I have probably made tofu a hundred different ways, whether scrambled, baked, stir-fried, grilled, pureed, deep fried, breaded and baked, barbecued, twice-baked, or whipped into a luscious vegan cream pie…. but my “go-to” when I’m craving baked tofu, has got to be the simplest of them all. It takes less than 5 minutes of prep time, and another 15-45 minutes to bake (depending on the type of tofu, how thick your slices, and how chewy of a texture you desire).
I have noticed that many folks who eat a meat-focused diet (as in a “meat and potatoes man”) turn their noses up at tofu and scoff at its bland flavor and texture. Obviously, they don’t know what they are talking about and have never eaten one of the zillion delicious dishes made with tofu. Its neutral flavor and rather plain texture are what make it so fabulous for all types of cooking. Tofu takes on the flavors of the ingredients with which it is prepared and, depending on how it is prepared, that simple block of tofu can be transformed into a myriad different textures and taste sensations.
But first, a little information about tofu types and how to store it. There are two main types of tofu, what I call “regular” and “silken”. Almost all commercially available tofu is made in large batches, packed in water, and sold in refrigerated tubs. If you are lucky, you may also have access to truly fresh tofu, made daily, and sold in 1-pound blocks packed in tub of water. Fresh tofu is incomparable.
Silken Tofu (also called “Japanese style” tofu) has a smooth, thick-custard-like consistency that comes in varieties ranging from soft to extra firm. It is available in aseptic containers on the shelf (not requiring refrigeration unless opened), or in small plastic tubs/containers in the refrigerated section at your market. You can use silken tofu much like regular tofu if you wish, but it is best to use silken tofu only when the recipe specifically calls for it. I like to use silken tofu for pureed desserts (e.g. pumpkin mousse), sauces, or other recipes where it will be blended. I have seen blended silken tofu work fantastic as a replacement for egg-based white sauce in eggplant moussaka, and as mentioned in the first paragraph, it can make a killer delicious vegan cream pie. Cubed firm or extra firm silken tofu is lovely added to miso soup or other brothy soup, or when added to a dish like stir fries near the end of cooking. Even the firm varieties will crumble and easily break apart, so handle with care and stir gently.
Regular Tofu, what may also be called “Chinese style” tofu, is the most commonly available variety. It is also use for most of the prepared packaged tofu you may find in the market… ready baked tofu, marinated tofu, tofu burgers, and so on. It is available in styles ranging from extra soft to extra firm. Experiment with the different textures and brands (some brands are more firm/soft than others) and find which you like the best. Scrambled Tofu: Extra soft to firm tofu works well in tofu scrambles. Saute up your scramble ingredients and then add mashed/crumbled tofu and season to your heart’s delight. Stir-Fries: For cubed tofu (for stir fries, adding to stews, saag, and so on), depending on desired texture, regular to extra firm work well. Cut into bite-size cubes and add to your veggies, or brown separately in fry pan and add to your dish. Baked tofu: I like to use anything from regular to extra firm, depending on the final texture/flavor I desire. Twice-Baked tofu: Adding BBQ or other sauce and want a chewy texture? First bake your marinated tofu slices/strips (just in lemon-soy sauce-water is enough) until lightly browned. Then coat with your desired sauce and bake again, until well done. Super good and nice and chewy. Steamed tofu: If you cut soft regular tofu into cubes and then steam it, much of the water will cook out of it, leaving a more spongy and chewy texture. This can be eaten as is, along with steamed veggies, or take it a step further: Deep-Fried Tofu: Take your steamed tofu and pat or air dry, cut into smaller cubes or triangles, and then deep fry. This will give a nice crispy exterior with a lovely chewy, soft interior. Ground meat substitute: Freeze regular tofu and then, after thawing or semi-thawing, drain off liquid and mash it all up with a fork or coarsely grind in the food processor. This will give you a very textured, chewy result that you can saute up with a little chopped onion, garlic, cumin, chili powder, etc. and use for a great taco filling.
Pressed Tofu: If you have soft or regular tofu, and wish you had purchased extra firm, you can firm it up yourself by pressing it. Slice your tofu into slabs about 1-inch thick (or leave the block whole) and place it on top of several layers of absorbent paper on a plate or baking pan. Cover with a few more layers of absorbent paper and then place something weighing a few pounds on top. I like to use my big iron skillet or wood chopping board. You could also use a plate, and then weight the plate down with something heavier. Let it sit undisturbed for an hour or so until desired firmness attained.
Storing your Tofu: Whether silken or regular, when you purchase refrigerated tofu, or are storing silken aseptic-packed tofu after opening, store in a plastic or glass container, covered with fresh water, and then cover with a lid. Change the water every day, or at least every other day, until use. Changing the water keeps a fresh taste and helps it to last longer. I like to squeeze a tablespoon or two of lemon juice into the tofu water. Lemon gives your tofu a sort of head start on fermentation… and helps to make this form of soy more digestible (soy must be fermented for our bodies to best assimilate its nutrients and digest well). Lemon also adds great flavor. Whenever I marinate tofu I always include lemon juice, no matter the marinade I am using.
Oh, and that brings me to my “Go To Baked Tofu” – that simplest of ways to prepare tofu that is Oh So Good.
Go To Baked Tofu
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- 1 package firm or extra firm tofu, drained and cut into ½" thick slices
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Bragg's Liquid Aminos
- Cayenne powder
- Nutritional yeast
- baking parchment
- Cut a piece of baking parchment to fit on your jellyroll pan.
- Arrange slices of tofu on the parchment close together, but not touching.
- Drizzle tofu with lemon juice and Bragg's, enough to lightly cover all,(if you have marinated your tofu with lemon juice, you can omit the lemon here).
- Immediately sprinkle generously with nutritional yeast and cayenne powder.
- Bake at 400 degrees about 20 minutes, or as long as needed for desired texture. Tofu can be baked until it is quite well done, to the point of being crisp all the way through (if you like it that way!).