When the word tofu gets mentioned, I often get a bewildered look from my patients as if I am asking them to try astronaut ice cream or alien food. Tofu is commonly used in Asian cuisine. It is made into a bean curd by coagulating soy milk and pressing the milk curds into a soft, white block.
Unfortunately, tofu often gets a bad rap for being tasteless or a “health” food. However, people often knock it before trying it or don’t prepare it correctly, resulting in an adverse flavor or texture. However, tofu has some really important health benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked. Not to mention, tofu can really take on some amazing flavor if prepared correctly.
Tofu is incredibly versatile and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. It is low in calories and cholesterol, high in protein and a good source of isoflavones, phosphorus, iron, calcium, manganese, copper and selenium. Tofu is particularly useful for anyone trying to find ways to increase their protein intake without the risks of raising bad cholesterol. Now let’s talk about the need-to-know information on preparing and cooking tofu.
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- Eat raw: any tofu can be eaten raw, but most often silken or soft tofu is used for eating raw.
- Draining and Pressing: With any tofu, be sure to drain off the water from the package before using. Tofu contains quite a bit of water, so it’s also important apply pressure to the whole block or slices of tofu to extract additional water. Place the tofu on a paper towel-covered plate with another paper towel on top of the block tofu. Next, place a canned good or baking sheet to apply more pressure. Allow about 5-10 minutes for the excess water to drain off.
- Freezing: Freezing tofu is a great way to pull a good majority of the water from tofu. It is recommended to drain and press the tofu block before freezing. Similar to meat, it can be defrosted in the refrigerator or microwave.
- Marinating and Glazing: Tofu is a great vehicle for flavor, just like any meat. Therefore, marinating it overnight (after pressing!) or even for 15-30 minutes prior to cooking will help when it comes to adding flavor. If baking, the key is to save some of the marinade for after the tofu is done cooking and brush the tofu with the remaining marinade right before serving. If pan-frying firm tofu with or without oil (canola, peanut, or extra-virgin olive oil), glaze the tofu pieces with the marinade throughout the cooking process. As the tofu continues to fry, re-glaze the tofu until it turns into a syrupy mix that clings to the tofu. This will lock in the marinade and flavor. Whether you are baking, broiling, pan-frying, or grilling, cooking time for tofu generally ranges between 20-30 minutes (flipping halfway through).
Types of tofu:
- Firm or extra firm: this tofu can take on quite a bit of flavor and is perfect for pan-frying, sautéing, grilling, or roasting.
- Medium: this tofu still can fall apart on you pretty easily. It is best added to soups or salads depending on your taste preference.
- Soft/silken: Soft tofu is best eaten raw, lightly fried, or blended and added to recipes, such as a creamy savory sauce or fruit smoothie. Do not press soft tofu due to the soft texture and likelihood of it falling apart on you.
Vanilla Banana-Nut Smoothie
Servings: 3-4 servings (1 cup each)
- 2 cups non-fat plain Greek yogurt
- 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup cubed soft silken tofu
- 1 1/2 banana, ripe or frozen
- 2 tbsp. 100% natural creamy peanut butter
- 1 tbsp. ground flax seed (optional)
- Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth.
- Serve immediately or freeze for later use.
Pineapple Stir Fry with Baked Tofu (courtesy of Veggie Inspired!)
- 1 lb firm tofu , drained, pressed*, and cubed
- 2 tbsp soy sauce (or liquid aminos or tamari for a gluten free version)
- 2 tbsp pineapple juice
- 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger , peeled
- 3 garlic cloves (minced)
- 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger (peeled and minced)
- 3/4 cup diced carrot
- 1/2 cup halved snow peas
- 1/2 cup sliced water chestnuts
- 3 scallions (sliced)
- 2 cups cubed pineapple
- about 1/2 cup water or broth for sautéing
Stir Fry Sauce
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 3 tbsp soy sauce (or tamari for gluten free)
- 2 tbsp pineapple juice
- 1 tbsp pure maple syrup
- 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp water
- sliced green onion
- Sesame seeds
- drizzle of sesame oil
Serve with your choice of brown or white rice.
- Press the tofu if you haven’t already — see note below. Cut it into cubes.
- Pour the marinade into a plastic Ziploc bag: 2 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp pineapple juice and 1/2 inch of fresh peeled ginger. Add the cubed tofu and mix around so it’s all covered with marinade. Place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- When the tofu is done marinating, remove the tofu and place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, flipping each piece half way through the cooking time.
- In the meantime, whisk together the stir fry sauce: tomato paste, 3 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp pineapple juice, maple syrup, and vinegar. Mix together the cornstarch and water and add to the sauce. Whisk well and set aside.
- Heat a large skillet with 2 tbsp water (or broth) over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 3 minutes.
- Add the carrots and 1/4 cup water (or broth), cover and let cook about 5-7 minutes. Check every few minutes and add more water/broth if the pan is getting dry. Add the snow peas, water chestnuts, scallions and pineapple chunks and cook another 2-3 minutes.
- Add the stir fry sauce and mix well. Add the baked tofu and mix again.
- Serve over rice and garnish with sliced green onions, sesame seeds and a sprinkle of sesame oil, if desired.
*To press tofu – place paper towels or a clean dishcloth on a plate and place block of drained tofu on top. Cover with more paper towels or another clean dishcloth, add another plate on top, and weigh it down with whatever you have. I used bags of dried beans or grains.
*To save time, chop your veggies while the tofu is marinating. You can make the stir fry sauce at this time too.
*The stir fry comes together quickly if you have everything prepped ahead of time. Don’t start your stir fry until you have about 15 minutes left for baking the tofu. That way everything will be ready at the same time.