Versatile, delicate and a wonderful carrier of flavour, tofu is a great ingredient in its own right, as well as a popular plant-based protein source. Plus, it's healthy too. As Jamie Oliver says, "tofu is high in protein, low in sat-fat and a great source of calcium and phosphorus, both of which make for strong and healthy bones". But how do you cook with it and how do you avoid ending up with a bland, sponge-like dinner? Pretty easily actually. Whether you want to marinate your tofu, fry it, add it to salads or curries, blend it into a smoothie or use it to bind a vegan B12 burger, you'll never be short of ways to use it. Here's all the basic info you need to know.
How to cook and prepare tofu: some key points
1. Tofu is a popular plant-based protein source and meat alternative. It is also a good source of amino acids, iron, calcium and other micro-nutrients.
2. There are two main types of tofu: firm tofu and silken (soft) tofu. The latter contains more moisture and is good for blending, while firm tofu is drier and holds together better when cooked.
3. Tofu is safe to eat both cooked and raw.
4. Tofu is very versatile and can be cooked in different ways to change its texture from smooth to crisp.
Keep reading to find out how to marinate and cook with tofu, including our favourite tofu recipes, from Tofu Kebabs with Sweet Chilli Sauce to the Sweet and Sour Tofu from Hannah Pemberton's Buddha Bowls cookbook.
But first, what is tofu?
Tofu is a staple ingredient in China and other Asian countries. It is made by curdling soya milk, pressing it and cooling it, in the same way that cheese is made from animal's milk. Tofu is high in protein and is a good carrier of flavour, which makes it a great alternative to meat.
How to marinate tofu
Tofu has a very delicate flavour so marinating it first is a good way to give it more flavour. While you can buy tofu already marinated, it's also simple to marinate tofu at home. Simply mix together soy sauce, honey, garlic and tomato paste, cut your tofu into cubes and leave it in the marinade for 30 minutes as in this recipe for Tofu Kebabs. Or swap the tomato paste for ketchup and add in a swig of rice vinegar as shown in this recipe for Sweet and Sour Tofu.
How to fry tofu
Use firm tofu if you are going to fry it as it will hold together better as it cooks. Silken tofu, on the other hand, contains a lot more moisture and will disintegrate in the pan. Firm tofu can also contain moisture so it's a good idea to place the tofu between two pieces of kitchen paper, place a heavy weight on top and leave it for at least 10 minutes to remove any excess water. If you are going to marinate your tofu or add any flavourings, do this after pressing it.
To fry it, chop the tofu into cubes. Heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat, add a couple of tablespoons of oil, then add the tofu cubes. Fry for about 4 minutes, turning it occasionally until browned and crisp. This recipe for Teriyaki Tofu Stir-Fry will show you exactly how.
How to use tofu in different dishes
Tofu is a fantastically versatile ingredient. You can marinate and fry it as part of a stir-fry, salad or kebab as shown above.
Or, you can add it to soups and curries, or cook it down into a meat-free tofu ragu with jarred red peppers, tomato and paprika. Or do as Jamie does and use it to bind together a protein-packed veggie burger (pictured). You can even use tofu in sweet dishes, to add silkiness and backbone, like in this Vegan Baked Cheesecake.
Where can I buy quality tofu?
These days, tofu – and increasingly, organic tofu – is available in most major supermarkets, including Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsburys. You will be able to find tofu in most well-stocked health food shops and Asian supermarkets, too. Check the packet to ensure you know if you're buying silken tofu (best for blending) or firm tofu (best for stir-fries). You may also see labels for 'soft' or 'medium-firm' tofu which are somewhere between silken and firm tofu. These are also good for use in soups and curries.
Inspired to cook with tofu? Why not try:
Tomato and Basil Silken Tofu from Buddha Bowls by Hannah Pemberton.
This delicious recipe has a real fusion feel to it, using Italian flavours of tomato, garlic and olive oil in combination with the more classically Asian tofu and sesame, and it works a treat. It's light, fresh and makes a quick and easy midweek dinner.
Lemongrass Tofu Banh Mi from The New Vegetarian by Alice Hart.
This lemongrass tofu banh mi is a delicious twist on a Vietnamese classic. Serve it in soft, crusty baguette for a quick, satisfying and flavourful lunch on the go.