(February 22, 2012)

During Lent, even those who don't give up beer or Godiva do tend to think about meatless meals. And rightfully so, since going meatless is seen as a sacrifice by many of us. Vegetarians, on the other hand, have been going meatless forever and most seem to suffer no ill effects from their properly planned diets featuring protein sources other than "meat." (And that includes beef, poultry and seafood, people.)

One easy meatless way to get that protein is to turn to tofu, aka soybean curd. When combined with veggies — especially those rich in vitamin C — tofu can provide a substantial part of our daily protein needs. Further, it's lower in calories than many meats (88 in four ounces) and has no cholesterol, but is high in iron and magnesium and proffers some calcium and a bit of zinc.

Tofu comes in several forms — firm, extra firm, silken (creamy). The firm and extra-firm are great for cooking as they can be stir-fried, baked, even grilled or broiled.

Tofu's only drawback, if you can call it that, is that it's rather perishable, which is why it comes packaged in water. Do rinse it before using. And if you're not using an entire package, cover it with more water and store it in a sealed container. That way, it'll keep about a week in the fridge. Of course, you can freeze it for up to three months, but the texture becomes chewy, and watery.

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Tofu stir-fry

We begin with the obvious, something Asian. Surely, you've made an eat-in dinner out of take-out fare from your local Chinese food emporium. Serve this with steamed rice (white or brown, 1 cup for each serving) and fruit. Green tea, served in little cups, adds to the ambience. So do chop sticks. And fortune cookies.

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 large)

1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger root

2 teaspoons sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (10-ounce) packaged firm tofu, drained, cubed

1 cup chopped Vidalia onion

1 tablespoon peanut oil

2 cups shredded Chinese cabbage

1-1/4 cup bean sprouts

1 cup diced red bell pepper

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1/3 cup sliced scallions (white and green parts)

2 teaspoons cornstarch