Tofu makes its way into the kitchen in surprising ways, from savory sauces to subtle desserts.
Tofu is touted as a low-calorie, high-protein meat alternative with substantial health benefits, but some people find it an intimidating ingredient. Many of us have been there, staring at the packaging and wondering, “How am I supposed to cook this?”
The first thing to do if you are thinking about giving this vegetarian-friendly ingredient a try is to throw out any previous judgments you may have. So long are the days of boring white cubes. When prepared properly, tofu can be an interesting and exciting component of your meal plan.
While many people consider tofu’s subtle flavor and unique, cheese-like texture a flaw, it should actually be considered a benefit. The neutral flavor profile allows the chef to use a wide variety of spices and marinades. The texture, which varies from very soft to extra firm, can be chosen to match the application.
Creamy recipes — such as alfredo sauce, dairy-free cheesecake or protein-packed smoothies — turn out nice and smooth when prepared with soft tofu. More structured dishes, such as scrambled eggs, stir-fry or curry, work best with the extra-firm style. Depending on your preference (and sense of adventure) you can choose to made tofu a small component or the focus of your dish.
The trick to preparing delicious tofu is to drain the excess water from the packaging, and press the block between kitchen towels. This process transforms the protein into a sponge that absorbs flavors, leading to a more satisfying end product. Another way to enjoy tofu is to make it crispy by tossing in cornstarch and sautéing until golden brown or baking in the oven. For kids, cut tofu into fun shapes using cookie cutters.
So many possibilities. Try the recipes below to get started!
Creamy Alfredo Sauce
½ block (7-8-ounce) extra-firm tofu, drained
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
1 green onion (scallion), root removed
Pinch red pepper flake, salt & pepper
Up to ½ cup 1 percent milk
1. In a blender, combine all ingredients except milk. Slowly add the milk until the desired consistency is reached.
2. Toss with whole-wheat linguine and broccoli or peas for a complete meal.
Per Serving: 97 calories, 4 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 98 milligrams sodium, 5 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 3 grams sugars, 8 grams protein
Recipe by Jordan Higgins
Simple Stir Fry
1 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu
4 cups chopped vegetables of choice (bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, green beans, etc.)
2 tablespoons sesame or canola oil
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Drain tofu, remove from the package and place between two thick towels folded into the shape of the tofu. Then place a plate or bowl on top and top it with something heavy like a book or skillet.
3. Let it dry for about 15 minutes, changing your towels if they get too wet. Once dry, cut into 1-inch cubes, triangles or rectangles.
4. Arrange tofu on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet to prevent sticking and bake for a total of 25-35 minutes, flipping once halfway through to ensure even cooking. Remove from oven.
5. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all of the sauce ingredients and set aside.
6. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add sesame oil and swirl to coat. Then add veggies and toss to coat. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring often.
7. When the vegetables have softened a bit, add the sauce and stir. It should bubble and thicken. Then add the tofu and stir to coat.
8. Cook the mixture for another 3-5 minutes, stirring often. When veggies are cooked to your preferred doneness, remove from heat.
9. Serve with rice for a complete meal.
Per Serving: 276 calories, 14 gram fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 500 milligrams sodium, 31 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 14 grams sugars, 14 grams protein
From: The Minimalist Baker
Chocolate Banana Pudding
1 banana, broken into chunks
1 (12-ounce) package soft or silken tofu
¼ cup confectioners sugar
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons 1-percent milk
Pinch ground cinnamon
1. Place the banana, tofu, sugar, cocoa powder, milk and cinnamon into a blender. Cover and puree until smooth.
2. Pour into individual serving dishes, and refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
Per serving: 132 calories, 4 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 1 milligram cholesterol, 15 milligram sodium, 21 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 13 grams sugar, 7 grams protein
Jordan Higgins is a dietetic intern at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Originally from Albany, New York, Jordan received her bachelor’s from Fordham University and completed graduate courses in nutrition from The Sage Colleges. After completing the internship in 2017, Jordan hopes to combine her love for cooking and nutrition education into a unique and inspiring business. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, reading food blogs, spending time with her 3 cats, exploring local shops and restaurants, hiking and traveling.