Once you learn how to cook tofu you’ll have a whole new appreciation for this ancient food! There are so many ways to make it, but here are 3 easy and delicious tofu recipes to get started with. There is a lot of info about the safety of soy products below as well.
Tofu. Growing up I didn’t like the stuff. It’s one of my dad’s favorite foods, so I could always depend on being served something with tofu when I was at his house. I’d let the sauce soak into my rice and avoid all of the marinated blocks of tofu and most of the veggies. I was such a picky kid. So ungrateful! Here I was being served perfectly prepared tofu made with love, and I couldn’t get past the fact that it had a funny texture and an equally funny name.
Now as an adult, I can appreciate tofu fully. I still haven’t managed to incorporate it into my diet as much as my dad does, but I’m more fond of it than ever before. Over the years I’ve learned and experienced how truly versatile and nourishing this humble soy bean curd can be. I’ve had it incorporated into the most luxurious vegan desserts, transformed into the crispiest “tenders,” and fermented to umami heaven. I’ve relied on it as a hearty filling breakfast, and the perfect savory late night snack. I’m finally starting to see why my dad is such a fan.
What is tofu? First created in China over 2,000 years ago, tofu is a bean curd made from soy beans. Soy beans are turned into a milk, then curdled to make all varieties of tofu: silken, soft, firm, or extra-firm. Since its creation all those years ago, tofu has become an important part of many Asian cuisines, and has quite recently become popular around the world. In the United States tofu is almost only eaten for vegetarians and vegans, and thought of as a meat replacement.
However, in Asia tofu isn’t part of a separate culinary category. It became a traditional staple food throughout the region, for all parts of the population, vegetarian or not. Though it is true that Zen Buddhist monks enjoy(ed) tofu as a replacement for meat.
Tofu’s high protein content does make it a perfect dietary alternative to meat. Unlike most beans, soy beans contain all of the different amino acids that the human body must get from food, making tofu a “complete protein.” Tofu is also a fantastic source of calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, copper, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamin B. Soy beans, and thus tofu, also contain an impressive variety of phytonutrients that help protect our bodies from diseases like cancer (source). Consumption of soy has been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer (source).
Soy products like tofu have also been shown to lower cholesterol and heart disease risk. Since heart disease is the #1 killer in the United States, followed by cancer, think of how important those benefits truly are. Imagine the improvement in American health if people replaced meat and dairy products with nutrient-dense, plant-based alternatives like soy. We’d have a very different society, maybe even one in which the fight for basic healthcare isn’t the number one priority and stressor for millions, and in which the medical industry isn’t able to make billions of dollars a year selling us expensive pharmaceuticals and procedures for preventable lifestyle diseases.
So much controversy! You may have heard the never-ending controversy over whether or not soy is a health food or a harmful food. It irks me that this conversation is happening at all given the thousands of years of evidence showing that soy is a healthy part of a balanced plant-based diet. In China and Japan, two countries known for their regular consumption of soy products, rates of cancer and heart-disease have traditionally been very low.
It’s true that traditionally most cultures in China and Japan (and throughout the world) have eaten a plant-based diet (not to be confused with completely vegan), so it’s a given that heart disease and cancer would be a rare occurrence. However, so much of what people currently fear about soy products in the United States is that soy will give them cancer. Where is the scientific evidence of this? In fact, as I discussed above, scientific evidence shows that soy consumption is linked to a lower risk of some cancers.
Another fear people have is that all soy is GMO, or genetically modified. While most soy is genetically modified in the United States, the majority of that soy is used to make processed soy products like soybean oil and soy protein isolates, which are used to make junk food, and for animal feed. Most minimally processed soy products like tofu are non-GMO and often organic. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the labels the next time you’re at the grocery store. Since the impacts of GMO plants are not fully understood yet, I advise avoiding them as much as possible. The best way to do that is to avoid highly processed foods and junk foods (including at fast food restaurants, where they often use soybean oil for frying, among other things).
What about estrogen? The other huge American preoccupation with soy is the fact that it contains phytoestrogens. Some Americans fear that consumption of phytoestrogens will interact adversely with our human estrogen and result in reproductive issues and even cancer. First, it’s important to know that many plants contain this form of estrogen: flaxseed, oats, other beans, lentils, wheat, and more. Common sense tells us that these are all healthy foods, yet soy stands out as the one bad guy.
Studies show that soy products do not cause “man boobs” or reproductive cancers. There may be some concern for women who have had estrogen-sensitive breast cancer, but otherwise moderate amounts of soy are shown to have protective benefits. If you are afraid of the effects of estrogen from outside the body one thing you should make sure to do is to avoid all animal products. Too much mammalian estrogen may lead to reproductive problems and cancer. Obviously you are an animal, not a plant, so it makes sense that adding too much of the type of estrogen you’ve already got can be harmful.
Keep in mind that while the United States is the world’s largest producer of soybeans, Americans on average eat less soy in a year than the Japanese eat in one day. The rate of death from heart disease in the US is about double the rate in Japan. And the US’s rate of cancer is about 50% higher than Japan’s. Meanwhile, in the United States, those who eat a vegan diet have the lowest rates of heart disease and cancer, as well as other common lifestyle disease like type 2 diabetes and obesity, compared to vegetarians and meat-eaters (source). Of course, diet is only one among the many factors that affect these rates, but explain to me how these statistics support the idea that tofu is somehow connected to adverse health outcomes?
We’ve gotten that out of the way, so now we can talk food! Tofu is cheap, readily available, and highly nutritious. Thankfully it’s also very easy to make. Below are 3 simple recipes you should try if you’re new to tofu.
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil (or other cooking oil)
- ½ yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ red bell pepper, diced
- 1 block firm tofu, pressed and mashed
- 1-2 vegan sausages (I used Field Roast brand), diced
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- cayenne pepper to taste, optional
- Warm oil in a large skillet or frying pan.
- Sauté the onions, garlic, and red pepper on medium heat until onions are translucent.
- At the tofu and vegan sausage followed by ½ teaspoon salt and stir well. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring halfway.
- Add the nutritional yeast and turmeric, the remaining salt and black pepper (and cayenne if you want), and stir again.
- Cook another 5 minutes.
- 2 tablespoon grapeseed oil (or other cooking oil)
- 1 block extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8 corn tortillas
- 4 leaves romaine lettuce, chopped
- ½ cup salsa
- 1 avocado, sliced or mashed
- ¼ cup red onion, thinly sliced (or try pickled red onions)
- Place the cubed tofu in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle on the cumin powder, chili powder, and salt, then toss the bowl to thoroughly coat the tofu.
- Warm the oil in a skillet or frying pan on medium-high heat.
- Add the tofu, then use a spoon to spread the cubes evenly onto the skillet.
- Cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat, then flip the tofu.
- Continue doing this every 5 minutes, until all sides of the tofu are golden brown and begin to crisp up, about 30 minutes total.
- Warm your tortillas over a gas flame or microwave, keeping them warm between the folds of a kitchen towel.
- Once ready, fill the tortillas with the crispy tofu, romaine lettuce, salsa, avocado, and red onion.
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ envelope active dry yeast
- ¾ cups water, 110 degrees F
- 2 cups white whole wheat flour, bread flour, or all purpose flour + more for kneading
- 1 teaspoons kosher salt
- 4 teaspoons olive oil
- cornmeal, just a little for sprinkling on baking sheet
- 1 block of firm organic tofu
- ½ cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1½ tsp sea salt
- Combine the water, yeast, and sugar in a glass bowl, and stir well.
- Mix the flour and salt together in a mixing bowl.
- Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the yeast water.
- Stir well with a wooden spoon, and then knead the dough with your hands.
- Transfer the dough onto a floured workspace, and knead lightly to form the dough into a ball.
- Place the dough ball into another mixing bowl coated in a light layer of olive oil.
- Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap, or an equivalent to seal, and set aside for one hour to let the dough rise.
- While the dough is rising make your tofu cheese: place the tofu in a food processor, along with the nutritional yeast, apple cider vinegar, and salt. Blend until creamy, then set aside until you’re ready to use it for the pizza.
- Once the dough has doubled or nearly tripled in size, remove it from the mixing bowl, and knead it into a ball again.
- Cut the ball in half or quarter, and form them into smaller balls.
- Place each ball onto a plate, and cover with a slightly damp and clean kitchen towel. Allow to set for 10 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 500°.
- Sprinkle some cornmeal onto a large baking sheet, press your pizza dough directly onto it (to prevent sticking), and flatten the dough into a thin pizza crust shape.
- Top with your pizza topping: sauce, of course, always goes first, then tofu cheese, then basil.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes. Serve immediately, and enjoy!
Check out these other amazing tofu recipes on my blog: Broccoli & Crispy Tofu, Sweet Potato & Tofu Curry. And don’t sleep on tempeh––fermented tofu cake––it’s delicious: BBQ Tempeh Sandwich, Maple Mustard Tempeh Salad, Smokey Tempeh & Kale Salad, and Classic Tempeh Tacos .