Poor sad tofu gets such a bad rap. People try it once and decide it’s not for them, or it gets used as a punchline or seemingly depressing fate for anyone choosing to eat meatless. Even restaurants can mess it up and you’ll find it as some sort of squishy obligatory vegan menu item, further cementing the anti-tofu sentiment. I’m telling you – the struggle is real for this one, people! Today’s post is for specially made for those of you who are new to or interested in cooking with tofu.
For starters, what is it?! It’s made from coagulated soymilk curds (mmmmm, bet you can’t wait to eat it now, huh?!) Think: soybeans > soymilk > separated into curds and whey > resulting curds are pressed into a block. Not too far off from how cheese is made from milk, but tofu is of course vegan, being made from soybeans and all. The resulting tofu is fairly bland tasting as you may have guessed.
The good news though ifs that tofu can be your friend! You may even find that it’s blandness is a great thing, because it will sop up whatever saucy-ness you throw it’s way. But if you’ve never cooked with it before, don’t just jump in blindly with no plan of attack, because your first mishap may ruin you on it for life. Then you’ll be one of those people who say they don’t like tofu but really just haven’t yet experienced it in all its full glory! Or maybe you have and it’s still not for you. That’s okay too, we can all still be friends here. But if you’re up for exploring, let’s dig into it.
First things first, which tofu to buy? Once you start poking around that part of the refrigerated section, you’ll find that there are several levels of firmness. Don’t get confused and walk away, and don’t just pick any old package and think they’ll be the same! Tofu ranges in distinct levels of firmness depending on how much water has been pressed out of the final product (“silken” is softest, then you may see “soft”, “medium”, “firm”, and “extra firm”). Here’s the scoop:
Silken: This kind of tofu has a higher water content and the texture is almost custard-like. You can buy it boxed and unrefrigerated (i.e. Mori-nu brand), or you can find other brands with the rest of the tofu in the refrigerated section. Although you can slice it, imagine almost like a slab of really soft jello. But creamier. Because of the soft texture, it’s best used in smoothies, dips, mousse/puddings, or creamy desserts. Honestly I don’t use silken tofu all that often, except occasionally in desserts. Chocolate Covered Katie does some delicious things with it though if you’re up for trying (google her chocolate infinity pie!!)
Extra Firm: This is my go-to because when I use tofu, I mainly want it to be crispy or lightly browned on the outside, just slightly spongy inside, and slathered in flavor and extras like veggies or grains. I also use extra firm for tofu scrambles (i.e. something like this, from Isa Chandra who does amazing things with tofu in general fyi!)
All other kinds: Honestly, I never buy the middle ground. I don’t like cooking with anything other than extra firm because I am trying at all costs to avoid mushiness. This is just personal preference though, so if you find a recipe calling for medium or firm, or just want to give it a whirl on your own, go forth and prosper my friend!
Important note! You’ll also see sprouted tofu, and what does that mean?! Regular tofu is made from soybeans, and sprouted tofu is made from sprouted soybeans (see what they did there?!) In general, sprouting beans and seeds before consumption makes them easier to digest, so that’s the thought process there. I buy and use it interchangeably with extra firm tofu. Trader Joe’s has a good sprouted tofu, as does Wildwood brand.
Finally, whichever kind of tofu you buy, look for organic and non-GMO. And If you’re looking for an easy starter recipe, check out my Simple Saucy Tofu Bowls!