I never used to like tofu. To me, it seemed gross, spongy and weird. I first tried tofu 9 years ago after giving up meat. It didn’t go well, but for whatever reason I just kept at it. Eventually, I learned to like it, but ONLY if it was pressed. It was a texture thing. In the years since, I’ve done almost everything one can do with tofu from using it in stir fry dishes to pumpkin pie and now I find myself picking at it right out of the package. This is a real life testament that we can learn to like new foods at any age. You may just have to keep trying.
What is tofu exactly?
Tofu is a soybean curd that’s made by coagulating soybean milk from either whole or sprouted soy beans and pressing together the extracted curds into soft white blocks.
See? Sounds gross. The word curd is off-putting right from the start.
Tofu making is very similar to cheese making in that you are separating the curds from the whey. Because of this process, moisture content is the defining difference between silken, soft, firm and extra firm tofu varieties you’ll find at the store. Firm and extra firm tofu will be more dense, have less moisture and more protein per serving and can stand up to the rough housing of grilling and stir-frying. Soft or silken tofu products have more moisture and resemble more of a yogurt consistency making it great as a thickening agent and is a good substitute for cream, cheese and eggs when baking or creating sauces and dressings.
Tofu-making has actually been around for about 2,000 years and was first recorded in China, then Korea and Japan, later arriving in Vietnam and other parts of Southern Asia, presumably with the spread of East Asian Buddhism as it’s the main source of protein in their vegetarian diet.
Tofu is low in calories and is a rich source of protein, iron and also calcium and magnesium, depending on the coagulants used in the processing (e.g. calcium chloride, calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate). Tofu also contains all 8 essential amino acids, is naturally gluten-free and has no cholesterol.
Tofu is a super flexible food, having a somewhat neutral taste it takes on the flavor of whatever seasonings or marinade is used. It works beautifully in cold or hot dishes and can be prepared to grill, bake, fry, to eat fresh or in single skillet dishes.
Tofu is usually found in the produce section of the grocery store with other meat and dairy substitutions. It looks like a white brick packaged in water. Mori-nu tofu is a shelf stable brand and is my preference for making my own vegan mayonnaise or vegetable dip. I usually order Mori-nu from Amazon as it can be a bit harder to find.
While soft and silken tofu are most easily used fresh and drained out of the package there are several options when prepping firm and extra firm tofu:
Freezing: Personally, I really enjoy tofu if the block has been frozen first. I simply throw the entire package in the freezer until the day before I’m ready to use it in a recipe where I want the tofu to be really dense and chewy. Alternatively, you can slice and freeze portions in freezer bags or paper. The process of freezing causes almost all the water to be pulled out and contracts the whey into a spongy consistency that will absorb sauces and marinades more easily. Frozen tofu can be easily thawed in the fridge, microwave or hot water bath.
Draining/Blotting: Whether you have skipped the freezing step or not, slit the package of tofu and drain off the water. Let the block sit on a paper towel or clean dish cloth for 5 minutes or so.
Pressing: This is a very common step but not always necessary. There are fancy tofu presses you can buy, but in my opinion, it’s easy enough to use what you have at home. You can press any additional water out of the block of tofu by wrapping it in a clean dish towel, placing it between two flat, hard surfaces, such as cookie sheets or cutting boards and applying weight on top. In my case, I've got it down to using a baking stone, hamburger press and a couple of dumbbells or soup cans.
Salt soak/Draining: If you feel like you want to skip all the pressing business you can bypass that with a 15 minute salt water soak. Though I have never used this method, it is said to preseason the tofu and create a crisper texture. After the soak, let drain and dry on paper towel or clean dish cloth for 5 minutes or so.
Marinating: Marinating tofu is one of the most popular methods of flavoring. Simply cover it in your favorite spices, sauce or marinade. Freezing and pressing enhances the flavor absorption here but is not necessary. The longer you let the tofu marinate the better, but 30 minutes is a good place to start.
Well, if I’ve convinced you to give tofu a first or second chance...I’m all about second chances ;) Here are a few helpful tips for using this wonder food and soon you'll be asking yourself why you didn't cross this bridge, or block, a long time ago:
Jeanmare and Cristy are creators and contributors of the Living Simply Nourished Blog. Grab a cup of tea (or coffee!), find a cozy spot, scroll around, read some stories, find some inspiration, and enjoy!
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