The first time I tried tofu was at a restaurant and I thought soft tofu would be a good place to start. It was not. The tofu was squishy and slimy and completely gross. We laugh about it now, and “soft tofu” is still our our code word for “yuck.”
So why am I learning how to cook tofu? The evidence for eating less meat and more plants is overwhelming. Soy foods like tofu provide all of the protein building blows we need in a form that promotes good health. Soy seems to reactivate genes that repair DNA and can prevent cancer. It also seems to reduce some post-menopausal bone loss, easing the effects of declining estrogen production.
So I am putting on my big-girl apron and learning how to cook tofu so it actually tastes good. Because none of us should have to eat food that doesn’t taste good.
Trying the crispy tofu in some salads at Veggie Grill got me thinking good tofu is possible. I never knew tofu could be crispy on the outside and tender on the inside and delicious all the way through.
I wanted to try it at home. I would buy a package of tofu at Trader Joe’s and it would sit in my refrigerator, waiting for me to be brave enough to give it a try. And then the expiration date would pass and out it would go, so sad to have never been enjoyed.
My job is to figure out the best way to do all the healthy stuff, and then share with you all what I’ve learned. So there was no way I could talk about plant-rich diets and not know how to make the most of soy.
Do you know how sometimes when you decide to do something new, and that something is a good thing, help comes in unanticipated ways? When I decided to learn how to cook tofu, I got an email from the Minimalist Baker blog with a recipe for making delicious, easy crispy tofu.
It seems she had trouble with tofu too, and finally learned how to make it crispy without deep frying it. Hallelujah! I tried her recipe for Almond Butter Tofu Stir-Fry and it was fantastic. The almond butter is in the sauce, you don’t stir fry it. For the first time, I got good Asian flavor at home and we loved the tofu. Well, the adults in the house loved the tofu. Someone is still scarred from her first experience and not ready to give tofu another chance.
There are two ways to make crispy tofu without frying. One involves a quick bake in the oven combined with a stir-fry to marry the tofu with the sauce. The other involves coating the cubed tofu with cornstarch before the stir-fry. Both techniques work, one involves more mess and the other a little more time. I like the oven method because the tofu bakes while I am chopping the veggies for the stir-fry, so it really doesn’t add to my time in the kitchen. However the weather is getting hot so I may opt for the cornstarch method during the summer, just to keep my kitchen cooler.
Minimalist Baker’s technique, along with this one from The Kitchn, make it easy to add crispy, healthy tofu cubes to so many dishes. Tofu doesn’t have much taste itself and soaks up any flavors you marinate it in or put on it. Mastering good texture is the key to great tofu. Even picky eaters may try tofu if its crispy and tender instead of soggy or gluey.
I haven’t tried the quiches made with soft tofu, or any creamy tofu recipes yet, but they are in the works. They start with soft tofu and it may take a while for me to get past “soft tofu.” Recipes for tempeh (another soy food product) are also on the schedule, and I think I’ve found a winner. As always, I will share what I learn along the way with you, so you can learn from my mistakes.
I hope you give some of these tofu recipes a try. You will find that having some meatless meals can still be a satisfying, delicious experience.