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COOKING WITH "FU"  

Fu can be cooked in a variety of ways to add interest as well as substantial protein to whole foods cuisine. Some of the most popular ways of enjoying fu are the simplest. A few pieces added to vegetable soup transform it into a protein-rich stew. When cooking with fu, keep in mind that beans or soy seasonings such as miso and shoyu complement and increase its usable protein.

For most recipes, fu is first reconstituted by soaking in lukewarm water for 5-10 minutes. When it is soft, gently squeeze out excess water and add the fu to stews, casseroles, beans, and simmered vegetable dishes. For a clear soup, simmer whole cakes of fu for 15 minutes in a vegetable or kombu stock seasoned with natural soy sauce, and serve with a sprinkle of minced scallion. Add fu to hearty stews during the last 15 minutes of cooking to let it absorb the full flavor of the ingredients. When camping or traveling, add fu to soups and one-pot meals-it is the perfect lightweight, high-protein food.

Deep-fried fu enhances many dishes. Fu quickly fries to a crisp, light brown and doesn't tend to absorb oil. Do not soak fu before frying. Simply add a few rounds to moderately hot oil (about 340 F) - the oil should be hot enough so the fu sizzles when added, but it should not be smoking. Fry for about 1 minute, then flip and fry for another minute. Remove all pieces from one batch and place on wire racks or absorbent paper before adding more fu to the oil. When being used in soups or casseroles, deep-fried fu is usually dowsed in boiling water to remove excess oil. Dip the pieces of fried fu in boiling water or place a single layer in a colander, pour boiling water over the pieces, then turn them and dowse again. Allow the fu to drain for a minute before using.

Deep-fried fu is delicious simmered in a shoyu-seasoned broth. It also lends rich flavor to soups and stews and can be added to casseroles. Try cutting a couple rounds of deep-fried fu into bite-sized pieces and cooking it with hijiki and vegetables, or use as protein-rich croutons on soups such as onion or split pea. Lightly sprayed with shoyu or tossed with a little garlic powder or Italian seasonings right after frying, fu "croutons" add a tasty crunch to tossed salads.

Shonai fu is especially good in miso soup. It may be broken or cut into small pieces or strips and added dry to the soup. For an "instant" miso soup, simply bring a small piece of kombu, water, and several bite-sized pieces of shonai fu to a simmer. Remove the kombu, simmer the fu 1-2 minutes, then season to taste with your favorite miso. Garnish with slivered green onion, if desired.

For a quick and easy alternative to main course vegetable pies, use reconstituted shonai fu instead of a crust (see Squash "Pie" recipe). The texture will be different, but the results are just as delicious, and you'll be adding high-quality protein while avoiding the high fat content of most piecrusts.

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