The benefits of cooking with soy
Soy has been used in Asia for more than 5, 000 years. Proven to reduce cholesterol levels and provide a natural source of protein, soy products can easily be added to existing recipes.
WHAT IS SOY?
Soy is a naturally healthy, low-fat, quality plant-protein source which comes from soybeans. Soybeans have been grown for thousands of years and in the past decade, have become a common food and non-food additive to many products.
Originally grown in Asia for more than 5,000 years, soybeans are members of the PULSE plant family, native to tropical and warm temperate regions. The United States has been the major world producer of soybeans since the late 20th century.
The complex structure of soybean plants provides us with the ability to make hundreds of different products including non-food items like crayons, hair styling aids and conditioners, hand cleaners, flooring, candles and more.
FOODS AND SOY
Soybeans are widely recognized for their nutritional qualities. Soybeans and soy based products have proven to reduce cholesterol levels, treat kidney disease, fight heart disease, and aid in the body’s distribution and utilization of calcium, staving off diseases like Osteoporosis. Recent studies also suggest that soybeans may help to reduce the risk of cancer.
WHERE TO FIND SOYFOODS
Popular soyfoods like tofu, meat alternatives, soy sauces, flour and oils can be found in grocery stores and marketplaces. Natural health food stores offer the greatest variety of soyfoods and soy based products.
Soybean oil is one of the world’s most widely used edible oils. Consisting of 85% unsaturated fat, soybean oil is among the least fatty oils, and most recommended by healthcare professionals. Soybean oil is used in the production of liquid shortening, margarines, soft spreads and low fat spreads. It is also an additive or staple ingredient to foods such as salad dressings, non-dairy creamers, whipped toppings, ice cream, breakfast cereals, soups, frozen dairy desserts, peanut butter, sandwich spreads and snack foods.
Soy protein is being used more frequently by food manufacturers as a versatile, flavor enhancing additive. Soy protein has tremendous nutritional properties and can be found down almost every aisle of the supermarket. Soy protein is often added to baked goods, breads, pastas, meat, poultry and fish products, and milk blends.
Tofu is made by curdling hot soy milk and is also referred to as, “Soybean Curd.” It’s naturally low in saturated fat and contains no cholesterol. Tofu has a custard-like consistency and absorbs the flavors of other ingredients in recipes. Tofu can be used as an additive or main ingredient.
Soy milk is produced by grinding dehulled soybeans, mixing with water and cooking. The finished product is then filtered and sweetened. Soy milk provides a good source of thiamine, protein, iron, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium. Soy milk is also low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free. Soy milk can be used in place of cow’s milk in any recipe.
Miso is fermented soybean paste. It is made from soybeans, rice or barley, salt, and water. It has a rich and salty flavor, and is used as a seasoning. Miso is an excellent way to enhance soups, marinades, dips and toppings.
Made by cooking and dehulling beans or grains, Tempeh is a cultured soybean cake. It’s tender and chewy, and is often used as a meat substitute. Tempeh can be grilled, deep fried, sauteed, steamed, baked, grated or microwaved.
Soybeans are sold in two varieties: dry soybeans and green vegetable soybeans. Dry soybeans are harvested when they are fully mature and dry, and green vegetable soybeans are harvested prior to maturity. Green vegetable soybeans are a versatile vegetable that can be eaten as a side dish or added into salads, dips and soups.
Soy cheese is made from soy milk, and has a creamy texture. It’s an easy substitute for sour cream or cream cheese in recipes.
Soy sauce is made from soybeans that have been fermented. The dark grown liquid with the salty taste is an excellent alternative to table salt. Shoyu, tamari and teriyaki are three distinct blends of soy sauces.
TIPS AND TRICKS
TRY adding soy to your diet slowly. Chunks of firm tofu can be tossed into soups and stews, meat loafs and lasagnas.
USE a tablespoon of soybean oil in place of regular cooking oils for a low fat, cholesterol free alternative. Soybean oil has little flavor, so it won’t interfere with the taste of food like other oils.
SOY MILK POWDER is an easy alternative to adding cow’s milk to baking recipes. Soy milk powder is made to be mixed with water, and stores easily in the refrigerator or freezer.
ADD soy milk, instead of cow’s milk, to creamed soups. You won’t taste the difference!
FOR AN EASY soup stock, add 1/4 cup of miso to a quart of water. For an easy low calorie broth, add 1 tablespoon to a cup of hot water.
TRY tempeh on the grill. Steam cakes, marinate in your favorite sauce, and then grill until brown.
SOY FLOUR can be used to thicken gravies and sauces or as a frying batter.
The food in the Far East is very different. For the first time visitor, the array of strange offerings can be bewildering. Here’s a guide to the foods that Westerners will not only enjoy, but come to love!
My first meal in Singapore was a McDonalds Big Mac. One look at the bewildering array of offerings in the food hall of a large shopping center was too much for a body tired and hungry after an overly long flight. This normally adventurous eater simply fled and took refuge in a known quantity.
My second meal was not a success either. Tentatively, I ordered a bowl of something called Mie. The stall keeper asked whether I would like it with extra chili. Mistake. Those tiny little chilies in South East Asia are the hottest, fiercest chilies in the world. Chili lovers, be warned!
So what can you, as a Westerner, eat and enjoy in Singapore and Malaysia? Once you know the ropes, you’ll be ready to try anything. The food is delicious and interesting. But to guide you through the first couple of days of your culinary adventure, you may want to start with some safe options.
First, be aware that food stalls are everywhere, and this is where you should normally eat. Usually, you will find a variety of stalls all grouped together, each selling just one specialty. They may be informal stalls on the street, or a defined food hall in a shopping center. Either way, you don’t have to worry about unhygienic preparation: the food is clean and safe to eat. It’s also a fraction of the price you’d pay in a restaurant, but you do have to pay cash.
The idea is to choose items from a number of stalls in order to compose your meal. If you were to do a similar thing in the West, you would get a plate from one stall, your hamburger bun from another, the burger patty itself from a third, the chips from a fourth, salad from a fifth and a soda from a sixth stall. In Penang, in Malaysia, they actually offer a Food Tour in order to teach you how to eat from stalls.
Second, be aware that the portions are small. This is almost certainly as a result of the rather novel way of assembling a meal, as it would be difficult to compose a platter of three or four items if each was a meal in itself. If you do want to focus on just one item, you will probably have to order three or four portions.
Now, what to choose? The first thing to look for is food on sticks. If there are signs or posters, look for one offering Saté Ayam. You’ve probably been exposed to saté at barbecues or even some restaurants, and here’s your chance to try the real thing. Even better, you can rely on these to be good. They are surprisingly unspicy, although you should approach with caution any sauce served with them. “Ayam” means chicken, and most of the time the saté will be chicken. The Malays don’t eat pork, although you will find pork dishes in Chinese restaurants.
Any strange white cubes you see are most likely to be rice. This is simply plain white rice cooked and then compressed into a mold of some sort and then cut into pieces. You can try a similar stunt at home by pressing freshly cooked rice into small ramekin dishes, and then turning them out for serving. A sprinkle of peanuts or chopped cilantro over the top gives it a sophisticated touch. At a food stall in Malaysia, however, your compressed rice will usually be cubes.
Not all rice is compressed. A very popular dish among is Chicken Rice, and it’s also very appealing to Western tastes. It consists simply of rice cooked in chicken stock, topped with a piece of chicken. Also very unspicy, ideal for those needing a gentler introduction to Eastern foods. The Malay word for rice is “Nasi”, so anyone offering you “Nasi Ayam” is a good bet.
In fact, anyone offering you Nasi anything is a good bet. Rice-based dishes, especially fried rice dishes, rarely contain any chili at all, much less unexpectedly high doses of it. In fact, don’t be surprised to see fried rice dishes on the breakfast buffet of your hotel.
Anything in a sauce is likely to be a curry. The Eastern understanding of “mild”, though, is very different to the Western idea. Fortunately, the Easterners do understand that you will have different expectations. The question to ask is not “Is this curry mild?”. Rather ask “Is this good for a Westerner?”. Very often, the stall keeper will direct you to another dish.
Approach noodles with caution. Most noodles are served with a healthy dose of chili, especially noodles in soups. Fried noodle dishes are usually safer, and when cooked with no or very little chili, are delicious. They’re worth trying once you start feeling more adventurous. And in case you’re wondering, the word for noodles is “Mie”. Don’t ask for extra chili.
Something you absolutely must try is cendol (pronounced chendol), a refreshing iced coconut milk drink with sweet bean jellies and sticky palm sugar syrup. In fact, if you’re planning on trying something in a sauce, or a bowl of those interesting noodles, a glass of cendol may be just the answer to cool your mouth down between bites. But any time you’re feeling hot and thirsty, head for a cendol stall. They’re everywhere.
The street vendor meals are part of the charm of a visit to Malaysia and Singapore, and they do give you the opportunity to eat authentic food. However, you may want to visit a restaurant in order to try a “Steamboat”, which you’re unlikely to find at your friendly corner food stall.
A Steamboat is the Asian version of a fondue. Here, you have a pot of simmering stock, a selection of finely sliced meats, fish and vegetables, and a variety of sauces. You choose whatever you want to eat, cook it in the stock, then dip it in the soy sauce and enjoy. Of course, everything you cook adds more flavor to the stock, so at the end of the meal this is served up as a soup to complete the very sociable dining experience.
These few guidelines should stand you in good stead, to get you over the first hurdle of completely foreign food. Even if you’re too tired and hungry to care, food on sticks, a bowl of fried rice and a glass of icy cendol will soon assuage the image of a well-known burger and chips.