Bland. White. Gelatinous. What is tofu anyway? Tofu is made from soy beans, and it’s actually extremely delicious and versatile if you know what you’re doing with it. Here, I give you the low-down on this vegan staple, including the different types of tofu and how to prepare it. I’ve included some of my favorite plant-based recipes, too. You’ll find easy to make recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as snacks and dessert.
What is Tofu?
In my work as a health coach and cooking teacher, I’ve come across a few people with tofuphobia. I think it comes from not knowing exactly what it is. Tofu is sort of like cheese made with soymilk rather than cows’ milk. It’s made by curdling fresh soymilk with a coagulant, such as nigari, calcium sulfate, lemon juice, or vinegar.
Tofu originated in China, probably sometime between 179 – 122 B.C. It was introduced to the people of Japan and Korea sometime in the 700s. Tofu has a soft, subtle flavor, and picks up the tastes of the spices and sauces it’s cooked with.
Where to Buy Tofu
Tofu can sometimes be found in the produce area of the grocery store. Some stores keep it with the dairy times. With the proliferation of plant-based foods, stores are getting savvy to buyers’ needs and creating a vegan area with tofu, tempeh, seitan, and dairy-free cheeses.
Different Types of Tofu
Tofu comes in several varieties. There’s silken, firm, extra firm, and super firm. I used to come across soft tofu frequently, but I haven’t seen it in grocery stores in years. You can also find baked tofu and marinaded tofu in a lot of stores.
Silken is sold in both shelf-stable aseptic packages and water packed tubs. It works well in dips, dressings, smoothies, and mousses. I once topped cupcakes with an incredible chocolate mousse frosting and served it to my tofuphobic coworkers who raved about how delicious my baked goods were. After they licked up every last morsel, I told them that the main ingredient was tofu. They were all stunned. I think I made tofu believers out of them that day.
Firm and Extra Firm Tofu
Firm, extra firm, and super firm tofu are all in the firm tofu category, and they usually come packed in water and need to be refrigerated. Honestly, I don’t notice too much for a difference between the firm and extra firm varieties. This type of tofu is extremely versatile. I fluff it up in my food processor along with lemon juice, garlic and spices to make creamy ricotta “cheese”, mash it and scramble it for breakfast in the way I used to do with eggs in my pre-vegan days, slice it and stir-fry it with veggies for dinner, and chop it up to add to curries and stews.
Super firm tofu is… well… super firm. In the summertime I like to cube it, marinate it, and grill it on the barbecue, as it holds up to being grilled better than extra firm does. I also like to slice it, fry it, and have it on an English muffin, the way some people might eat eggs.
Baked tofu is also readily available in most grocery stores, and it can be eating right out of the package. I like to slice it and make it into a sandwich or cube it to add it to salads. You can also easily bake your own by slicing it, marinading it, and then baking it at 400°F for half an hour.
Baked tofu is also a good choice for slow cooker meals because it can stand up to prolonged cooking without falling apart the way other varieties might.
Firm and extra firm tofu are usually not good to go right out of the package. To prepare it, you need to drain the water from the container and squeeze any excess out of the tofu. You can do this the night before by wrapping it in a clean towel and placing it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. The towel will soak up the excess water. If you’re going to cook with it right away, you can wrap it in a towel and place it under something heavy, like a cast iron pan. You can also use a tofu press. I have a TofuXpress, which I also use to drain frozen spinach and kale.
Freezing tofu is a great way to give it a slightly “meaty” texture. Simply place entire the package in your freezer, let it freeze completely, and then thaw it in your fridge or on the counter. Press the tofu to squeeze out any excess water. Then you can crumble it and add to tomato sauce to make a vegan bolognese, mix it with sauce and spices to make sloppy joes, or mix with mayo and spices to make a tasty tofu-tuna salad.
Health Benefits of Tofu
Because it’s relatively low in calories and high in protein, tofu is a really good option for vegans. It’s not required eating when you follow a vegan diet. And, yes, omnivores can eat it too!
- It’s high in calcium, magnesium and iron.
- Epidemiological studies have found that soy protein may reduce the risk for cancers including breast, lung, colon and prostate.
- Soy protein has also been shown to be useful for warding off heart disease, because it has been known to lower cholesterol and enhance coronary artery function.
- Asian cultures that have been consuming soy for thousands of years have lower instances of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s.
There has been a lot of hubbub in the nutrition world as to whether or not soy is healthy. The truth is that most of the studies that show soy being harmful are funding by the meat industry and are done using isolated soy protein, which is as far from the soybean as you can get. And despite any urban legends you may have heard, eating tofu will not cause man-boobs.
My Favorite Tofu Recipes Include:
Brunch doesn’t get any better than this! Made with tofu, spinach, and dairy-free hollandaise sauce, this recipe is perfect for Easter, Mother’s Day, or any day you’re craving a savory breakfast dish.
This homemade dressing is destined to be your new favorite condiment! Pour it on salads, slather it on sandwiches, or use it as a dip for veggies!
This creamy is sure to be the star of your next party!
This decadent dessert is made with just six ingredeints and it comes together in a matter of minutes!
Firm and Extra Firm Tofu
This recipe is an old favorite, and it’s perfect for Sunday brunch.
This is one of my favorite weekend breakfast dishes, and I make it often.
I make this dish often for potlucks, and it’s always a bit hit!
This is the ultimate vegan brunch dish! It’s made with greens, tomato slices, and tempeh bacon and then drenched in a dairy-free hollandaise sauce.
Pack your lunch box with these easy to make sandwiches! They’re great for the office or for school
Dinner doesn’t get much easier than this dish!
Spice things up with vegan kung pao! It’s an easy-to-make stir-fry that is perfect for dinner on busy weeknights.
These burgers take me make to Greenwich Village in the 1990s, when I was in art school and didn’t have much money to spend on meals.
This versatile Baked Tofu can be used in salads, sandwiches, Buddha bowls, and even as an appetizer with dip!
This tofu is a wonderful addition to any salad, wrap or Buddha bowl. It’s also a great appetizer or snack!
Covered in a mixture of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic, onion, and salt — this is baked tofu perfection!
This is a great addition to any meal, and it’s incredibly versatile. Serve it with vegetables and rice for dinner, toss it into a salad, or make it the star of a sandwich for lunch.
Other Tofu Recipes
This delicious recipe from 5-Ingredient Vegan by Nava Atlas is super easy to make. Serve it with vegetables and noodles or rice for dinner, on top of a salad for lunch, or with baby carrots for a snack.
This recipe only takes a few minutes to make, and it can be used in tacos, salads, burritos, chili, quesadillas, or whatever strikes your fancy!
With just a block of tofu and a few other ingredients, this non-dairy feta cheese recipe is easy to make. Crumble your homemade dairy-free feta on salads, top pizzas with it, and stuff it into a sandwich for an extra burst of flavor.
What are your favorite ways to prepare tofu?