Tofu gets a bad rap. It’s unfairly categorized as something only self-righteous vegetarians eat in place of meat. Apprehensive eaters decry its texture and blocky shape. In the world of food, tofu is the misunderstood outsider.
Try Jeffrey Wolovitz’s Heiwa Tofu, however, and you might think differently. Slice it into bite-sized cubes, flash fry it in peanut oil, drizzle it in hoisin sauce and sprinkle it with sesame seeds. Or, spear it on a skewer with some veggies, let it refrigerate for most of a day in your favorite marinade, and throw it on the grill. Then you might understand why it has been a staple of Eastern cuisine for centuries.
“Next to liver, it’s probably the most generally detested food in this part of the world,” said Wolovitz, who has made his home in Lincolnville with his wife, Maho Hisakawa, for the past six years. “Even I never used to like it. But my wife turned me on to it. Now I eat it all the time. Stir fries, in smoothies, fried, all kinds of ways. I like tofu cheesecake. Even plain is pretty good. If you try it in the right thing, you’ll probably like it.”
Wolovitz, 33, has been making his firm yet creamy tofu with Hisakawa out of their Camden workshop for the past two years. They now sell their completely Maine-made product in more than 50 locations throughout Maine and New Hampshire. They buy organic soybeans from farms in Skowhegan and Pittston, and they distribute the more than 850 pounds per week they produce through the Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative. Heiwa Tofu is a great example of a local food success story.
Wolovitz and Hisakawa met in Pennsylvania at Penn State University, where Wolovitz studied astronomy. They moved to Maine in 2004 with the intention of Hisakawa going to school to be a midwife. Instead, they had the first of their two children, daughter Ami. Their second daughter, Ina, was born earlier this year. Wolovitz took a position teaching physics at Searsport District High School; Hisakawa is still a part-time sushi chef at Suzuki, a Japanese restaurant in Rockland.
“I learned so much about Japanese food from her,” said Wolovitz. “In Japan, you might eat tofu every day. We still tend to view it as a meat substitute here. It definitely isn’t that way in Japan, though.”
The couple’s shared passion for healthful, local food never abated during those first few years. Wolovitz, who had worked on farms while he lived in Pennsylvania, wanted to get back into the local food scene. He connected with some midcoast farmers and growers, and looked for a niche he could fill. An encounter with Rob Lovell, who used to make tofu in Rockport in the 1980s, resulted in Wolovitz purchasing Lovell’s old equipment and setting up shop in Camden. The first Heiwa Tofu came out of the workshop in September 2008.
“There was a lot of experimenting at first, adding coagulants and changing the texture and things like that,” said Wolovitz. “In the first six months, we’d make maybe 250 pounds a week. We called a bunch of local shops to see if they’d carry us. By August of 2009, we were up to around 600 pounds a week and had signed on with Crown of Maine to distribute us. And here we are.”
In June, Wolovitz and Hisakawa hit the mark of 1,000 pounds in a week, though not every week hits that level. The pair wakes up bright and early on Monday and Wednesday mornings to drive to the small garage in Camden that houses their tofu-making workshop. Wolovitz left his teaching job last June, and is making tofu full time.
The process is relatively simple, though it requires special equipment. The prewashed soybeans are drained and put into a grinder and combined with more water. That puree is placed in a cooker and heated to 180 degrees. After it’s cooked, it’s put into a large sack in a hydraulic press, where the milk is pushed out.
They then add calcium sulfate to the milk to make it firm up — about 1 cup per 30 gallons — while stirring until it is fully dissolved. The curds that form from the mixture of the milk and calcium sulfate are put into pressing boxes, weighed down for 50 minutes, and then fully cooled. After all that, the tofu is cut into cubes, packed into boxes with water, and shipped off to stores.
The response Wolovitz has received from customers has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’ve nicknamed our tofu ‘the converter.’ We’ve converted so many ‘not-tofu people’ into ‘Heiwa Tofu fans.’ It’s a running joke in our household,” said Wolovitz. “[Just the other day], a man saw me carrying two of our red buckets into the Belfast Co-op and stopped to thank me for the great product. He said that unless he’s in a foreign country, he won’t eat any tofu except ours.”
Though no one in the Wolovitz-Hisakawa household is vegetarian, eating healthfully and locally is the guiding principle behind the foods the family buys and prepares — and the way in which they make and distribute their product.
“It’s something that’s pretty important to me,” said Wolovitz. “We try to buy as much food as we possibly can locally. Michael Pollan says in ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ that people need to start eating real food, and not foodlike substances. That’s the stuff that’s on the fringes of the grocery store, and not the processed stuff in the middle aisles. People think that’s more expensive, but it’s not. It just takes more time to prepare things from scratch. If we can make a product that reflects that, then I’m happy.”
For more information and a full list of the stores that carry Heiwa Tofu, visit www.heiwatofu.com.
Maple Glazed Tofu
1 pound fresh tofu, sliced into slightly under ½-inch slabs
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1-2 tablespoon olive or canola oil
6 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Heat oil in a skillet. Gently place tofu and cook on medium low heat for about 7-10 minutes until golden and slightly puffy. Be patient and be careful not to burn. Flip over and cook other side, adding more oil if necessary. Mix tamari, maple syrup, and water and pour on tofu. Let the sauce simmer until it reduces to a glaze. Occasionally flip tofu so both sides get glazed. Serve hot or cold.
Recipe courtesy of Jeff Wolovitz
Creamy Tofu Spread
1 pound fresh tofu, crumbled
2 teaspoons sea salt
4 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup chives, scallions, or parsley, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
Saute onions in two tablespoons olive oil until soft, then add 1 teaspoon sea salt. Meanwhile, puree tofu, remaining olive oil, and one teaspoon sea salt in food processor until smooth. Transfer onion mixture into food processor with tofu and process until just mixed. Scrape into bowl and mix in chives, scallions, or parsley. Serve on rye crackers, on a sandwich, eaten as vegetable dip, or as a sauce for noodles, steamed vegetables, or salmon.
Recipe courtesy of Jeff Wolovitz.
¼ cup plain dry breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, or oregano, rosemary, marjoram and thyme to taste
14 ounces firm or extra-firm water-packed tofu, rinsed
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil, divided
1 small onion, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¾ cup prepared marinara sauce, preferably low-sodium
½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Combine breadcrumbs and Italian seasonings in a shallow dish. Cut tofu lengthwise into 4 steaks and pat dry. Sprinkle both sides of the tofu with garlic powder and salt and then dredge in the breadcrumb mixture.
Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until they release their juices and begin to brown, 4 minutes more. Transfer to a bowl.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add the tofu steaks and cook until browned on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn over and sprinkle with Parmesan. Spoon the mushroom-onion mixture over the tofu, pour marinara over the mushrooms and scatter mozzarella on top. Cover and cook until the sauce is hot and the cheese is melted, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and serve.
Recipe courtesy of EatingWell.com