Tofu is a very versatile, high-protein soy food with lots of different cooking options. As the saying goes, either you love tofu or you just haven’t had it prepared well! Tofu tends to absorb the flavors that it’s cooked with, so you can really make just about anything at all with a tofu base, from meat substitutes to mayonnaise.
Is tofu plant-based? Tofu is a great source of protein and full of vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Although some people are concerned about eating soy you should rest assured that soy is actually a healthy food to consume. Here’s a wonderfully balanced article from Dr. Holly Wilson if you’d like to read more on the topic.
While there are three main ways to USE tofu,
- “As is,” or straight from the refrigerated package
There are many different ways of cooking with it.
How to Prepare Tofu
Always Drain Tofu Thoroughly
The water in the tofu container is there to keep your tofu fresh, but you won’t want to include it in any recipe you make, so please make sure to drain it first.
1. USING SILKEN OR SOFT TOFU “AS IS”
Using tofu “as is” an easy choice when you’re making these types plant-based tofu recipes and dishes:
- Salad dressings & dips, such as this mayonnaise recipe
- Sauces, such as creamy pasta sauces, like this Noodless Tomato Zucchini Lasagna
- Soft desserts like pudding, mousse, and ice cream like this Avocado Tofu Chocolate Mousse
- Pan-sauteed for adding to recipes
- Baked dishes
For ways to cook soft tofu, like these types of recipes, you’ll want to use silken or soft block tofu. If you can’t find those for some reason, regular tofu will work as well. Silken tofu is often available in small aseptic packages that don’t need to be refrigerated. 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.
- 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.
How to cook tofu.. If you plan on baking or frying and want the tofu crisp and springy after it’s cooked, use firm or extra-firm block tofu, and let it press for at least 30-45 minutes although several hours is ideal. You can even leave the tofu pressing in the fridge all day while you’re at work or school. See this handy-dandy gadget for pressing, as well.
Now that the tofu is pressed you can use it in fried and stir-fried dishes, baked dishes, tofu scramble and you can serve it chilled in salads.
Ways to Use Pressed Tofu
Pressed Tofu in a Cold Dish
Using tofu in a cold dish such as a salad is simple once you’ve drained and pressed it.
- Slice or cube tofu to a size of your liking.
- Lightly toss the tofu in the dressing or marinade of your preference. One tip is to use a dressing that’s oil-free. Keep in mind that tofu will absorb soy, citrus, or vinegar-based marinade much better than an oil-based one.
- Let the tofu marinate in the fridge for at least an hour.
- Add the tofu to your dish and enjoy!
Here’s a delicious salad made with pressed tofu: Middle Eastern Vegetable Salad with Tofu Feta
Pressed Tofu in a Low-Oil Fried Dish
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.
If you want the tofu 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.
Oil-Free “Dry” Fried Pressed Tofu
How to cook tofu without oil. You can also pan “fry” tofu without any oil at all in a non-stick pan or a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet.
- Place plain tofu 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 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.
Here’s a recipe to try that uses “dry” fried tofu: Pineapple Fried Rice
Baked Pressed Tofu
For ways to cook tofu, you can bake and season tofu to eat by itself 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.
Salt and season to taste or try this Baked Tofu recipe that comes already seasoned. It’s a favorite of my whole food plant-based tofu recipes.
- 1 16 oz. container firm organic tofu drained, halved crosswise and pressed for 20 minutes to remove some of the water
- 1/4 cup soy sauce, low sodium
- 2 Tbl maple syrup
- 2 Tbl ketchup
- 1 Tbl rice vinegar
- 1 dash hot sauce
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly spray a non-stick baking sheet with oil.
- Slice tofu into 1″ cubes.
- In a bowl, stir together the soy sauce, maple syrup, ketchup, vinegar, hot sauce, garlic powder, and black pepper.
- Gently stir tofu cubes into the sauce. Cover and marinate for at least 10 minutes.
- Place tofu on the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn tofu, and bake until it turns golden brown, about 15 minutes more.
3. FROZEN TOFU
Freezing tofu before you use it will give the tofu a different texture and consistency. Freezing causes small pockets to form throughout the tofu, creating more surface area for marinades to soak into. Frozen tofu is ideal if you want crispy tofu but don’t want to fry it.
There are three key steps to crispy frozen tofu:
- Freeze your drained (not pressed) tofu 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 tofu on high heat, sliced or cubed as you desire for the dish you’re preparing.
Crumbled frozen tofu also works great as a ground meat substitute, in tacos for example. Freezing it gives it a firmer texture which is ideal for crumbling.:
Frozen Tofu Ground Meat Replacement
- Drain and press, about 15 minutes.
- Cut your block into smaller pieces – about 4-6 is great.
- Freeze tofu. Thaw when ready to use.
- Crumble tofu by hand and add 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 tofu is slightly browned
- Add any seasonings, spices, peppers, or anything else you like and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
- If tofu starts to dry out along the way add a tablespoon or two of water.
With the different types of tofu available and the variety of ways to prepare tofu, even the pickiest eater is sure to find a tofu recipe they enjoy!
Go ahead and experiment by substituting tofu in some of your favorite recipes and see how you like it best.
The possibilities are endless! Enjoy these recipes for plant-based diet ideas.