It seems many people have their story about a bad tofu experience. Maybe it was wet and spongy, or just plain lacking in flavor? Perhaps you even took a big bite of what you thought was feta cheese? I’m certainly guilty of that last one…
My first tofu experience
Thinking it was feta cheese, I put a crumbled handful on a nice salad, then proceeded to take a bite before realizing my mistake. It was wet, cold, spongy and very much lacking any flavor. Not the ideal garnish for a salad!
I've heard plenty of mixed reviews about the taste, and after my tofu-feta mishap, I was hesitant to give tofu another chance. But I also knew about the many benefits tofu brought to the table, so I couldn't just write it off.
I didn’t let this bad initial experience stop me from trying tofu again. And guess what? Now we absolutely love the stuff and use it all the time in The Crooked Carrot kitchen! The preparation of tofu is the key to making it taste great. Tofu is a great source of plant-based protein, and it’s budget-friendly!
What is tofu?
Tofu first appeared on the food scene in China over 2000 years ago. And this ancient food staple has become quite popular around the world today.
Tofu is essentially the curd of soymilk that gets pressed and cooled into blocks. The process resembles how cheese is made today, as the soy milk is curdled and then pressed to remove any excess liquid.
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Tofu health benefits
There are a number of health benefits of consuming whole soy foods.
- Great source of plant-based protein
- Quality alternative to meat and a complete protein
- Low in calories, a whole block generally contains less than 400 calories
- Contains high amounts of calcium, iron, and magnesium
- Contains isoflavones which may help reduce the risk of some cancers, cardiovascular disease, and other age-related conditions
- May also help decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease the risk of diabetes
There's a lot of controversy surrounding the health impacts of tofu. A lot of panic stemmed after a study on mice in the 90's showed the isoflavones in soy caused cancer tumors to grow more rapidly.
However, this has been busted time and time again, and many studies find soy can actually help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Even the American Institute of Cancer Research gives the go-ahead to consume whole soy foods and states it can help reduce the risk of cancer. If you’re concerned about consuming soy, consult your doctor or dietitian.
As a caveat, these studies say a moderate amount of whole soy foods can provide this cancer-reducing benefit. I still wouldn't recommend going hog wild and eating tons of soy. Also, the benefits stem from whole food sources like tofu, tempeh, and soymilk, but soy protein isolates may not provide the same benefits.
I recommend buying organic tofu, which is usually less than a dollar more per package. This is because soy is often a GMO (genetically-modified organism) crop. Although the health implications of GMO crops are highly debated, I’d rather play it safe and choose the organic tofu, with minimal ingredients, as organic items cannot contain GMO ingredients.
Tofu is high in protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. It’s also naturally gluten-free, and a good source of iron and calcium as well as many other minerals and nutrients.
Tofu also contains isoflavones which may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and breast, prostate and digestive system cancers as well.
Where to purchase tofu
Tofu is generally found in the refrigerated section, either near the cheese or the produce. Silken tofu may be found un-refrigerated in the ethnic section.
Aim to purchase tofu with minimal ingredients – soybeans, water, and calcium sulfate are all normal and about all you need.
Types of tofu
Tofu is offered in various styles – silken, soft, firm and extra firm. We generally seek out the extra firm tofu when planning to bake or sauté it, because a firmer tofu will not crumble as much, and always offers that golden crispy crunch. While silken tofu is great choice for blending into sauces, puddings, or dips.
How to prepare tofu
Press out the liquid
There are many ways to prepare tofu, but the process generally starts by pressing out the liquid, which will help it crisp up easier. Begin by draining the tofu and slicing it into slabs 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Then wrap the tofu in a tea towel (laying the tofu slabs side by side), and place them on a cutting board or baking sheet (or some other flat surface).
Now balance some weight on top of the tofu (dutch oven, cans, books, etc.) to gradually press the liquid out. I find it easiest to place a cutting board on top of the tofu so I have something flat to put my heavy dutch oven on. Let this balancing act rest for 15-30 minutes to ensure all (or most) of the liquid has pressed out. Then remove the weights and towels.
You can also opt for a tofu press, which can help press out more liquid, but it’s not essential.
From here we have options. You can cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes, triangles, or slice them into thin strips. If you want your tofu even crispier, cut them thinner. Once completing your cut of choice, it’s time to transfer the tofu to a large bowl and coat it in olive oil. Next we’ll begin to add some flavorful seasonings!
What does tofu taste like?
Tofu alone doesn’t offer much flavor, but it easily takes on the flavor of what you’re cooking with it. For a flavorful foundation, I use salt, pepper and garlic powder, and then expand upon that with marinades and other seasonings depending on what dish we’re preparing.
To season, gently toss with spices and/or marinade, or soy sauce ending with a coat of cornstarch/arrowroot powder. Save the remaining tasty marinade to drizzle over rice or noodles as you dish up the meal!
Option 1 – Fry them up
Once you’ve drained your tofu, cut the block into 1/2″ cubes (cut the block into slices, then cut into cubes) and fry them up in a little olive oil (you don’t need a ton of oil) for about 25-30 minutes. A cast iron or non-stick pan works best. Fry all 6 sides of each cube for maximum crunch!
Make sure to give the tofu some room – overcrowded tofu won’t crisp up as well.
Option 2 – Bake your tofu
For baked tofu, arrange tofu in a single layer on a lined baking sheet, bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove tofu and flip each one, then bake for another 15 minutes or until tofu reaches your desired crispiness level.
Serve warm, pair with your favorite dish, and enjoy!
Other preparation options
Grilled, crumbled, or raw – always handle tofu gently so it doesn’t crumble (unless you want it to crumble!)
How to store tofu
Generally it’s best to keep tofu in its package until you’re ready to cook it. After cooking, store in an airtight glass container, separately from the rest of your dish. The tofu won’t stay as crispy, but it’ll still be delicious. You can also crisp it up again by reheating on the stovetop or oven.
Store uncooked tofu in the fridge or freezer. If you freeze it, simply put it in the fridge the day before to thaw. Freezing and thawing can actually help make the tofu even crispier!
How to use tofu
Here's our shortlist of delicious tofu recipes already featured on the blog!
No matter how you enjoy your tofu, baked or sautéed, in slices or triangles, you'll still be getting all those healthy benefits. Along with a high protein content, tofu also contains all 9 essential amino acids, and acts as a valuable source of iron, calcium, and a variety of essential minerals!
"The mind is like tofu. It tastes like whatever you marinate it in." - Sylvia Boorstein
Explore all our great tofu recipes here!
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