Last Friday afternoon the folks at Green House got together to celebrate everybody's favorite white blobby stuff. No, not the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but tofu. There are many things that are wonderful about this substance: it's vegetarian, it's inexpensive, and it's versatile.
The event was Carleton's eleventh annual Tofufest. A Green House resident, Thomas Smith '07, told me that this year saw a typical turnout. "We usually get about sixty or seventy people over the course of an afternoon." They had set up several tables on the Chapel lawn, allowing people to drift in and out as they enjoyed the beautiful mid-May weather.
Among the activities laid out on the tables, Lily Jacobson '07 was making tofu smoothies and handing out samples. They were made by mixing tofu, frozen fruit, rice milk, and grape juice together in a blender. They were pretty good, too, almost indistinguishable from a dairy smoothie.
I discovered the extent of my tofu ignorance when Lily explained to me that there are two different kinds of tofu, firm and smooth. Smooth is the kind used for making smoothies, while firm is the kind you find in stir fries.
Another person trying out smoothies asked her, "What is tofu?" Literally, it's bean curd, made out of soybeans in much the same way that one makes cheese. Lily said that the soy milk is curdled with Epsom salts, which surprised me at first. I didn't think Epsom salts were okay to eat. Here is the verdict from Wikipedia: Nigari salts, the coagulant used to make Japanese-style tofu, contains magnesium sulfate, which is Epsom salt. It is used in such small concentrations that it is safe and doesn't affect the flavor of the final product.
There were other dishes available for people to sample, including a tofu stir fry and fried tofu. The fried tofu looked and tasted a lot like cheese curds, but with a strongly beany taste as well. Some of the other dishes were entrants in a tofu cooking contest. Current Green House residents weren't eligible to enter, so the contest entrants were drawn from the campus at large. Allison Smith '07 made a boysenberry-lemon tofu pie. Unfortunately, the pie didn't set, so it was "a lot like pudding with a crunch," as she described it. Nina Mukherji '05 made a tofu tikka marsala. As an alumna, this is the first year she's been eligible to enter, because she lived at Green House while she was a student. She chose to make tikka marsala because "I like Indian food." A last-minute entrant, Kate Alper '09, brought vanilla tofu pound cake to the table. "I like tofu a lot, so I collect recipes that have tofu in them." This particular recipe came from the Vegetarian Times.
The judges for the cooking contest were Russ Petricka and a student dining hall worker. Their verdict: Nina's tofu chicken marsala won. As a prize, she received an apron bearing a picture of "The hunt of the Great Horned Tofu." It was a cave painting of a human figure throwing a spear at a vaguely square creature with horns.
After the cooking contest, there was a tofu eating contest. Each entrant was given half a block of tofu on a paper plate and given the usual eating contest instructions – they could not use their hands in any way, and the first person to finish would win. Tofu eating was harder than it looked. The eating bogged down about halfway through, and one contestant declared, "I can't eat this." Ultimately Thomas Smith toughed it out and won a hug for his efforts.
The A Capellicans made an appearance, singing songs with tofu-adapted lyrics, such as "Tiptoe through the tofu with me."
The centerpiece of the festival was the Tofu Princess contest, defined broadly as "performance art that embodies the spirit of tofu." Nina explained to me what some of the past years' entries were like. One year, Physics professor Joel Weisberg's son bicycled through the area, eating tofu as he went. Also, "there has been tightrope walking."
This year, the Tofu Princess entries included tofu storytelling and two people who declared, "The spirit of tofu is joy!" then ran around doing cartwheels. The winners were the tofu storytellers, who also got tofu hunting aprons.
Finally, the leftover tofu was used in a tofu toss. It operated much like an egg toss, leaving shreds of tofu scattered all over the lawn.