Tofu is a very versatile food with a plethora of cooking options. As the saying goes, either you love tofu or you haven’t had it prepared well. It’s made from soy beans and if you’re eating a plant-based diet, you’ll want to learn how to properly cook with tofu.
Rev up your tofu cooking skills.
Tofu is a great source of protein and full of vitamins, minerals, and Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Although some people are concerned about eating soy you should rest assured that soy is actually a pro healthy food to consume. Here’s a wonderfully balanced article from Dr. Holly Wilson if you’d like to read more.
There are 3 main ways to use tofu and each is for different ways of cooking with it – “as is,” pressed, and frozen.
You’ll always want to drain tofu. The water in the container is there to keep your tofu fresh, but you won’t want to include it in any recipe you make.
1. TOFU “AS IS”
Using tofu “as is” an easy choice when you’re making these types of dishes:
- Salad dressings & dips
- Sauces, such as creamy pasta sauces
- Soft desserts like pudding, mousse, and ice cream
- Pan-sauteed for adding to recipes
- Baked dishes
For these types of recipes, you’ll want to use silken or soft block tofu. If you can’t find those, regular tofu will work as well. Just keep in mind that the type of tofu you choose affects the consistency of your dish.
While the above types of dishes are a good choice for tofu straight from the container, many dished call for pressed tofu.
2. PRESSED TOFU
Pressing allows for any marinades or sauces to be taken back up into the tofu and add flavor.
Steps for Pressing Tofu:
- Pour the water from the container and remove the tofu.
- Slice the tofu in half or thirds.
- Lay several paper towels on a plate or in a container and place the slices on top.
- Cover the slices with several more paper towels. I’ve also wrapped the tofu in layers of newspaper on top of the paper towels.
- Place a plate or baking sheet on top.
- Place something moderately heavy on the plate, a couple of heavy books or a can of tomatoes are great options.
- Press for 20 minutes or longer.
- As an alternative, you can purchase one of these tofu pressing gadgets.
If you want your tofu on the softer side, use medium block tofu and let it press for 15-20 minutes. This is ideal if you’re going to be using it in a salad or other cold dish, and don’t need to be very firm, but you do want it to absorb the sauce or marinade in the dish.
If you plan on baking or frying and want it crisp and springy after it’s cooked, use firm or extra-firm block tofu, and let it press for at least 30-45 minutes. Better yet, let it press for several hours. You can even leave it pressing in the fridge all day while you’re at work or school. See this handy-dandy gadget for pressing, as well.
Now that’s it's pressed, use in cold dishes like salad, in fried and stir-fried dishes, as well as in baked dishes or a tofu scramble.
Using tofu in a cold dish such as a salad is simple once you’ve drained and pressed it. Simply:
- Slice it or cube it to a size of your liking
- Lightly toss it in the dressing or marinade of your preference. One tip is to use one that’s oil-free. The tofu will absorb a soy, citrus, or vinegar-based marinade much better than an oil-based one.
- Let sit in the fridge for at least an hour
- Add it to your dish and enjoy!
Pressed Tofu in a Fried Dish the low-oil way
Fried (or stir-fried) is one of the most popular ways to eat tofu. It’s easy to “fry” tofu with a just a little oil, but you can also pan “fry” it without oil, but it requires a non-stick pan or a cast-iron skillet. If you want it to be crispy, a light dusting of cornstarch is a must. Simply fill a bowl with cornstarch, place the sliced or cubed tofu in it, and toss lightly.
Pressed Tofu "Dry" Fried Without Oil
- Place plain tofu either slabs, cubes or triangles in a single layer in a non-stick or cast-iron pan on medium heat.
- Cook until one side is golden brown, pressing with your spatula during the cooking process to help to brown. Any water that’s still in the tofu will sizzle in the pan and evaporate.
- Flip the tofu and brown on the other side, pressing again to speed the process.
Pressed Tofu in a Baked Dish
You can bake tofu to eat alone as a snack or to use as a meat-substitute in a meal.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
- Cut your tofu into about ½ inch cubes.
- If you’re using a marinade or sauce, cover and let sit for 5-15 minutes.
- Place the cubes on a lightly-oiled baking sheet, in a single layer.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Turn the cubes, and bake until golden brown – another 15 minutes or so.
Don’t skimp on the seasonings! Salt is especially important. Again, feel free compliment the salt with your favorite herbs and spices.
3. FROZEN TOFU
Freezing tofu first will give it a different texture and consistency. Freezing cause small pockets throughout the tofu and more surface area for marinades. It’s ideal if you want crispy tofu, but don’t want to fry it.
There are three key steps to crispy, tofu:
- Freeze your drained (not pressed) block. Slice it before freezing if you prefer.
- Place the frozen block in boiling water and simmer for about 10 minutes or thaw on the counter or in the refrigerator.
- Sauté it on a high heat, sliced or cubed as you desire for the dish you’re preparing.
Another great use for frozen tofu is if you’d like to replace ground meat with crumbled tofu; in tacos for example. Freezing it gives it a firmer texture, ideal for crumbling. Here’s how to prepare it in such a manner:
For Ground Meat Replacement
- Drain and press (about 15 minutes).
- Cut your block into smaller pieces – about 4-6 is great.
- Freeze it and then thaw when ready to use.
- Crumble it by hand, and add it to a lightly-oiled skillet. If you’re making taco crumbles, you can sauté onion and garlic before adding the tofu.
- Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the tofu is slightly browned
- Add any seasonings, spices, peppers, or anything else you prefer and cook for another minute or two
- If necessary, add a tablespoon or two of water, if the tofu starts to dry out.
Knowing the types of tofu available and the variety of preparation methods for them, even the pickiest eater is sure to find a tofu recipe they enjoy. Experiment by substituting tofu into some of your favorite recipes and find out which way you like best. The possibilities are endless!