(Nov. 8) Think simple. Think soy.

With the low-carbohydrate craze in full force, soy looks good with its offer of high calcium and protein content and low cholesterol. It’s also versatile and easy to prepare.

You can serve soybeans, or edamame, in its original state as a vegetable or processed as tofu or other soy protein.

Since tofu basically is flavorless, you easily can incorporate it into such meal items as mayonnaise, salad dressing, barbecue and cheesecakes.

SOY OPTIONS

Vegetarian pepperoni, hot dogs and burger products are becoming staples at colleges and universities as well as at national parks and ballparks like Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium, says Debby Damgaard, western regional sales manager for Uniondale, N.Y.-based Hain Celestial Group. She notes that people in those venues are looking for healthier alternatives, and she expects airlines eventually will serve soy-based products.

The future of tofu for foodservice will revolve around the “heat-and-serve” image, says Rinda Ray, foodservice marketing manager for Ayer, Mass.-based Vitasoy USA. Marinated, flavored tofu from suppliers saves time and labor costs. The company offers three flavors of cubed, marinated tofu and is considering adding additional flavors.

Boston-based bakery cafe chain Au Bon Pain asked Vitasoy to create an onion and garlic flavored cubed tofu it uses for an eggless sandwich, Ray says. Vitasoy is willing to develop products for other restaurants requiring a large volume.

Panos Ly, owner-chef of the New World Vegetarian House in Oakland, Calif., predicts that fast-food options of soy products, like corn dog alternatives, will grow as people look for healthier meal items with good flavor.

Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s Corp. restaurants are test marketing a veggie burger from the Hain Celestial Group in California and New York City, Damgaard says. The burger has already been successful in Canadian markets.

EXPERIMENTING WITH TASTE

In its raw state, edamame can be used in a variety of dishes. “Edamame is just fabulous whether as a vegetable or used as a salad,” says Linda Funk, executive director of the Soyfoods Council, Urbandale, Iowa. She suggests using fresh soybeans in a breakfast frittata.

At Babette’s restaurant in East Hampton, N.Y., co-owner and chef Daniel Van Der Beek cooks edamame and serves it as part of a sauté with a dinner entrée.

Soybean’s curd, tofu, is perhaps the most versatile soy product for chefs.

By changing the texture of tofu, it can be created to look and feel like many meat products, says Ly of the New World Vegetarian House. Nearly 95% of the restaurant’s menu items use tofu. He uses mashed tofu mixed with items like bean curd and root flour to create food that has the consistency of chicken, beef, crab, lobster or shrimp.

One way to add taste to tofu is simply to lightly fry the skin so sauces can be absorbed , he says.

Thai fish, which combines tofu, bean curd and seaweed that is fried and served with curry sauce, is a favorite dish at the New World Vegetarian House, Ly says.

At Babette’s, Van Der Beek uses 250 pounds of tofu a week in various dishes. Barbecued tofu is a favorite. Van Der Beek cubes pressed tofu and crusts it in the oven before dressing it with barbecue sauce. “People say it tastes like chicken,” he says.

Even extra firm tofu can fall apart when sautéed, so Van Der Beek presses nearly all the tofu he uses with a 60-pound press to squeeze out the water. This technique makes the product more meatlike in texture, he says.

FOCUS ON FLAVOR

Because tofu absorbs nearly any flavor, menu ideas are practically endless.

At the Adobe Cafe in Philadelphia, executive chef Brian McCleish likes pairing tofu with garlic and citrus juices. He creates a vegetarian marinade using garlic, orange juice, scallions, jalapeno peppers and annatto, which he uses to marinate tofu as well as chicken and beef. He uses marinated tofu fingers in fajitas or blackens and serves them over a salad with balsamic glaze, he says.

“It’s easy to work with,” McCleish says. “It stores well and can be prepared ahead of time.”

The key for introducing tofu is preparing a flavorful dish. “We don’t do cold, cubed tofu on top of salads. We do grilled tofu or herb-crusted tofu,” Van Der Beek says. “You need it to taste good the first time (people) try it.”

Van Der Beek says his customers prefer entrée salads that are half warm, like the summer salad sauté that he prepares using sautéed tofu with olive oil, yukon gold potatoes, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, olives and tomatoes. He serves the sauté over field greens tossed lightly with a meyer lemon vinaigrette. He tops the salad with garlic sesame dressing and shallots.

Babette’s also serves a lot of tempeh, a type of fermented soybean cake. Van Der Beek smokes tempeh in-house, marinates it in a sesame cilantro dressing and serves it grilled to order. He also uses it in vegetarian fajitas, Asian sautés and an Indonesian Waldorf salad.

At The NewsRoom restaurant in Los Angeles, chef Eddie Caraeff adds flavor to extra firm tofu by smoking it over apple wood and braising it in fresh ginger and soy sauce. He adds the smoked tofu to mixed baby greens, cashews and roma tomatoes and tosses it with mango chutney for a tasty salad.

For an appetizer, Caraeff serves tofu vegan drumstix wing style with Maytag blue cheese dipping sauce and celery batons. Or customers can get the drumsticks slathered in barbecue sauce and nestled over roasted garlic smashed red potatoes surrounded by sautéed wild greens and a hunk of blue cornbread, he says.

The New World Vegetarian House even incorporates tofu into cake frosting, Ly says. He adds cocoa or vanilla to flavor the frosting.

For a healthier cheesecake, use a mixture of 50% extra soft tofu and 50% cream cheese, says Shunzo Horikawa, marketing coordinator for House Foods America Corp., Garden Grove, Calif., a supplier of tofu and other soy-based products. The result is a dessert that is higher in protein and lower in cholesterol than most recipes, he says.

SPREAD THE WORD

Whether you offer prepared soy products or create menu items from scratch, be sure to let consumers know that soy is a part of the selection.

At Babette’s and the New World Vegetarian House, chefs Van Der Beek and McCleish list ingredients on their menus to let customers know which dishes contain tofu or edamame. Van Der Beek includes tofu ranch dressing as a menu choice for the restaurant’s house salad.

If you’re not yet ready to cook with tofu, consider putting a crock of cubed, seasoned tofu on a salad bar, says Vitasoy’s Ray. That way customers can try it at their convenience without having to pay for an entire entrée.

In the end, offering soy foods shows diners that you offer healthful options. “It shows we care about our customers,” Ly says. That keeps diners coming back.

SOY SAMPLER

Vitasoy USA, Ayer, Mass., developed marinated, cubed tofu in ginger sesame, Thai and teriyaki flavors in 2-pound pouches for foodservice. Product is ready to use and may be heated or served cold. The company also offers an unseasoned, cubed tofu pack in a 2-pound pouch and a 5-pound slab of extra firm tofu that can be cut to size or used whole. The shelf life of the cubed tofu is 65 days; shelf life for the slab is 70 days.

The company also offers 1-gallon tubs of soy dressings in creamy Italian and thousand islands flavors and recently developed a 1-gallon pack of Soy Spread, a soy-based mayonnaiselike product.

Visit the Web site at www.vitasoy-usa.com.

The Hain Celestial Group, Uniondale, N.Y., has introduced chicken and beef alternatives made with soy that are fully cooked and fully sauced for Houston-based distributor Sysco Corp.

The company offers 10-pound packs of Veggie Teriyaki Beef Strips, Veggie Honey Garlic Beef Strips, Veggie BBQ Beef Strips and Veggie Peppered Beef Strips marketed under the MoonRose label for foodservice. Chicken alternatives are Veggie Teriyaki Chick’n Strips, Veggie Honey Garlic Chick’n Strips and Veggie Sweet & Sour Chick’n Chunks. All products are high in protein and low in fat. The company recommends sautéing the product to brown it and enhance flavor.

The company also offers frozen, precooked foodservice options under the Yves Veggie Cuisine label. Veggie Pizza Pepperoni is available in slices (a 2.2-pound pack) and rolls in a 1.5-pound pack with a shelf life of seven months frozen and three to four days once thawed and refrigerated.
The company’s Veggie Burgers offer a grill-flavored alternative to meat that is made with soy protein. Burgers come in a 27- and 40-patty packs and have a shelf life of seven months frozen or five days once thawed and refrigerated.

Veggie Dogs feature a natural hickory smoked flavor and come in a 10-pound case of 50 wieners in either Veggie Dogs or Hot & Spicy Jumbo Veggie Dogs varieties. The dogs have a shelf life of seven months frozen or five days once thawed and refrigerated.

Veggie Ground Round, a meatless ground beeflike product, is available in a 2.2-pound pack.

Visit the Web site at www.hain-celestial.com.

House Foods America Corp., Garden Grove, Calif., offers 8-ounce packs of Tofu Shirataki noodles in spaghetti and fettuccini shapes. The noodles are 25% tofu and 75% yam root flour and contain no cholesterol and no sugar. Shelf life for the noodles, which must be refrigerated, is 180 days.

Visit the Web site at www.house-foods.com.