After my peanut sauce post, I got a lot of questions about the tofu I mentioned in the recipe. Since I make tofu often, it didn’t even occur to me that my two sentences on how to cook tofu might not be enough of an explanation. I know that there are many people out there who have either never tried tofu or have had a really bad experience with it, so I’m here to set the record straight.
Vegetarian or not, tofu is a wonderful and very versatile protein source. I know, I know, the soy warnings! In a nutshell, soy protein contains isoflavones, which after being processed by the body are changed to phytoestrogens, which act similar in the body to the hormone estrogen. I have read mountains of information both on the amazing health benefits of soy and the adverse side effects of consuming soy, and ultimately, I have decided if eaten in moderation, soy is a healthy and welcome addition to a well-rounded diet. Unless you are eating soy protein isolates on a daily basis (i.e. processed foods), tofu once a week is nothing to worry about. I rarely use soy milk or other soy products so I’m never worried about overloading on soy.
Let’s get into the prep work for tofu, which is what sends most people running. Usually in recipes tofu has been pressed, marinated, sat overnight, and cooked three different ways before it gets onto your plate. That may be where some of the intimidation factor comes from. I have cooked tofu like this many times, because it is true that tofu absorbs flavors very well and marinating it can be a really delicious option, but it also can stand alone just fine.
First things first, you are going to want to buy organic extra-firm tofu. It lives in the refrigerator aisle and comes packed in a plastic container filled with water. If you see the little boxes of tofu from the dry aisle of the grocery store, that is silken tofu, a much different animal. Silken tofu is very soft and, well, silky, and although some people eat it plain, I think it is really better blended up into sauces. I rarely use silken tofu. It is important to make sure that the tofu you are buying is organic. Soybeans are one of the major GMO crops of the USA and are heavily sprayed, so please, buy organic. My go-to tofu is Trader Joe’s brand, which sells for $1.99 a package. Not bad considering one package feeds my family of four just fine. If you can only find firm tofu, rather than extra-firm, it will be fine, but extra-firm has a lower moisture content and will crumble less easily than the firm variety.
Next, you are going to want to press your tofu. If you haven’t seen the pictures of stacked books and towels on top of tofu, take a minute to Google it, and then decide that this is not what you want to be spending your time doing in the kitchen. A tofu press is much easier, cleaner, and more convenient. Amazon Prime it now and it will be here tomorrow for dinner. I originally had one of the Tofu Xpress tofu presses that almost every cookbook and blog recommends, but I had issues with it. Multiple plastic pieces broke off one by one until finally it was unusable. The one positive about this tofu press is that it catches the water directly in the container, but I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason to buy it. My current tofu press, the EZ Tofu Press, is half the price and has no breakable parts. I love it, and it’s virtually kid-proof. I just prop up the tofu into the container that it comes in and all the water drains right in. I usually press my tofu for about 10 – 15 minutes, but you can leave it for as long as you like. I would not tell you to buy one of these if I didn’t think it made a big difference, but it really does. There is a lot of extra water sitting in the tofu and if your press it out, the tofu will have a much better texture.