How To: A Tofu Tutorial

Whenever I tell people that I’m a vegetarian, one of the first questions I am usually asked is, “so what do you eat then?  tofu?”  I hate to answer it, because the answer is YES, just lending support to the idea that vegetarians eat “weird” foods.  But I truly believe that if I ended up eating meat again, I would still eat loads of tofu.

I know some people avoid soy products because they are still considered nutritionally controversial.  We probably eat tofu 3-4 times a week.  I think that’s a reasonable amount either way, and to me it’s still better than the alternative.

I don’t remember the first time we tried making tofu, but I am sure it was a disaster.  I think the mysteriousness of tofu comes from the fact that you can’t really compare it to anything else – it comes in a watery package and looks like a big block of gooey sponge.   And since it’s like nothing else, most people have no idea what to do with it.

A lot of people do baked tofu in the oven, but I never think it gets crispy or chewy enough.  There are actually a LOT of different ways to prepare tofu, but I am going to show you the easiest, and my personal favorite.  Since one of the things people fear most about tofu is the texture, this stovetop method is good for first-timers, since it should be wonderfully chewy and not so sponge-like.  Okay, let’s get to it…

How to Cook Delicious Tofu

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Let’s start in the grocery store – sooo many tofu options!  Tofu comes in a range of firmness, from extra firm to silken.  For our purposes here, you want firm or extra firm.  Silken tofu is almost pudding-like, and is best used for smoothies, baking, etc.  Stick to the firm stuff for dinner.  My personal favorite is Nasoya’s Lite Firm tofu…

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For all the healthy eating I do  and good food choices I make, my major area of weakness is portion control.  I LOVE food, and I like to eat a lot of it!  In order to be successful over a long time, the best strategy for me has been to find fresh, natural foods that are high in nutrients, but low in calories, so that I can still eat my big portions, but avoid taking in big calories.  This Nasoya Lite Firm tofu is the only reduced fat/calorie tofu I’ve found, and I think it tastes exactly the same as the regular stuff.  Plus you can eat the entire block for only 200 calories!  (Trust me, it’s been done…)

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Here in Charlotte, I can only find this stuff at Earth Fare, which I don’t go to that often because it’s far away from my house.  So when I do go, I clear out their entire stock – seriously…

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Okay, onto the cooking!  In order to make this, all you need is one package of firm or extra firm tofu, cooking spray, and salt and pepper.  And a culinary arts degree of course…

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JUST KIDDING.  :)  Start by cutting open the package and draining out the scary water.  Place the block on a cutting board and cut the tofu into 4 even rectangles.  Then go back and cut each one in half – giving you 8 even rectangular blocks.

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Take the blocks and lay them out on an absorbent towel, or a few layers of paper towels.  Wrap these up so that the tofu is covered on all sides, and put something big and heavy on top – I always use cookbooks!  (Casey pointed out the irony in the Beef for All Seasons cookbook – haha!)

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In the meantime, go ahead and get a large non-stick pan heated up on the stovetop, and spray or drizzle with a bit of olive or coconut oil.

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After ten minutes of pressing the tofu, take it out and stack it back up into fours.  Then cut each stack once down the middle long ways,
and three times across the top on the short side – does that make sense?  No?  That’s why there are pictures…

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After all the cuts, you should have each layer sectioned into 8 little cubes, giving you 64 total pieces from the whole block. 

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Time to start cooking these bad boys.  Add them to your hot pan – you should hear a sizzle!  Lay them all out in one even later, and give another spritz of olive oil…

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Add some freshly ground black pepper and salt…

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Let these sizzle over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes.  If you are feeling antsy, you can check one piece to see if it is browned yet, but wait until they have a good amount of color before flipping.

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Once the bottom side is browned, go ahead and flip.  I use my mini spatula to individually flip each piece – tedious, but worth it – I promise.

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Let it cook long enough to make sure each side gets good color and crispiness.   Once each side is browned, flip a few more times for a minute or so, just to make sure it is all crispy enough.

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That’s all there is to it!  Serve these by themselves or dip them in a yummy sauce – BBQ, ketchup, the possibilities are endless!

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This is my favorite way to make plain crispy tofu.  Now that you know how to do the basic process, you’ll be able to try all sorts of different flavors and variations. Hopefully this makes it seem tasty and easy.  Give tofu a chance!