all you like. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Soy milk -- Try mixing it half-and-half with your regular milk at first. Then try it in a smoothie or to reconstitute a can of tomato soup. Use it when you bake cookies, cornbread or scones. The "new" flavor is almost invisible in these uses. Add chocolate syrup, and drink it straight up.

Soy ice cream -- Toffutti brand is great. Top a scoop of vanilla with melted raspberry jam for a raspberry royale sundae.

Soy cream cheese -- Try French onion and chive on bagels; both good.

Soy yogurt and sour cream -- I usually add lemon juice to give them character. Good on a baked potato.

Soybean "nuts" -- When you get the crunchies watching TV, try these. Beats chips.

Green soybeans -- Green soybeans -- edamame is the Japanese name -- look like fat snow peas. Find them in the frozen vegetable case labeled, yes, edamame. They are rather salty and great to nibble alongside a beer, sort of like the boiled peanuts one finds in the South. Bet you can't just eat one.

Ready to cook? Soy stuff is bland, but bland is good since soy is a chameleon and can take on many forms and flavors.

Miso -- It looks like crunchy peanut butter. The slightly salty, richly flavored paste pops up the flavor when stirred into soups and marinades. First dissolve it; always blend miso with a bit of liquid before adding it to a dish. Using miso as a condiment, I often mash it into a sauce or dressing. Try this: mix one part each of miso, sherry and sugar, stir, then slather the mixture over a swordfish steak and bake until the fish is done and the topping is brown and bubbly.

Chocolate chips -- Tropical Source brand chips are made with soy, and they are delicious for snacking, too. Most large supermarkets carry them.

Tofu -- Firm tofu can be sliced and diced and added to fajitas, stir-fries and salads. Silken tofu can be mashed and pureed as a stand-in for ricotta cheese or mayonnaise. An unbelievable variety of dips, sauces and puddings are there for the making. Look up recipes in cookbooks.

Stop by a bookstore and browse for a soy cookbook. These are especially good: "This Can't be Tofu" by Deborah Madison, $15; "Soy Desserts" by Patricia Greenberg, $25; and "The Whole Soy Cookbook," also by Greenberg, $16.

Ready for soy? For the fastest, silkiest, no-cook pudding ever, try this recipe.

World's Best Chocolate Pudding

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 (12-ounce) package firm tofu, drained
1/4 cup milk, or soy milk
2 tablespoons water or leftover coffee
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla, to taste
Pinch salt

Melt chocolate in the microwave, in a heavy saucepan or in a double boiler.

In the container of a blender, combine the tofu, milk, water or coffee, vanilla and salt. With the motor running, add the melted chocolate and blend until smooth. Chill until ready to serve. Makes 1 enormous or 4 normal servings.

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