How To Prepare Tofu (notes to Noah)

This is a bit of a strange post because it’s actually directed at Noah (and my “voice” in the post is written towards him), but I thought maybe someone who is new to tofu, or just interested in trying it, could find it useful.

I remember very specifically a moment that made me feel very GOOD about being a mother. I think parents probably question themselves all the time if they’re doing a good job, and I think sometimes we’re probably really hard on ourselves. I am extremely critical of myself (something I always try to work on). But there was a moment that I remember very well; It made me feel better as a mom than ever!

It was the night before my mom and I were going to take Noah and Eli to Belle Isle in Detroit to run a 5K. The kids were excited and I told them to pick out the clothes they wanted to wear to run the next morning. Eli, out of nowhere, said, “I want to make a t-shirt that says ‘Runs for Cookies is my mom.'” I have no idea where that came from, I swear.

It was too late for him to make a shirt, but my heart just melted. He was proud of *me*?! Was he *that* proud that I was his mother?! I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I decided to get out of bed, get out the craft supplies I had, and make Eli a t-shirt. It turned out pretty good, all things considered! Under any other circumstance, I would have been very embarrassed by a t-shirt that basically says “I’m important”; but I would have worn whatever Eli had asked me to do that day. He loved the shirt and was proud to wear it. (And yes, I still have it).

I recently had another moment where I thought with pleasant surprise, “Really? Me?!” as a mother. I asked Noah to write a Christmas wish list and most of the things on there were tools that he will need to work on cars. However, towards the end he had written that he wanted me to make him a cookbook with his favorite recipes that I have been preparing all these years. And then he specifically asked for instructions on how to make tofu.

I never knew Noah thought anything special about the dinners I cooked. I certainly never expected him to ask me for a recipe book! One of the things I wish I had done more of was teaching kids how to cook. I asked them to help me cook many times, but I never explained things to them the way I would have liked, like what types of spices to use for different cuisines, for example.

So I wanted to make him this little cookbook. Not necessarily for Christmas, but because she wants to enjoy the foods she loved when she lived here. (He knows he can always come home to eat; in fact, I made him waffles this morning when he came over, but I like that he wanted to learn how to cook himself.)

I won’t post everything here, but since tofu can be intimidating if you never make it, I thought it would be a good part to post. I’m obviously not an expert at making tofu (I’ve only been doing it for a year and a half), but I make it A LOT because I love it. I’ve experimented with many different ways of making tofu, but these are the ones I’ve found work best.

So, this is what I wrote to Noah (about tofu). I don’t have any actual recipes posted here; just the ways to prepare tofu. Maybe another day I’ll post a post with some of my favorite recipes. (Can Download the PDF for the preparation of tofu here–These are exactly the same instructions as shown below.)


How to prepare tofu (in various ways)


BEFORE PREPARING THE FOOD:

I like to buy the extra firm tofu, which you can find in the refrigerated “healthy” section of the store. First, put it in the freezer (freezing and then thawing gives it a more meat-like texture) or just open the package. It will have a lot of liquid, so drain the liquid and then put it in the tofu press I bought you.

Press the tofu (like I showed you) for a couple of hours to get most of the liquid out. Then cut it into whatever shape you want (I like to make it into slices or cubes, or you can even break it into “nuggets” with your fingers).

You’ll almost always want to marinate tofu before using it, but it’s not completely necessary.

TO MARINATE:

When marinating, always try to do it the night before you plan to cook it (or at least in the morning). You want it to marinate long enough to absorb the flavors of the marinade.

In a large reusable ziploc bag, combine all marinade ingredients. Close the bag and shake it well. Then add the tofu and gently turn the bag a few times so that all of the tofu gets some of the marinade. Put it in the refrigerator overnight (turn it over from time to time if you want).

After marinating, move on to cooking methods…

FOR “CHICKEN LIKE” BAKED TOFU:

Make sure the marinade you prepare has oil (oil makes the tofu firmer and crispier; if there is no oil, it is difficult to get a crispy texture on the outside). Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then spread the marinated tofu on the paper. Bake at 350 F for 30 to 50 minutes. It’s a huge time frame, I know, but it largely depends on how the tofu is cut (size and shape). Check it after 30 minutes and it will probably still be soft. Then check it every 5 to 10 minutes until it is firm as you want. It WILL continue to harden a little as it cools, so take it out before the texture becomes too hard.

FOR BAKED BREAKED TOFU:

Prepare the tofu as you did above, but before putting it in the oven, prepare the breading. Take out 3 bowls and combine:

Bowl 1: Flour (about ¼ cup)

Bowl 2: Milk (I like soy milk; about ½ cup) + ½ tsp. Vinegar (which will curdle the milk; don’t let that alarm you)

Bowl 3: Panko breadcrumbs (about ¾ cup) + seasonings you like (remember the marinade was probably salty, so be sure to keep that in mind when adding salt to the seasonings).

Dip each piece of tofu into the flour to lightly coat the sides. Then dip it in the milk. And then, roll it in the panko + seasoning mixture. (If you want it super crispy, do a second dip in the milk and a second roll in the panko.) Spray with cooking spray (optional; just makes the breading crispier).

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Spread the tofu in a single layer, then bake at 375 F for about 30 to 50 minutes (depends on the size of the pieces. Simply press a spoon or spatula lightly on a piece of tofu to feel how firm it is, then remove it when the firmness is a little softer than you want (because it firms up a little when it cools).

FRIED BREADED TOFU:

Prepare the tofu as you would baked tofu, but do not prepare a baking sheet. Instead, heat a good layer of oil in the bottom of a frying pan. Heat the pan over medium-high heat, then place the tofu in a single layer and fry for a few minutes. Flip the tofu and cook on the other side (or if there are cubes, keep flipping them, gently). Add more oil if it dries out. Cook until the tofu is crispy on all sides and the firmness is how you like it. You’ll probably need to lower the heat once the outside is crispy; don’t let it burn.

TO USE TOFU INSTEAD OF GROUND MEAT:

Depending on what you are making, you don’t need to press this tofu very much. If you’re leaving it as is (i.e. without preparing or seasoning it beforehand), simply squeeze the excess water out into the sink. Then, crumble the block of tofu into a bowl so that it breaks up like ground beef. Then simply add it to your plate. This method is good for things like spaghetti, chili, etc.

If you want it to be drier (but seasoned), you can mix in a bowl:

2 tablespoons. tamari (the “good” soy sauce)
1 teaspoon kitchen bouquet (optional, for color)
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (if you don’t have this, you can omit it; it’s different from regular paprika)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 block extra firm tofu (14-16 oz) (gently pressed)

Crumble the tofu into the bowl with all the seasonings. Then bake at 350 F for about 20-30 minutes, until it resembles ground beef. This is a good method when you’re not using salsa or when you want to use it for tacos or something.

TO ADD TO SOUP, RICE, CURRY, ETC.

You don’t even have to really prepare it. Simply press it, then cut it into cubes and add it directly to the sauce of your choice. Then let it simmer (it will absorb the liquid, which will add flavor). This way the tofu will be much softer. I love it like this in curry sauce!

TO USE INSTEAD OF SCRAMBLED EGGS:

To use it instead of eggs for fried rice, press it well (to remove the tofu flavor) and put it in clean water to rehydrate it (soak the water again to make it soft). Crumble it into pieces into the fried rice. You can season the tofu to look and even taste like eggs with a spice blend I make (I’ll give you some if you want). You can also use soft tofu or silken tofu (the kind that’s in a box in our pantry). I like silken tofu for a tofu scramble (potatoes, green peppers, onions and scrambled tofu). With tomatoe sauce! 😉 That’s the type I’ve made for you before.

This is the way I make tofu when I know you *are* going to eat it (usually in an Asian sauce, like orange sauce, with rice). Defrost a block of tofu from the freezer (I leave it on the counter for several hours; it takes a few days to thaw when it’s in the refrigerator). Press the block very well to remove the liquid. Combine this marinade in a bag: ¼ cup olive oil, 2 tbsp. lemon juice, 2 tbsp. water, 1 tbsp. of my vegan broth seasoning and about ¼ tsp. black pepper. Cut the tofu into small pieces and gently mix with the marinade. The marinade will absorb quickly, but if you can, let it sit for several hours. Then spread it out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, bake at 375 F for about 35-45 minutes (until almost as firm as chicken). Then, eat it as is or toss it with whatever sauce you like. (You really like the orange sauce I gave you the recipe for! And serve it with rice.)

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