How to Use Tofu–Debunking a Common Misconception

When my family was discussing the plan for the Thanksgiving meal last fall, I received a text message from my brother that read, “So, are you planning on eating a pound of tofu instead of turkey this year?”  Herein lies one of the biggest misconceptions about a plant-strong diet.  

I used to think that vegetarians just ate plain tofu and iceberg lettuce at every meal, and that sounded awful to me so I never wanted to be vegetarian.  Let me tell you, eating plain tofu and iceberg lettuce at every meal would be awful.  First of all, eating plain tofu is for people who don’t know what to do with tofu.  Second, iceberg lettuce has no flavor and almost no nutrition, so you’re always hungry and in a grouchy mood after eating it.  But let’s stay on topic.

Tofu gets a bad wrap mostly because people don’t know how to work with it to give it flavor.

It’s rather plain, but that’s a strength, not a weakness. It’s natural blandness (I mean, have you ever had a soy bean?) means that you can do SO MUCH with it. I’ve used it to make pies, casseroles, “fried” rice, nut cheeses, yogurts, and lettuce wraps. Tofu is very versatile–you just need to know how to prepare it.

First, know your tofus. The main categories you’ll see at the store are silken, firm/extra firm/super firm (which is what most people are familiar with), and sprouted. Let’s talk about the differences and what each category does best.

Silken tofu is the consistency of Greek yogurt. If you blend it, it becomes the consistency of regular yogurt. I use silken for yogurts (just add a little bit of honey and your favorite fruit and blend!) mostly because it’s so easy to make, and it’s much cheaper than buying soy yogurt. I also use silken tofu for french toast casseroles and quiches. All of the tofus have a scrambled/poached egg quality, but silken tofu will act most like eggs in a quiche when cooked. It can get runny, so make sure you need your tofu to be runny before you choose silken.

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Firm tofu (and extra firm/super firm) is the most common type of tofu request in a recipe. This is what you’ll get if you order it at a restaurant. I use this kind of tofu if I want it to blend into the background for dishes such as stir-fries, curries, cheeses, and veggie burgers. You can mash it easily with a potato masher or stirring it around a skillet.  I also use firm tofu for pies, such as this one.  It also blends really well with a little liquid to help.

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Sprouted tofu is the toughest of the tofu. It’s much sturdier than the other two types, and it’s great for when you want tofu to be noticed. For instance, I use sprouted tofu for my barbeque sandwiches, tacos, and “fried” rice. This type of tofu is great for when you want a meatier consistency. I don’t mean meatier as in it tastes like meat, but rather that is has a distinctive feel in your mouth. I would not recommend putting sprouted tofu in your blender just because it’s not meant to be liquefied. Out of all the tofus, this one is meant to be a solid.

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The Most Important Step
If you are going to use tofu for a main dish such as stir-fry, barbeque sandwich, etc., the most important thing you could do to enhance your flavor is to marinate the tofu for a few hours before you cook it. Even one hour of marinating can make a huge difference in taste.

For stir-fries, I typically make a quick sauce for marinating with a combination of seasonings such as liquid aminos, teriyaki sauce, ginger, garlic, lemon/lime juice, peanut butter, or pineapple juice. Rice wines are really good at tenderizing meats, and they have the same effect on tofu.

For barbeque/burgers, I marinate it in barbeque sauce mixed with sea salt and smoked paprika.

For cheeses and yogurts, you don’t need to marinate it because it’s a supplement rather than a focus in your dish.

PSA: Always, always, always buy organic tofu. Soy is one of the most mass-produced crops in the country (along with corn, which you should also buy organic). Unless you buy organic, you’re getting a food that doesn’t even resemble it’s ancestor. Whole Foods sells a pound of organic tofu for $1.99. Two dollars for a pound of organic tofu! That’s cheaper than meat!

How do you like your tofu?

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