What’s the Deal with Tofu, Anyway?

written by Kevin Giles, modified meals nutritionist

Tofu can seem intimidating to cook at home—especially for us carnivores. But it’s not just a crunchy hippie’s substitute for meat (and there are no rules against using tofu and meat in the same meal)! Tofu is condensed soy milk pressed into a block (kind of like how they turn whey into cheese). It’s a cheap source of protein that’s high in calcium and iron and is also cholesterol free. Tofu’s also really easy to prepare, and since it has a bland flavor and no aroma, it’s the perfect sponge for flavor!

cooked tofu

The only hard part about cooking with tofu is choosing the right firmness for your meal. When you find the tofu section at your grocery store you’ll see lots of different kinds, ranging from silken to extra firm. Silken tofu has a soft, velvety texture due to being unpressed and uncurdled. Firm tofu is more solid, and holds its shape better during cooking.

If you’re cooking curry or another stew-like dish and want cubes of tofu, pressed extra firm tofu is the best way to go. The cubes will hold their shape when you stew and stir them.

On the other hand, if you’re making something like sweet and sour soup, silken soft tofu would be the way to go.

To get a “meat like” texture, go for extra firm tofu, cut into cubes, then frozen overnight. By freezing, you pull out all the excess moisture, making the tofu more dense and chewy. You could slide these tofu cubes onto a kabob for extra protein.

Another option is to puree it. Pureed tofu is ideal for adding extra protein to sauces and soups or substituting ingredients, like replacing some of the cream cheese in a cheesecake. In my experience, pureeing soft tofu works best- but any kind of tofu will do.

Here’s a tofu recipe I really like. I replace lasagna noodles with tofu, which adds extra protein and cuts back carbs in this vegetarian lasagna.

picture of a cooked lasagna

Vegetarian Lasagna
by Kevin Giles
Makes one 9×13 pan of lasagna

  • 1.5 quarts spaghetti sauce
  • ½ cup chopped carrots
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 4 lbs extra firm tofu
  • 16 oz ricotta cheese
  • 16 oz spinach (frozen works well)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1.5 cup sliced zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix carrots, oregano, and spaghetti sauce together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix ricotta, spinach, and eggs.

Cut extra firm tofu lengthwise into thirds. These will resemble lasagna noodles.

Spread a half cup of the spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 casserole pan. Layer 3 “lasagna noodles,” half of remaining sauce mixture, half of zucchini, half of ricotta mixture, and half of mozzarella cheese on top. Repeat layers with remaining ingredients, and be sure to top with mozzarella.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until the cheese has melted.