Tofu is an extremely versatile plant-based protein that comes in a wide variety of textures and flavors. You can use it as the creamy ingredient in smoothies, dressings, or sauces; or scramble, chop, or crumble it, then cook it however you please. Anywhere you see “cooked protein” in this book, tofu can be your go-to. It tends to be a cheaper protein than meat, so rotating it into your weekly meals can help the planet and save food dollars. Tofu also comes in small, pre-portioned “blocks,” so you do not need to overbuy, but packaging can be a dilemma when buying tofu. So far I have only come across three ways to address packaging with tofu and other vegan protein replacements: buy it in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging, then freeze; look for a zero-waste grocer or an Asian market that sells tofu in bins and take your own container with you (some say this is the best type of tofu to buy); or make your own from scratch.
Generally, depending on the brand (and each brand will be a little different), the firmer the tofu, the less it will absorb flavors. You may also see “pressed” tofu for sale, which means it’s pressed down to squeeze out the moisture and create a firmer texture that does not fall apart when cooked. Here are the main types of tofu from softest to firmest:
SILKEN A super silky thickened soy cream, with the texture of pudding. Typically eaten raw and perfect for smoothies, desserts, dressings, and sauces. You can also buy this fruit-flavored.
SOFT Great for absorbing flavors. A perfect addition to soups and stews. Also very versatile—can be eaten raw, and is great battered and deep-fried.
MEDIUM Ideal for baking or crumbling in scrambles. Can also be battered and stir fried.
FIRM TO EXTRA-FIRM Best for grilling, pan-frying and deep-frying. Buy them smoked and/or flavored with herbs and spices, or marinate to your liking.
DRAIN AND PAT Drain tofu to get rid of any excess moisture. For medium and firmer tofus, wrap the block in a clean tea towel for a few minutes to absorb excess moisture. If you have the time, you can press it down by placing a heavy item on top of it to drain the water while prepping the rest of your recipe. Then chop or slice and layout on a clean tea towel. If grilling, make sure to cut tofu into slices about 11⁄2 inch thick instead of cubes to prevent them from falling through the grill. If cooking from frozen, thaw until all of the water has been released first, then drain well.
SEASON You can simply season tofu with a little salt and pepper before cooking
or marinate it for a few hours in all sorts of flavors (such as my barbecue sauce (page XX), dill brine (page XX), or Spicy Chipotle Strawberry Marinade (page XX)). Tofu can be marinated for up to 4 days in the fridge, or kept frozen in the marinade for up to 3 months. Just thaw in the fridge before cooking.
COAT You can also turn tofu into crispy fried golden nuggets by tossing cubes of it in cornstarch before frying, or whipping them up in a tempura style batter to deep-fry.
There are many ways to cook medium, firm, and extra-firm styles of tofu.
BAKE Preheat the oven to 400°F and lay the prepared cubes or slices on a lined baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping part way through, until browned.
PAN-FRY In a preheated pan over high heat, lightly coat the bottom of the pan with high smoke point oil and brown tofu on all sides, a few minutes per side.
GRILL Great for firmer tofu. Prepare the grill and get it up to a nice high heat (over 400°F) and grill until brown on all sides.
Leftover cooked tofu can be repurposed just like any other protein—try it in a taco, on a salad, in a fried rice or grain bowl.
Food 911 To buy the most ethically-produced and organic tofu, check out the Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Soy Food Scorecard, where tofu is scored based on country of origin and farming practices.
See my delicious recipe for Moroccan Spiced Tofu Tagine with Apricot below, as well as my Garlicky Black Bean Tofu recipe.
Moroccan Spiced Tofu Tagine with Apricot
- Dutch oven or large heavy bottom pot
- 2 blocks (700g) firm tofu, cut into 2-inch cubes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 204 Tbsp extra firm tofu, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 2 onions, diced or thinly sliced
- 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground ginger or 1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- Pinch saffron optional
- 1 hot chili of choice, finely chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 2 medium carrots, chopped
- 2-3 cups chopped cauliflower florets,
- 1 cup chopped rutabaga
- 1 cup cooked or canned chickpeas rinsed and drained
- 16 olives of choice pitted
- 1/2 cup Bonne Maman Intense Apricot Spread
- 1-2 cups vegetable stock or broth
- lemon wedges
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts
- chopped fresh cilantro, to taste
- In a large bowl toss tofu cubes with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to season.
- In a large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven with lid, over medium high heat, add oil to coat bottom. Once hot, browntofu on all sides, about 8 mins. Transfer to plate.
- In the same pot/pan, stir in onions, garlic, and all remaining spices, adding more oil and lowering heat, if necessary. Sauté for about 5 minutes until onions are softened.
- Stir in tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower and rutabaga and let sauté in spices for about 3-5 minutes.
- Stir in chickpeas, olives, Bonne Maman Intense Apricot spread, and 1 cup of stock. Bring to simmer. Add tofu to coatin stew, cover and continue to let simmer for an additional 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender crisp. Add more stock if necessary.
- Taste, adjust seasoning with more salt, pepper, hot chili, or apricot spread. Serve hot with optional garnishes.