Baked, air fried, seared, tofu is a versatile protein source. But how do I make it? Is it good for me? Is it gross?
For me, when it’s done right, tofu is as flavorful and fun to eat as seitan or falafel. However (and this is a big fat capital However), tofu can go very, very wrong. Like so wrong it’s the butt of all vegan jokes from now until the end of eternity. And I mean, I rarely defend it unless I’m willing to fork over a really scrumptious bite to a naysayer.
Nobody just believes me that tofu has potential. I’ve eaten tofu at restaurants so bland and soggy that I’m kind of embarrassed to eat it in front of my omni friends (because come on, as a veggie queen, I always want everyone to try my vegan food so they can get a glimpse of how good it can be over here on the green side).
BUT! Sometimes you get those golden crispy flakey tofu bites that make you say woah mama. I wish all tofu was like that. And, with a few solid tricks, it can be.
What is Tofu?
Tofu is what we call the lovable and versatile bean curd that has fed billions of people world wide for thousands of years.
Tofu is made from the soy bean, a legume in the same family as white beans and chick peas. The bean is turned into milk similar to how almonds can be made into milk, and then a thickener is added, and the mixture is pressed into blocks.
The tofu making process closely follows the outline for how cheese is made, surprisingly. For cheese making, the manufacturer uses milk, adds a thickening agent, and then is pressed into blocks to be shipped to consumers worldwide.
What Are the Nutrition Facts for Tofu?
Low carb, beautiful tofu has about 8 grams of protein per 1/2 cup, which is oddly the exact same as a 1/2 cup of American cheese… I really don’t think anyone needs to eat a half cup of cheese in one sitting though. Your tummy would probably not thank you.
Plus in that half cup of tofu, you’re only taking in about 230 calories, but get the benefits of 4 grams of fiber, no cholesterol, and only 4 grams of heart healthy poly unsaturated fat. Seriously, could the health stats get any better? Another health benefit the USDA touts is that a single serving of tofu contains half of your daily recommended dose of calcium, which is important to keep your chompers strong.
Whether you’re thinking about your own personal health, the environment, or of course, ethical decisions, there are so many reasons why reducing that number, even it’s inch by inch, Meatless Monday by Meatless Monday, is beneficial.
For more info about each of these reasons, scroll to the bottom of the post. But if you want to cut to the chase and figure out the best ways to prep your tofu so you can get munching, look no further.
How to Make the Perfect Tofu
Tofu is surprisingly easy to cook if you follow a few of the basic rules.
Step 1: How do I choose the right tofu?
What are you making? If you want to get fancy with some faux scrambled eggs, you’ll need soft tofu. It’s not that firm, so when you add it to a pan with some black salt (which tastes sulpheric and eggy, is great for digestion, and is lower in sodium than traditional table salt), it firms up pretty well and resembles scrambled eggs.
If you’re looking for something a little firmer that would be great in a baked situation, you’ll want firm or extra firm tofu. This is my go to in mixed dishes like a stir fry.
Silken tofu is not pressed, and adds a great creamy texture to things like cream sauces, frosting, salad dressings, etc. where one might use processed cream cheese or sour cream instead.
Finally, I’ve recently discovered – and fallen in love with – super firm tofu which is dense and thick, and kind of has a log of cheese density to it. It is satisfying to slice, and is great baked or air fried on its own because it stands up in a traditional protein, veggie, starch type of dinner.
Step 2: Do I need to press my tofu?
Step two takes place when you’re preparing the tofu. If you’re using firm or extra firm, squeeze the liquid out of the block of tofu so you’re not spending precious preparation time cooking off water. You can press it between two cutting boards or put a plate on top while pressing down so the liquid that it’s packed in runs out into the sink.
If pressing, leave the tofu under a heavy weight for about and hour if you have the time. If you’re pressing it by hand because you’re pressed (heh heh) for time, just squeeze it against a cutting board. Be gentle so you don’t crumble your tofu. You can even wrap in a clean rag to absorb some of the extra moisture when pressing. Bam, no more soggy tofu.
Additionally, freezing tofu for few hours or days in advance of your cooking will create a totally different texture with little air pockets that more easily soak up flavor.
No need to press super firm or silken tofu before use, just discard excess water.
Step 3 How do I get flavor in my tofu?
This is the best part. You can either choose to create a dry rub or go the marinade route if you have additional time. For a dry rub, mix all of your spices together in a bowl, and then toss your tofu in it.
I typically use at least salt and pepper, and then a mix of spices – whatever flavors compliment your main dish. I never feel like you can go wrong with onion powder and garlic powder with the salt and pep as a base for the rub.
Other fun additions can include chili powder, cumin, and cilantro for Mexican dishes, ginger powder and soy sauce for an Asian inspired bean curd, turmeric and coriander for Indian, you get the idea.
For marinades, add those spices and soak in a mix of olive oil, some water, and any other liquid that pertains to the flavors of the dish: soy sauce, lime juice, fresh squeezed orange, etc. An easy go to recipe is 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp onion powder, 1/4 cup water, 1 tbsp liquid aminos/soy sauce, salt and pepper. Let soak for about two hours before cooking.
Step 4: How do I cook tofu?
Lots of ways! If you are making a meal other than a soup, I find it best to make the rest of your dinner and add the crispy tofu to the top to avoid sogginess. You can alternatively sauté in the pan with the rest of your goodies to absorb flavor, but be forewarned you may not get the crisp you’re looking for. It’s all a matter of preference, so explore tofu a few different ways until you find what works for you.
- Soup. You can really experiment with flavor if you like soups with tofu. Just follow your soup recipe and add the tofu after pressing. No need to marinate and toss in a dry rub.
- Pan Crisping. This is the holy grail of restaurant style tofu. The secret trick to make your tofu crispy and flavorful every single time? Corn starch. Whether you did a rub or marinade, roll your cubed tofu in corn starch before adding to a hot oiled pan. This layer gets so crispy and prevents sticking. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper if desired once done frying up.
- Baking/air frying is one of the healthiest ways you can prepare your tofu as well because you can skimp on the oil. If that’s where you’re starting, you can do a dry rub or make your marinade and soak for an hour or two. Orrrr for extra flavor, you can marinate first and do both steps if you like. No wrong turns on the way to flavor town (I’m sorry for saying that).
Make the rub in a bowl, toss your tofu in it, and pop it into the air fryer for 20 or so minutes at 400 degrees . You can also bake in the toaster oven or conventional oven at 420 degrees for about 20-24 minutes depending on if it’s straight on the rack. Hot air will hit it and dry it out from all sides on a rack, and the bottom stays a little softer on a mat, so you’ll want to cook it this way a few extra minutes.
We’re all about sustainability, so I know you’re not gonna reach for that tinfoil, right girl? Not sponsored in any way, but these Silpat baking mats were a gift to me from a friend, and ever since I opened them, I’ve gone a little hog wild with these babies. Like, roasting veggies, baking holiday cookies, making seitan, you name it, it’s on my Silpat. You rinse it and then you’re done. I cannot speak highly enough of it and is versatility. If you don’t have one, though, and you’re stuck in the dark ages using tin foil, remember – that shiz is recyclable. Clean it, crumple it into a ball at least 3 inches big, and then toss in with your soda pop cans for the guys in green to come pick up on recycling day. Peep this quick list of easy swaps to make your kitchen totally eco friendly here.
Is Tofu Safe?
I’m sure you’ve heard someone mention along the way that tofu is full of estrogen so they won’t consume it for fear of increasing risk of breast cancer, thyroid problems, or dementia. How valid is that school of thought?
Harvard School of Public Health published research confirming that soy has either neutral or positive effects for a variety of health conditions, and has no negative impact on overall health. When compared to red meats or processed meats, Harvard notes that tofu is a healthier alternative that lowers cholesterol, and can be consumed safely several times per week.
Studies also show that some of the phyto estrogen compounds in tofu can help relieve symptoms related to menopause. Tofu is rich in isoflavones, which increase blood flow, and thus have been found to help reduce instances of heart disease as well.
Yes, maybe you should avoid eating tofu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week, but folks are also warned not to eat that much bread or red meat in a given week, so be sure to interpret the facts in context when determining if you’re for or against this lovable little bean curd.
So Why Choose Tofu?
So in addition to from all of those health stats earlier in the post, and the delicious taste if prepared correctly, there are a few environmental reasons you might want to let tofu play a few innings instead of sitting on the bench.
Environmental Impact of Tofu
The average American eats 270 pounds of meat per year. In 2013, the meat and poultry industry “processed” 8.6 billion chickens,33.2 million cattle, 239.4 million turkeys, 2.3 million sheep and lambs, and 112 million hogs, according to the North American Meat Institute. (Uncomfortable collar tug…) That is such a high number!
Aside from the negative health effects of eating meat, let’s talk about how it plays into the the environment.
We’re all fans of the rain forest right? Many of us are super conscious of eating products without palm oil because we know deforestation is wreaking havoc for orangutans and other wildlife who call the rain forest home. But did you know that eating beef is also a major contributing factor to deforestation of the Amazon?
Tons of soy is planted where giant Amazonian trees used to grow, and that soy is not used to feed humans. It’s used to feed cattle. Most of the soy Americans eat in the form of edamame, soy milk, or tofu is actually grown right here on US soil (woo, local agriculture!) but that number pails in comparison to the amount of soy farmed on sacred tribal land in the Amazon.
So if you felt for all of the animals while the Amazon was burning, you’re already most of the way towards making a few swaps in your meal planning for their continued protection.
Here are a few other links on the safety and history of tofu if you’d like to do a little further reading:
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Lauren 🌱 Easy #Vegan seasonal recipes: usually healthy, always satisfying. Sustainability + garden to table inspo
Vegan since ‘13👇click for recipes