Learning different ways to prepare tofu will help you understand the possibilities of this ingredient, and as such add more variety to your meals. Tofu is something many people eating a standard American diet may have not encountered, or prepared, in their own kitchens. And if you eat it straight out of the package, it may not seem too tasty or appealing. But once you learn some of the different ways tofu can be prepared, such as pressed, baked or blended, the possibilities open up for many tasty tofu-based dishes. So in this article we will take a look at one of the kitchen tools designed to help prepare tofu: the tofu press.
If you do not like tofu, or you're learning to enjoy it because you're new to a vegan or plant based diet, a tofu press is an excellent introduction to the food. Pressing tofu changes the texture, and lets you get more creative with your recipes.
What is tofu?
Tofu is condensed soy milk, that is boiled, curdled and then pressed into blocks. For more information on this process, and many other ways to prepare tofu, you can refer to this page on Serious Eats.
Tofu can be fermented, which is how it is often (but not always) eaten in Asia. Much of the tofu in North America is not fermented.
What is a tofu press, and why would you want one?
A tofu press is a simple piece of kitchen equipment that lets you squeeze some of the moisture out of the tofu block. This changes the overall texture of the tofu, which can improve the overall dish or at least provide some variety to your meals. Because excess water is removed, it can also enhance the flavor of tofu as well.
What kind of tofu should you use with a press? You should stick to firm or extra firm tofu. The tofu block needs to hold up to the squeezing "walls" of the tofu press. A soft tofu will likely break during the process. Firm or extra firm tofu will hold up as you add pressure to the press.
Drain the water from the package of tofu by cutting a slit in the top of the plastic. After you have drained the tofu, place the block in the tofu press, and balance the press upright on a plate as pictured here:
Turn the screws of the press until the water starts to be squeezed out of the block of tofu. Continue to tighten the screws gradually. Leave the plate in the fridge, and every 5-10 minutes tighten the screws another few times. I did this for about 45 minutes until much of the water appeared to be squeezed out of the tofu block (note: you can also press it faster than this - see more in my recipe, below).
Wait. Is tofu even healthy? Or is it harmful?
Tofu is generally considered to be a healthy addition to your diet. However, whether or not its healthy has been a long-standing debate. As more research has emerged about tofu, favor seems to be on the side that tofu is a safe and healthy food to eat. Many of the earlier concerns over phytoestrogens and "all tofu being GMO" have been myth based and/or misguided. If you are concerned about this food, I would recommend using this article at Time.com as a starting point for your personal research. The resource links to many scientific journal articles detailing studies about tofu safety.
It's best to stick with non-GMO, organic, and sprouted varieties of tofu for the most benefits. If you regularly enjoy tofu, sticking with this organic sprouted tofu, or even fermented tofu, for the safest options with the most health benefits.
Tofu and GMOs: Tofu is made from soy beans. Most of the soy-based products in North America are GMO (genetically modified), however not all tofu is GMO. While the final answer on GMO safety may not be fully resolved, many people choose to play it safe and avoid GMO soy. If you are concerned about GMO soy, opt for organic tofu. Organic tofu is easy to find in most grocery stores.
Sprouted tofu: Sprouted tofu is considered to be easier on the digestion system, as it removes phylates from the beans as they soften during sprouting. It is also usually higher in certain nutrients, including iron, protein, and calcium.
Is tofu processed? Tofu is processed (similar to how, say, a cheddar cheese is processed), but many tofu products are not nearly as highly processed product as, say, junk food. Opt for unflavored "plain" blocks of tofu in water from the refrigerated section for some of the least processed options. The ingredient list should read similar to: water, soybeans, and calcium sulfate. To read about calcium sulfate, see this page on Livestrong.
As such, tofu is not a whole food. If you are eating a whole food plant based diet, you need to make the call about whether or not you choose to consume it. Because it has limited added ingredients, and those chemicals are our primary concern, we personally choose to add it to our diet but may make plant-based milk and tofu ourselves ("DIY" style) in the future.
Is tofu low fat?: Tofu is generally a low-fat product. The percentages of fat vary between products, but not by too much. You can find tofu that does not have any saturated fat, but you will need to check the labels.
Because we have dropped "fake meats" from our diet, we enjoy tofu at least once per week on average since it is healthier than processed faux meats. Once you start experimenting with flavors and textures, it can help you add some variety to your dishes. Some of the most common uses is to add it to spicy noodle soups, and bake it (described below).
Getting started with a tofu press
The first time I pressed tofu I placed a piece of tofu in a dish, covered it a piece of parchment paper, and then stacked books on top of the tofu. This did not end well. The stack of books toppled over several times, and even though I reset the books the tofu did not press too well. There still seemed to be a lot of water left in my block of tofu. So, I ended up purchasing the EZ Tofu Press from Amazon (about $20 USD, affiliate link). There are different options available in different locales.
What to do with pressed tofu: bake it
Pressed tofu can be used in most places tofu can, such as sliced in noodle soups, in stir fry, and more. But one of our favorite ways to eat pressed tofu is baked in the oven (or in our case, toaster oven). Here is one extremely simple way to prepare it.
What you need:
- Tofu press.
- 1 package of Firm or extra firm tofu.
- 1 sheet rice paper (spring roll wrapper).
- Sauce of your choice.
- Baking sheet and parchment paper to broil.
Press the tofu in a tofu press. To do so, drain and rinse your block of firm or extra-firm tofu. Tighten the tofu block in the press, and then every 5-10 minutes tighten the screws a few twists more. After about 45 minutes (or longer), remove the tofu from the press. Note: You can do this faster, such as tightening every couple minutes across 20 minutes. Follow the directions that come with your device, and test to see what speed and resulting texture is best for you.
Wet the rice paper sheet in warm water, and when flexible wrap it tightly around the block of pressed tofu.
Cover the wrapped tofu in your favorite sauce. I used some hot sauce for the pictured block.
Place on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper, and broil at 500 degrees for about 30 minutes (exact length will depend on the heat of your oven.)
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