Oftentimes, people have told me that they want to like tofu, but they just don’t know what to do with it. Contrary to popular belief, tofu is not scary.
As a matter of fact, it’s pretty easy to cook with and can be made into just about anything including a wide variety of breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snack, and condiment options. We have some easy vegan tofu recipes to get you started.
What exactly is tofu anyway?
Tofu is an Asian food made from soybeans. Production involves soaking soybeans in water and creating soy milk. Then the milk has to be curdled using a substance such as calcium sulfate or lemon juice.
From there, curds are separated from the whey and usually packaged in block form. It is sold in a variety of options, from soft to extra firm, and they differ mainly in the amount of water retained.
There are two main types of tofu–silken and regular. Silken tofu is often called Japanese-style tofu, as well as soft or silk. It has a more delicate texture and will fall apart if not handled carefully.
This type of tofu is sometimes packaged in aseptic–or shelf-stable–boxes that do not require refrigeration. It is great to keep on-hand, since there is no requirement to use it quickly. It is also packed in very little water and doesn’t need to be drained or pressed for many recipes, unlike regular tofu.
Both silken and regular tofu can be found in soft, medium, firm, and extra-firm consistencies. They are made with the same ingredients, but they are processed slightly differently and with different amounts of water.
Silken tofu (Japanese-style) for use in creams and sauces
Silken is the creamiest type of tofu, and it is labeled with different consistencies–soft, medium, firm, and extra-firm–depending on how much soy protein it contains. Silken is the best option for blending into sauces, creams, mayo, and dressings. The shelf-stable silken tofu is packed in very little water and usually doesn’t even need to be drained.
Whether blended or pureed, silken tofu has a thick and creamy texture that is perfect for many recipes. Some of my favorites are:
Regular tofu (Chinese-style) for use in stir fries, baked dishes, or even grilling
Regular tofu is sometimes called Chinese-style and is usually sold in plastic containers in the refrigerated section of supermarkets.
It is also labeled with different consistencies from soft to extra firm, depending on how much water has been pressed out of it. Regular Chinese soft tofu is similar to Japanese silken tofu, but it’s not quite as smooth and creamy. These two types are usually interchangeable for most recipes.
Firm or extra firm regular tofu is best used in tofu stir-fry recipes, making baked tofu, or any dish where you will want the tofu to retain its shape.
Medium through extra firm regular tofu are progressively more dense with a lower water content. These types of tofu should be drained and pressed to remove the water content.
Two options for draining and pressing
° Traditional way – Slit the package and drain excess water over a sink. Next place the tofu block in a tofu press if you have one. Otherwise, place tofu on an absorbent surface such as layered paper towels or a dish towel.
If pressing without a tofu press, continue by using another dish towel or paper towels to place on top of the block and top with a heavy plate or cast iron pan. Allow to continue to drain under pressure for approximately 30 minutes.
° Terri’s quick and easy way – After purchasing tofu in plastic container from the produce section of the grocery store, bring it home and place directly in the freezer. This greatly lengthens the time allowed for using it, since it won’t be spoiling within a couple of weeks.
When ready to use in a stir fry or other dish, defrost completely by either placing in the refrigerator for 24+ hours, or submerging in a large bowl of very warm water. If submerging, it will take an hour or so and will require changing the water a couple of times to make sure it stays very warm.
Once defrosted, open the container and drain out excess water. You will notice that the molecular structure of the tofu has actually changed. It is much firmer and more sponge-like. It can now be handled with ease and the water can be squeezed out of it using your hands, just like wringing out a sponge. Checkout my cooking demo of Breakfast Tofu Scramble to see how easy it is.
One of the most common complaints about tofu is its bland flavor. I happen to think that is one of it’s best attributes, because a good marinate can infuse it with flavor from the inside-out.
Ready for cooking
After marinating, it’s time to cook, and there are a number of different options. I suggest skipping the breading and instead coat the marinated tofu in a layer of cornstarch. It helps get the tofu’s exterior deeply golden brown and crispy when frying or baking.
° Air frying gets tofu the crispiest. Just place in the basket–breaded or not–and cook at 375 for approximately 20 minutes. I suggest stopping around 10-minutes to toss then finish cooking.
° Pan frying requires a good non-stick pan and very hot surface. Rather than adding oil to the pan, I use a little bit of the marinade to brown the tofu. After it has turned a golden brown, add vegetables, rice, noodles, or anything else desired.
° Steaming involves elevating the food above the water with a steamer, traditionally. Spicing the food has to wait until after. However, I tend to take the easy way and just add my tofu at the same time I cook the vegetables in a stir fry.
Since stir fry veggies take only minutes and leave a light crunchy texture, adding the tofu at the same time and covering with a lid for a few minutes allows it to steam and warm thoroughly, as well as soak up more marinade flavor from the vegetables. The tofu will not get crunchy using this method, but I personally like it just as well.
° Baking requires using parchment paper or a silicone baking mat to keep food from sticking. I typically cook at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, because ovens differ.
° Grilling is another great way to cook tofu, and my favorite recipe is tofu kabobs. Fire up the grill!
I hope this guide inspires you to make some tofu dishes soon. There are so many options for recipes and cooking methods to try. If one doesn’t work for you, try a different one. My bet is that you’ll be a tofu pro in no time!
Other easy vegan tofu recipes
- Breakfast Burrito
- Tofu Scramble
- Tofu Stir Fry with Sweet Ginger Sauce
- Baked Crispy Tofu
- Eggless Low-Fat Mayo
- Chipotle Ranch Dressing
- Tofu Sour Cream
- Chocolate Mousse
- No-Bake Chocoate Pie
Other great plant-based cooking tips
- Cooking Without Oil
- 15 Top Spices in my Plant-Based Kitchen
- Plant-Based Grocery Shopping Guide
- Plant-Based Meal Planning 101
Some people are not too sure about tofu, because it contains phytoestrogens. Turns out, phytoestrogens are very health promoting and are not at all like our body’s natural estrogen that can cause harm and lead to disease.
This makes so much sense, because the countries that consume the most soy, such as Japan and China, have the lowest rates of cancer and chronic disease. The short video below will explain the benefits of soy.
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