I was making a corn chowder yesterday, and I didn't want for it to have heinous amounts of fat, nor did I want to throw in starch (like wheat starch, corn starch, etc), because it doesn't really add much to the party with regards to flavour or nutrition. Interestingly enough, I was just talking to my mother over the weekend about how the cost of coconut milk has skyrocketed, and how it's getting prohibitively expensive.
Then, I started to do some digging. Every site that I see promoting silken tofu says that you can use the pureed stuff in cream soups, but then leaves it at that. Does that mean that you puree it, and then dump in a bunch of it? Do you puree it in the food processor, and use it as a thick creamy thing, or do you puree it in the blender, and let 'er rip with a bit of liquid of your choice, and stir it in? Can you cook it down, or should it be relatively uncooked? How about freezing or thawing or boiling or all kinds of other considerations? How much should you use?
First and foremost, let me make one thing clear: you don't /have/ to use silken tofu. You can, if that's what you have, but if you don't have any, or don't feel like tracking any down, just use whatever tofu you have lying around in the house, or whatever is cheapest at your market. You're throwing this into the blender to blend down to an absolute puree, so it doesn't really matter.
I'm just sick of all these recipes demanding that you use a particular thing, when it's not even necessary. Y'know, like those ones that ask you to use MELTED MARGARINE.* What is melted margarine? OIL. So why not use oil? It's infuriating. In the same way, since you're going to be blending the heck out of it anyway, just use whatever you have, and the heck with what everyone tells you to do.
Secondly, remember that tofu, when frozen, changes texture. This goes for pureed tofu, but far less so than for fresh tofu. This means that if you are going to be using tofu to replace cream, please use exactly however much you need, and use it up. Don't use frozen tofu. I wish that I didn't have to make this distinction, but I do, because not everyone is familiar with the stuff, and won't know not to do so.
Finally, if you are going to be using extra firm, or firm tofu, please don't cook it too terribly much. If you've ever had tofu that's been put into miso soup, and sat there, you'll know that the texture changes completely. For the best results, keep your tofu cream aside, and stir it in just before serving, or at the last minute to the pot of soup. If you do have silken tofu, and you grind it, you'll have more leeway to work with to make the magic happen.
How about the ratios? How much tofu to how much liquid?
Here's the exciting part. Yesterday, for two cups of coconut milk, I used about four pounds of tofu! Two cups is about the standard size of coconut milk can that you see in the store. This means that the coconut milk that you bought for however much can be stretched out with tofu and water to make far more than what you started with. To scale this back, it works out to about 1/2 cup of coconut milk per pound of tofu. This should provide you with enough cream to stir into a pretty decent sized pot of soup. This also means that you can scale this down further. You can use 1/2 lb of tofu for 1/4 cup of coconut milk, or 1/4 lb of tofu for 2 TB of coconut milk.
This means that people with less than normal food processors, or blenders (I'm looking at you, people with mini choppers who use them as food processors*) can still do the job, because you can scale down as far as you need to or scale up as needed.
So. Recipe time, right?
1 tsp canola, peanut, or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 1/2 tsp thyme
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 ears of corn, taken off the cob
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper (or, lots more if you're like me and love black pepper in chowder)
2 cups of water
2 TB coconut milk
1/4 lb tofu
In a stock pot, sautee the onions over medium high heat until they become translucent. Add the thyme in with the onions, and stir everything around until the herbs are evenly distributed with the onions and the fat. You do this so that the essential oils from the thyme have a chance to release their flavours efficiently.
While the onion cooks, chop up the potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes. Since there's only two potatoes, you should be able to do this relatively quickly, even if you're a slow chopper. When the onions are cooked, add the diced potatoes, and stir the veggies around in the pot until everything is evenly combined. Drop down the heat to medium low, and put the lid onto the pot. While that hangs out and cooks slowly, take the kernels of corn off of the cob. When the potatoes have cooked for 7 minutes in the pot, add the corn, water, salt, and black pepper. Increase the heat to medium high again.
While the water comes up to the boil, combine the coconut milk and tofu in a blender. Blend until the tofu is pureed smooth. Add water (from the soup pot) to thin out the tofu cream, until it resembles the consistency of a thick heavy cream. Turn off the heat once the potatoes are tender. Let the whole thing sit for about five minutes to cool a bit. Stir in the cream, and serve immediately, with a rain of lovely freshly ground black pepper, chives, or soup crackers, as suits your fancy.
The reason that I'm a fan of using tofu instead of all coconut milk is twofold: for one thing, the tofu adds protein to the mix. Yes, I am well aware that the coconut milk, corn, and potatoes all contain protein of their own. However, the tofu does have a good fair bit of concentrated protein that will boost up the whole thing. Also, the tofu means that I can reduce the amount of fat that I'm using. In the past, for a recipe like this, I would have cheerfully used 1/2 cup of coconut milk. I've managed to cut back on the coconut milk drastically, and still keep that rich, creamy texture that I like. I've also not gone off the deep end to the other extreme, where I'm afraid of fat. Coconut milk and olive oil/canola oil/peanut oil are healthy fats. When used in moderation, they're good for the body, and help absorb fat-soluble vitamins. They are a vital part of your diet. While you don't want to overdo them, you also don't want to avoid them completely.
Besides. Fat tastes good. Just because I'm eating healthy doesn't mean that I have to eat like I'm sick, right? I can still enjoy the things I like while making minor substitutions which improve the overall food, while not going to any extremes. I hope you will also agree with me, and give the recipe a try! Corn chowder is absolutely delicious, and the perfect way to use up all that lovely corn that's coming into season.
*For the record, I'm using these lines in a humorous fashion. It's not meant to offend, or to seriously call into question how people like things, or do things. Sometimes, in the written word, the tone is not always clear. Let me make it clear now that it's meant to be taken in a jokey manner, and not in a ranty manner.