The Best Ways To Cook With Tofu

Oh, tofu, how I love thee. This miracle ingredient certainly deserves to have sonnets devoted to its gloriousness. Tofu is a solid food made by coagulating soy milk, then pressing the curds into blocks. Also called bean curd, this widely used ingredient in Asia is gaining popularity everywhere because of its mild flavor and versatile texture. Whether you bake it or give it the good old pan-fry treatment, tofu absorbs whatever flavors you want to add to it. In addition to the stir-fries and odd concoctions like tofurkey, tofu can ably replace eggs, dairy, and meat, too. Read on to discover the best ways to cook with tofu.

Bake away

Once you figure out how to bake tofu, you'll want to incorporate it into all the dishes. With its mild flavor and adaptable texture, tofu holds up well to oven treatments. Heed a few simple rules and you shall be rewarded with firm, crispy tofu that'll make you a convert to this vegetarian staple. First, always opt for extra-firm organic tofu since soy products that are not labeled as organic may have been treated with fertilizers or insecticides. The next step is to get rid of as much of the tofu's moisture as possible by squeezing out the excess liquid. Place the block of tofu on a paper towel-lined plate and top with another sheet of paper towel and a plate. Set this aside while you prep your other ingredients. After about 10 minutes, your tofu should be reasonably dry. Cut it up and toss the pieces in a small amount of oil and arrowroot or cornstarch, then bake in a 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes until crisp. Season the tofu after it finishes cooking for best results.

Use this handy recipe from David Lebovitz as a starting point for your baked tofu experiments.

For your Asian-inspired dishes

Tofu is a common ingredient in Asian cooking because it's just so darn versatile. If you're unsure how to start cooking with this miracle soy product, try incorporating it into traditional Asian dishes or ones inspired by those cuisines. Tofu is perfect for adding to stir-fries that bring together classic Asian flavors such as sesame, ginger, curry, soy, and miso. To use it in a fragrant curry or bold stir-fry, choose the extra-firm variety, dry it well, and go to town.

This recipe from Oh My Veggies takes the bowl concept and infuses it with the luscious flavors of Korean barbecue. Yes, please.

Let's pretend it's meat, sort of

Let's be frank. Tofu will never taste anything like meat, but that doesn't mean it's not a terrific option to cook with when you want to incorporate protein into your diet without eating meat. That's all I'm saying! The magic of tofu is that it can be used in almost any meat dish to lend hearty texture and loads of energy-giving protein to your meal. Whether you're making Indian vindaloo sans lamb, enchiladas without chicken, or lasagna minus the beef, you will undoubtedly appreciate how adaptable tofu can be.

Check out this terrific recipe from Minimalist Baker for vegan shepherd's pie, and add tofu in place of traditional beef. Yum!

Tofu as eggs, yes

If you think tofu makes a great meat substitute, your mind will be blown by how good it tastes when it's out there masquerading as eggs. Trendy cafes in big cities all over the United States are already pros at whipping up tofu scrambles — aka broken bits of tofu scrambled with herbaceous seasonings and zesty spices. However, what you may find more surprising is the fact that tofu is also a great stand-in for other eggy dishes like quiche and egg salad. Good times.

This veggie-forward tofu quiche from Oh She Glows is dairy-free and proud. Sweet-tart sun-dried tomatoes, earthy mushrooms, and leafy spinach are combined with tofu scrambles in a quiche that will make you think, "Egg who?"

Use tofu in smoothies and desserts

Want to know a secret? When you blend silken tofu, it transforms, taking on a smooth and creamy texture that makes it perfect for incorporating into some of your favorite desserts and smoothies. Add a few pieces of tofu to a smoothie for a protein boost or make a risk-free mousse using whipped silken tofu, melted chocolate, and a sweetener of your choice. Likewise, it lends custard-based treats incredible richness. Huh!

Try this recipe from Martha Stewart for chocolate mousse that's light, airy, and oh-so velvety.

Give tofu a sexy braise

Braising is a cooking method that uses both moist and dry heat. It usually involves searing the protein or vegetable of your choice on high heat, then finishing the cooking in a covered pot with some liquid whether that be water or stock. Braising seals in flavor and caramelizes the outside without charring the ingredient, making it an ideal technique for cooking tofu. Braised tofu is delicious on its own and tasty paired with rice.

This recipe from Maangchi turns simple braised tofu into a bold and spicy dish worthy of all the attention.

Tofu sauces to dream about

Blended tofu is a great stand-in for dairy products in sauces, dressings, and dips. If you want to go dairy-free, try using it in place of heavy cream, cream cheese, or sour cream. Whether you're preparing classic ranch dressing, Alfredo sauce for pasta night, or artichoke dip for a party, you'll find that silken or soft tofu lends the richness you crave. You'll never even miss the dairy components.

I love this basic tofu cream sauce recipe from Serious Eats, as it's the perfect one to customize to your liking.

Tofu as the new sandwich meat

I love myself a good sandwich. Portable, carby, and usually satisfying, sandwiches come in all shapes and forms — of course. While you've probably tried filling yours with meats, cheese, and veggies, have you ever thought of making a thick slab of pan-fried tofu the main attraction? Do it. Tofu is hearty enough to hold together in a sandwich and is mild enough that you can add whatever toppings and condiments your heart desires. Go crazy.

If you need inspo, try this recipe from Eating Well. This inventive take on the classic BLT uses tofu in place of bacon, and the result is stellar.

Add protein to your soups and salads

I love soups and salads, but I inevitably feel like they somehow aren't filling enough. Tofu is a great addition when you're looking to infuse a bit of protein into your meal without using meat. It instantly turns your soup or salad into a substantial meal that leaves you feeling fuller for longer. Stir cubes of baked or pan-fried tofu into your finished soup or toss with your leafy greens for a quick meal upgrade.

This tofu noodle soup from I Love Vegan wins. Bursting with vibrant veggies and whole wheat pasta, it's soup that promises to sustain you.

Go on and buy some blocks of tofu. It's time to play with this great blank canvas.