6 Mistakes You're Making When Cooking Tofu
Don't: Dismiss Tofu Altogether
If hearing the word tofu conjures images of a bland health food or vegan-only menus, you're not only wrong, you're really missing out. This adaptable food works well in anything from stir-fries and salads to smoothies and dessert. "It's so versatile, and takes on whatever flavors you pair it with," says nutritionist Lauren Harris-Pincus, R.D.N., a consultant for House Foods. Plus, it's an active girl's dream: a plant-based complete protein with every one of the nine essential amino acids. (Get crackin' with these 6 New Ways to Eat Tofu.)
Don't: Buy the Wrong Kind of Tofu
Tofu comes in a few different textures, and picking the right one is important for your recipe to turn out as it should, says Harris-Pincus. Soft and silken varieties are best for salad dressings, smoothies, and desserts, while extra firm varieties (which are higher in protein) holds its shape best in baking, grilling, and stir-frying. Harris-Pincus's golden rule: When in doubt, buy firm tofu. It's the most versatile variety and can be both baked and blended.
Don't: Forget to Drain Tofu Properly
Tofu typically comes in a plastic package that contains some water to retain the tofu's moisture and freshness. Before you can begin cooking anything, you have to drain that water. If you're stir-frying or baking tofu, you'll want to squeeze out as much water as possible, which will give you a nice firm bite and allow for crispy edges. Either use a tofu press (which squeezes around the tofu) or place the tofu between two towel-lined plates, with a pot or book on top to weigh it down. Press down on the plates sporadically for about 20 to 30 minutes (don't cheat!), and you'll be ready to cook. (If you're short on time, cut the tofu into the size you're aiming to end up with, and blot with a paper towel.)
Don't: Get Sloppy with the Chopping
Most of the flavor and great texture that tofu takes on during cooking happens on the surface. So if your pieces are too large (or you try to just grill the whole block as is), you'll end up with a delicious exterior and a "meh" interior. Instead, cut it into thin strips or triangles for baking, or small cubes for stir-frying. (Medium-sized cubes work great in these Kebab Skewers You Can't Resist.) The proper prep work will maximize the cooking and seasoning surface, and ultimately, the deliciousness.
Don't: Skimp on the Seasoning
Don't expect to love tofu straight out of the package, warns Harris-Pincus. Tofu on its own has a pretty neutral flavor. The upside to that: It really sucks up whatever flavors you add, whether that's Asian seasoning in a stir-fry or the sweet and smoky taste of a barbecue marinade. You can even add breading to it, pan-fry, and turn it into a tofu parm sandwich. Get creative! Tofu truly works with every cuisine.
Don't: Be Afraid to Experiment
"Most people just don't realize how versatile tofu is, and how many different ways there are to use it," says Harris-Pincus. We're not knocking stir-fry, but you can use this healthy and super inexpensive protein in so many other ways. Try stirring chunks of tofu into chili or soup, grilling it, or scrambling soft tofu like eggs for a Springtime Tofu Scramble. Blending some silky tofu in mashed potatoes, smoothies, or salad dressings will add extra protein and a velvety smooth texture. You can even use it in lasagna with a half-tofu half-ricotta blend, as well as in dips. It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing swap, reminds Harris-Pincus. Even replacing some of the cheese or mayo in a dish will boost its health power.