Best Ways of Preparing Tofu for Cooking
In addition to tofu’s impressive protein and nutrient content, it’s also an incredibly versatile ingredient.
In this article, I'm going to show you several ways that you can prepare your tofu along with different dishes to pair those methods with.
And with these handy cooking methods in your repertoire and a couple of sauces and spices in your cupboard, you won’t ever have to have the same dish twice.
Let's get started!
Types of Tofu You Can Work With
You can buy tofu in the refrigerated or health foods sections of the supermarket, and it comes in varying degrees of firmness.
1. Soft and Silken Tofu
Soft and silken tofu has a high water content and is perfect for adding a creamy texture to soups, dips, and desserts. This usually comes in a plastic container in the refrigerated section, or in a shelf-stable box in the aisles with the other health foods.
2. Firm and Extra-firm Tofu
Firm and extra-firm tofu hold their shape throughout the cooking process and are perfect choices for stir-fries, salads, and other hearty entrees. These types of tofu almost always come in the refrigerated section.
3. Ready-to-Eat Tofu
You can also purchase ready-to-eat tofu, which is available in vacuum-sealed packages in the refrigerated section.
These types of tofu have already been drained, baked, and seasoned, and come in really tasty flavors like lemon pepper and teriyaki.
They tend to be more expensive for the same results you can achieve at home, but they’re good options if you’re in a pinch. Just open and slice for ready-made proteins for your salad or sandwich.
Draining the Tofu
You can use soft and silken tofu fresh from the package.
However, before you use firm or extra-firm tofu, you’ll want to make sure all the water has been drained to achieve a dense, chewy texture, and to make room for flavor with sauces and marinades.
The best way to remove water from tofu is by utilizing a tofu press, but really there are 3 ways that I found to work well for me over the years. I go over these techinques in great detail in my article on pressing and draining tofu.
Once your firm or extra-firm tofu has been drained, you’re ready to use it in any of the methods below, or try it in your favorite recipe.
Note: that you’ll want to use the tofu as soon as it’s been drained, since drained and pressed tofu doesn’t tend to store well. If you absolutely can’t use your tofu as soon as it’s finished draining, keep it in the fridge for at most one day, or move it to the freezer for longer storage (be aware, though, that freezing will noticeably change the texture).
Now, let’s get cooking!
Scrambled tofu is a perfect savory breakfast – it’s quick enough to cook a basic batch on a weekday, or dress it up for a leisurely weekend brunch. I like mine chock full of veggies and sliced avocado, but my husband is a purist – try lots of different combinations and see what you like best.
- Add a little oil to a medium skillet over medium heat. Add veggies (my favorite is onion, garlic, sliced mushrooms, red peppers, and fresh spinach) and cook for a few minutes on medium heat, until the vegetables are mostly cooked.
- Crumble firm or extra-firm tofu with your hands or a fork – don’t worry about making the tofu a uniform size, as varying-sized crumbles will make a nice texture. Alternatively, use a box grater to create tofu shreds for a new texture. Add the tofu to the pan.
- Stir in turmeric, salt, black pepper, dried thyme, garlic powder, and a heaping tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast. If you have Himalayan black salt (also known as kala namak), add it for a traditional “eggy” flavor. However, if you don’t have any on hand, it isn’t necessary.
- Stir well to combine.
- Cook for about 3 minutes and serve with toast and fresh fruit, or stuff into a large tortilla for a hearty breakfast burrito!
This is the most common method I use for my firm or extra-firm tofu – stir-frying makes a perfect golden crust on the tofu, and you can swap out different veggies for a quick, healthy, and colorful dinner any night of the week.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil (sesame or coconut oil is great here) and cut your drained firm or extra-firm tofu into ½ inch thick cubes.
- Add the tofu cubes to a bowl and sprinkle on a little cornstarch; toss to coat each piece. This will help create the all-important crust.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the tofu, often stirring until the cubes are lightly browned on all sides. Set aside – I put mine on a paper towel to soak up any excess oil.
- Add vegetables to the pan – I use lots of broccoli, carrots, thinly sliced red peppers, but you can use any vegetable you have on hand.
- Add a few tablespoons of water to the pan and cover with a lid to help the veggies steam.
- Remove the lid after a few minutes and stir until the vegetables are tender.
- Add the tofu back into the bowl and stir, allowing everything to cook for about 2 minutes. At this point, you can add your favorite sauce – I love pineapple teriyaki or a little homemade General Tso’s or peanut sauce – and stir well to combine.
- Serve over piping hot rice or cooked noodles. Make a big batch and eat it throughout the week – leftover stir-fry stores well in the refrigerator.
Baked tofu is an easy, low-effort way to cook up a hearty, warming dinner in cold weather. It’s important to marinate the drained firm or extra-firm tofu for baking – a simple marinade of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and a little mustard makes for tasty tofu, but you can use any salad dressing or sauce you like.
Chances are, if you like the way it tastes, you will love it as a tofu marinade. Marinate overnight if you can, but 30-60 minutes will be better than nothing.
- First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Blot off any excess marinade with a paper towel and cut into ½-inch thick slices.
- Spray a baking sheet with some non-stick cooking oil and arrange the tofu slices in a single layer.
- Put the sheet in the oven and bake for about half an hour, or until as brown as you like. Flip occasionally.
- Serve the tofu hot over a bowl of rice and vegetables, or cool it down for use in sandwiches and salads.
This is another great “batch” meal, as you can bake a bunch of tofu on the weekend and have it for quick lunches and dinners throughout the week.
In the middle of the summer, it gets so hot where I don’t want to turn on my stove or oven, so grilling is a perfect option if I still want a cooked meal. If you don’t have an outdoor grill, you could also do this on a cast-iron grill pan.
- Cut drained firm or extra-firm tofu into ½-inch thick cubes and marinate (teriyaki or barbecue sauce is great here) for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight.
- Pat excess marinade off with a paper towel and thread each cube onto a bamboo or metal skewer, leaving a little space between the cubes.
- Cook on the grill or grill pan for about 5-6 minutes per side, flipping halfway through. Be sure to baste with your extra marinade for moist, flavorful tofu!
- Cut a one-pound block of tofu into 4 even steaks and marinate for at least 30 minutes.
- Pat excess marinade off with a paper towel.
- Place the steaks directly on the grill and cook for about 5-6 minutes per side, flipping halfway through, or until you get charred grill marks on your tofu.
- Baste well with extra marinade!
- Heat a tablespoon of oil in a big skillet over high heat.
- Slice drained firm or extra-firm tofu into 3 long slabs and add to the pan in a single layer.
- Lower the heat to medium and fry until lightly golden brown, about 5 minutes per side.
- Remove from pan and set aside (use a paper towel as a landing pad to soak up any excess oil).
- Add vegetables to your pan and cook until soft.
- Add your favorite sauce.
- Return the tofu to the pan and cook, uncovered, for about half an hour, or until the tofu is brown. Base every 10 minutes or so.
- Serve over steamed rice or cooked noodles.
Tofu nuggets are beloved by kids and adults alike! I’ve included two nugget methods here: breaded and buffalo-style. I suggest only using extra-firm tofu for nuggets – it has a better texture.
For Breaded Nuggets
- Cut well-drained extra-firm tofu into bite-sized cubes.
- Add to a bowl and spray with a little non-stick cooking oil.
- Sprinkle in breadcrumbs, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper and toss well to coat.
- Transfer nuggets to a baking sheet coated with non-stick cooking oil and spread into an single even layer. Cook at 400 for 10-15 minutes, or until the breading on the nuggets is crunchy and golden brown.
- Cool slightly and serve with ketchup, peanut sauce, or barbecue sauce.
For Buffalo Nuggets
Make sure every last drop of water is pressed out of your tofu – it makes a huge difference in the texture! I like to leave mine pressing in my TofuXpress overnight to make sure it’s as dry as humanly possible.
- Cut into ½-inch bite-sized cubes.
- In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of coconut oil or other cooking oil over medium-high heat.
- Add the tofu cubes and cook until golden and crunchy on all sides, stirring frequently. If your tofu is bone-dry, you’ll see a “skin” start to form on the cubes.
- Add your favorite buffalo sauce to the pan, or make your own with vegan butter and hot sauce.
- Stir well until all cubes are evenly coated with the buffalo sauce.
- Use to top salads, stuff into pitas, or serve on their own with a side of vegan ranch or dairy-free bleu-cheese dressing.
You have a little more freedom with soups as far as the type and texture of tofu you want to use. The method will depend on the type of soup you’re looking to make.
For Clear Soups
For soup like vegetable or miso, cube any tofu type into very small squares. Add these in during the last few minutes of cooking for protein and texture boost for your soup.
For Creamy Soups
For a chowder or other soup that needs to be creamy and thick, puree soft or silken tofu in your blender or food processor and add to your soup during the last few minutes of cooking. Using tofu instead of cream or yogurt will give you added protein and less fat than traditional cream-style soups.
It probably sounds weird to think of tofu in a sweet application, but trust me! In a rich, chocolatey mousse or a tart cheesecake, no one will have any idea that the creaminess comes from tofu.
For Chocolate Mousse
Chocolate mousse made with tofu is an easy dessert that’s elegant enough to serve to dinner guests. For this application, you’ll want to use a 12-ounce package of silken tofu for maximum creaminess. Puree the silken tofu in your blender or food processor until it’s completely smooth.
- Add chopped bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder, water, and brandy in a saucepan and cook over low-medium heat, constantly stirring until everything is melted and smooth.
- Take the saucepan off the heat and mix in about ½ cup of sugar (depending on how sweet you like it), a little at a time, until smooth and incorporated.
- Add the chocolate mixture to the tofu and pure again until everything is completely blended.
- Spoon your chocolate mousse into individual glasses or ramekins and refrigerate for at least an hour.
- Serve topped with a dollop of whipped coconut cream, or a small sprinkle of coarse finishing salt.
For tangy, creamy cheesecake, you’ll want to use undrained extra-firm tofu so your filling keeps its shape when sliced. Feel free to play with flavors and add-ins based on your taste and whatever’s in season.
- In your blender or food processor, puree tofu, 1 cup sugar, vanilla, salt, vegetable oil, and lemon juice until completely smooth and lump-free.
- Pour filling into a prepared 9-inch pie crust (or make your own by blending nuts and dates and pressing into the bottom of your pie pan).
- Bake in a 350-degree oven until the top has browned slightly, about 20-30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before moving to the fridge.
- Refrigerate until the cheesecake is nice and cold.
- Top your cheesecake with the flavors of the season! Fresh berries or tropical fruits are delicious in the summertime, while chocolate shavings or cooled cooked cinnamon apples are delicious in the colder months.
Adding tofu to your smoothie can be a great alternative to vegan protein powders and a good way to get a creamy texture without relying on yogurt.
- Add fruits (I love berries, frozen bananas or cherries, and tropical fruits like pineapple or mango), a little plant-based milk, silken tofu, and a handful of greens like spinach (don’t worry, you won’t be able to taste it!) into a blender and puree until smooth.
- If your blender can handle it, add ice and puree to get everything extra cold.
- For something a little different, try adding frozen pumpkin puree, silken tofu, sweetener, and cinnamon to your blender for a pumpkin pie smoothie!
With so many different methods of preparing tofu, and recipes that can be easily changed to accommodate what’s in your kitchen and what’s in season, you can look to tofu for healthy, colorful, and tasty meals all day long without every getting bored.
Experiment with these cooking methods and find the options that work best for you to incorporate plant-based protein and tons of nutrients into your family’s menu.
With a little prep work, tofu is easy to work with, and the options are endless – and not to mention delicious!