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The Best Way To Cook Tofu in Five Easy Steps

Three types of tofu
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If you're new to cooking with tofu, you might be stumped on the best way to cook tofu that ACTUALLY tastes good. For no-fail tofu, follow these five steps.

Table of Contents

Introduction

As a dietitian, I often get questions about the best way to cook tofu. A common sentiment I hear from my patients starting a plant-based journey is, “Kate, I tried tofu but I just don’t like it.”

Chances are, if you’re cooking tofu at home for the first time, you probably don’t know the proper way to prepare it. Especially if you’re trying to eat low sodium, you may be stumped on how to season your tofu properly.

It’s not hard to see how this can lead to a disappointing eating experience!

As a dietitian and long-time plant-based eater, I’ve been preparing delicious tofu at home for many years. It took trial and error but I finally figured out the best way to cook tofu that results in an enjoyable meal every time.

Here are the steps you need to follow to cook tasty, craveable tofu at home!

Remember That It’s Tofu, Not Meat

Alright, this is a “pre” step, before we get to the actual tofu talk.

One of the biggest hurdles when cooking with tofu for the first time is expecting it to taste like meat. Tofu, while a good source of protein, has a very different taste and texture than meat does.

The goal isn’t to exactly replicate the experience of eating meat but to enjoy tofu in its own right. If you are trying to prepare tofu as if it’s chicken, this may be part of the problem. Tofu is a unique form of protein and I don’t expect you to intuitively know what to do with it!

NOTE: tofu CAN be an excellent stand-in for cheese, in certain recipes! I’ll share some at the end of this post.

Go into your tofu-eating experience knowing it’s something brand new. Additionally, recognize it may take some trial and error to find your favorite way to cook it.

Okay, let’s get started with our five steps to amazing tofu. To start, you have to make sure to purchase the right type.

Pick The Right Type of Tofu

Not all tofu is created equal. Different types have different textures and purposes.

For beginners, choosing firm or extra-firm tofu is the best choice. It holds its shape well and absorbs flavors best. This is good for stir-fries and baked tofu dishes.

In contrast, soft and silken tofu works well in smoothies, desserts, creamy sauces, and dips. But it’s not the best bet if you’re planning to make a stir-fry.

Additionally, there are a couple of different ways you’ll find tofu sold in the store.

Shelf Stable Tofu

You might find shelf-stable tofu, sold in a paper carton similar to a juice box. This will typically be in the Asian section of the grocery store.

Refrigerated Tofu

You can also find tofu in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. It comes in a plastic carton, packed in water.

Pre-Cooked Tofu

Tofu can also be found pre-marinated and pre-cooked in a carton or vacuum-sealed container. This option works well if you are still learning how to season tofu yourself.

However, pre-cooked tofu is often higher in sodium, which might be a concern for you. The example in this post, Trader Joe’s Organic Baked Tofu, contains 530 mg sodium per serving.

Pre-cooked tofu is often cooked in a deep fryer as well. This is not my preferred cooking method for kidney health.

Now that you have your tofu selected, the next step is to take it home and prepare it.

Prepare Your Tofu Before Cooking With It

Tofu naturally holds a bit of moisture, which can hinder flavor absorption. So, we need to get rid of some of that moisture.

NOTE: This step is important when cooking with firm or extra-firm varieties; for example, if you’re making a stir-fry. This is not usually necessary for recipes featuring soft or silken tofu. Defer to the instructions in any recipe you may be following.

Press Your Tofu

To start, take your tofu out of its box or carton.

Then, wrap the tofu block in a few layers of paper towels (or with a clean cloth). Set the tofu on a plate with elevated edges and place a weighted object on top, such as a heavy cookbook.

The water from the tofu will seep through the paper towels or kitchen cloth, so make sure your weighted object isn’t something that needs to stay 100% dry. Let this sit for about 20 minutes, and you should start to see some tofu water draining onto the plate as well.

FYI, if you have space for an extra kitchen gadget, you can buy a specially designed tofu press to make this process easier!

Another option to help tofu better absorb flavor is to take it out of its container, pat dry, freeze it, then allow it to thaw. Freezing, then thawing, changes the texture a bit so the tofu can absorb marinades and seasonings better.

Cut Your Tofu Block Into Cubes or Slabs

From here, cut your tofu into small cubes (about 3/4″) or slabs. You can also crumble it if you’re going for a “mock” ground beef type of thing. Just crumble the tofu with your fingers into a bowl!

Once you have your tofu blank canvas, it’s time to season it.

Season Your Tofu with the Right Spices

The key to delicious tofu lies in bold flavoring.

Just like you wouldn’t season a chicken breast with only salt and pepper, a tasty tofu experience requires you to dial up the spices.

You may be wondering how to accomplish this on a lower-sodium diet, though.

Firstly, recognize that you CAN use a little salt – it’s a low-sodium diet, not a no-sodium diet.

Most of my patients can get away with using a small amount in recipes, perhaps 1/2 tsp of salt in a recipe that serves 4. This means you wind up getting just 1/8 tsp salt per serving (equal to 300 mg of sodium).

Next, seasoning your tofu with garlic powder is a classic starting point that works in a variety of recipes. But don’t stop there!

Experiment with diverse spices like paprika, turmeric, curry powder, or even nutritional yeast. Marinades with citrus juices, low-sodium soy sauce, vinegar, or your favorite fresh herbs are another delicious option. For an even lower-sodium option, try coconut aminos or liquid aminos instead of low-sodium soy sauce.

If choosing the right spices to put together isn’t your forte, try a salt-free seasoning blend like Mrs Dash Original Seasoning Blend or McCormick Very Good Garlic by Tabitha Brown.

As one final note, if you’re going to crispier tofu, mix some cornstarch into your spice blend! This is sure to yield the best results. Tossing with a bit of cornstarch is the ONLY way I make my crispy, chewy tofu at home.

Choose the Right Cooking Method

The best way to cook tofu depends on how you plan to use it.

Pan-Fried Tofu

Pan-frying yields crispy golden cubes, perfect for stir-fries. Cook your tofu in the pan first, then take it out and set it on a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb any oil. Cook the rest of your stir-fry veggies, then add the tofu back in at the end.

Baked Tofu

Baking provides a satisfyingly chewy texture ideal for use in salads or Buddha bowls. Make sure you bake it long enough to achieve the texture you desire.

Grilled Tofu

Grilling infuses a smoky touch, perfect for summer barbecues. You’ll want to use extra firm tofu if you plan to cook it on the grill. Tofu that’s too soft and watery won’t hold up on the grill. You can also put your tofu on a sheet of tin foil to help maintain its shape and avoid sticking.

Air-Fryer Tofu

My favorite tofu-cooking method is to make it in the air-fryer. I toss cubed tofu with cornstarch, garlic powder, paprika, and nutritional yeast, then pop it in the air-fryer for about 15 minutes. It comes out perfect every time.

Use A Proven Recipe For Delicious Results

For guaranteed success, don’t leave it up to chance. Instead, leverage the wisdom of experienced tofu chefs!

Look for recipes specifically designed for beginners that break down the process step-by-step.

Let’s say that step 1 of a recipe is “prepare and press your tofu.” An experienced cook might know what that means. But, you might not! Pick a recipe that makes it clear step by step what to do. The more pictures, the better!

In my experience, plant-based cookbooks and food blogs are the best bet for finding great tofu recipes.

Dietitian’s Favorite Tofu Recipes

Don’t worry, I won’t leave you to explore the tofu Wild West all on your own!

Here are five delicious recipes that I love. Follow them step by step and you’re guaranteed to find tofu success:

  1. General Tso’s Tofu Stir-Fry – stir-fry is a classic way to cook tofu. If you’re watching the sodium, swap out the soy sauce for either the low-sodium variety, liquid aminos, or coconut aminos.
  2. Vegan Thanksgiving Sheet Pan Dinner – no need to make the other components of this recipe if you aren’t in a Thanksgiving mood, but this way of preparing tofu is utterly addictive any time of the year! Give it a try ASAP.
  3. Tofu Sofritas – if you like the sofritas at Chipotle, you can easy make your own version at home to use in tacos, burritos, and more.
  4. Basil Tofu “Ricotta” Stuffed Shells – who doesn’t love stuffed shells? In this recipe, you’ll mash up the tofu and use it to mimic ricotta cheese. Use fresh basil for the most flavorful outcome!
  5. Easy Creamy Tofu and Pea Curry – this recipe uses tofu as a stand-in for paneer cheese. While that might sound adventurous, the recipe itself is very simple and doesn’t require you to do much with the tofu besides cut it into cubes.

Summary

With these simple steps and a little creativity, you’ll be whipping up delectable tofu dishes you’ll be excited to eat.

Remember, practice makes perfect! Don’t be discouraged by an initial misstep – keep exploring flavors, textures, and recipes, and you’ll master tofu soon. When you know the best way to cook tofu, it doesn’t have to be bland, boring, or weird-textured.

If you tried out any of the techniques from this article, let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear how your tofu journey is going.

Want even more tofu ideas? I share recipes every single week in my Facebook group, Plant Based Recipes for Healthy Kidneys. Join me and nearly 6,000 members as we explore recipes that put plant foods front and center.

For personalized help and guidance on what to eat for optimal kidney health, consult with a Board Certified Renal Dietitian (like me!). You can also find me on Instagram and TikTok for additional tips every week – let’s connect! Until next time, be well. — Kate, Your Kidney Dietitian

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, meaning I earn a small commission when you make a purchase using my link. Read my full affiliate link disclaimer statement here.

Picture of Kate Zalewski, RDN, CSR, LDN

Kate Zalewski, RDN, CSR, LDN

Kate Zalewski is a Registered Dietitian and Board Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition based in Chicago, Illinois. She helps people with kidney disease and other kidney health concerns navigate the complex and confusing world of nutrition. With a gentle yet realistic approach, Kate guides you in making changes that can improve your labs and slow disease progression, while still allowing you to enjoy the foods you eat. Book an appointment with Kate.

3 thoughts on “The Best Way To Cook Tofu in Five Easy Steps”

  1. I love to mix shreds or small cubes of tofu with raw broccoli slaw, and chili powder for a wonderful filler for tacos! I stir them together quickly over medium heat, with maybe a little bit of water and to help spread the seasoning throughout. Then I use that to fill my taco shells while the rest of the family uses ground meat taco filling.

  2. I am so excited to try the Thanksgiving recipe, thank you! I made tofu into a mock shredded bbq chicken one time and loved it! That was the most adventurous I have been but I love cooking it in the air fryer usually. It is so versatile and tasty once you get used to it!

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