Welcome to the first post in the Vegan Kitchen Simplified series! I talked about this series in more detail yesterday, and I’m excited that today’s the day to start!
In today’s post, I’m going to talk about baking tofu. Why tofu?
Tofu is one of the ingredients common to vegan/plant-based cooking that often gets a lot of bad rap. While some people declare it terrible for our health to the extent of causing cancer, others say that they can’t stand its taste or texture. Once I even heard someone say that they could never go vegan because they didn’t want to “eat all that tofu”!
Does tofu really deserve all that negativity?
A Few Things About Tofu to Keep in Mind:
- Tofu is made from soy milk in a process called coagulation: soy protein gets separated from the liquid parts of soy milk, and then is pressed to form a solid. Tofu comes in various degrees of firmness, from silken (the softest, most tender) to firm and very firm. Silken tofu is ideal for sauces, puddings, pie fillings, etc., while firm varieties are perfect for marinating followed by baking, grilling, frying, and so on.
- Tofu (like all soy foods) contains substances called isoflavones. “Isoflavones are classified as phytoestrogens… which means that they can have very mild estrogen-enhancing effects under some conditions and anti-estrogenic effects under others, as they block the body’s hormonally active compounds.” (Quoted from My Beef with Meat: The Healthiest Argument for Eating a Plant-Strong Diet by Rip Esselstyn.) The exact ways of how (and if) tofu and soy products affect our health are continued to be studied, but evidence suggests that there’s no need for us to be afraid of consuming tofu made from organic soybeans once or twice a week.
- Tofu absorbs the flavor of whatever you cook it with, especially if you marinate it prior to adding it to the rest of the ingredients. While it is ideal in Asian-style stir-fries, it can also be used in soups, stews, and even sandwiches, especially if you bake it first following the directions in this post.
- Tofu is basically a sponge, so it can absorb not only marinades, but also lots of oil during frying. This is why I decided to post my favorite way to bake tofu that involves very little oil (for spraying the cookie sheet) or no oil at all (if you bake the tofu pieces on parchment paper). This tofu comes out sturdy and firm, so it doesn’t break when added to various dishes, but it’s still soft enough to absorb flavors. Plus, it doesn’t come out drenched in oil!
- To set the record straight, tofu is in no way a mandatory food to consume if you decide to go vegan/plant-based! There are plenty of vegan people who forgo tofu completely, just as there are vegans who are gluten-free/allergic to other foods. Recipes calling for tofu are usually easy to make without it, like substituting beans for tofu in soups and stir-fries. For more tips, see my post How to Go Soy-Free.
Now that we’ve covered all the basics, let me show you a good way to bake tofu for further use in different dishes.
How to Bake Tofu: a Simple Technique
I’m using half of a 16-ounce store-bought block of firm tofu here. I find that this amount is plenty for adding to any soup or stir-fry for two adults. Why bake it first? Baked tofu pieces hold their shape well and don’t fall apart from stirring, plus they have a nicer mouthfeel.
AN UPDATE: Since publishing this post, I’ve discovered that it is way easier to bake tofu completely oil-free if I line my cookie sheet with parchment paper. Tofu doesn’t stick to the metal pan/cookie sheet at all, and comes out perfect every time. Other than always using parchment paper, I continue following the directions below.
1. First, I’ve put my piece of tofu under a press for about 20 min (10 min will work in a hurry). This step is necessary to squeeze out excess liquid from the package, or otherwise the cooked tofu might come out rubbery. Wrap your tofu in a paper towel, and then put it between two chopping boards and apply something heavy on top (like a teapot or a book). Alternatively, you can use a special tofu-pressing device like this gourmet tofu press from Amazon.
2. Heat the oven to 400° F. If you are ok with using a little bit of oil, spray a cookie sheet lightly with cooking spray. If you’ve shunned all oil from your kitchen, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
3. Cut your tofu into cubes or squares, making sure not to slice them too thin (they might dry out too much in the oven). In this picture below, I’ve cut my tofu into 1″x1″x0.5″ pieces approximately. If you need larger pieces of tofu, cut them larger.
Question: Do you use tofu a lot in your cooking? What are your favorite dishes that call for tofu? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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