Happy Veganuary! For our big New Year's resolution this year, my husband and I decided to eat more meatless meals. I'm starting from the ground up here - meat has always been a part of my diet. And, it's hard to change life patterns. Meat, starch, vegetable... It's the American way!

I began the journey slowly. We've tried a few of the meat substitutes and they are pretty decent in the taste and texture department but because they are highly processed, I started searching for proteins that are more natural. They also have to pass taste inspection in my family and fill my husband up.

As a novice, I needed a quick list of healthy plant-based proteins. Top 10 Sources of Plant-Based Protein According to a Nutritionist was super helpful. Right in the middle of the list is a protein that's easy to find at just about any grocery store and what is more synonymous with "vegan" than TOFU? I was surprised to learn that tofu has been around for over 2,000 years but it wasn't until the Eighties that soy-based products started gaining a rise in pop culture when modified soy-based products like Tofurkey started making their way into the market.

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Tofu has kind of a bad rap. With the recent trends in plant-based living, rumors are running rampant. There's a whole host of concerns: cancer, hormone imbalances, sprouting a twin from your side. Now, aside from the twin thing (I just made that up) there are some valid health concerns that I wanted to address. And let me tell you, wading through all the 'baloney' is exhausting!

My advice: look for sound scientific studies with experts in nutrition to back it up. The article Here’s the Truth About Soy and How Much You Should Eat from thebeet.com really broke it all down for me. According to the article, the bottom line is that tofu is considered a whole soy food - not processed - and provides a range of health benefits such as high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids which have been found to protect against cancer.

Whew, good news! Tofu and other whole soy-based products are good for you! But, then there's that other thing...

tofu and soybean
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I don't know about you but when I hear the word "tofu," I immediately think of Phoebe from Friends saying something like, "I don't eat anything with a face." And, let's be honest. Tofu has zero taste and a less than appealing texture - or so I thought. Turns out, any time I'd tried tofu in the past, I was skipping some important steps to making it not only palatable but dare I say it... delicious!

So, if you are thinking about trying tofu, learn from my mistakes. Here's how to get your tofu a bit crispy on the outside and soft on the inside with a distinct flavor.

Step 1: Look for Extra Firm Tofu

You want your tofu to stand up and be proud of who it is! Also, you want it to retain its shape so you can actually fry it up!

Step 2:  Squeeze Out the Water

When you open your tofu package, it is standing in water. We need to squeeze out the water. It's easy though. Place a couple of paper towels on a plate. Gently put your tofu on the paper towels and top with a couple more towels. Then top with a heavy object like a cast iron skillet. Make sure it's flat on the bottom and centered. You don't want it to fall over. Let it rest for 30 minutes.

Step 3: Dredge Your Tofu

I mixed up a half cup of corn starch, 1/4 cup of panko, and a tbsp of Cajun seasoning. I love Cajun seasoning because it's spicy without being overboard and already includes your salt and spices. Use whatever spices you want but make sure there's a good amount in the mixture because tofu doesn't have much of a taste. This flavors the tofu.

Step 4: Fry in Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Avocado Oil

I put about three tablespoons in my fry pan and set to Medium-High heat. I like the Swiss Diamond pan because it's non-stick, non-toxic, and lasts forever if you take care of it. When the oil was hot enough, I put the tofu in and let it get to work. Every 3-4 minutes, I'd add a few more tablespoons of oil and turn the tofu.

Step 5: Let It Rest on Paper Towels or a Wire Rack

Let your tofu rest a minute before serving.

At this point, you can dip your tofu in sauce like a nugget or you can put it in a recipe. I went a few steps further and sauteed some shredded cabbage, matchstick carrots, mushrooms, green onions, sesame oil, ginger, and sesame seeds in olive oil. Then I mixed in the tofu, wrapped them in egg roll wrappers, and baked them at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. Served with sweet and sour sauce, the tofu egg rolls were amazing - and my husband actually loved them! And let's be clear here - the man is not your typical tofurkey hound. He's ribeye and a baked potato man dude. So, if this passed his inspection, it just might pass yours too.

I don't know what's next in our plant-based adventures but I'm ready to try more things! For more about plant-based living, visit thebeet.com.

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