Tofu is a great vegetarian and vegan substitute for meat in many dishes! A versatile plant-based protein that is also low in fat makes for a perfect addition to curries, fried rice, noodles or even to enjoy on its own. In this post, I am going to explain how to cook tofu in 3 different ways!
I love to bake, pan-fry, or air fry tofu as it adds a good bite and texture to the otherwise soft and mushy tofu. Cooking tofu is a great make-ahead option for meal prepping. My recipe does not require you to squeeze out the water for hours, but instead just for a few mins which helps retain the inside moisture and softness of tofu, adding a crisp layer on the outside. Tip: Remember to buy Extra Firm Tofu!
If you have ever wondered, "is tofu healthy?" the answer is that it definitely is! It contains all nine essential amino acids that our body needs from food. It's also well-known to be an excellent source of protein.
Here are some more health benefits of tofu:
- Source of iron and calcium
- Helps lower the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL)
- Contains phytoestrogen which is needed by women who go through menopause
- Contains magnesium and vitamin B1
Before we get into how to cook tofu, it's important to know how to prep it. I like to buy the extra firm tofu as it does not crumble as easily as the softer versions and also has a meaty, satisfying texture. Remember to refrigerate tofu until you are ready to use it!
How to prep tofu?
Step 1: Gently take the tofu out of the packaging, drain out and discard the liquids. Then wrap the block of tofu in paper towels and press gently to squeeze out the liquids from it. To help remove any excess moisture, place a heavy pot on top of the tofu block that is wrapped in paper towels.
Step 2: Next, cut the tofu with a sharp knife into 4 slices. Gently press each piece again with paper towels to remove any additional moisture
Step 3: Cut each slice into 1 inch cubes, big or small depending on your preference
Step 4: Place the cut tofu in a mixing bowl. Add oil, soy sauce, salt, pepper, corn starch and gently toss them to coating evenly
Step 5: Sprinkle more corn starch and gently coat again. Corn starch helps to add crispy golden textures
Now you are ready to cook the tofu in 3 ways - bake, air fry or panfry!
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Place the marinated tofu cubes in a single layer on the baking tray making sure they are not touching each other so that all the sides cook evenly.
Bake for 15 to 20 mins. Note: I always bake them for 15 to 20 mins without flipping them. But for extra crispy, you can flip them after the first 15 to 20 mins and then bake for additional 15 mins.
- Spray the air fryer basket with oil.
- Line the marinated tofu and air fry at 380 degrees for 15 to 20 mins. Again, I do not flip them halfway through but you may if you like
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick pan
- Line the tofu in a single layer and cook on medium heat undisturbed for 5 mins. Then, carefully turn over with a silicone spatula and cook the other side for 5 mins. Note: It is important not to stir it, so the tofu browns well and does not break apart.
- The ingredients I use to coat and marinate the tofu are more basic, so the tofu can be added to any dish of your choice. I love adding it to Thai curries, fried rice, soups, and noodles.
- Tofu makes a great vegan substitute for paneer in Indian dishes like palak paneer or vegetable biryani. You can also add a teaspoon of lemon juice, ginger and garlic paste to the marinade. Spices such as turmeric, red chili powder, and garam masala also add a nice flavor to the tofu.
- To enjoy baked tofu as is, coat it in your favorite store-bought sweet and spicy sauce. To make the sauce at home, whisk together 2 tablespoons of honey, 2 tablespoons of sriracha sauce, and 2 minced garlic cloves. Toss it in the baked tofu and sprinkle over toasted sesame seeds, for a perfect snack by itself or serve with steamed jasmine rice for a quick meal.
Although you can serve cooked tofu as a side with steamed jasmine rice for a quick meal, I love using cooked tofu in Indian dishes that call for paneer for example my palak paneer, paneer makhani, and Vegetable Biryani.
Note: Simply stir in baked/air-fried/pan-fried tofu just before you are ready to serve the dish! There is no need to cook it again.
How to Cook Tofu
- Wrap the block of Tofu with paper towels and gently press from all the sides to squeeze out excess water. Cut the tofu into 4 to 5 slices and then repeat step which will help remove the moisture. Cut each slice into 1 inch cubes. Gently press the cubed tofu with paper towels to remove any remaining moisture.
- Place the tofu into a mixing bowl and toss in oil and soy sauce. Then sprinkle half of the cornstarch and gently toss or mix with a silicone spatula. Sprinkle remaining corn starch, salt & pepper over and gently stir in evenly coating the tofu with the cornstarch. See notes, if prepping tofu to be used in Indian dishes.
- #1 Bake: Preheat the oven at 400 degrees F and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Place the tofu on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 mins. Note: I always bake them for 15 to 20 mins without flipping them. But, for extra crispy, flip them after the first 15 to 20 mins and then bake for additional 15 mins.
Method 2: Air Fry
- #2 Air Fry: Spray the air fryer basket with oil or line with perforated parchment paper. Line the marinated tofu and air fry at 380 degrees for 15 to 20 mins. I do not flip them half way through but you may if you like
Method 3: Pan Fry
- #3 Pan Fry: Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a non stick panLine the tofu in a single layer and cook on medium heat undisturbed for 5 mins. Then, carefully turn over with a flat silicone spatula and cook the other side for 5 mins. Note: It is important to not stir it so the tofu browns well and also does not break apart.
- If you are preparing tofu to use in Indian dishes, skip the soy sauce and instead add a teaspoon of lemon juice, and a teaspoon of ginger and garlic paste to the marinade. Spices such as turmeric, red chili powder and garam masala also can be sprinkled in the marinade
- To make sweet & spicy tofu, whisk together 2 tablespoons of honey, 2 tablespoons of sriracha sauce and 2 garlic cloves minced. Toss in the cooked tofu and sprinkle over toasted sesame seeds. Enjoy as a side dish or serve with steamed jasmine rice for a quick meal