Veganuary: Tofu Masterclass

So you signed up to do Veganuary. You followed a bunch of vegan Instagram accounts, announced the news on Facebook and Twitter, and you waited for the 1st of January to roll in, full of dreams of healthy and tasty vegan meals for the month ahead.

No meat, no fish, no dairy, no eggs. No honey. No gelatine. No beeswax. Wait – why is there beeswax in food?!

It’s now a few weeks in and your kitchen is stocked with more plant based milks than the average Tesco Metro, beans, grains, and of course the infamous soy based protein that can confuse even the most savvy and prepared newbie vegan. The almighty tofu. Why is it just so much fun to poke? Why does it jiggle like jelly? What is it used it for? What’s the best type of tofu to buy?

Personally I don’t treat tofu as a meat replacement, as it doesn’t necessarily have the texture or density. It is, however, a great source of protein, essential amino acids, iron, and calcium. As a kid my mum would add it in dishes to soak up the flavours of the sauce, since tofu is way more absorbent than chicken. I use it as both a literal and metaphorical sponge, in the edible sense of course.

Tofu comes in various degrees of firmness, dependant on how much water has been pressed out in production. The more water that’s been pressed out, the firmer the tofu, and higher the fat and protein content. It’s important to remember when cooking to drain very well, blot, and get rid of as much excess water as possible. You do not want oil splatters coming at ‘cha when you’re trying to fry up some crispy tofu.

There are so many other types out there, including smoked, flavoured, and ready marinaded versions. There is literally a tofu out there for everyone. For the sake of brevity and the almighty word count, this post will concentrate on that jiggly white goodness in its “raw” and relatively unprocessed form.

Silken Tofu

This undrained and unpressed style of tofu has a high water content and the texture of thick custard. Or flaaaaaaan. Silken tofu is made in the same way as block tofu, but the soy milk is not curdled and so curds never form.

The best kinds of silken tofu come in plastic tubs from Asian supermarkets, packed in water; it can come in soft and firm varieties, but should not be used in place of “regular” tofu in recipes, and should never be shallow fried. You could press it for days and it still wouldn’t take on the crumbly texture of block tofu.

Silken tofu is delicate. Do not manhandle. Treat it like a newborn kitten, or it will just turn into a mushy mess.

Soft silken tofu is very delicate, and should never be pressed or frozen. It’s great for thickening up creamy-style sauces.

Firm silken tofu is made from a denser soy milk, with less water added during production than the soft type. It should still be handled gently, and not be pressed or frozen.

Uses: Blended in smoothies, desserts, creamy American-style puddings, custard, sauces, dressings, dips, as an egg substitute in baking.

Vegan tofu nacho cheese – Babe Made

Vegan Shakshoula – One Arab Vegan

Vegan energy boosting smoothie – Kara Lydon

Creamy triple green pesto – Tinned tomatoes

Creamy onion garlic dip – A Virtual Vegan

Easy vegan mayonnaise – The Kitchn

Vegan sour cream – Healthy Blender Recipes

Chocolate tofu pound cake – The Veg Life

Vegan agedashi tofu – Just One Cookbook

Korean braised silken tofu with mushrooms – SBS

Dark chocolate tofu cheesecake with peanut butter pretzel crust – Ambitious Kitchen

Block Tofu

Block tofu is the most common type; it’s boiled and curdled – similar to the way dairy cheese is produced. Soy milk is combined with a coagulant and simmered until the curds and whey separate (hello Miss Muffet), then placed into moulds, pressed, and drained. The longer the tofu is pressed, the more whey is released and the firmer the finished block.

Block tofu has “fluffy” curds, and is sold packed in water in plastic trays.

Soft block tofu hasn’t been pressed for long, so the curds blend into the remaining whey, leaving a smooth texture and firmness similar to just-set jelly. Or flan. I won’t link to the same joke twice. It has a high water content so isn’t great for dishes that are shallow fried; deep fried and battered soft tofu is delicious though. Soft tofu won’t work well in a tofu press; it should just be drained and blotted.

Uses: Raw, blended, simmered/boiled, battered and deep fried

Deep fried soft tofu in soy sauce – Chowhound

Vegan lasagne – Chowhound

Soft tofu scramble – Plantbased Kindness

Tofu Omelette – Isa Chandra

Medium block tofu has more texture than the soft version, with just-visible curds; this type is likely to break up and crumble when fried, making it ideal for fluffy tofu scrambles. Not great for pan-frying over a long period of time, but can be good in stir fries. Medium tofu is the type of smooth tofu found floating in your garden variety miso soup. Still fairly delicate so needs to be treated as such.

Uses: Battered, stir fried, baked, fermented, braised, as a filling in gyoza or pastry, gently simmered in miso, served cold in a marinade i.e. hiyayakko. Can be frozen.

Hiyayakko (Marinaded cold tofu) – Japan Centre 

Tofu in Purgatory – A Virtual Vegan

General Tso’s tofu – Pickled Plum

Red miso soup with soba noodles and tofu – Veganosity

Firm block tofu is the most versatile of all the types. In general, if a recipe just calls for tofu  and you have no idea which one would work best, get this. The curds are clearly visible, and it will feel firm and slightly rubbery – similar to halloumi. It’s super absorbent and holds up well to any type of frying or scrambling, and is also the type of tofu you want if you’re pan-frying slices.

Uses: Battered, baked, boiled, pan fried, stir fried, deep fried, glazed, braised, tofu scramble, as a substitute for ricotta cheese, ma po tofu. Can be frozen.

Vegan tofu ricotta – Simple Vegan

Spicy orange tofu and peppers – Vegan Richa

Toasted avocado tofu sandwich with caramelised onions – Simple Veganista

Grilled tofu skewers with pineapple teriyaki sauce – Simple Veganista

5-minute tofu egg salad sandwich – Vegan Richa

Spinach artichoke lasagne roll ups – Veggie Inspired Journey

Tofu & mushroom marsala – Serious Eats

Tofu apple spring rolls – Chowhound

Extra firm block tofu is compact, with tight curds and a very distinct texture. If you want crispy tofu, this is the one.

Uses: tofu “paneer”, battered, baked, boiled, pan fried, stir fried, deep fried, glazed. Ideal for slicing and cubing. Grilled. Can be frozen.

Tofu scramble breakfast burritos – Vegan Yumminess

Almond butter tofu stir fry – Minimalist Baker

Vietnamese spring rolls with crispy tofu – Minimalist Baker

Coconut-crusted tofu – A Virtual Vegan

Sweet and smoky glazed tofu ham – Isa Chandra

Thai mango cabbage wraps with crispy tofu and peanut sauce – Cookie and Kate

Crispy blackened tofu tacos with avocado lime crema – Making Thyme for Health

Baked buffalo tofu bites – Making Thyme for Health

What are some of your favourite uses for tofu?

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