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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

  • 130
    I love it! I eat meat, but I actually prefer tofu in my Thai food. I'm looking forward to trying some of these ideas! - 3/22/2009   3:32:43 PM
  • 129
    ooo - can't do tofu - tasteless blob to me. My dh loves it - yuk. I did try a hot dog - couldn't do that either. sorry not for me! - 3/22/2009   2:00:19 PM
  • SNAPIT
    128
    NOT FOR ME. IT IS HORRIBLE TO ME AND SO IS SOY MILK . SORRY TRIED TO LIKE THEM JUST CAN'T. - 3/22/2009   1:14:34 PM
  • BIBLECHICK
    127
    Taste is yummy (favorite is stir fried with onions and bell peppers) but soy allergies prevent it. - 3/22/2009   1:05:31 PM
  • 126
    I already like tofu but I liked the suggestions at the end of article. I will try freezing and see what it really does to it. - 3/22/2009   12:34:27 PM
  • 125
    I love love love tofu. When I lived in Asia, I would get fresh tofu and eat it with just a tiny bit of soy sauce. Oh yum. - 3/22/2009   12:28:51 PM
  • 124
    I have tried cooking with it a couple of times and didn't like how it turned out. (too soft like egg whites) I will have to try pressing it next time. I have had it in sweet and sour soup at a Thai restaurant and it was yummy. - 3/22/2009   12:28:30 PM
  • 123
    no thanks i do not like that stuff it gross bad stuff sorry - 3/22/2009   12:24:12 PM
  • 122
    Well I thought you were betting a spark goodie that if I tried tofu I would like it, meaning I would win the bet if I didn't. And I don't. I really wish I did. I've tried it every way to Sunday, firm, soft, flavored, unflavored, in salads, stirfries, etc. At best it taste and feels like wet cardboard, at worst it is just nasty.

    Generally speaking I use and like a lot of soy products. I use soy milk and soy flour regularly. I guess for me the difference is I use soy products for what they are (milk or flour) not as something they are not. No matter how you disguise it, tofu is not meat and it doesn't taste like meat and it doesn't have the texture of meat. I don't eat a lot of meat, but when I do, I want it to be meat, not a vegetable doing a bad immitation of meat. Conversely, when I eat vegetables I want them to taste and look like vegetables, not pretending to be meat. Tofu just doesn't suceed at either. - 3/22/2009   11:49:01 AM
  • NO-41_RAZZYS_PL
    121
    Jamaican Jerk Tofu- went and checked out that recipe... if anything will get me to try tofu, THIS recipe will! Other than the fact that the 1 lb of tofu is listed as serving 6, then serving 1, then listed in the nutritional info as Calories: 874.4 for 1, serving (I think there's a type-o there since your label of Smoked Tofu shows 8 oz serving 4 (2 oz serving) with only Calories: 100.

    ANYWAY... yes, Stepfanie, I will try it and you don't even have to 'do' a SparkGoodie. THANKS!! - 3/22/2009   11:15:28 AM
  • 120
    Our favorite Vietnamese Restaurant makes a sweet and sour tofu soup that is out of this world! I have never purchased tofu at the store but I will look at it next time! I like the price! - 3/22/2009   10:07:26 AM
  • 119
    I've never tried tofu and have really never had the desire to. I'm trying to increase my protein intake so I wonder how the protein numbers compare to say chicken. I might have to go see. - 3/22/2009   10:05:25 AM
  • 118
    I have never tried Tofu in my life, I have always walked past it in the supermarket. But now I might just give it a try, it couldn't hurt and with all the different ways to prepare it , I'm sure to find one I'd like to try. As soon as I try it, most likely this week I'll let you know. I'm motivated now even more so for the Spark goodie while they last of course. smile!!! - 3/22/2009   9:40:20 AM
  • 117
    Lover, definitely. I use it in soups and also in place of of some cheese for things like ravioli, manicotti or lasagna. - 3/22/2009   9:13:43 AM
  • 116
    With all the GMO soybeans these days, it's best to get them organic only! - 3/22/2009   8:49:01 AM
  • 115
    I'm already a tofu lover - do I lose out on the Spark Goodie ;)

    I already do alot of your tricks (I have a tofu cookbook from decades ago)

    My particular favorites:
    saute slices and mix with pizza sauce then stuff a wheat pita. Great for picnics
    freeze and crumble and mix into veggie chili
    use soft tofu and make BROWNIES - I'm a brownie addict and this has also wowed many people! - 3/22/2009   7:52:34 AM
  • 114
    I agree with comments like you have to know how to cook it properly, or maybe they have changed the way tofu is produced ! About 10 years ago I tried to introduce this to my children, I was a single mother with 3 young boys and wanted a cheaper way to feed them. WELL, a stir fry that was supposed to taste like chicken went horribly wrong. I switched back to using regular chicken! It took a long time for my boys to believe that the next stir fry(s) was actually chicken!! LOL - 3/21/2009   11:38:40 PM
  • RANDILEE88
    113
    I absolutely love tofu! - 3/21/2009   11:37:05 PM
  • 112
    I've had tofu once and really didn't like it at all. It was prepared by a friend and I choked it down but thought the meal was awful. Having said that, it may have been the sauce she was serving it in I didn't like. I'll try one of your tofu recipes and see if I like it any better ... but this is the last chance tofu gets! - 3/21/2009   11:36:33 PM
  • 111
    I'll try a tofu recipe. - 3/21/2009   11:11:27 PM
  • 110
    For those who don't like the taste of tofu, it's probably because you haven't had it prepared correctly. The best place to try tofu is at a chinese vegetarian restaurant. The way they season tofu is so amazing.
    I grew up with tofu, because my parents included it in soups (along with dead pieces of flesh). So, I never grew up with the stigma that some caucasian people have attached to it. - 3/21/2009   10:38:16 PM
  • 109
    I like tofu; but I haven't eaten any in a while; I usually buy the prepared and seasoned packages. Very tasty. - 3/21/2009   10:04:20 PM
  • 108
    I know lots of people who *think* they don't like tofu, until they try it (usually when they don't know it's tofu), and then they realize it's really good. It's all in the preparation. Plain tofu is an aquired taste, but tofu in a great recipe is delicious.

    Try using tofu in recipes that call for ground beef - start with half ground beef and half firm tofu that you squish between your fingers to shred it into sort-of-ground-beef shapes.

    I love tofu. - 3/21/2009   9:50:25 PM
  • 107
    tofu is for the ladies....... - 3/21/2009   9:02:28 PM
  • 106
    NO thanks! - 3/21/2009   8:54:21 PM
  • 105
    I once enjoyed (for the first and last time) stir fried tofu. It was amazingly good, but full of fat as the tofu was deep fried.
    - 3/21/2009   8:53:32 PM
  • 104
    I've used tofu a couple of times along with other proteins and found it to be ok, but not fantastic. After reading this article and tips, as well as everyone's comments, I am willing to buy it again this week. I'd like to try it in smoothies, stir-fry and in a casserole along with ground turkey. - 3/21/2009   7:58:32 PM
  • 103
    I've tried tofu in a stir fried meal with teryaki sauce, while fasting from meat. Not a fan! I have not yet written it off, but will try it again as a filler with meat dishes. - 3/21/2009   7:55:38 PM
  • CATFANCIER
    102
    I like tofu, but I hate preparing it. The pressing is time-consuming, tedious, and messy. Either I ruin a dish towel or I use too much paper toweling. So I've started using tempeh instead, which is much easier to deal with. - 3/21/2009   7:31:26 PM
  • 101
    No. I am allergic to Soy. - 3/21/2009   7:09:36 PM
  • 100
    I love tofu, but have so much trouble getting my (once vegetarian) boyfriend to comply with my love of soy (except edamame). I'm very tempted to try the Jamaican Jerk tofu out on him. We'll have to see! - 3/21/2009   6:40:25 PM
  • WISEWIFE
    99
    Tofu damages the thyroid, so no I'd not eat it no matter how you prepare it. - 3/21/2009   6:07:40 PM
  • 98
    I 've had tofu and found it to be mostly tasteless. I would be willing to try it in different recipes to see if I can change my mind. But for now, it's not a food I typically reach for. - 3/21/2009   5:37:26 PM
  • 97
    Love the stuff! I've had it out at vegetarian restaurants, in Indian dishes (Tofu Tikka Masala!!), stir fry dishes, and even DESSERTS (yes, folks, silken tofu chocolate mousse is amazing!).

    Thanks for posting this topic! - 3/21/2009   5:35:48 PM
  • 96
    Tofu is a aquired taste :) but once you have aquired the tast, LOL watch out. - 3/21/2009   5:25:05 PM
  • DAN_ODEA
    95
    Interesting comments.

    I think the problem with tofu is its blandness and texture. As you say, process it correctly and cook it with tasty foods and it's OK.

    My wife thinks the problem is the smell. Since I can't smell anything I don't notice, but she does. In certain recipes she says it smells like burned garbage, certainly enough to turn you off. Other recipes it's OK for her.

    You just have to find out what works, just like any other food. - 3/21/2009   5:10:17 PM
  • 94
    I love tofu that has been marinated and grilled ... yum! - 3/21/2009   5:03:51 PM
  • WORDSTAR
    93
    You can dress it up all you want, but tofu is tofu - do not like the taste, do not like the texture. Sorry. - 3/21/2009   4:44:35 PM
  • 92
    I am a tofu fan!

    I do use it to "stretch out" my other protein...in a stir fry..I cook with chicken, sausage and a variety of vegetables to make a great meal. I always use the Firm or Extra Firm tofu..very important.

    Give it a try with another protein first...it will be alot easier to accept and then experiment.

    That's the beauty of tofu..it's so cheap..you CAN experiment! :) - 3/21/2009   4:02:54 PM
  • 91
    My husband and I went to a vegetarian restaurant in China where they served many of our favorite Chinese dishes made with tofu instead of chicken, shrimp and beef. We couldn't believe that these dishes were meatless--they seasoned and prepared them so well that the tofu tasted and had the texture of meat/seafood. After reading this article, I see that with some experimentation, I might be able to do the same at home! - 3/21/2009   3:57:53 PM
  • 90
    One more point : Tofu being tasteless, flavor less is really a benefit in that tofu picks up whatever flavor, whatever taste you give it. As Stepfanie mentions - make it taste like eggs, chicken or cheese! garlicky or oniony, sweet or savory, chewy, crunchy or soft...its up to you! Enjoy your yummy tofu and natural protein at its best! - 3/21/2009   3:53:56 PM
  • 89
    I am a Tofu and Soy milk lover! I must have my 1 cup of soy milk daily which keeps the menopausal symptoms away!~ added benefit to yummy taste!! My DH is the same way as your family, LADY_JOSIELOT! I eat it when we go out to eat at a Thai place and my twice a week vegetarian days. My DH would rather eat left overs.

    My favorite way to use tofu is to replace PANIR in Indian dishes, add to coconut gravy and chutney dishes to cut on coconut for added protein. I also love various tofu appetizers, love Chinese style with very low tamari sauce.

    Thank you for the topic Stepfanie - got a lot more ideas to cook Tofu - Awesome! - 3/21/2009   3:50:24 PM
  • 88
    I've tried tofu several times and like it, but I live at home (I'm 23) with my family and no one else in my family will touch it with a 10-foot pole, and there's very little shelf or fridge space, so I haven't bought it because there's really no where to put it especially since I'm the only one who would eat it. :( Once I move out, I'll definitely have some in my fridge/cabinet though. :)

    - Josie - 3/21/2009   3:24:13 PM
  • ALLADY1
    87
    Is the nutritional information for the 3 tofu recipes linked in the article per serving or per recipe? Calorie content and fat content are really high! - 3/21/2009   3:02:07 PM
  • 86
    I actually love tofu. But I tend to eat too much of it. I also tend to retain more water after eating tofu or other soy products. So I only get to enjoy this tasty protein once in a while and in smaller portion. - 3/21/2009   2:58:32 PM
  • 85
    I have purchased tofu each time I start a new diet... I have NEVER cooked or prepared a meal with it... I end up throwing it out. I cannot stand to look at it in it's packaged state! yech!

    LTLY - 3/21/2009   1:29:39 PM
  • 84
    My daughter-in-law cooks with tofu regularly, and it is my grandson's favorite meal--"tofu and rice". I have eaten and enjoyed tofu at their home and other places, but have never tried using it in recipes myself. You have encouraged me to try. - 3/21/2009   1:19:23 PM
  • 83
    I love tofu, use it regularly in many ways, but have learned it can affect thyroid. I have Hashimoto's (hypothroid), so now I try to limit my soy....I'm very sad about that. - 3/21/2009   12:20:49 PM
  • 82
    By the way, a TOFU GOODIE would be a great idea, Stepfanie! :-)*) - 3/21/2009   12:01:30 PM
  • 81
    I ♥ Tofu's verstility and its nutritious value! As a Lacto- Ovo Vegetarian it is a "must" for me! Easy way to get low fat Proteins in! :-) - 3/21/2009   11:59:09 AM

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