Cookbook Author Dana Jacobi on StarChefs



ROBIN INSLEY: In your book, you outline a variety of soy foods. Tofu and miso seem to be the ones getting the most attention. What's the difference between the two?

DANA JACOBI: They are two of the four traditional food made from soybeans — the others are soymilk and tempeh. Traditional means these foods have been made for centuries in Asia, where the soybean originated. Asians still produce them by hand in cottage industries as well as industrially, with some artisans making particularly fine examples of tofu and miso.

Tofu, the most familiar soy product, is made from the milk of the soybean. There are two "families" of tofu. Silken tofu, what the Japanese call kinugoshi, is made like yogurt; the milk is simply is coagulated to a custardy texture. The other kind, momengoshi or cotton tofu, is made like cheese. A natural coagulent is added to soymilk, producing curds and whey. When the watery whey is drained off you get a firmer kind of tofu.

Miso has enormous range of flavors. It can be blended into barbecue sauce and used to flavor dishes like chili, soups or stews. It can also be mixed into salad dressings or spreads. One of my favorites is a "PMJ" -- a miso with peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wholegrain bread. I mix a sweet, pale miso with the peanut butter and use marmalade for the jelly. The combination is just sensational.


ROBIN INSLEY: What are some innovative ways to work with tofu?

DANA JACOBI: You can freeze it, press it, blend it, etc. Each of them changes the texture in interesting ways. Since the book was published, I have found that when you puree silken tofu, then drain it like yogurt cheese, you can get something that's similar to marscopone. I just used this drained tofu for making tiramisu and it was incredible. For cannoli, soft regular tofu, pureed, is perfect because its slightly grainy texture is like ricotta cheese. I add orange zest, chocolate, all thing you put in a cannoli cream. This not just delicious; it's amazing.


ROBIN INSLEY: People seem to be afraid to experiment with cooking with soy products. Can you suggest a good place to start?

DANA JACOBI: In dishes for beginning soycooks, I focus on using tofu or soymilk in recipes where their flavor disappears, taking on the flavors of other ingredients. If there is a beany flavor, add a little lemon juice; it just neutralizes that taste instantly.

The right density of tofu is important to make a dish succeed. What one manufacturer calls firm is softer than the same item from a different company. I recommend buying several different brands and textures at the same time and opening them all. Once you see the differences, you will easily make the right choice to suit any recipe.

Tofu marries wonderfully with mushrooms. (The mushroom ragout in my book is sensational). I have a sweet pea soup where I combine cilantro and soymilk with green peas and ginger. The soymilk gives the soup body while the other ingredients provide color. This soup looks as vibrant as it tastes.


ROBIN INSLEY: What's the best way to cook with miso?

DANA JACOBI: It depends on whether you want to focus on the health benefits or the flavor. Miso contains lacto bacillus bacteira which is very heat sensitive so heating it kills the enzymes. Miso can be used cold of warm. You can heat miso but do not boil it. Miso is used in a stew or chili when added towards the end. People do tend to use too much of miso which can be a little overpowering. I would never use more than three tablespoons for four- to-six servings because it intensely flavors the food.


ROBIN INSLEY: Are tofu and miso nutritionally similar?

DANA JACOBI: Tofu and miso have significant differences, nutritionally speaking, even though both are good sources of phytochemicals recently been linked to important health benefits and which are making everyone excited about soy.

Miso is a combination of soybeans and grain. Because it is fermented, it is rich in live organisms, including lactobacillus, yeast, and enzymes which add benefits and beyond those from phytochemicals. It has remarkable flavor. Miso is protein-rich but you only use a bit of it in the dish.

Tofu, which is not fermented, is also a high protein food. Most of it is remarkably low in fat. Silken tofu contains only 2.5 grams of fat in a serving. And it's the healthy kind of fat, high in essential fatty acids.


ROBIN INSLEY: I have been hearing a lot about the particular soybean called edamame (E- dah-mah-may). Can you please tell us what it is?

DANA JACOBI: Edamame is a kind of fresh whole soy bean in its immature state. The Japanese boil them in their pods in heavily salted water. In Japan, this popular snack food is commonly served with beer. The Japanese eat them by popping 1-2 beans in their mouths. Edamame can be found at most Chinese or ethnic food stores. They are a high fiber, high protein snack. In America, edamame is being marketed as the sweet bean. Birds Eye Foods is marketing them mixed with baby broccoli florets. You can find this vegetable mixture in the frozen food section. Sno-Pac, an organic food producer, has 10 oz. boxes that can be found in natural food stores.


ROBIN INSLEY: In your book, you mention that some research suggests that soy consumption may reduce a woman's chance of developing breast cancer. Would you discuss this?

DANA JACOBI: True, but for now the data substantiating this are mainly anecdotal. They have yet to be clinically substantiated. But eating soy brings so many other benefits. For some women (omit have shown to have) eating it has produced a reduction in symptoms of menopause. Dr. Susan Love, the highly regarded scientist, has commented on this. From my own experience, I firmly believe that eating soy helped me avoid hot flashes. It also seems to help people avoid osteoporosis. Clinical studies have conclusively proven that consuming soy in sufficient quanity produces a reduction in blood cholesterol.


ROBIN INSLEY: How much soy per day would a person have to consume to see these effects?

DANA JACOBI: For cholesterol reducing benefits, research indicates you need to consume 25-40 milligrams of soy protein a day. That's at least one cup of textured vegetable protein (TVP), about three glasses of soymilk, or between three and four four-ounce servings of tofu. (The protein content in tofu varies from nine to 13 grams.) Clinical trails use soy protein isolate, a powder which is almost entirely protein. Personally, I prefer eating whole soyfoods and find little problem in getting one serving each of several kinds in a day. For example, I may have a soymilk smoothie for breakfast, soy cream cheese (good stuff!) on a bagel as a snack, and chili made with a TVP or a sald with tofu-based dressing at dinner, and then a cup of serious dark chocolate pudding before bed.

Dr. Susan Potter's studies conducted at the University of Illinois have been investigating what is the suggested amount of soy a woman should consume a day to see an effect upon menopause.


ROBIN INSLEY: In relation to the benefits of soy-protein, on a global scale, what are some of the environmental benefits of eating vegetable protein versus animal protein?

DANA JACOBI: Using land to produce vegetable rather than animal protein employs the earth's resources more efficiently. You can feed a multitude of people on acres of soy where as it takes acres of soy to feed one head of cattle. Soybeans are used as a rotational crop throughout the United States as well as in Europe and Asia. As a legume, it is a nitrogen fixer; this means it gives something back to the land even as it produces food for us.


ROBIN INSLEY: A lot of people are confused when they go to their local supermarket and are forced to choose between so many different forms of tofu -- silken, soft, firm, etc. Can you take us through some of these? How do you use each of them?

DANA JACOBI: Silken tofu is great for dressings, toppings, puddings, a lot of dessert uses. Its creaminess expands the uses for tofu. It brings cooking with bean curd to a whole other, sophisticated level. Firm silken bean curd can be cut into little cubes and used in miso soup. But no silken tofu can be used in a stir- fry because it breaks apart and becomes mushy. Soft regular tofu can be scrambled with an egg to make a breakfast burrito. It's also perfect pureed for dips that need body, and in desserts which need body, like Cannoli Cream. Firm and extra firm tofu can be cut into slabs, marinated, and grilled. Besides being good in stir-frys, they are also good cubed and added to chili or stews. Matching the texture of tofu to the recipe you are using is important. For a creamy dessert, a silken tofu usually gives the best result. Regular soft tofu stays slightly grainy, even when pureed. Because a texture of tofu varies in density from brand to brand, the best thing is to buy a few brands at the s ame time and decide which has the taste and density you like best.


ROBIN INSLEY: One thing that makes cooking with soy so pleasurable is that it presents such a range of flavors. What is your personal favorite soy dish?

DANA JACOBI: I love my Chocolate Silk Pie, which is made with silken tofu pureed with equal amount of a high quality chocolate like Valrhona. I also love the Wild Mushroom Ragout because the tofu in it marries beautifully with its meaty chunks of porcini and cremini mushrooms. Sweet Pea and Coriander Potage shows how elegant soymilk can be. I like these elegant dishes because they have big, complex flavors that unroll in layers. In Asian cooking, I love those Korean dishes combining delicate, freshly made silken tofu with meat, vegetables and hot chile peppers.


ROBIN INSLEY: What tips would you give a home cook who is beginning to experiment with incorporating soy into his or her daily diet?

DANA JACOBI: Soymilk is a good place to start. It is easy to use on cereal and makes great smoothies. Recently, soy yogurts have been improved, so give them a try, too. Miso is simple to use and adds exceptional flavor to dishes. Try mixing a tablespoon of pale, sweet or white miso into sauteed carrots as a glaze, or mashing miso into potatoes in place of butter. It makes them creamy, fluffy, and adds remarkable flavor.

To enjoy bean curd, is remember that it is a sponge for flavors. Serve a sauce or marinade with it, or combine it with other ingredients that give it flavor. Think of tofu as an ingredient, a partner, just like the rice in a casserole or the mayonnaise in a dip. What you put with it is they key. Mostly, think of highly flavored, strongly colored ingredients, from spinach, broccoli or sweet potatoes, to curry powder, cinnamon or chocolate.


ROBIN INSLEY: For those chefs, what advice would you give for fitting soy foods into their menu? What kind of dishes would you recommend?

DANA JACOBI: I recently taught a class at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and found that a growing number of chefs are interested in soy for various reasons. More of their patrons want meatless dishes and are looking for greater variety, too. Soy is easy to incorporate into a host of soups, salad dressings, eggless egg salad and dips. The mushroom stew in my book holds for a number of days and can be reheated easily. The same is true for the chocolate silken pie.

Experimenting with soy often pays off. One team of chefs I taught at Greystone put a dry rub on slabs of tofu and smoked them. The results were stunning. You can fry cubed tempeh to sprinkle on a salad in place of crouton; see how soymilk and soy cheese make a creamy, rich macaroni and cheese casserole; and discover how tempeh "bacon" flavor zips up meatless hash and split pea soup.

Finally, check out prepared soy products. Some great salads and burgers are available and new items appear every time you blink.


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