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Meat-Free Fridays: Tofu--Tasteless Blob or Tasty Protein?

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
3/20/2009 6:04 PM   :  180 comments

Each Friday during Lent, the dailySpark is featuring a different meat-free main dish. Whether you observe Lent or not, we can all benefit from learning about alternate, affordable proteins.

Few foods are as polarizing as tofu.

Say the word and watch as noses crinkle or mouths water.

I fall on the tofu lover side of the spectrum, but I think we might be of the minority.

Tofu, also known as soybean curd, is made by soaking, boiling, blending and straining soybeans, then adding a coagulating agent and pressing it. Think of it like this: Cheese is to milk as tofu is to soymilk.

Really whets the appetite, doesn't it?

Scratch that.

Think of tofu as the other white meat. Like chicken, it's a versatile protein, a blank canvas on which to test your culinary prowess. I substitute tofu in just about every chicken recipe I have.

3-4 ounces grilled chicken
3-4 ounces sautéed or grilled tofu

Ta-da!

I've got a few tofu tricks and tips. I'm pretty sure I can convert you. In fact, I bet you a SparkGoodie that you will at least like, if not love, tofu after you try some of these tips. (P.S. Did I mention that it's cheap? A 15-ounce package yields five servings for under $2! That's enough of a reason for this frugal foodie.)



The key to good tofu is knowing how to transform that watery blob of quivering protein into something palatable.

There are basically two kinds of tofu: Soft and Firm. (You might notice that I'm recycling the material below from our article Tofu 101.)

Soft Tofu
This is tofu that has a much softer texture. "Soft" or "Silken" varieties are good for making smoothies, pudding, soups, or any other creamy dish—just scoop it straight from the package into the blender or mixing bowl. Like firm tofu, it takes on the flavor of its respective dish, is available in both refrigerated and shelf-stable packages, and should be stored in the fridge after opening.
Try one of these soft tofu recipes.
I use soft tofu in a delicious Korean stew called soon dubu jjigae (soft tofu stew).
You could also use it in soups. It's great in tomato or broccoli soup, either in chunks or blended in.
It's also good "scrambled" with a bit of turmeric, garlic and soy sauce (to taste). I add chopped peppers and onions and cook like scrambled eggs.

Firm Tofu
This is tofu that has a firm texture. You’ll find "Firm" and "Extra-Firm" styles, but actual textures vary greatly by brand. Firm style tofu is best for stir-fries or for replacing meat in a recipe. The best thing about these varieties is that they take on the flavor of the dish into which they are incorporated. So you can spice, sweeten, or marinate to your heart's content—you decide the flavor. Firm varieties of tofu are available in both refrigerated and shelf-stable packages. Just open, drain the water, slice, and cook as desired. If you don’t use the whole block at once, cover the rest with water and store (tightly covered) in the refrigerator for up to five days, changing the water daily.

Firm tofu is versatile! Here are some of my favorite recipes:
The World's Best, Easiest Tofu
Jamaican Jerk Tofu
Honey-Glazed Tofu

As I said before, you can use firm tofu in place of chicken in almost any recipe. I grill it (spritz with nonstick spray) and then coat it in BBQ sauce, sauté it with vegetables for a quick stir-fry, bread it and bake it with tomato sauce and cheese for tofu Parmesan.

Tofu is good in "stroganoff' dishes, in tacos and cooked like chicken or veal piccatta. Top it with the sauce of your choice!

Dust it with Old Bay, poultry seasoning or lemon pepper and bake or broil.

Serve with baked potatoes and broccoli for a fast, comforting meal.

You can even cut it into "nuggets," then bread and bake them. Dunk them in your sauce of choice. Swap thinly sliced and sautéed tofu on sandwiches and use it to top salads, too!

There is also flavored tofu. I'd rather season my own and save some money, but the flavored varieties are appealing for tofu neophytes. I am a HUGE fan of smoked tofu, which I use on sandwiches, in burritos and sliced straight from the package!

Three Terrific Tofu Tips:


Press it. Tofu is packed in water, which needs to be drained before using. I also recommend pressing it. Slice it, then place on a lift-free dish towel and top with another towel. Press the water from the tofu for a crispier finished product.

Freeze it. Freezing the thawing tofu changes the texture. It becomes denser and chewier. I crumble and sauté thawed blocks of tofu with onions and garlic, then throw them into tomato sauce, chili or soup. It adds a texture similar to ground meat or soy "crumbles."

Crisp it. When sautéed with a bit of nonstick cooking spray or broiled in the oven, tofu gets slightly crispy and crunchy on the outside just like meat does. The texture makes a big difference in the taste. Note: Use just a bit of oil because tofu is like a sponge; it will soak up as much oil as you give it!

While I don't expect to make everyone into a tofu convert, I do hope to sway a few opinions about this multipurpose protein.

Try it, like it, and I'll send you a SparkGoodie (while supplies--meaning my SparkPoints--last)!

Pick a side: Tofu lover or loather? Will you give it one last try? If you're a tofu lover or liker, how do you cook it?





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Comments

  • 180
    I didn't realize how inexpensive tofu is. I am heading out to the store now to pick up some firm (or extra firm). Love fried tofu, but don't want the added fat, so will try it at home...pan fried with cooking spray and my own sauces. - 8/23/2012   10:09:05 AM
  • 179
    I love smoked tofu! I use plain tofu in my curry, which is very tasty. - 7/7/2012   9:59:49 AM
  • 178
    I love Tofu a lot, but ave not tried making it for a long time now. I need a great will to do that - 3/16/2012   1:22:20 AM
  • ELLEYKAT
    177
    Thanks for the great tips! I read this and then made tofu "unfried" rice last night, and used the rest of the tofu to make a tofu-cabbage-guacamole pita pocket for breakfast! (Weird, I know, but I wanted to use up the rest of the tofu.) Having tried tofu after reading this article, I LOVE IT, and can't wait to try cooking it more ways!! - 3/1/2012   9:52:26 AM
  • 176
    LOL It's funny this one came up like it did. I just had an eggplant tofu stir fry last night that was super yummy, filling and tasty! A lot of times we fry up the tofu to make it crispy on the edges but this time I left it soft and simmered it with the soy, thai chili sauce, sugar, chicken broth and eggplant. Wow! - 8/31/2010   9:57:57 AM
  • 175
    I love tofu - which is a good thing, considering the boyfriend is vegan. :)
    We love to make stir fry with it and I made a reallly good baked tofu with a homemade bbq sauce (which needed some work, but oh well).
    I need more variety, so thanks! - 8/31/2010   2:27:36 AM
  • 174
    I love tofu. In addition to tasty tofu recipes, it is also a great substitute for paneer, which is much more expensive and harder to find. - 8/31/2010   1:13:42 AM
  • 173
    I cut down the ricotta cheese in half by using soft tofu mashed with the ricotta for my stuffed shells and veggie lazagna receipes. I hide the tofu package so no one in my house knows. they wouldn't eat it if they knew it was in their. They are none the wiser when it comes to taste. - 8/30/2010   5:40:00 PM
  • 172
    I love tofu but don't eat it as often as I should. Your blog is a reminder of just how versatile and cheap tofu is. I'm going to try out some of your suggestions. - 8/30/2010   1:42:32 PM
  • 171
    I love tofu, any way but fried. - 6/13/2010   6:33:07 PM
  • 170
    I like tofu when it is added to hot and sour Chinese soup. My daughter is a vegetarian, and I make it for her as a meat substitute. Recently I tried rubbing it with just a bit of olive oil and a spicy barbecue style dry rub and baking or grilling it, which she really enjoyed. I've also made it with a tamari-style marinade. - 5/3/2010   11:28:59 PM
  • PIPETPEOPLE
    169
    If you want an easy way to firm up your firm tofu, bake it (much easier than trying to press it!). I tend to prep some blocks in advance. Sprinkle on a little teriyaki sauce if you want to use it later in a stir fry or put a dab of thai paste for thai curries (be creative with seasoning!). While I like tofu even without baking it, I love the texture after it is baked. - 3/2/2010   1:49:52 PM
  • 168
    I'm going to have to try more tofu! The Jerked Tofu sounds absolutely wonderful! - 1/6/2010   7:47:15 PM
  • FOUNDAGAIN
    167
    I have used tofu and the only good thing I can say about it is that it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook with it. It's the texture I have a problem with. I don't mind TVP when mixed with ground beef or venison for a meat loaf but even silken tofu leaves me a little cold. However, I once ate a piece of cheesecake that I really loved and was told it had tofu in it. Go figure!
    Erin - 11/4/2009   12:12:52 AM
  • 166
    Great article, many helpful hints.
    Wouldn't say I loved Tofu but will buy next time I am shopping because as you say it is affordable.
    Better diet choices usually cost more so this may be a good way to offset these etra cost. - 10/1/2009   9:12:33 PM
  • MUSICRUNNER
    165
    yum yum yum - I love tofu and how it just soaks up flavour! :-) - 4/23/2009   3:53:23 PM
  • KATIEDIDLOSE
    164
    I've never known what to do with tofu, but it sounds healthy. I think I'll try my chicken curry recipe (lots of veges) with tofu. Sounds like it might work. - 4/12/2009   9:12:40 PM
  • BG1971
    163
    I love it - 4/7/2009   9:59:45 AM
  • 162
    I'm a new tofu fan. I tried the tofu hash recipe on I found on SP. I really liked it! I will try some more tofu recipes. - 4/5/2009   10:07:33 AM
  • 161
    Give it a chance! Just once isn't enough. It's real good in spaghetti sauce, lasagna. I always mush it in my hands like my vegetarian son does and you'd swear it looked like cottage cheese. All it needs is flavor, start out by putting it in sauces. I read your article and it made me hungry! I stir fried it in hoisin sauce, celery, mushrooms and then added my light progresso vegetable soup. My lazy dinner and my husband didn't even leave any leftovers! - 4/4/2009   10:40:39 PM
  • MUMBLE71
    160
    I love tofu! The more it is marinated, the less bland and tasteless it becomes. It really is multipurpose protein! - 4/3/2009   1:45:10 PM
  • 159
    I have already tried. It was hard to get started, mainly because of the looks and the image of tofu. But I like it. One of my favorite things to make is my version of green bean casserole. I add tofu and a potato, throw everything into the slow cooker, and end up with a tasty complete meal - protein and all. Another thing I like with tofu is to take cubed tofu and heat it up in cheese. My favorite way to buy tofu is in packages of already cubed firm tofu. It is ready to be thrown into any recipe. - 4/3/2009   8:54:03 AM
  • GREYMATTER63
    158
    Thanks for the tips- I might give it a try! - 4/3/2009   7:13:20 AM
  • 157
    I love tofu. Hungry girl has a bunch of fabulous recipes that use tofu noodles... a whole package of noodles only has 40 calories (and I mean the whole package, not just one serving!) - 3/29/2009   4:08:47 PM
  • 156
    Okay last night I tried tofu! My 14 year old son and I ate it....hubby wouldn't even try it! My son and I loved it!
    I bought extra firm and drained it as suggested, I sliced it into thick slices, marinated it in FF Italian dressing for about 30 minutes, grilled it until it was nicely browned, heated up some marinara sauce for dipping and served it with a salad on the side! My son wants this at least once a week! And it's cheap!
    Thanks for the nudge!
    Cindy - 3/28/2009   10:40:42 AM
  • 155
    I LOVE Tofu!

    The first time I tried it I thought it was awful. I tried to read up on it, tried to fix it several ways at home and just didn't like it. Years later I had it again (I was being vegetarianP) and had it in some Thai Food (Tofu pad thai). It was deep fried. Omigosh! It was wonderful. I did not miss the meat and it was a filling meal. No I general season it and saute with veggies (quick and easy) and it's yum. - 3/27/2009   5:56:07 PM
  • AXREAH
    154
    Never tried it. - 3/25/2009   3:36:24 PM
  • 153
    Thanks for the great tips! I was wondering about your freezing suggestion though - do you drain the tofu before freezing? Or can I just freeze it in it's original container? I buy the kind that is water-packed in a plastic container. - 3/25/2009   10:55:22 AM
  • 152
    Just an F.Y.I., people who have thyroid disease need to be very, very careful about eating soy based products - this includes tofu. Soy may be wonderful for the average person but can cause real problems for someone who is hypothyroid. - 3/24/2009   8:39:07 PM
  • 151
    Well I have tried tofu several times & liked it. Thanks for some more ideas for using it! - 3/24/2009   5:16:49 PM
  • 150
    I tried tofu a number of years ago. I wasn't too impressed by the taste (or lack of it). However, I was very impressed by the horrible stomach cramps I got in my discovery of the fact that I am allergic to soy protein! - 3/24/2009   1:20:43 PM
  • TERESAEPFEIL
    149
    Tofu + food processor = anything creamy you can imagine.
    cheesecake (try stevia or splenda for sweetness)
    pumpkin pie (its dessert and a healthy meal)
    gravy - 3/24/2009   7:14:33 AM
  • 148
    I have had tofu in soup and stir fry and have enjoyed it. I never thought about putting it in chili, thanks for the tip! My husband and I eat chili all the time. As for serving it like chicken (baking with seasoning)...I don't know. I would have to work up to that I think. Happy sparking! - 3/24/2009   5:35:31 AM
  • 147
    I am a Meat Head. I have had it once and I was not impressed. I will try it again only because I really need to eat less meat. I do like edamame however, so I may have to stick to eating soy in that form. - 3/23/2009   11:01:40 PM
  • 146
    My new favorite tofu recipe is a simply egg-less egg salad!!! I switched from eggs to egg beaters a few years ago but I really missed the taste of egg salad!!! I read a post on the vegetarians team about egg-less egg salad and gave it a try!!! Just take a serving of firm tofu and mash it, add vegan mayo, mustard, organic relish, onion, celery, salt and pepper and nobody will be able to tell the difference!!! I also love BBQ tofu...slice, coat with catsup and chiptole salsa and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes and BAM!!! - 3/23/2009   5:19:33 PM
  • 145
    A tasteless blob as far as I am concerned. Ate it once won't be trying it again!!
    yuk!! - 3/23/2009   5:08:27 PM
  • 144
    I have tried Tofu one time in a stir fry and have been "soaking" up ideas to try it other ways. I want so badly to change my way of eating and truly desire to go meatless or be flexible if needed at family or church gatherings. Please keep up the great articles here at Spark. We are getting much more out of them, than what you really think. Thanks!!!

    Jean - 3/23/2009   4:53:06 PM
  • 143
    I went out and bought firm tofu and made my stir fry last night. My family hates me and says I should ask for my goodie. Although we did not like it, I am going to give a try to Morning star farms chik n nuggets and see if I can get away with it. - 3/23/2009   4:12:50 PM
  • 142
    i'm not gonna lie, the only reason I opened this was because that looked like tofu french fries at the top...is that even possible?! - 3/23/2009   4:05:42 PM
  • 141
    I could be a lot more creative cooking with tofu. My daughter has tried to go vegetarian a few times, and each time she brings tofu into the house, I've tried a few new recipes. The most recent hit was a chicken-and-rice soup that I substituted tofu for the chicken. It was great! Even the meat-eaters in the house liked it!

    I have also used Gimme Lean, a sausage-style soy protein, browned with garlic and onions, then warmed with tomato sauce, to put over whole wheat pasta - yummy! I think there are lots of good ideas in this article. Thanks! - 3/23/2009   3:08:22 PM
  • 140
    My husband and I tried to use it in a stir fry once, but when we pressed all of the liquid out the firm tofu turned into mush. How do you squeeze the liquid out of it while still leaving it firm enough to use as meat substitute? - 3/23/2009   12:07:45 PM
  • MILLIE.COPELAND
    139
    I love tofu. I press it and marinate it and then either grill, bake or saute tofu. I also make pumkin "cheesecake" with silken tofu. My three year old loves it and sometimes my 6 year old will eat it if it is grilled. Of course I tell them that it is pressed chicken. My mother crumbles tofu on top of her salads and pretends it is feta. She is vegan so it works for her. I will have to try freezing tofu. - 3/23/2009   10:45:21 AM
  • 138
    My favorite at the Korean restaurants is the spicy soon dubu jjigae (soft tofu stew) with seafood. Yummy, delish and filling! I also like crispy tofu dipped in chilli sauce. - 3/23/2009   9:49:57 AM
  • 137
    I love tofu. I've used it in stir-fries, chocolate mousse (simply delicious!), and several Indian dishes (palak paneer, for example, is wonderful with extra firm tofu instead of paneer). I've also used soft or silken tofu as a replacement for eggs while making scrambled eggs - spiced, of course. All very simple to make, and very tasty.

    Now I'm looking forward to trying pressed tofu the next time I have the tofu urge! Thanks for the instructions! - 3/23/2009   8:31:57 AM
  • 136
    Thanks for "Sparking" me back into tofu. I use to eat tofu in college..mostly in smoothies (easy to drink on the run). I am excited about using it in stir fries. I love how inexpensive it is...and YES it does sound a lot better when you think cheese is to milk as tofu is to soymilk (at least it always has worked for me). Thanks for sharing these tasty tips! - 3/22/2009   8:47:40 PM
  • 135
    I really like tofu, and I'm always interested in finding new recipes for it. I'm one of those that appreciates it even in its "raw" out of the package state. I'll usually steal a little bite when I'm preparing it. What I usually do is spray a non-stick skillet with a little olive oil and then slice the medium firm tofu into about 1/4" thick slices and saute it. I sprinkle soy sauce on it while cooking. Then I can divide the slices into servings and package them up for use later like on sandwiches for lunch brown-bagging. It is great on a sandwich with mustard, sliced onion and cheese, pickles, the works! It is even good without the cheese, if you don't use dairy products.

    I've saved the links for your favorite recipes. Thanks! - 3/22/2009   7:21:48 PM
  • 134
    I'm not a tofu lover yet but with all the great choices now, I am trying them & hope to be a future tofu lover. I buy the "meatless" chicken & meatballs and my family loves them, even though they don't know what it is. My son, 16, loves the chicken fingers & stuffed chicken - even better if you put them in a wrap with lettuce & ranch dressing. He doesn't know the difference. I'm going to try more of your ideas too! I like the idea of substituting 1/2 for other ingredients until I'm used to it more. I think it's an important grocery item & important for my family's health. I know several Indian vegetarians & they have great recipes that we love too. So it's important to keep an open mind. Just cause you've tried it once & hated it, try it again, with all the new grocery items now, I'm sure you'll find something you like. - 3/22/2009   5:34:09 PM
  • JERSEYGIRL726
    133
    I did a whole April Fool piece for my Church's newsletter last year, about "How to Disguise Tofu." But seriously, since I like a lot of flava, you will never see me sit down with a tub of tofu and a spoon. Trust me on this one. However, the beauty of tofu IS its blandness, because it will take on the flavor of whatever you prepare it with. For example, I often mix equal amounts of soft tofu with ricotta when I am making lasagne. When I am making cheesecake, equal amounts of silken tofu with cream cheese. It cuts fat and calories, and increases the protein. Also it's nice when added to a fruit smoothie; makes it like a milkshake. I really like it in my local Chinese restaurant where they cut it in triangles, fry it in some peanut oil, and add baby bok choy. (I have tried this at home but can't seem to get it right. Tastes good, but not as pretty as when they do it.) My pastor's wife makes "Mock Egg Salad" with it--she's vegan--and it's actually pretty good. - 3/22/2009   4:32:26 PM
  • 132
    I'm a tofu lover. I'm becoming really well at preparing it. My new favorite way to cook it is in Korean teriyaki sauce with veggies and brown rice. - 3/22/2009   4:22:58 PM
  • 131
    The best trick is to press the heck out of it - I put it between two plates and put a brick on top, leave in the fridge for at least one full day. Then I marinate it - anti-vegetarians have even eating it! - 3/22/2009   4:21:36 PM

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