Technicolor Tofu

By Clara Gordon, Dietetic Intern, Sargent Choice Nutrition Center

I was feeling inspired by National Nutrition Month’s slogan from the American Dietetic Association, ‘Eat Right With Color,’ when creating this recipe for a Technicolor Tofu Stir Fry.  Color isn’t a new concept for balanced eating.  The USDA Food Guide Pyramid also bears a colorful rainbow to help guide people toward a variety of hues to fulfill your needs and satiate the palate’s need for diversity.

Nature produces a stunning array of beautifully colored fruits and vegetables, designed and honed through evolution to attract the eye of many animal species so that the plant may pass its genes along to another generation.  The harvesting, preparation, consumption and digestion of plant matter by a human being is no exception to the rules of attraction.  In his book The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan invites the reader to think of themselves much like a bumblebee, flitting about and making choices that seem rational but are actually quite visceral and driven by more basic cravings.  With this in mind and along with some inspiration from Mark Bittman, I created this vibrant medley as a dish that tempts the diner visually before all else.

For colorful vegetables, the beauty is in their biology.  The substances that make them so glorious to behold are four classes of plant pigments: chlorophyll, carotenoid, anthocyanin, and anthoxanthin.  Although these terms sound pretty technical, they infuse the world around us everywhere we look.  Vibrant shades of plants— edible or not— include varying proportions of these substances:

  • Chlorophyll: characteristic green color of plant leaves; the compound that allows for labeled mis en placethe process of photosynthesis
  • Carotenoid: red, orange and yellow pigment especially prevalent in carrots, tomatoes, and bell peppers; includes the famous lycopene and β-carotene
  • Anthocyanin: red, blue and purple pigments that makes berries of all shades of jewel-toned colors; often associated with especially high levels of antioxidants in food
  • Anthoxanthin: white or pale-yellow hue associated with onions, potatoes, cauliflower and the contents of an apple beneath its colorful skin

It bears saying that while scientists understand the chemical structure of plant pigments and their role in coloring, there are yet-undiscovered compounds within food that make them nutritionally robust.  Eating from a colorful plate at each meal, every day is a wonderful way to ensure that you meet your needs and simultaneously ingest a number of other potentially beneficial compounds.  While it can be fascinating to parse out food’s bits and parts, it bears remembering that the power of food lies in its holistic properties.  A wholesome diet is stronger than the sum of its constituent parts because of its variety.

The recipe is a simple introduction to stir frying and tofu.  Tofu offers an amazing canvas for other flavors, colors, and textures to create a satisfying dish.  As a soy product, tofu provides a complete protein, meaning that all the amino acids we need to consume from food are present in tofu alone.  A firm textured tofu holds its shape well in spite of stirring and provides a meat-like mouthfeel and gratification.  To keep the stir fry simple and have it utilize more common pantry staples, the dish is flavored with a bit of canola oil, low-sodium soy sauce, minced garlic or garlic powder, fresh ginger root and fresh scallions.  Combining all of them according to the recipe below plus vegetables and whole grain rice assures a tasty and nutrient dense meal that easily feeds four or can be enjoyed later in the week.

Technicolor Tofu pics 005Whatever your motivation to eat a wider variety of colors, this stir fry is an excellent place to start!   What’s even better about this vegetarian stir fry is its wallet-friendly cost for the generous serving size and ample nutrition.  For the average Boston grocery store, I estimated the cost of this dinner for four at approximately $15.50— far less than you would pay for an oilier, prepared version from any carry out restaurant.  Finally, there is always an option to utilize frozen vegetables, such as broccoli and colorful bell peppers, to decrease the cost of this meal even further without sacrificing nutritional value.

In conclusion, this recipe is simple to prepare, full of tasty fresh flavors, and is beautiful to behold with its riot of colorful vegetables.

Technicolor Tofu Stir Fry

A rainbow of veggies along with tofu makes this dish a colorful, flavorful, nutritious knockout!

Makes 4 servings


2 14 ounce Nasoya Firm Tofu
1 bunch scallions
1 “thumb-sized” piece of ginger root
1 medium head broccoli
1 medium red bell pepper
1 medium orange bell pepper
1 cup celery, chopped
1 8 ounce can water chestnuts
1 8.8 ounce Uncle Ben’s Whole Grain Brown Ready Rice
2 T Canola oil
2 T Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
2 tsp Minced garlic


1.      Drain away the excess liquid from tofu and cut each block length-wise. On a plate lined with paper towels, place the four tofu “steaks” onto the plate with a layer of paper towel in between.  Weight the top of the pile with a heavy dinner plate to wring out the excess water.  Allow to sit for about 5-10 minutes.

2.      Chop vegetables into bite-sized pieces.  Keep white and green parts of scallions separate.

3.      Peel ginger root.  Slice five “penny-thick” pieces and set aside.  Finely grate one heaping teaspoon from the remaining ginger.

4.      Preheat wok or skillet over medium heat.  Add 1 ½ tablespoons of Canola oil to the pan plus five slices of ginger and a half teaspoon of minced garlic to season the oil.  Within 30 seconds, add the tofu cubes and white portion of the scallions.  Brown for 5-6 minutes flipping the tofu occasionally.  Remove tofu, scallion, ginger and garlic mixture from the pan and set aside.

5.      Add an additional ½ tablespoon of canola oil to hot sauté pan along with broccoli peppers, celery, and water chestnuts.  Carefully add 1 tablespoon of water and steam with lid on for 2-3 minutes.  Remove lid and continue to stir occasionally for another 5 minutes until vegetables are of desired tenderness.

6.      In the final 2 minutes, add tofu and spice mixture back to the pan, add soy sauce, and cook instant rice.

7.      Portion into four bowls and serve with chopsticks.

Nutrition Facts

Calories 530
Fat 17 g
Saturated Fat 0.5 g
Protein 28 g
Carbohydrate 64 g
Fiber 10 g
Sodium 340 mg

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