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Perfect Vegetarian Pad Thai

Tofu works wonders as a meat substitute in this tasty recipe

Tofu Pad Thai

Swap shrimp and chicken for low-calorie and penny-saving tofu in Pam Anderson's pad Thai recipe. — Threemanycooks.com

En español | So our family can afford better-quality meats and poultry, and sustainable seafood, we've cut back significantly on consumption. In many of our favorite meals we've started subbing in meaty-textured ingredients such as tofu, beans, mushrooms, potatoes and eggplant, keeping all other ingredients in the dish the same. We usually don't miss the meat.

For example, I used to make pad Thai with chicken and shrimp; now I feature tofu in my Perfect Vegetarian Pad Thai — and my husband really loves it.

I realize that tofu elicits strong opinions. It's a refrigerator staple for vegetarians and vegans, but others view it as tasteless and unappealing, or as a highly processed, genetically altered commodity that big companies pawn off as a health food.

We won't settle this argument here, but this is what I know: Tofu is a good source of meatless protein. It's relatively low-calorie (only 79 calories for a 3-ounce portion), and it's calcium rich with zero cholesterol — compared with shrimp's 189mg of cholesterol in 3.5 ounces.

One downside: Tofu can impair thyroid function, so those with thyroid issues should avoid it.

As for those who would prefer consuming cold mush to tofu, my advice is to never eat tofu by itself. Like a lot of other neutral-flavored ingredients, such as plain pasta or a cold baked potato, tofu needs heat and flavor to bring it alive.

My pad Thai flavoring sauce doubles as the perfect tofu marinade: Just dunk the chunks in the soy-sugar-pepper flake mixture, and the tofu will soak it up like a sponge. The sugar in the sauce also helps the tofu caramelize during cooking to create even more flavor.

These days tofu has become a regular part of our diet, and I use it in the same way I would use meat, poultry and seafood. I buy the best quality that I can — organic for sure — use the best cooking and flavoring methods and enjoy it in moderation.

Perfect Vegetarian Pad Thai

Serves 4 to 6

  • 8 ounces pad Thai rice stick noodles*
  • Pad Thai Sauce (see below)
  • 7 to 8 ounces drained and pressed dry extra-firm tofu (1/2 package), cut bite-size
  • 1 medium-large onion, halved from pole to pole; each half cut into 6 wedges
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 4 scallions, white and green part, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 8 ounces (scant 3 cups) bean spouts, rinsed
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten (or 1/2 cup egg substitute)
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 lime, cut into 6 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • Cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)

*If you can't find pad Thai rice noodles, you can use an equal amount of spaghetti or fettuccine. (If you happen to have leftover cooked spaghetti, you'll need 4 cups.)

Bring 1 quart of water to boil in large saucepan. Add noodles and cook, stirring frequently, until just tender; drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, make Pad Thai Sauce (see below); add tofu and let stand while preparing onion, garlic, scallions, bean sprouts, eggs, peanuts and limes.

Three to 4 minutes into making pad Thai, heat a 12-inch nonstick heat over high and turn on exhaust fan. Add 2 teaspoons of oil and heat until the first wisps of smoke start to rise from the pan. Add eggs and cook, stirring until soft scrambled; transfer to a large bowl; set aside. Return skillet to burner. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and the onion wedges; stir-fry until onion is still crisp and spotty brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add tofu; stir-fry until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Stir in garlic, then scallions and bean sprouts; stir-fry until vegetables wilt slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, add half the Pad Thai Sauce; toss to coat.

Pad Thai Sauce

  • 6 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (or Vietnamese fish sauce)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in hot skillet until shimmering. Toss noodles with remaining Pad Thai Sauce; add to skillet and stir-fry until heated through, about 2 minutes. Return vegetable mixture to skillet; stir-fry until heated through. Transfer to a serving platter; squeeze 2 of the lime wedges over the noodles, sprinkle with peanuts and garnish with cilantro and remaining lime wedges. Serve immediately.

AARP food expert Pam Anderson is a best-selling cookbook author and blogger at threemanycooks.com.

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