Whenever I mention tofu to friends or family, I’m usually met with mixed reactions. Some adore its versatility, while others can’t get past its initial blandness. But over the years, I’ve come to realize that tofu is like a blank canvas, eagerly waiting for a painter’s touch. Its beauty lies in its adaptability. From crispy golden bites to smoky grilled cubes, tofu can wear many delicious hats. Today, I’m diving into my four favorite ways to cook this plant-based protein, each method bringing out a unique charm of this unassuming ingredient. Ready to embark on this tofu-tastic culinary journey? Let’s get started!

   Stir fried tofu in a bowl with sesame and greens

The Origins of Tofu

Dive deep into history, and you’ll find that tofu, or bean curd as it’s often referred to, has been nourishing civilizations for over 2,000 years. Originating in ancient China during the Han dynasty, there’s a poetic legend that tells of its discovery: a cook accidentally mixed fresh soy milk with nigari (a coagulant derived from seawater), and behold, tofu was born!

From its Chinese roots, tofu gracefully made its way through various Asian cuisines, each culture embracing and adapting it into their culinary repertoire. The Japanese delicately incorporated it into their miso soups, the Koreans spiced it up in their hearty stews, and the Southeast Asians fried it to a crisp for a delightful bite.

But tofu isn’t just a relic of the past; its journey continues. With the modern surge in plant-based diets and sustainable eating, this ancient food has found its place on dining tables worldwide. Its story is a testament to how food, as simple as it might seem, can weave tales of cultures, innovations, and timeless traditions.

How to Bake Tofu 

The oven does wonders when it comes to tofu, giving it that crisp exterior and a perfectly tender center. This baked tofu method uses the oven’s even heat to transform this versatile protein into delectable, golden-brown bites. Toss these baked cubes into your Buddha Bowl for an oven-crisped delight that will surprise even the most tofu-skeptical eater.

  1. Remove firm or extra firm tofu from the package and drain excess water.
  2. Wrap the block of tofu in a clean kitchen towel and place on a cutting board and add a heavy skillet (anything heavy) on top to remove as much moisture as possible for at least 15 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
  4. Slice tofu into 1.5 inch cubes and add it to a bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, tamari, or coconut aminos and toss the tofu.
  5. Add 1 tablespoon of corn, arrowroot, or tapioca starch and mix until completely coated.
  6. In a single layer, add the cubed tofu to the baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through. 
  7. Remove from the oven and toss baked tofu in your Buddha bowl sauce! 

How to Pan Sear Tofu 

Pan-searing is all about that delicious contrast between the crispy crust and the melt-in-your-mouth interior. By using the pan-sear method, you’re giving your tofu a wonderful golden crispness, ensuring that each cube has a flavorful, crunchy outside while preserving its soft heart. 

  1. Remove firm or extra firm tofu from the package and drain excess water.
  2. Wrap the block of tofu in a clean kitchen towel and place on a cutting board and add a heavy skillet (anything heavy) on top to remove as much moisture as possible for at least 15 minutes. 
  3. Slice tofu into 1.5 inch cubes and coat tofu in 1 ½ tablespoons corn, arrowroot, or tapioca starch. Toss to coat. 
  4. Add olive oil or high heat cooking oil to a pan over medium high heat.
  5. In batches add tofu, cooking 2-3 minutes on each side until the outside is nice and crisp. 
  6. Turn off the heat and toss crispy tofu in your Buddha bowl sauce. 

Cooking diced cubed dried tofu on gas stove.

How to Grill Tofu 

Grilling isn’t just for meats; tofu can strut its stuff on those hot grates too! By grilling, you’re introducing a smoky dimension to the tofu’s character, along with those coveted char marks. Combined with fruits or veggies on skewers, you get a playful mix of textures and flavors that screams summer.

  1. Remove firm or extra firm tofu from the package and drain excess water.
  2. Wrap the block of tofu in a clean kitchen towel and place on a cutting board and add a heavy skillet (anything heavy) on top to remove as much moisture as possible for at least 15 minutes.
  3. Slice tofu into 1.5 inch cubes. 
  4. Preheat the grill to medium high and then oil the grill grates well. 
  5. Thread the tofu onto skewers with other vegetables (fruit like peaches and pineapple would be delish too)! 
  6. Place skewers on the grill and cook until tofu is lightly charred, turning occasionally to char each side, about 6-8 minutes. 
  7. Remove from the grill and drizzle Buddha bowl sauce over tofu skewers. 

Vegetarian Barbecue, marinated vegetables and tofu kebabs on a grill

Using Smoked Tofu

If there’s one thing I’ve discovered over the years, it’s that tofu isn’t just a staple; it’s an adventure. Every now and then, I come across varieties of tofu that pique my culinary curiosity, and smoked tofu is one such gem. I absolutely adore using packaged smoked tofu in my kitchen. The smoky flavor embedded within its layers elevates the simplest of dishes, adding depth and character that’s simply irresistible.

If you’ve never tried smoked tofu before, you’re in for a treat. It carries a robust aroma, reminiscent of a backyard barbecue or a cozy evening by a campfire. And the best part? It’s a cinch to cook with! No long marinating hours or complicated seasoning needed. Here’s how we love to bring out the best in smoked tofu:

Simply slice the tofu into ½-inch slices, pat very dry on both sides and pan fry with a little bit of neutral cooking oil until browned on both sides. 

Sliced Smoked Tofu on paper and white background

Our Favorite Way to Cook Tofu

Tofu, often dubbed the chameleon of the culinary world, absorbs flavors like no other. By marinating it, you’re embedding those rich, vibrant tastes deep into its core. Our favorite method harnesses the power of marinades, ensuring that each bite is bursting with flavor. It’s a journey of taste, from the sauce of your choice to the crispy, caramelized exterior achieved in the frying pan. It’s tofu at its finest. Try this at home:

  1. Add ¼ cup of your favorite sauce into a large bowl or resealable bag. 
  2. Carefully add in the tofu slices or cubes (be careful, they are delicate).
  3. Marinate for 30 minutes or overnight. 
  4. When ready to cook, gently wipe off excess marinade. (Wet tofu slices will splatter in hot oil). 
  5. Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and swirl in a bit of cooking oil. Cook the tofu until nicely browned on all sides. 

Closeup of backed marinated tofu with soy sauce on a blue plate.

Tofu FAQs:

  • What type of tofu should I use for these recipes?
    For these methods, we recommend using firm or extra firm tofu. Its texture holds up best to baking, grilling, and pan searing.
  • Can I use silken tofu instead?
    Silken tofu is delicate and best suited for soups, desserts, or smoothies. It may fall apart when subjected to these particular cooking methods.
  • Do I always need to press the tofu?
    Yes, for most cooking methods, pressing the tofu helps in removing excess water, which allows it to absorb flavors better and results in a crispier finish.
  • How long can I marinate tofu?
    While a quick 30-minute soak will impart some flavor, marinating overnight will allow the tofu to absorb even more, leading to a richer taste.
  • Can I freeze tofu?
    Absolutely! Freezing tofu can change its texture, making it more spongy and absorbent. Just ensure you thaw it completely and press out any excess moisture before cooking.
  • Is it necessary to coat tofu in starch before frying?
    While it’s not mandatory, coating tofu in cornstarch or other starches helps achieve a crispy, golden exterior when frying.
  • What other flavors can I infuse into tofu?
    Tofu is versatile and absorbs the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with. Feel free to experiment with your favorite herbs, spices, and sauces to create a unique flavor profile.
  • How do I store leftover tofu?
    Store any leftover tofu in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If it’s already marinated or cooked, try to consume it within 3-4 days for best flavor and texture.

Love Tofu Dishes? Check Out These Steamy Kitchen Recipes:

Roasted Tofu Buddha Bowl with Pineapple Sauce