Here at That Salad Lady, tofu is one of our favorite plant-based proteins. Take a look around the site and you’ll see that we often recommend it as a vegan-friendly chicken substitute, and even for increasing the protein content in our salad bowl recipes. Besides being incredibly versatile, tofu is much cheaper than animal-based proteins. It’s a good source of heart-healthy unsaturated fats too.
When prepared the right way, tofu is also surprisingly flavorful. Just try this easy baked tofu recipe for salads and you’ll see exactly what we mean. Whether you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, or you’re a meat lover through and through, you’ll love the earthy savory taste, subtle sweetness and creamy chewiness it brings to the bowl. Plus, our recipe is gluten-free, keto-friendly and perfect for calorie counters.
THE BALANCING ACT
Tofu doesn’t get nearly the respect it deserves. A lot of people either don’t like it or just don’t know how to properly use it in a meal. If you don’t like tofu, chances are you’ve had some bad experiences with it, or you just don’t like its texture and mouthfeel. Or, as our founder, Nina, often says, it could just be that many want tofu to taste like a meat, and it doesn’t. Then there are those who avoid tofu altogether believing that soy foods cause cancer.
While you may share one or more of these thoughts about tofu, we encourage you to give it a try – or another try. At That Salad Lady, we want you to experience an eagerness to experiment with different foods, especially tofu. From silken and firm to extra-firm and super-firm tofu comes in so many different varieties. You’re bound to find at least one you like. When you taste good tofu for the first time, you’ll know it and we think you’ll love it.
As for the notion of tofu increasing cancer risk. Well, that myth has long been debunked. Unless you’re allergic to soy foods, the health benefits of eating tofu, and whole soy foods in general, far outweigh any potential risks. If you choose to include tofu in your diet, you can rest assured knowing that it’s a valuable source of protein, fat and other nutrients. Owing to the presence of certain phytonutrients, tofu may even lower heart disease risk.
If you’re still reading, you’re probably open to the idea of eating tofu, at least we hope you are. So now we’ll take a deep dive into what it takes to make the perfect tofu for salads.
First Off, Which Type of Tofu?
As we’ve already mentioned, there are many different types of tofu – silken, soft, medium, firm, extra-firm and super-firm. They’re all made from curdling soy milk and ultimately classified by how much water is pressed out. Silken tofu is the wateriest of them all, often used as a dairy substitute in blended recipes like dips, puddings, dressings, sauces and smoothies. It’s also a great alternative to eggs in vegan baking recipes. Any “non-silken” tofu varieties are considered “regular.”
With regular tofu varieties some level of pressing is generally part of processing. The somewhat spongy texture of regular tofu is due to that pressing process. The more water that’s pressed out, the firmer the tofu gets. Needless to say, extra-firm and super-firm varieties have the lowest water content and, therefore, the firmest texture. We should also mention that firmer tofu varieties also have the highest content of protein and fat.
Our recipe calls for using extra-firm tofu, as it’s easy to come by and holds its shape when sliced or cubed for baking and grilling. Extra-firm tofu is great for pan-frying, stir-frying and even deep-frying too. You can also crumble it and use it like ground meat, so you have a lot of options when it comes to cooking with it.
When choosing tofu, we generally suggest going the organic route. This is because the vast majority of soybeans grown in the United States are bioengineered, which essentially means they’re grown using genetically modified (GM) crops. With so much uncertainty around the risk GM foods, we’re all about playing it safe when it comes to soy foods. Luckily, a 14-16-ounce pack of organic tofu costs an average of $2-3 at most grocery stores and farmer’s markets.
Preparing Tofu for Cooking
While cooking with tofu might seem a bit intimidating at first, it’s actually a pretty simple process. It’s all about proper preparation. The goal of prepping tofu is to achieve the right balance of texture and taste during cooking – otherwise it’s just a bland, boring block of protein that you’ll likely never, ever want to eat again. Pressing and marinating tofu before cooking with it are indeed the keys to achieving good texture and taste.
The purpose of pressing tofu is to drain out all the excess water. Even the firmest tofu holds a lot of water, so this is a critical step. You can press it with either a tofu press, or a few heavy-weighted objects around your home like a cast-iron skillet, a large cutting board and/or even a few thick books.
We love the EZ Tofu Press for its simple design and ease of use. Just place your tofu block on the centering marks of the press and tighten the knobs – that’s it! If you won’t be making tofu that much, you can go with some heavy-weighted objects instead. Everyone has their own little tricks for pressing tofu this way, but, here at That Salad Lady, we’re keeping it really simple.
We suggest placing a few folded paper towels on a flat dish or plate, positioning your tofu block on top and then placing more paper towels on top of the block. From there you can apply weight starting with the cutting board and going from there. You want to have a steady enough weight to squeeze out the water without crushing the tofu block. With all the weight, the water will gradually leak out of the block and the paper towels will absorb it.
To achieve good texture, we suggest letting the tofu sit for at least 30 minutes. Once thoroughly pressed, the tofu will appear and act like a sponge. This is a good thing as it will absorb whatever flavors you put into it. You can slice the pressed tofu into thin pieces or chunks and either store it in an airtight container or plastic bag and freeze it or jump right into the next step – marinating.
Since tofu is quite bland on its own, it’s best to marinate it before cooking it. As we mentioned before, pressing transforms tofu into a sponge that soaks up practically every flavor you add to it. This is why our recipe calls for marinating it in a deliciously savory cocktail of natural spices and seasonings (see the recipe card).
Having followed a vegan diet in the past, Nina enjoyed tofu at least three times a week. Our recipe incorporates the homemade marinade she perfected over the years, which includes extra-virgin olive oil, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, fresh garlic, lemon juice and a variety of additional spices and seasonings to lock in plenty of flavor and good nutrition.
We suggest marinating tofu for at least 15 minutes or even overnight. The longer you can let the tofu marinate, the more flavorful it will be.
When your tofu is all pressed and marinated, cooking it is the final step. At That Salad Lady, baking is our go-to cooking method, as it yields perfectly flavored cubes for adding to salads and other dishes.
The process of baking tofu is very simple. Just preheat your oven to 400 degrees F, spread out the tofu on a lightly greased oven safe skillet and then bake it for 25-30 minutes. You can also bake your tofu on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone non-stick mat to prevent sticking.
You’ll want to toss the tofu halfway through to ensure that it cooks evenly. You’ll know the tofu is done when it’s deep golden brown and its edges are nice and crispy.
The Versatility of Baked Tofu
Baked tofu is not only the perfect protein for salad bowl recipes, but it’s also a great addition to stir fry dishes and sandwiches, and even good for healthy snacking. Just dip in a little sweet chili sauce, your favorite ranch dressing, buffalo sauce or any other sauce you like, and you’ve got yourself a delicious, high-protein snack.
While you can eat or serve tofu warm or cold, we suggest enjoying it hot and freshly baked, especially if you’re generally a skeptic. You can press and marinate your tofu in advance and, if time permits, bake it when you’re actually ready to eat it.
In an airtight container or plastic bag, pressed tofu will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days while freshly baked tofu will last for up to five days.
SHOW US YOUR WORK
That Salad Lady wants to see all your great work. If you enjoy your baked tofu, which we are sure you will, drop a comment below and tag pics on Instagram with @thatsaladlady, #thatsaladlady and #buildyourbowl. If you love it, pin it on Pinterest and share it on Facebook and Twitter using #thatsaladlady.