Let’s Talk Tofu

Whether you’re eating plant-based for Veganuary or simply looking to broaden your meat-free repertoire, tofu should be top of your shopping list. Read on for our guide to tofu and how and why to incorporate it into your cooking.

Let’s Talk Tofu

Tofu or soybean curd is traditionally used in many Asian cuisines, in stir-fries, noodle dishes, soups, curries and more. In western cooking, it has been adopted as an alternative source of protein to meat.

It is a good source of protein, vitamin B1, iron, calcium, and magnesium.

Tofu is made from soy milk. The soy proteins are coagulated with calcium or magnesium salts. The liquid is discarded and the curds are pressed to form a cohesive block in various degrees of firmness.

Tofu comes in many different forms, all of which bring a different textural element to the table. In supermarkets, you’ll most commonly find plain firm tofu, smoked tofu, soft, and silken tofu. Follow storage guidelines on the packet. Some products need to be refrigerated; others are ambient so make useful store cupboard standbys with a shelf life of as long as six months.

Tofu is a highly versatile ingredient. You can use it across a range of cuisines, not only Asian, to create vegan options, and you can serve it at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On our Plant-Based Cooking course, we’ll show you how to make a quick and easy tofu scramble as a vegan alternative to scrambled eggs for breakfast (tip: add a pinch of turmeric to give it a sunny yellow glow). On our Chef Skills course, you’ll make a baby beetroot, pistachio oil, and tofu salad as part of an elegant vegan dinner party menu.

Tofu is a great carrier of flavour and it can stand up to strong flavours and spices. Such as the Thai lettuce salad with fried tofu, and a chilli and lime dressing, as taught on Nutrition in Culinary Practice, and Mexican-inspired spiced tofu and burnt corn salsa wraps from Plant-Based Eating.

Silken tofu (available in both soft and firm varieties) differs from firm tofu in that the soy milk is coagulated but not curdled. Unlike firm tofu, it is not pressed so retains its moisture content. It is smooth and silky and is therefore something used in plant-based cookery as an alternative to yoghurt and eggs. Firm silken tofu is used in the Sichuan dish mapo tofu.

Tofu has a high water content so it is sometimes advisable to press it before cooking it, particularly when pan-frying or baking in cubes or slices. This only works with firm, not soft or silken tofu. Pressing firm tofu eliminates excess liquid and gives it a more robust texture. It can also aid absorption of flavour from marinades and spices.

To press tofu, remove it from its pack and drain off the water. You can leave it in a block or cut it width wise into four to six slices. Lay a couple of layers of kitchen paper over a baking sheet and spread the slices of tofu in a single layer on top. Put more paper towels on top of the tofu slices and place another baking sheet on top. Weigh down the baking sheet with canes and leave for at least 30 minutes or overnight in the fridge.

Any leftover tofu should be stored covered with water in a sealed container in the refrigerator for no more than two days. It is important to change the water daily. It is also possible to freeze it as a block or in slices but freezing will affect the texture, making it spongier.

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