Having been both vegetarian and vegan in my past lives, I’ve had quite a lengthy relationship with one of the most popular non-meat protein sources: the mashed soybean product also known as tofu. I’ll be honest, like many people raised in carnivorous households, I never found tofu to be particularly interesting. That was, however, until I learned how to really cook with it.
Tofu is like meat in a lot of ways. You can bake it, grill it, fry it, marinate it, and incorporate it into a broad range of dishes. It works well in stir-fries, salads, sandwiches, pastas, and you can even eat it on its own. In fact, one of my favorite snacks is cubes of smoked organic tofu dipped in homemade hummus. Delish!
If you’re new to the world of tofu, have never been impressed with it, or just want to learn how to make tofu as tasty as possible, try these tips to gain a new appreciation for this inexpensive and versatile protein:
Choose the right tofu texture
Tofu comes in a variety of textures, and it’s important to choose the right one depending on your recipe and preferences. On one end, you have the super soft, silken tofu, which is often used to make creamy, custard-like desserts. It’s also used to add protein-rich creaminess to dressings, smoothies and more. From there the texture of tofu gets progressively denser, from soft to extra firm.
The texture of the tofu has to do with how much water and tofu protein it contains. Tofu with more water in it will take longer to cook and won’t absorb your marinade as well, while extra firm tofu will cook faster and soak up tons of flavor.
Press your tofu
It took me a while to learn this (which resulted in eating lots of bland tofu), but pressing is an absolutely essential step if you want your tofu to be tasty. It squeezes out extra water, which helps the tofu soak up the flavors of whatever you’re cooking it with. Here’s what I do to press my tofu:
- Slice your cube of tofu into slabs (I usually go with ¼ to ½ inch thick)
- Lay tofu slabs between sheets of paper towel on a plate
- Place something heavy on top of the tofu to help squeeze out the water
- Leave it for at least 30 minutes
This process is ideal for firmer tofu varieties (do not attempt with silken tofu).
Take your tofu to flavor country
After you’re done pressing your tofu, it’s ready to marinate! You can mix up your own marinade, or use a store-bought variety. I usually throw together some Braggs liquid aminos, a bit of sesame oil, chili flakes, crushed fresh garlic (or garlic powder), pepper and water and submerge the pressed tofu in this mixture for as long as possible. The longer you let your tofu swim in the marinade, the more flavor it absorbs. Put the marinating tofu in the fridge and leave it for at least an hour to soak up the goodness, turning the tofu slabs periodically to ensure even marinating.
Sometimes, it’s easier to purchase flavored tofu if you don’t have time to press and marinate plain tofu. I really liked smoked tofu and sometimes purchase herbed tofu that’s already got herbs and spices embedded in it. You can also find fruity soft tofu, which is great for sweet recipes.
Choose the right cooking method
Tofu can be enjoyed raw or cooked, cold or hot (all of which can be equally delicious). I like to shred cold smoked tofu into salads or cube it and dip it in hummus as I mentioned above. A nice, spicy mustard works well too.
Frying your tofu is another tasty way to enjoy it. Either use pre-flavored varieties or fry it up after you’ve pressed and marinated it. Fry it the same way you would a piece of meat, until the edges are crispy. I like to use coconut oil for the frying. Fried slices of tofu are great in sandwiches, salads, and stir-fries. You can also fry sticks of tofu and dip them like French fries!
Tofu can also be baked to crispy, golden goodness. Simply lay slices or cubes of flavored or marinated tofu on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake for at least 20 minutes at 350 degrees. You can use baked tofu the same way you would use fried tofu.
Tasty tofu recipes
Here are a few recipes to get you started in the deliciously diverse world of tofu:
What’s your favorite way to eat tofu? Share in the comments or over on Twitter at @Luvoinc.