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How to Cook with Tofu

It's Meat Free Monday today and I thought I'd cover one of the most basic, and also most elusive, topics in vegetarian cookery: cooking with tofu!

At the Vegetarian Cookery School, one of our challenges is to persuade ‘tofu skeptics’ to love tofu and the key to conversion is in the marinade. But before I get to that, it helps to know what tofu is and, importantly, the type of tofu to buy to ensure a delicious result.

What is Tofu?

Tofu is soya bean curd and makes an excellent substitute for meat, fish and dairy products. It's highly nutritious: low in saturated fat, free of cholesterol and high in calcium (often lacking in a dairy free diet) and a good source of B-vitamins and iron.

How is Tofu Made?

Tofu is made from soya beans, which are soaked, then ground, mixed with water into a mash and drained to produce soya milk. The soya milk is then boiled with a setting agent/coagulant. In China, they use calcium sulphate (natural gypsum); in Japan, Nigari (bittern), a by-product from making salt. It's made very much like soft cheese: the whey is drained of the ‘curds’ and the solid tofu is what's left behind.

How to buy Tofu:

There are different types of tofu, which we've covered in-depth in this post: Types of Tofu and How to Use Them. In summary:

  • Firm Tofu is original tofu, easy to cut into cubes, will keep its shape for stir frying and deep-frying.
  • Silken Tofu is very smooth and soft, ideal for puddings, dips and sauces, and a good substitute for eggs or cream, but not suitable for stir-frying.
  • Fried tofu can be found in Chinese supermarkets. It has a puffed up spongy texture. Good to add to soups to soak up flavour and give texture.
  • Smoked Tofu has a smoky flavour and is delicious served cold in a salad.
  • Ready marinated tofu saves you having to marinate plain tofu and is ready to eat.

How to prepare Tofu:

With firm tofu, drain off the liquid and pat dry with kitchen paper, then slice or cube and marinate.

For extra firmness, you can squeeze out more liquid, by wrapping the tofu in kitchen paper or a clean tea-towel, cover with a chopping board and add a heavy weight on top. Leave for 1 hour, and you will find that more liquid has seeped out and the tofu is drier and firmer and ideal for making kebabs.

You can freeze tofu, which totally transforms its texture: it goes from soft and most to a more open spongy texture. You'll find that you can actually squeeze thawed tofu like a sponge, removing most of it's water, and leaving behind the perfect vehicle for absorbing marinades.

We recommend using a whole block of tofu at once. If you need to store an opened packet, cover the tofu with water and keep in the fridge and change the water every day. There is nothing worse than finding smelly unused tofu at the back of your fridge!

A basic tofu marinade:

  1. Start with Shoyu / Soy Sauce (4Tbsp) - this makes the best basis for a marinade (for a wheat-free marinade, use Tamari).
  2. Add Ginger juice. The easiest way to collect ginger juice is to wash a thumb sized piece of fresh root ginger and grate it. Take the grated pulp and squeeze out the juice into a bowl - you will be amazed how much juice comes out! You can discard the de-juiced pulp.
  3. Add 2 cloves of sliced garlic, 1 chopped chilli and for sweetness, about 100ml of apple juice.
  4. Marinate for at least 1 hour or overnight, and make sure the tofu is covered with the marinade; otherwise you get a mottled effect. To speed up the absorption of the marinade, heat it up first before pouring over the tofu.

This is the same marinade we use for our Black Sesame Tofu.

How to Cook Tofu:

Drain the marinade of the tofu (keep the marinade to add to a stir-fry or for marinating more tofu). Dry the tofu with kitchen paper before frying, otherwise the tofu will spit at you.

  • To fry: Heat 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil in a frying pan. Fry the tofu in 2 batches until golden and crispy, remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper and repeat with the remaining tofu. Set aside.
  • To roast: Heat an oven proof dish, add a tablespoon of sunflower oil and then add the marinated tofu and roast, turning once or twice until golden.


Top 10 Tofu Recipes:

Here are a few of my favourite tofu recipes to get you started cooking with tofu.

I'd love to hear about your experiences with tofu - favourite tofu recipes or dishes. Or do you have any questions or tofu horror stories? Share those too - I'd love to help!

And of course, if you're really baffled, you can always take one of our classes at the Vegetarian Cookery School. Or ask away on Twitter or Facebook. Whatever you do, I look forward to your tofu creations and quandaries. Let's hear them!

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