Tofu for Beginners

Many people are intimidated by tofu. I was one of those people a few years back and had some failed attempts at making it. Fast forward to now and I have the process perfected.

Why are people intimidated by it? They don’t know how to properly cook it, they are confused by the various types that are available at the supermarket and they think that it lacks flavor.

I hope to clear this up for you. I absolutely love tofu, now that I know how to make it. The bonus is that it is incredibly healthy for you and economical.

Why Eat Tofu?

Before we go any further, I want to tell you why you should eat tofu. If you do a search on the internet, you will find articles about the “dangers” of soy. There is a lot of misinformation floating around about soy. In fact, soy has been part of a healthy diet in the Asian culture for thousands of years and the Japanese are the longest living people on the planet. The plant-based doctors that I follow believe that soy is a healthy part of diet.

Dr. T. Colin Campbell wrote The China Study, which is based on the most comprehensive study of nutrition that was ever conducted. He has found that eating soy is a healthful way to control cholesterol levels and lower heart disease.

Dr. Neal Barnard, founder of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible medicine believes that soy is beneficial to health. Among the health benefits, soy products have been shown to be beneficial for lung cancer prevention and survival, prostate cancer prevention, breast cancer risk and survival rates, heart health, diabetes, bone health, inflammation and hot flashes.

Dr. Michael Greger, founder of NutritionFacts.org and the book How Not to Die studies all of the published nutrition research and produces easy to understand videos for the lay person. Based on the research, he believes that soy is a healthful part of the diet.

Dr. Mark Messina is an expert on the health effects of soy. He is a huge proponent of soy. More info about the health benefits of soy can be found on the website: www.soyconnection.com.

Soy is a high protein food, containing as much protein as meat. Many meat eaters will say that you can’t find a complete protein in the plant kingdom. A complete protein is one that contains all of the essential amino acids—these are the amino acids that your body doesn’t produce on its own. Amino acids are involved in many bodily functions and work to promote health. Soy, part of the plant kingdom, is indeed a complete protein and contains all of the essential amino acids.

Best of all, tofu is low cost. A 14 ounce package of regular tofu will cost between $1.50 and $2.50 per package. One package contains 5 servings. I have been known to eat a whole package on my own, but a typical meal for me will be ½ package. You can find it at any supermarket or health food store.

I do have one word of caution. Over 90% of the soybeans that are produced in the US are genetically modified. There are many studies showing that GMO food poses a serious risk to human health. Therefore, I feel it is important to buy organic soy products, as non-organic is genetically modified.

What is Tofu?

Tofu is soy milk (mature soybeans and water) with a coagulant added. The soy milk and coagulant are simmered until the curds and whey separate and then are placed into a mold and pressed until the whey drains out. The longer you press, the firmer the tofu. Silken tofu is made without curdling the soymilk.

Types of Tofu

There are many types of tofu but for the purposes of this post, I will focus on silken and regular block tofu, which are the types that most people will start to explore. Knowing the differences will help you in choosing the right kind for the dish you wish to prepare.

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Preparing to Use Tofu

Getting the tofu ready to use is a simple but very important process. If you plan to cook the tofu, this can have a huge effect on how your dish turns out. (You don’t have to cook tofu-- it is ready to eat right out of the package. I am not a huge fan of it raw but my dog Bella loves to have a piece!)

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Cooking Tofu

Now that you have the regular tofu pressed, it is time to get ready to cook it. First, decide how you want to slice your block of tofu. The most common ways that I slice it are into ½ inch cubes or ½ inch slices. The cool thing is that most tofu that you purchase at the store has scoring marks to make this easier. I use a sharp knife to make clean cuts.

There are a few easy cooking methods that I will focus on:

Pan fried: this is how I learned to properly make tofu. I use a cast iron pan, and heat a tablespoon or two of oil in it over medium heat. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, I drop the cubes of tofu into the oil. Immediately, I lift the pan by the handle and shake it a bit so that the cubes don’t stick. After sprinkling with a bit of salt and pepper, I wait patiently. I am looking for a crust to form on the bottom of the cubes. Once the crust starts to form (in less than 5 minutes), I can then start to move the tofu around to get it crisp on all sides. I use a wooden spatula to move the tofu around. I don’t get too crazy in trying to make sure that all 6 sides are crisp but work to flip the pieces over until they are crisp on mostly all sides. I use this method when I make slices as well.

Air fried: this is the easiest and quickest method and uses the least amount of oil. Place the tofu cubes into the air fryer basket. I use an oil sprayer with olive oil to mist the tofu in the basket. You don’t need a lot—just a few sprays. I shake the basket and spray again. I turn the heat to 400 degrees and let the tofu cook for 5 minutes. I check it, shake it and put it on for another five minutes. I usually shake one more time and cook for another 2 minutes. If you are oil free, you can make this without using any oil.

Baked: I usually go this route when I want to marinate the tofu. You can also toss with a tablespoon of olive oil or spray to get some crispiness. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and place the tofu on it. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees.

Recipes

I have a variety of recipes that use tofu on my website. Tofu scramble is a family favorite that we must have each Sunday morning. Eggless salad is great to have for lunch in the summertime on crackers. My absolute favorite dish to have for dinner is crispy slices of tofu with chimichurri sauce. I make a lot of dishes from the cookbook The Asian Vegan Kitchen and use pan fried cubed tofu in them. A delicious salad can be topped with air fried cubed tofu that is tossed with cayenne pepper sauce; add croutons and Follow Your Heart Bleu Cheese dressing for a hearty salad.

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Lemony Garlic Potato Salad

Ingredients:

6 large yukon gold potatoes (about half of a 5 pound bag)
2 lemons, juiced
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoons salt
1 cup chopped parsley

Directions:

Boil the unpeeled potatoes until a fork inserted into them does not meet resistance. While still hot, cut into pieces and place in a large bowl. Add all ingredients except the parsley and mix to combine. When the potatoes have cooled a bit, add the parsley and mix to combine. 

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Eggless Salad

Ingredients:

2 stalks of celery, finely diced
1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
1 14 ounce container organic extra firm tofu, lightly pressed (don't allow all of the water to drain--press for about 5 minutes)
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon black salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup unsweetened organic soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Directions:

Crumble the tofu into a bowl. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the non-dairy milk/olive oil/salt and pepper. Mix the ingredients to combine. Mix the non-dairy milk and olive oil in a separate cup. Pour over the tofu mixture and mix to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Coconut Macaroons

Ingredients:

½ cup aquafaba (this is the liquid that is in a can of beans—I used garbanzo)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups unsweetened shredded coconut
¾ cup sugar
Pinch of salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. With an electric hand mixer on medium, whip the aquafaba until white and foamy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla extract and stir. Stir in coconut, sugar and salt. Use a tablespoon to measure a mound of cookie dough and squeeze gently to hold the mixture together. Place the mounds on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden, 15-20 minutes.

Notes:

My husband loves coconut macaroons and missed them once he went vegan. I could tell when he bit into his first cookie that this recipe was exactly what he was looking for. The dough will feel a little crumbly when you are forming the mounds, but it will hold together well when baked.

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Chimichurri Sauce

I eat a pretty simple diet and many nights prefer to have some pan fried tofu with rice. I compliment it with a chimichurri sauce, putting a nice dollop on the rice and drizzling the sauce over the tofu. Here are a few tried and true recipes that are delicious!

Ingredients:

Variation 1 – scallions and fresh herbs

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon salt
3 scallions, sliced—including the green part
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon chopped mint

Variation 2 – roasted peppers and fresh herbs

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ cup white vinegar
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted then ground
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup roasted red pepper, cut in small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch finely chopped parsley

Variation 3 - lime and fresh herbs

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lime - juiced
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cloves of garlic
1 bunch chopped parsley
1/2 bunch chopped basil (1/2 ounce / 3/4 cup)
1/2 bunch chopped cilantro

Variation 4 - citrus and fresh herbs

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons lime zest
1 lime - juiced
1 lemon - juiced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 cloves of garlic - minced
3/4 cup chopped mint
3/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped chives

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a container and shake to combine.

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Cruelty Free Thanksgiving Dinner

Hello friends. A very long time ago when I was a teen, I decided to go vegetarian. My first Thanksgiving without turkey gravy was torturous! I made it through the holiday but fell off the wagon the following year and started eating poultry again. This was in the early 80s and in my naivete, I believed there weren't any good options to celebrate the holiday without harming another living creature. Fast forward to now...I have been vegan for 5 years after being a vegetarian for over 25 years and the world has changed quite a bit. There are so many amazing options available in the store along with recipes by amazing chefs like The Gentle Chef.

Our household is a mixed home--we have vegans, vegetarians and the lone meat eater. For Thanksgiving, our entire menu is vegan except that my husband prepares some chicken or turkey for my step-son. I absolutely guarantee you that these recipes will satisfy you regardless of your dietary preferences. You will find that it is very easy to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday in a cruelty free way--without harming the animals or harming your own body. Enjoy!

"Turkey"

We purchase the Field Roast Celebration Roast with Traditional Bread Stuffing and Gravy. We crave this year round...it is that good.

You can't go wrong with anything made by Field Roast. Tofurkey has some options as well, but I prefer the texture and flavor of the Field Roast products.

One year, I made a seitan "turkey breast" from The Gentle Chef. It was pretty darn good, but I was the only one in the family that was vegan at the time and it was a huge "breast". If you like to make things homemade, this is a great option and not very difficult to make.

Mashed Potatoes

We make two versions. The standard mashed potatoes and made by boiling about 5 pounds of potatoes that have been cut into 1 inch cubes. Once the potatoes can be pierced easily with a fork, drain the water and save a cup of the water that the potatoes were cooked in--it will be a little starchy. Hand mash the potatoes and add a stick of vegan "butter" (I like Earth Balance). You can then add a little of the potato water until the potatoes are the consistency that you like.

My favorite version of mashed potatoes is a recipe that my mom always made. I learned recently that it was shared with her by her friend Donna. Here is the veganized version.

Gravy

So, as I mentioned above, gravy was the toughest thing for me to give up. There are actually some great dry vegan gravy packets that you can purchase at the grocery store for when you are in a rush. This recipe is not at all complicated and it will literally knock your socks off--it is that good! None of your guests will miss the "real thing" when they are presented with this.

Vegetable Side Dishes

I really can't resist making a lot of sides. Vegetables are the star of the show in our house.

My daughter loves this simple carrot dish. Tarragon is anise-flavored and used a lot in French cooking. I can't resist pearl onions, peas and dill and this dish is a hit with me. We also make a roasted cauliflower.

Stuffing

I am from Pennsylvania and we call it stuffing. Those in the South might call it dressing. I keep it simple with this recipe. You can really use any brand of packaged stuffing mix, just read the ingredients to ensure it is vegan. The next day, you can make stuffing croquettes. 

Cranberry Sauce

I never really liked cranberry sauce until my friend Laura gave me this recipe. This is quite good! 

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Persian Eggplant Stew

Ingredients:

2 medium eggplants
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 ¼ cups tomato sauce
1 ¾ cups water
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions:

Cut the unpeeled eggplant lengthwise into 1 inch slices. Sprinkle with salt and let stand for about 20 minutes to remove the moisture and bitterness.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, salt, cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg and sauté. Add tomato sauce, water and lemon juice, reduce heat and let simmer for 35 minutes.

Wash the salt off the eggplant and pat dry with a towel. In a separate skillet, heat 6 tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the eggplant for about 5 minutes on each side until golden. Add the eggplant to the saucepan containing the other ingredients and combine.

Notes:

Serve over rice.

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Cabbage Salad

Ingredients:

1 medium head of green cabbage, cored and cut into medium dice
½ cup finely chopped parsley
1 bunch scallions (10), diced (both white and green parts)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Black pepper

Directions:

Toss the cabbage, parsley and scallions in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine lemon juice, garlic and salt and mix to combine. Add olive oil and whisk. Season with pepper. Pour the dressing on the salad and mix to combine. Allow the salad to sit for 15 minutes so that the cabbage softens.

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Frito Corn Casserole

Ingredients:

3 cans of corn, drained
½ red onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
¼ cup Vegenaise or other vegan mayonnaise
10.25 ounce bag of Fritos Corn Chips
Frank’s RedHot

Directions:

Combine corn, onions and bell pepper.  When ready to serve, add mayo, Fritos and Frank’s to taste.

Notes:

This stuff is addictive!

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