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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