Help me like tofu better
December 17, 2022 9:50 PM   Subscribe

I would like to eat more of it, especially in recipes that don't require too much time/prep and don't rely heavily on carbs. But I've never really been a fan. I'm okay with it in, e.g., a spicy Korean stew, but otherwise my consumption is close to zero. Out of the soup or dessert context, I find soft versions unappealing texturally. And even in soup I need some contrast with it; I enjoy the taste of miso soup but will often avoid the sad lump or two of tofu in it.

Generally, I have broad tastes, though I tend not to love the spice palettes used most commonly for Indian food in the U.S. (I'm sure those are only vaguely related to those deployed in the many and varied cuisines of that subcontinent, but I can only speak to what I have more experience with.) So please: hit me with your favorite simple tofu recipes from around the world that don't present as a wobbly mush! And bonus points for ones that incorporate greens.
posted by praemunire to Food & Drink (45 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The best tip I ever learned about tofu, which applies to any recipe, is to freeze and then thaw the tofu. It improves the texture SO much and makes it absorb spices and sauces more thoroughly. . I’ve only tried it with extra firm tofu.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:57 PM on December 17, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: This low carb chocolate mousse is really good.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:00 PM on December 17, 2022

Best answer: I'm a big fan of Bon Appetit's Pad Prik King recipe. The recipe looks intimidating, but the majority of the recipe is a spice paste that you can make large batches of. I usually make a quadruple recipe of the spice paste, and freeze three portions of the paste for future recipes. I then usually bake the tofu instead of frying it, mostly for my own convenience and to avoid dirtying another pan.
posted by saeculorum at 10:16 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Two other recipes: Kenji's Lemongrass Tofu Bahn Mi this is a great bahn mi recipe - I often use the same marinade for both thinly sliced pork and tofu and have both on the same sandwich. Also, Chef John's egg roll in a bowl is pretty good with tofu instead of pork.
posted by saeculorum at 10:24 PM on December 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Take a block of firm tofu. Cut lengthwise into two long rectangles, and then slice 1/4”ish thick. Pat slices with a clean flour-sack towel (or paper towel, but I’m a hippie). Thinly slice green onion until you have a heap in a small bowl. Sprinkle with as much cracked red pepper as you like, and then pour over enough soy sauce to juuust pull it all together, topped with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Don’t wait to do this step! The reason will soon become clear.

Heat up a couple of tablespoons of oil in a pan - I’ve always used olive oil, but that’s because it’s what I usually have handy that can take a bit of temperature. Fry tofu slices until starting to be golden-brown on both sides - remove to a plate with paper towels. Eat hot fried tofu slathered in green-onion-soy-sesame-red-pepper perfection while the next set of slices is on the way.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 10:30 PM on December 17, 2022 [7 favorites]

Not a specific recipe, but you will probably like the texture of fried tofu. I suggest getting extra firm tofu, freezing it, and then pressing it. Then dunk tofu into a ziplock bag full of corn starch, and shake until evenly coated. Then pan fry (or oven bake). Then dip fried tofu into sauce of choice.
posted by oceano at 10:36 PM on December 17, 2022 [11 favorites]

Thai tofu satay with peanut sauce is one of our favorites. There are tons of recipes available online.
posted by CleverClover at 10:41 PM on December 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Kenji’s Tips for crispy tofu here. Well done fried tofu is amazing - a crunchy, sauce laden exterior, leading to a hot, soft, melt in your mouth interior. The only real downside (except it’s not exactly super healthy) is it’s not great the next day, but that’s fried things for you.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:54 PM on December 17, 2022 [4 favorites]

This spicy griddled tofu goes to Xinjang using cumin and chili, which is actually not that far a spice palette from Tex-Mex, now that I think of it. But Woks of Life has a ton of other tofu recipes and has been reliable in my experience.
posted by Superilla at 11:16 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

There are many recipes online for mapo tofu and it’s not hard to make if you have all the ingredients, but there is also this ready-made sauce, which was a staple of my childhood. My mom always used silken tofu but firm tofu works fine too, in my experience.
posted by estherbester at 11:26 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Here is a recipe video for Ma Po Tofu (YouTube), which is one of our favourite, quick weeknight dinner options (don't bother pre-boiling the tofu).

You might be thinking, "This is soft tofu, complicated to make, and eaten over rice (carbs!) so what the heck, they are going against all the things I said in my question!" But hear me out: You can buy sauce packets for ma po tofu as a shortcut. The soft tofu just kind of disappears into the sauce, to me I don't feel a separate texture of the tofu when I take a bite, even if I take great pains to try and keep the tofu cubes intact while mixing. And I wanted to share a type of cuisine that is maybe not so familiar to you, because maybe the way the tofu is prepared or used here would not be as objectionable to you as the ones you've tried?

What about tofu skin? When it's fresh, like at some hotpot places around here, it has more of a scrambled egg or omelette texture to it, IMO.

I also really like tofu in Thai curries, because they soak up a lot of sauce and flavour.
posted by tinydancer at 11:26 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I can’t eat tofu anymore. I haven’t eaten it for over fifteen years now. There are two dishes in particular that I still miss.

First is tofu in peanut sauce, already mentioned above. The other is minced tofu (firm) in lettuce cups (should be butter lettuce). Both have tons of recipes. Crispiness is key.

Man, now I want some.
posted by nat at 11:59 PM on December 17, 2022

Best answer: My favorite method of learning how to prepare tofu came from the Vegan Black Metal Chef.
posted by erst at 12:09 AM on December 18, 2022

Response by poster: (Thanks for all suggestions so far. To add a bit of useful context, I live in NYC and so I do have access to at least decent Chinese, Thai, Korean, and Japanese groceries for ingredients, so you needn't limit your suggestions on that account. I also just...have never been able to embrace curries, even with meat [though Thai food otherwise often works well for me]. I guess you can take the girl out of the Midwest but you can't take the Midwest out of the girl.)
posted by praemunire at 12:41 AM on December 18, 2022

My super lazy make firm tofu edible strategy is to slice the tofu into strips and dredge them in corn starch as described above. My twist on sauce is to make a glaze using fresh squeezed orange, sugar, and soy sauce. Then I fry the dredged tofu until it forms a golden color. Finally, I pour the glaze in and let it simmer until it just coats the tofu.

For flavor and health you could add coarsely chopped scallions, bok choy, spinach, and/or white onions during the fry phase.
posted by limbicdigest at 12:46 AM on December 18, 2022

It kind of sounds like… you don’t like tofu? That’s ok, you know!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:58 AM on December 18, 2022 [7 favorites]

My kids love this one:

Slice extra-firm tofu into about 1cm thick pieces, drizzle with soy sauce.

Fry up in a bit of olive or avocado oil, flipping once so each side gets crispier. Set aside. (You can also do cubes but then sauté on more sides.)

Add more oil to the pan and sauté 1 medium diced onion until soft. Add one clove of minced garlic. Then put in 3 cups of your favourite tomato-based pasta sauce (if you make your own you control the sugar etc.). Return tofu to pan and simmer for about 5-10 minutes. Serve with crusty bread or over spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles or whatever you like.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:28 AM on December 18, 2022

I like the texture tofu gets when you dry it out for a spell. I cut it (firm or extra firm) into quarter-inch-ish slices, put the slices on a rack and bake for a couple hours at 200 degrees F. Just so the edges get a little crusty. Good in soups, stir fry, or a good substitute for chicken chunks in a lot of things.
posted by rikschell at 5:51 AM on December 18, 2022

I'm also on team 'firm tofu, dredged in cornflour'. Or to be specific, I either press it first, or use a brand of tofu you can buy here in the UK called 'tofoo', which doesn't need to be pressed. Then cube it, chuck it in a bowl with a couple of tbsps of cornflour, and stir until coated. I spread it out on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper and season with miso paste and chill flakes. Bake at 180C for about half an hour, turning half way. Then use in whatever dish I want.
posted by sedimentary_deer at 5:53 AM on December 18, 2022

I like marinating and baking tofu as described here before adding to recipes. It’s great then sliced into smaller pieces and added to stir fry or honestly any dish you want to add protein to. The baking gives it a really nice substantial texture.
posted by obfuscation at 5:53 AM on December 18, 2022

Fried tofu has a completely different texture, and they soak in whatever flavor you put in, making them nice and savory in soups.

You can often find firm and extra firm tofu in Whole Foods, if there's nothing Asian near you. Those work as direct substitutes for chicken or pork in stir fry recipes.

If you need something even firmer, there's "bean curd sticks", aka "tofu skin". You can get them on Amazon, but it's probably better to find them locally in Asian stores.

Have you tried other types of tofu or gluten based products, often available in an Asian market? There are "veggie chicken" "veggie duck", "veggie bacon", and other items, basically extruded and textured soy protein made to resemble meat products. :)
posted by kschang at 6:17 AM on December 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I used to spend a lot of time freezing, thawing, draining, pressing, and drying tofu and it was still more squishy/wobbly than I liked. Now I get Nasoya brand super firm tofu - it's not packed in water, just a 1-pound block wrapped in plastic. This kind of tofu doesn't have that wobbly texture at all and it's much easier to handle. Usually I make a vegetable stir-fry with it - stir-fry the tofu until it has a little crust, take it out of the pan, put in the vegetables, then when the vegetables are done add back the tofu to heat through and put in whatever sauce or seasoning.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:17 AM on December 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

Buying the fancy, expensive baked extra-firm stuff that's usually in a shrink-wrapped package has been a good decision for me. Usually in stir fry in the same way you would use meat. (You can get cheap tofu to the same texture yourself, but life is short.)
posted by eotvos at 6:18 AM on December 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Tofubq is a weekly staple at our house.

Buy the extra firm tofu from trader joe's. I think it might be the "super protein" or something like that, but it is definitely super firm. It is not the one that comes in a tray.

Open package, drain liquid. Slice into maybe 1/4 inch thick slices. Or strips. Put in greased pyrex. Pour barbecue sauce over it. Bake at 350 for ~30-40 minutes. Serve.

Alternatively: Cut in cubes, stir fry with barbecue sauce and onions, serve on buns with mozzarella cheese.

posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:23 AM on December 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My spouse can't have dairy but is not a huge fan of tofu either. Two ways he likes it that also use greens: Vegan Saag Paneer (may run against your seasoning preferences) and crumbled extra firm tofu with a fork and used in place of ricotta in Italian-ish recipes like these Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:40 AM on December 18, 2022

Pre-baked, smoked, Soyboy brand is a very firm texture (nothing wriggly about it), easy to use in many ways, and with a hickory smoke taste has been compatible with the midwestern palates in my life. It has nothing artificial in it, but is a convenience.
posted by ojocaliente at 6:58 AM on December 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

I like to simply sear firm tofu, right out of the package as people have mentioned. Heat your skillet with oil or sauce. I rarely use oil, just coat the skillet with some kind of soy or Worcester sauce. Start with just a coating of sauce and add more as needed. Currently I am obsessed with the Little Goat brand sauces but that may be just a Chicago thing. Slice the tofu and throw it in the skillet and make sure you get a sear on both sides, adding sauce if you need to. You can add a vegetable-- I love to use sliced mushrooms, but cooked and set aside before the tofu. Top with scallions or those crispy fried shallots that come in a jar or a bit of chili crisp. (Chili crisp makes everything better.)

See if your Korean market has vegetable-flavored blocks of tofu. Usually not as firm, but worth it for the taste.

Tofu noodles are incredible for a stir-fry. Not those shirataki noodles with the yam flour in them, actual tofu noodles. Again, use a skillet and get them crispy with a little sauce.
posted by BibiRose at 6:59 AM on December 18, 2022

Seconding the "super firm" or "high protein" tofu - it needs no fussy pressing / dry-frying steps - remove from plastic, cut, and use! (NOT the same as any of the extra firm etc that come packed in water tubs; it is just wrapped in plastic.)

Now, I am a weirdo who really likes plain (unmarinated etc.) tofu just pan fried, so that is what *I* would do with it, but you can use the super firm in any preparation people have mentioned without the annoying steps to get the water out.
posted by lysimache at 7:01 AM on December 18, 2022

Best answer: Since you already like tofu with Korean flavors, try this pan fried tofu side dish from Maangchi. The sauce is a bit spicy, a bit sweet, with crunchy fresh green onion. The key with pan fried tofu is to really not move the pieces until the bottoms release from the pan, so you get the texture contract of crispy edges and softer interior.
posted by radiogreentea at 7:25 AM on December 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

I cube extra-firm tofu coated with soy sauce and oil (in that order). Then I roast it on a sheet pan along with oiled root veg and loads of onion chunks.
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 7:43 AM on December 18, 2022

The simplest "not tofu" preparation I do is dredging (pressed and dried, firm) tofu in blackening rub and pan frying it. Alternately, dredging in pre-made cornmeal "fish fry" mix and pan frying. I serve with greens and blackeyed peas. Yes, guess what region of the U.S. I was born in! But I think it speaks more generally to a strategy for wedging tofu into cuisines where it isn't as common, and my strategy is to cook it like whitefish. Both of these strategies work with frozen and thawed tofu as described above.
posted by theweasel at 8:03 AM on December 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if you can get smoked tofu, I'd give that a try. It's quite firm and it has a aroma even without any further preparation.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:15 AM on December 18, 2022

Not that you need more answers, but a couple things.

You say you don't like curries in your follow-up about broadly Asian recommendations and I don't know exactly what that means but if you want flavors you like from your midwest history, think of what you like and get the fried tofu into that format. For example, Tofu Parmesan, frying up tofu as described above and hitting it with - not soy sauce and scallions - marinara sauce and grated mozzarella served without the pasta or just with a bit of pasta might be more your flavor-profile.

Also, different tofus have really different flavors. I like the Whole Foods tofu but not so much the Trader Joe's tofu unless it is really heavily seasoned due to a beanier flavor.
posted by RoadScholar at 8:24 AM on December 18, 2022

I really enjoy the marinated and pressed tofu... usually found in Asian markets. It has a great texture and also freezes well.
posted by answergrape at 8:50 AM on December 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

I prefer fried tofu in Pad Thai to chicken. I've tried recipes for baked tofu that claim to be the same, but that's a grievous lie. I don't really love the taste of soy, but fried, marinated, or with a strong sauce or broth, it ranges from okay to tasty.

I never liked curry in the US and learned that it's really fenugreek I dislike, though I've learned to tolerate it.
posted by theora55 at 10:07 AM on December 18, 2022

we've had good success adding tofu to our meals when we crumble's one way to do it.
posted by eseuss at 10:26 AM on December 18, 2022

Agree with everyone saying to get extra firm tofu, and really work to press all of the water out. You can go the extra mile by using a wok with a little bit of oil, and then dumping this the moment the tofu starts to exude liquid, and putting in more oil, repeat as needed.

Really simple recipe is to fry tofu this way, then stir fry veggies and garlic/ginger, topped off with some soy sauce and chili sauce. I serve this over noodle or rice, but I guess you could forgo that if you're avoiding carbs.
posted by coffeecat at 11:22 AM on December 18, 2022

Best answer: When I was vegetarian I did not care for tofu even though I ate it often. It was a recipe for "lacquered" tofu that changed my mind and put me on the path to liking it. I'm not vegetarian any more, but I still eat and enjoy tofu.

This recipe is pretty close to the one I used to make: Lacquered Tofu with Green Beans and Cashews.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:30 AM on December 18, 2022

Response by poster: (In case it's keeping anyone up nights, if you are first introduced to a type of food in the crappy form in which working-class white Americans in the Midwest were likely to encounter it back in the day, it takes a long time to get past that memory. Took me years for Cantonese.)
posted by praemunire at 1:14 PM on December 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

A thing about tofu is that even if you're not frying it, it benefits from some fat in the recipe. It's extremely lean, and fat helps carry flavor. Like tofu with sesame oil and chili oil, or this very firm pressed tofu with two different additions of hot seasoned oil.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:06 PM on December 18, 2022

Best answer: I cube it up, and then microwave it for like 4-5 mins. It should feel kind of dry to the touch, but not rubbery. Then, you fry it up in a pan with a bit of oil and it gets nice and golden brown.

In my experience, this is much quicker than the paper towels with a weight on top method and has extremely similar results.
posted by kpmcguire at 7:15 AM on December 19, 2022

How are you with things like egg salad, chicken salad, etc? If you like them, you might like the tofu salad spread that we make all the time for sandwiches (there's a block of tofu in the fridge right now destined for this recipe). I don't taste the tofu at all, while you mush it together, it is not wobbly and the vegetables add texture. I don't know what the author means by "Chinese-style" tofu, we use whatever firm tofu the store has, usually sold in 14-oz packs, and it works just fine.

Tofu Salad Spread
30 min-2 hours, Burgers and Sandwiches, Entrees, Lunch, No-Cook, Tofu, Vegan
Total Time: 1 hr
Servings: 6-8
Source: Vegetarian cooking for everyone, D. Madison, p. 129 (I'm not sure which edition; the page number might have changed)

1 pound Chinese-style firm tofu
⅓ cup finely diced celery
⅓ cup finely diced green bell pepper
⅓ cup finely diced carrot
2 tablespoons minced onion or scallion
1 large garlic clove, put through a press
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped marjoram or 1½ teaspoons dried
2 teaspoons chopped thyme or ½ teaspoon dried
⅛ teaspoon turmeric
2 pinches cayenne
¾ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed, or chopped sour pickles
2 to 3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly milled pepper
2 tsp Wine or apple cider vinegar

Break the tofu into large chunks and twist it in a towel to get rid of the liquid. When it's as dry as possible, put it in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mash them together with a fork. At first it will taste bland, but the flavors will get stronger as the salad sits.

Refrigerate for 1 hour before using if time allows.

Notes from the source: TOFU salad spread is surprisingly good on its own, but it's most appreciated as a replacement for egg salad. Use it in sandwiches just as you would egg salad, or as a spread for crackers. MAKES ENOUGH FOR 3 TO 4 SANDWICHES

Our notes: More like 6-8 sandwiches! Also, we usually leave out the parsley and cayenne.
posted by telophase at 8:49 AM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My basic cooking method is baking it in cubes or slabs. After pressing the tofu, I cut it into half inch slabs or cubes. Then I spray a baking sheet with cooking spray, neatly arrange the cubes and sprinkle generously with salt (see here!), then bake in a 400'F oven for about 30 minutes. The result is flavorful little nuggets that can be thrown into any soup, stew or stir fry, or on top of a bowl of noodles, or mixed in with steamed veggies and rice, or topped on a salad, or just eaten out of hand. It's very flavorful and versatile.

(recycled content from my previous, longer answer)
posted by slogger at 1:48 PM on December 19, 2022

I started making this vegan sheet pan breakfast hash a few months ago and it's become a weekly staple. Crumbled tofu stands in well for scrambled eggs.

As an aside, this tofu press has been a game changer. Highly recommended.
posted by bdk3clash at 10:13 AM on December 22, 2022

You've got to get the water out, then the flavor in. The microwave sounds fascinating, a power beyond my control.

I honestly don't know what an air fryer is, but this looks good, has anyone tried this?

I drain and cube it at breakfast, drain again, into the fridge or freezer,

fry once in butter until brown, fridge again

fry second time to finish with vegetables / rice

There was a Thai restaurant in Athens that had amazing crispy sweet tofu, and i've never seen a recipe for such, but would like to know
posted by eustatic at 8:50 PM on February 16, 2023

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