If you’ve ever seen RuPaul’s Drag Race (think: the part where he screams “don’t f*ck it up!”), then it will make sense to you that tofu may as well be that one contestant on an outlandish reality competition show that inevitably screws up horribly. And if you’ve never seen it, this will probably make no sense to you. So, do a quick Google and then imagine a sultry block of tofu strutting down a drag runway in a poofy ’70s wig, sequins, and pumps. Then — and only then — come back and continue reading. What I’m getting at here is that most of us find tofu a kitchen enemy; a confusing and totally off-the-wall ingredient we have no idea what to make of — like a sweaty, overly emotional reality show contestant. In fact, it is so easy to mess up tofu that you’re almost sure to be the person making your friends swear it off forever. Cue the comments: “I could NEVER go vegetarian, tofu is sooo gross, what a bland, rubbery creation.”
But as easy as it is to mess up tofu, it is just as simple to do a fabulous job cooking it! And guess what? Tofu is rich in protein, plant based, and made of soy beans. So, cultivating it contributes much less to greenhouse gasses than factory farming. And it’s practically made to be that bland, so it can take on almost any flavor you could dream of seasoning it with — given the right preparation. Tofu is a great side dish for any holiday meal, rounding out an offering for your vegetarian dinner guests, or just adding to the spread for everyone. Here are some tips, and remember, tofu, it’s time to “lip sync for your LIFE!”
Ditch the Tofurkey: Pre-made “fake meat” products are seasoned to someone’s taste, but probably not yours. They’re prepackaged, over-processed, and sometimes have a strange texture. If you want to make a meat alternative, it’s much better to buy fresh tofu to season and bake or fry on your own. The best tofu is locally made. Check your neighborhood grocery store. Just like meat, it is better fresh, and does expire after a while.
Fry it: Tofu easily fries into a great crispy-skinned snack. You can fry it in olive, coconut, or vegetable oil. Think of it like chicken: season it with the flavors you like, depending on the type of cuisine you’re pairing it with. You can go Italian, with powdered garlic, dried basil, and oregano; or Asian, with soy sauce and powdered ginger, for example. Firm to extra-firm tofu fries best. Drain the water from the package and gently pat dry with a dish towel, then cut into chunks for frying.
Season it: Think of the meat you cook — you wouldn’t prepare a steak without salt, right? You can marinate tofu before cooking, season as you go, or both, but you must use some kind of seasoning! Remember that tofu lacks the natural fat content your favorite meats pack in, which gives them a natural flavor. But you can easily add great flavors to tofu regardless. A nice base for stir-frying tofu is to begin with olive oil, fresh garlic, and onions for a basic flavor profile. On top of that, the seasoning combinations are endless.
Consistency matters: Tofu comes in a variety of consistencies. Silken tofu is smooth, light, and fragile in texture, and commonly used in Asian soups. It’s a great egg-like soup ingredient but does not fry well. Firm tofu, on the other hand, is better for stir-frying or barbecuing. If you choose to marinate, remember that wet tofu will not crisp well if you fry it. Drain excess liquid or decide ahead of time what your desired end result is. The drier the tofu, the more it will form a crispy skin when fried in oil; the wetter the tofu, the moister it will stay in the end.
It’s your choice: Finally, remember that tofu is a relatively flavorless protein. That means it can be used in endless inventive ways to add food value to meals, giving a healthy boost while minimally affecting the flavors of other ingredients. You can crumble it like taco meat, mix it into an egg breakfast scramble, food process it into a mixture for patties, grill it, and so much more. Happy cooking!