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If you’re new to cooking with tofu, it can come across as very intimidating in the beginning. It’s hard to believe that a spongy, pale, block of soy can be turned into the most amazing foods of all different flavors and textures on the food spectrum. From breakfast scrambles to delicious homemade pies to the perfect taco recipe, tofu has you covered! This guide will give you the rundown on tofu basics and will have you grilling, marinating, and stir-frying tofu like a pro in no time!
What is it?
In short, tofu is basically soybeans but in a different form. Let’s go over the steps of how tofu is made!
- Soybeans are broken down into a liquid mixture.
- The liquid mixture is then turned into a solid by a coagulation process (basically heating up the mixture to change the form)
- Lastly, it is then nicely packed and pressed into the block form that we see in the stores.
If you want to see it being made in action, you can check out this video! Fun fact – it’s been said that it was discovered on accident by a Chinese chef that was experimenting with different methods of soy over 2000 years ago. Thank goodness for accidental food discoveries!
Tofu is primarily protein-based and is loaded with tons of vitamins and minerals such as iron and calcium. Depending on the type of tofu, it has about 30-40 grams of protein per block. Who said you can’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet? It’s also naturally gluten-free so it’s a great way to up your protein intake if your diet calls for excluding gluten-containing foods. Another big plus is that there is no cholesterol or saturated fats included so it’s a great fuel source for the heart!
Where Can I Find it in the Grocery Store?
With plant-based options becoming more accessible in stores, I’ve found that you can typically find a variety of tofu easily in the refrigerated plant-based section. These sections are usually found near the fresh vegetables/fruits area or the dairy cheese/egg section. If you have trouble finding it in your local grocery store, you can always ask an employee that should be able to look up the brand and guide you to the right aisle/section. Another great place to find more variety is at your local Asian or international supermarket!
Types of Tofu:
Depending on the way that the tofu is made, it can consist of different types of firmness from silken, medium, firm, extra firm, and super firm. More often than not, most recipes that call for one block of tofu without specifying are meaning firm or extra firm tofu, but once you get the hang of this amazing food, you’ll get the gist of which type you need for certain recipes!
- Silken AKA soft – The softest of all types with a jell-o-like consistency. You’ll want to use this type when the texture you’re seeking is more creamy and smooth such as in smoothies, pies, purees, and sauces, or even a mozzarella-based recipe like this Italian Caprese Salad. You can also use it as an egg substitute!
- Medium – This type is slightly more dense than silken, however still fairly delicate. It’s best used for stir-frys or in recipes that don’t call for the tofu to keep its shape.
- Firm – Probably the most abundantly stocked, firm tofu is more compact and solid. You’ll be able to do a lot more frying, baking, and glazing with this type as it will hold its shape fairly well after pressed.
- Extra Firm – If you have the choice to choose between Firm and Extra Firm, I’d lean towards Extra Firm as it is the most dense and able to keep its shape when cooked. Because it’s the most tightly secured, it’s great for pan-frying, deep-frying, battering, and baking! These Tofu Bites would be a great first recipe to use this type of tofu with!
- Super Firm – The holy grail of all things tofu! Why? You don’t have to press it! It’s basically like Extra Firm tofu with the added convenience of skipping the pressing process. If you want to learn more about pressing tofu, we have a Guide to Tofu Pressing that goes over the ins and outs of what to do and devices to help with the process.
Ways to Prepare it:
There are so many ways to make tofu. Literally, the options are endless! Let’s go over some ways to whip up this amazing food.
- Freezing – If you want to ensure that your press is crumble-free, freezing is your best bet! All you have to do is take the tofu out of its package, drain the water, place the block in a freeze-safe container and let it freeze. Once you defrost it, the pressing process will be a lot easier and the texture will be nice and chewy. Definitely not necessary, but worth it if you have the time.
- Shape – If you want cubes, strips, fillets, crumbles, or triangles to be fancy, tofu is your blank canvas to make whatever your heart desires!
- Raw – Tofu is also great raw! After pressing, you can enjoy it right then and there and toss it into a salad, buddha bowl, or even just as a pick-me-up snack protein boost!
- Marinating – My favorite way to marinate tofu is in a bowl. Place all of your favorite seasonings (both dry and wet) into a bowl and let the tofu do it’s thing and soak up all of the flavors! You can use a brush to glaze it on or let it soak in a reusable bag also. To increase the flavor uptake, you can even use a fork to make a few holes in the tofu before marinating. Here’s a super tasty marinade example you can try!
- Oven – One of the easiest ways to prepare tofu in bulk! You can bake or broil some tofu and toss it into salads, stir-frys, or soups throughout the week. Simple cut it, marinate it and place it in the oven and voila, you’re ready to go for the week!
- Stovetop – Frying or stir-frying tofu is another method that brings a lot of tofu recipes to life. Oil your pan, season your tofu, and place your high-protein delight on the stovetop and you’ll be enjoying your meal in minutes! Here’s a delicious and really easy Buffalo Tofu Wedge recipe that you can fry in just 15 minutes!
- Grilling – If you love that smoky flavor that grilling gives to your food, you can get that same satisfaction from tofu too! Marinate your tofu and plop it on the grill. Your tofu will look and taste awesome with those grill marks!
I hope that you’re less intimidated and inspired more than ever to add more tofu to your meals! Just remember, the opportunities are endless with what you can make with tofu and it’s only intimidating and bland until you get a couple of reps under your belt! Here are 16 Savory Tofu Recipes that are so delicious, easy to follow, and will have you feeling like a tofu master!
More Tofu Recipes:
Photos by Alfonso Revilla