How to Cook Tofu

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One of the top questions I get when I talk about eating plant-based foods is how to cook tofu. It can seem intimidating if you’re a tofu newbie, but after doing it once, you’ll feel like a pro.

There are a few key cooking steps when preparing tofu that will help give it the texture you’re looking for, whether cubed or crumbled. Use the tofu as a high-protein meat alternative in savory breakfast dishes, stir frys or power bowls! 

When I first started experimenting with tofu in the kitchen, I began with silken tofu. It has a creamier consistency that can be added to smoothies, or used to make a dairy-free pudding like in this Quick and Easy Vegan Chocolate Tofu Pudding recipe. It seemed the least intimidating because texture really isn’t a factor since it would be blended up in whichever way I tried it. 

But then I started eating more plant-based meals and found that my body responded well to this dietary change. Getting enough protein on a largely plant-based diet is a concern among many, and tofu is an excellent way to get this satisfying nutrient. 

For tofu that needs to hold some shape, I recommend extra firm tofu. When buying tofu, look for organic, non-GMO tofu products as tofu is one of the top three genetically modified foods in the United States. 

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First let’s break down how to prep tofu for cooking. 

Step 1: Remove the block of tofu from the package and drain off the excess water. 

Step 2: “Press” the tofu.

Line a plate with paper towels and place the block of tofu on top. Place another stack of paper towels on top. Weigh it down by placing something heavy, like a large sauté pan, on top of the paper towels to “press” the tofu. This will help dry out the tofu a bit so that it doesn’t crumble while cooking. Set it aside while you’re preparing your other ingredients. The longer it sits, the drier it will get. I would set it aside for at least 10 minutes in order for the pressing method to work. 

Step 3: Cut the tofu into smaller pieces.

Remove the paper towels and place the tofu block on your cutting board. Stand the tofu on one of its sides and cut the block in half. Then, cut the block into strips and next, cubes for similar sized pieces of tofu. 

Now, you’re ready to cook your tofu! 

Three Ways to Cook Tofu

Cooking Method #1: Baked Tofu 

One of the easiest ways to prep tofu that will result in firm cubes is to bake it in the oven. To bake the tofu, transfer it to a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 400F for 30 minutes, shaking the pan halfway through. The tofu will become golden brown on the outside and firm when touched. 

Try baked tofu in this Almond Curry Buddha Bowl recipe

Cooking Method #2: Seared Tofu 

The second way to cook tofu is to sear it. This is similar to searing chicken in that you will achieve a golden exterior and softer interior. It’s going to be more “moist” than baked tofu, if you can even describe tofu in that way! 

To sear tofu, you can keep it simple with just a little salt and pepper to season and oil in the pan on high heat. Or, you can add a flour or starch to the outside of the tofu to give it extra crispiness. I like to use arrowroot flour if I’m searing tofu that will go in a sauce, like in this Easy Broccoli Tofu Stir Fry. The arrowroot coating helps to thicken the sauce once the tofu is added with the other recipe ingredients. 

To coat with arrowroot flour, add about ¼ cup arrowroot flour for each 12-ounce package of tofu to a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Toss the cubed tofu in the bowl, then sear in a saute pan on medium-high heat, flipping occasionally until each side is golden in color. 

Anytime you are searing vegetables, meat, or in this case, tofu, on the stove, it’s important to cook at a high temperature to achieve a crispy crust and minimize the number of times the food is moved around in the pan. 

Healthy swap: Did you know that arrowroot flour can be used as a substitute for cornstarch? It’s going to be a one-to-one replacement and just like cornstarch, is a thickening agent. 

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Cooking Method #3: Crumbled Tofu 

If you are making something like a tofu breakfast scramble, you can skip the pressing step, as the integrity of the shape is less important. 

For a simple tofu scramble, break the tofu into crumbles directly into a sauté pan over medium heat. Add whatever spices you like, such as garlic powder, onion powder, everything but the bagel seasoning and/or cumin. I always like to add turmeric powder, as this gives the tofu an egg-like resemblance and an anti-inflammatory kick. Stir the tofu and sauté until heated through. 

If you are looking for tofu recipes to practice these cooking methods with, check out this Easy Broccoli Tofu Stir Fry recipe, this insanely delicious Almond Curry Buddha Bowl recipe and this Healthier Orange Chicken Stir Fry that can be made with tofu instead of chicken! 

-Carly Paige

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Hi! I’m Carly Paige, a culinary nutrition expert and chef who believes that healthy doesn’t have to be frustrating, boring or restrictive. I’m here to show you how through my Simply Swapped Method so that you can feel more energized and confident from within. You’ll find tips for focusing on nutrition in the kitchen, along with plant-powered, gluten-free recipes that proves healthy can be delicious.