Long popular in the East, soyfoods have only recently found a home in Western kitchens. Yet beyond tofu, many people are still at a loss about what to do with the versatile bean. Use the primer below as one might use a tour guide to a foreign culture. All these soyfoods can be found in supermarkets, natural-foods stores or Asian groceries.
What it is: "Soybean curd" is made by heating soymilk and a curdling agent in a process similar to dairy cheesemaking. Allowed to stand and thicken, the curds form silken tofu. When stirred and separated from the whey, the pressed curds, with their spongier texture, are known as "regular" tofu. The longer the pressing, the firmer and denser the tofu—soft, firm or extra-firm.
What to do with it: Silken tofu is delicate and custardlike, perfect for pureéing and using in dressings, smoothies, sauces or floating in delicate soups. Extra-firm tofu is ideal for stir-fries, sautés and grilling, while the soft variety makes a good substitute for ricotta in Italian dishes or for eggs in quiches. Firm tofu is a good all-purpose choice. Tofu will last 5 to 7 days after opening. Store in a loosely sealed container of water in the refrigerator, changing the water daily.