Protein Push - Soy-Braised Tofu (Dubu Jurim)

I can honestly say I've never thought much about protein. As a person struggling to lose weight her entire adult life, I worried more about avoiding things that were supposed to be bad for overweight people - things that were fried and contained a lot of bad fat and/or sugar. I was by no means worrying about whether or not I was getting enough protein.

It's funny how before my surgery, I was mostly concerned with NOT eating, and now, post-procedure, I am focused on EATING ENOUGH ... specifically  protein.

You may already know this, but in case you don't, it's suggested (I'm not sure who suggested it, but I'm guessing some very smart and scientific people like nutritionists) that women get a minimum of 60 grams of protein daily, and men as much as 85 grams of protein. This will vary by weight and whether or not you are a body-building weight-lifter or a person who just wants to maintain their health - but those are good numbers to shoot for.

We need protein to help us build muscle (which helps us with our metabolism) and to help us heal when we are hurt and injured. Apparently, protein is pretty important.

At this stage in the game, I'm almost able to meet my daily requirement with the food I cook for myself, but as little as two weeks ago, I was barely able to get half of that requirement so I supplemented a lot with high-protein (low-sugar!) shakes. 

That worked for a bit, but I missed chewing. I missed the taste of actual food in my mouth, but my tiny tummy was still healing and I needed to take it easy and eat super soft foods. I would love to have you feel super sorry for me, but I'll remind you that this healing and nurturing process does not go on endlessly - it's really a period of four weeks that you need to focus on pureed and really soft foods, so don't feel too bad for me. It's totally do-able. If you're at this stage - remember that this, too, shall pass.

While the veggies I pureed (from my previous blog) were satisfying, they didn't have much protein to offer. I mentioned the first week of recovery I did not turn my nose up at pureed protein in the way of baby food, but I was over it and wanted something a bit more "adult".

Here are some foods that I could manage that were soft, high in protein, and not pureed:

  • Eggs - scrambled, over-easy, poached, and as an omelette (a little cheese sprinkled on top ups the protein count)
  • Cottage cheese - simply seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper, as a snack with fruit, or go a little nuts and sprinkle some furikake rice seasoning on it - delish!
  • Tofu! - but not just any old tofu ...

The week I got home from the hospital, I set myself up with some recently released cookbooks to pass the time, hoping I might get some high-protein inspiration. Koreatown, by chef Deiuki Hong and food writer Matt Rodbard, might not immediately seem like a gentle way to reintroduce solid food to my system, but I was past the two-week mark and missing Asian cuisine and ingredients. It's possible that my undying love and affection for chefs Roy Choi, David Chang and Danny Bowein, coincidentally of Korean heritage, might fuel my love of Korean cuisine which lead to the purchase of Deiuki's cookbook. It's possible is all I'm saying.

This is a really great cookbook for any home cook interested in learning to make traditional Korean food at home. It offers a satisfyingly broad coverage starting off with quintessential banchan recipes (the myriad of little side dishes served, along with rice, with most Korean cuisine), and moving on to rice, noodles and dumplings, and then everyone's favorite - Korean barbecue.

I think what I love best about Korean food, and why I'm so excited to learn to cook it right now, is that it has not been "dumbed down" or Americanized. If you are a lover of Korean cuisine like I am, you know what I'm talking about.  Go to any Korean restaurant and you're going to get what they eat every day, no substitutions. That's right - you heard it here (probably not first) - Korean food is so hot right now!

Okay - tofu. I paused when I came upon Deiuki's recipe for soy-braised tofu (Dubu Jurim). Tofu is high in protein, is often praised for its health values, and even the super-firm tofu is pretty soft. There are  two things I love about this recipe - while the tofu is going to be easy on the tummy, I've lightly dredged it in rice flour and sauteed it in coconut oil before braising it in the soy mixture, which gives the dish enough texture to satiate a tired-of-pureed-foods grump. Secondly, it totally satisfies my addiction for Asian flavors.

This recipe does call for a bit of spice in the way of gochugaru, which is a Korean chili powder. It's only one tablespoon and in my opinion provides just a bit of heat, but if you feel your tummy is not ready for that (or you don't like anything spicy) you can omit it, no problem. But you're a complete pussy.

Another note: while tofu is naturally high in protein, lean meats like fish and chicken are going to have more protein per ounce. I feel you could totally switch out either of those two lean sources of protein for the tofu, but stay away from beef or pork at this point. Your food needs to be soft and pork and beef have tougher connective tissues that don't break down as easily like that of fish and fowl. If you've got some chicken tenderloins in the freezer, go for it! (Taylor, I'm talkin' to you - since you can't do soy-based foods. Look for "liquid aminos" to replace the soy sauce.)

Dubu Jorim (Soy-Braised Tofu)

*based on the recipe by Deiuki Hong's recipe from Koreatown - A Cookbook

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 18-ounce package of firm tofu

1/2-cup rice flour for dredging

1/4 cup soy sauce (I recommend low-sodium)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2-inch knob of ginger, minced

1 tablespoon coarsely ground gochugaru

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon mirin

Coconut oil as needed

1 spring onion, thinly sliced, for garnish

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, for garnish

 

  1. Remove the tofu from its packaging and drain well. (You can omit the following step and simply pat the tofu try with a paper towel, but I like to press the tofu for a bit to get the maximum amount of moisture out of it.) Place a metal cooling rack over a sheet pan, then place a folded piece of paper towel on top of the cooling rack. Deposit your tofu gently onto the paper towel and cover with another piece of folded paper towel, then weight the tofu down with something heavy - like your favorite cast-iron skillet. Let the tofu drain for about an hour, then slice the tofu into 1/2-inch thick slices.
  2. While the tofu is merrily draining, mix the soy-sauce mixture: in a medium bowl, mix the soy sauce, garlic, ginger, gochugaru, sesame oil, sugar and mirin until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Heat a generous coating of coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the rice flour (if you don't have rice flour you can substitute corn starch) in a plastic baggie and gently shake each slab of tofu in the flour to lightly cover it. Shake off the excess and gently place in the skillet, giving each of the slabs some space, and cook until golden brown on each side (about 8-10 minutes). Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to do this in batches. Remove the tofu from the skillet and let it drain on paper towels.
  4. Remove all but one tablespoon of oil from the skillet and add the soy-sauce mixture and 1/2 cup of water. Add the tofu back to the skillet and let it braise in the soy-sauce mixture over medium-high heat until the liquid has reduced to a caramel-like sauce (about 4 minutes). Remove from the heat and garnish with spring onions and sesame seeds.

You can eat this right away but it's also wonderful at room temperature. I also ADORE this for breakfast with a runny egg!