How to Cook Tofu + Best Tofu Recipes
Consider this post your Tofu 101! It’s time to learn about the various types of tofu, how to cook tofu, if tofu is really healthy, and get the tastiest tofu recipes all in one place. Do you have a favorite tofu recipe? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!
So often I get the request, “Help! What do I do with this package of tofu in my fridge?” I remember the first time I had tofu in the fridge and had no idea what to do with it. So, let me break down exactly what tofu is, the various types, the best tofu recipes, and how to cook tofu so that it actually tastes good.
How to Cook Tofu + Best Tofu Recipes is another installment of our cooking basics series which has been popular here. Others you might enjoy include:
- How to Cook Lentils + Best Lentil Recipes
- How to Cook Quinoa + Best Quinoa Recipes
- How to Cook Chickpeas + Best Chickpea Recipes
- What is Tempeh + Best Tempeh Recipes
- How to Cook Spaghetti Squash
What is Tofu?
Tofu is basically just soybeans that are pureed with water. Minerals like calcium and magnesium are added to help congeal the mixture, and then it is pressed into blocks. You can actually make your own tofu at home using soymilk. Here’s a recipe if you’d like to try it. Did you know there is even soy-free tofu? Known as Burmese Tofu, or shan tofu, Chickpea Tofu is a popular soy-free option.
Is Tofu Healthy?
Tofu, and soy in general, can be a controversial topic, so let’s get this out of the way first. If you have a soy allergy or your doctor tells you to avoid soy for medical reasons, you should certainly listen. However, for most of the population, unprocessed soy products such as edamame, tofu, and tempeh are very healthy. Soy has been a staple in Asian diets for thousands of years. It is just a bean, after all. Soy does contain phytoestrogen (plant estrogen), but so do other plant foods such as flax seeds and apples.
Another common concern is that much of the soy grown today is GMO. Most GMO soy is used for processed foods (you may not even know soybean oil is lurking in those store-bought cookies) and animal agriculture.
Soybeans are an easy source of plant based protein, as they contain all the essential amino acids. They are also packed with vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. You can read more about the myths and misinformation about soy from Holly Wilson M.D. here. My personal stance is that moderate consumption of whole, organic, real food soy such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame is healthy for most people, while processed soy products such as soybean oil and soy protein isolate are best avoided.
Types of Tofu
1. Extra Firm
Extra firm tofu is the best choice when you want the tofu to hold its shape and have a “meaty” consistency. Use it for dishes like stir fry, baked tofu, fried tofu, tofu scramble, and sofritas taco filling. It comes packed in water that should be drained before using. This is the type of tofu I buy most often and always keep in my fridge. My favorite is the high protein tofu from Trader Joe’s, which is even firmer than normal extra firm tofu and doesn’t require any pressing. Another convenient favorite is Nasoya’s Cubed Extra Firm Tofu.
Medium tofu is soft and delicate, but will still hold its shape when cut. It’s pefect for dishes like miso soup.
Silken tofu is, as the name suggests, silky. It has a pudding-soft consistency that makes it unsuitable for traditional tofu dishes like stir fry. Silken tofu is perfect for making creamy dairy-free pasta sauces like mac and cheese and Alfredo, adding protein to smoothies, and creating creamy vegan desserts. Think chocolate silk pie!
How to Cook Tofu
As we discussed, there are many different uses and ways to cook tofu. Here we’ll go over how to cook extra firm tofu for salads, stir fry, bowls, and bento boxes.
Step 1: Drain
Open the tofu package and drain the water. Pat dry with a clean dish towel or paper towels. Some people like to press their tofu with either a tofu press, or a makeshift press of a pot on top of the tofu and a cloth – I skip this step. Cut the tofu into your desired shape. 1-inch cubes, 2-inch triangles, and 1/2-inch thick steaks all work well.
Step 2: Season or Marinate Tofu
You can’t go wrong with simple salt and pepper. A thin coating of cornstarch helps create a crunchy crust. You can also marinate in liquid aminos or teriyaki sauce for a few hours before cooking on the grill or roasting in the oven. I prefer the texture of tofu best when cooked with salt and pepper, and then coated with a marinade, as I do in this baked Sesame Tofu recipe. Simple baked or pan fried tofu cubes are great for meal prep, because you can use them throughout the week on salads, in curries, etc.
Step 3: Cook
- Bake: Toss cubed tofu with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Bake on baking sheet at 450 degrees F. for 30-40 minutes, turning once until golden and crisp on the outside.
- Pan fry: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the cubed tofu and cook, turning occasionally, until golden and crisp on the outside, about 15 minutes.
- Grill: Drain, pat dry, and cut tofu block into 1/2-3/4″ slices or steaks. Marinate in your favorite marinade (we like teriyaki sauce) for one hour. Preheat the grill to medium high heat. Remove the tofu from the marinade and place on the grill. Cook, turning once, until deep grill marks appear, about 3 minutes per side.
My kids like tofu best made simply with a little salt and pepper and baked or pan fried until crispy. Here’s how we use it:
- Teriyaki Bowls: Bake or pan fry then add a little warm teriyaki sauce and serve with rice and veggies for an easy dinner.
- Salad with Tofu: One of my favorite ways to use tofu is to pan fry and serve on a big salad (pictured at top). For those of you in the Santa Barbara area, my usual order at Natural Cafe, is the Ranch Salad sub tofu for chicken with Tahini Dressing. Or Vegan Caesar Dressing works beautifully too.
- Add to Veggie Sushi or Fresh Spring Rolls for added protein.
- Use in this Easy Yellow Curry instead of the chickpeas.
For even more tofu recipes, continue on!
Sweet Tofu Recipes
From smoothies to desserts, tofu's mild flavor makes is versatile enough for sweet recipes too.
Savory Tofu Recipes
My favorite way to use tofu is as a protein source for a main dish. Here are some of the tastiest savory tofu recipes around.
- 1 block organic extra firm tofu*
- 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot (optional)
- sea salt, to taste
- freshly cracked pepper, to taste
- Open the tofu package and drain the water. Pat dry with a clean dish towel or paper towels. Some people like to press their tofu with either a tofu press, or a makeshift press of a pot on top of the tofu and a cloth – I skip this step. Cut the tofu into your desired shape. 1-inch cubes, 2-inch triangles, and 1/2-inch thick steaks all work well.
- Toss tofu with olive oil and cornstarch (if using) and season with salt and pepper (or a tablespoon liquid aminos or soy sauce).
- For baked tofu, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray or parchment paper. Arrange the tofu cubes on the baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, turning once, or until golden and crisp on the outside, while still tender and juicy on the inside.
- For pan fried tofu, add an additional tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet over medium high heat. Once hot, add the tofu, and cook, turning occasionally with tongs, until golden and crisp on the outside, about 15 minutes.
- Immediately season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if desired.
- Use this basic tofu recipe in fresh spring rolls, on salads with tahini or Caesar dressing, in stir fry, in curries, and Buddha bowls. It's also great as a snack dipped in peanut sauce or sweet and sour sauce.
1. I recommend the high protein tofu from Trader Joe's, which is even firmer than normal extra firm tofu and doesn't require any pressing. Another convenient favorite is Nasoya's Cubed Extra Firm Tofu.
2. Adding cornstarch or arrowroot adds another layer or crunch, but is completely optional.
3. For Asian recipes, try swapping the salt and pepper for 1 tablespoon liquid aminos or soy sauce.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 183Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 158mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 2gSugar: 1gProtein: 13g