Beginner’s Guide for Cooking with Tofu

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. 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.

Which tofu to buy?

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 Tofu

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 Tofu

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 of Tofu

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!

Simple Saucy Tofu Bowls!

OK, here’s the thing.  I love to cook and spend time in the kitchen, so sometimes when I say “simple” it might be a little bit of a stretch.  I get it.  Some of you get home late from work, some of you don’t love to cook, and others may love to cook but aren’t feeling it every single night.  In fact, that kinda happened to me lately where I hit a wall and suddenly wanted to eat all meals out because of the thought of cleaning up after cooking and also there are so many great places these days with food just ready for you to eat.  Sigh.  But then I was back at it, because the kitchen is my happy place, and also because eating out all the time adds up in more ways than one #truth.  In the process of easing back in, these Simple Saucy Tofu Bowls were born.  And they truly are simple, with just 4 pantry items!

Let’s Talk Ingredients

  • Perfectly cooked tofu (any brand, just buy “extra firm”)
  • My most favorite Annie’s Green Goddess Salad Dressing (is it a sauce?  Is it a dressing?  Do we even care if it tastes this good?!)
  • Whatever whole grain you choose (I used Trader Joe’s Sprouted Organic California rice mix)
  • And lots of green leafy goodness.

I even took a pic of the simplicity for you.  And if you’re feeling annoyed because you think you need to run out and buy a certain dressing, know that they have this one in the produce section at Whole Foods (and I don’t think you’ll regret it) but Trader Joe’s also sells something similar (their Green Goddess dressing).  Or if you stay tuned, I am going to be posting a recipe soon that attempts to re-create it at home.

And with every good BEFORE, we need an AFTER! Maybe it’s just because I’m really hungry right now, but I definitely want to reach in and grab one of those perfect little tofu cubes slathered in basil/green onion/garlic/tahini creaminess. The rice gives the perfect amount of texture and chewiness, and the greens will look really pretty and make you feel good about yourself, right?!

The Grains

As I mentioned, I use a Trader Joe’s rice mix here, and I just throw a big batch in the rice cooker and let it works its magic while the tofu cooks.  But you can make the grains even faster by using precooked or quick cooking, which most grocery stores have a wide selection of these days (maybe even your Target!).

And The Tofu…

Let’s talk tofu prep real quick.  When you’re buying, make sure to purchase “extra firm”.  You may have heard that you need to press out the water using towels, a heavy object, or even an actual tofu press.  I used to do that myself, but lately I’ve just been spending a minute or two pressing the tofu block between some paper towels until I get most of the water out.  Then slice it into cubes and spread it thin on a baking sheet (I use a silpat but if you don’t, lightly mist the baking sheet with cooking spray).  I pat the tofu with a paper towel one more time once it’s on the baking sheet, and then sprinkle with a little salt.  This is pre-baking:

Once the tofu is done, it just sits in the sauce (while the rice cooks) until it gets nice and flavorful, then you throw it all together and eat!

Taking It Next Level

In true disclosure here, these bowls can get even better.  This recipe is just the very basics, but you can up the ante by adding in even more veggies and flavor.  Here are a few favorite additions I’ve tried:

  • When you bake the tofu, add in a separate baking sheet of halved cherry or grape tomatoes tossed with a little olive oil, salt, and honey.  Let them roast at the same temp as the tofu (400), stirring after 10 minutes, until they are slightly browned and roast-y and sweetened.  So good.
  • Get all wild and crazy and toss in some chickpeas for extra protein.  Just look at you go.
  • Sprinkle with roasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds for extra salty crunch.
  • Sliced red onions.  Who doesn’t love sliced red onions?!  (Actually, a lot of people….but I’ll leave that up to you.)
  • Use another grain (i.e. below I used farro, the quick cooking kind so it was ready in 10 minutes).
  • I haven’t tried this yet but I think goat cheese or even feta would be great for some creaminess.

Simple Saucy Tofu Bowls Recipe

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time30 mins

These tofu bowls are packed with flavor, texture. and nutrients, and require only 4 pantry items to make the meal happen!  Makes 2 – 4 servings depending on appetite.

Course: dinner, lunch, Main Course, Side Dish
Keyword: bowls, tofu, vegan
  • 1 15.5 – 16oz package extra firm tofu (look for organic and non-GMO)
  • 1/4 cup Annie’s Green Goddess dressing (or similar, plus extra for topping)
  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice or rice blend (or use 3 – 4 cups pre-cooked)
  • 1 5oz container of spring/baby lettuce mix (softer leaves like baby lettuce will work better than romaine)
  1. If cooking the rice, cook per package instructions.  (I like to add a little butter or olive oil and pinch of salt.)

  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Open and drain the tofu, then press it firmly with paper towels or a clean dish towel until most of the water is removed when you squeeze it gently.  Slice it into 1 inch cubes and spread them on a baking sheet (note: I use a silpat to prevent sticking, but if you don’t have one, lightly mist the baking sheet with cooking spray first).  Gently pat the tofu dry one more time once its on the sheet, and then sprinkle with salt.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, turning halfway through for even cooking. (Note: you want the tofu to be slightly browning on the edges.)

  3. When the tofu is done, add it to a bowl, stir in the dressing to coat, and allow it to marinate for 10 minutes.

  4. Once the rice is finished cooking, assemble the bowls!  Big heap of lettuce mix, scoop of rice, and finish with the tofu plus an extra drizzle of dressing.


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